John Henry Lahr
|Born||John Henry Lahr|
July 12, 1941
Los Angeles, California, US
|Occupation||Theater critic, writer, biographer|
|Education||Worcester College, Oxford|
(m. 1965; died 2004)
|Parents||Bert Lahr (father)|
Mildred Schroeder (mother)
|Relatives||Jane Lahr (sister)|
John Henry Lahr (born July 12, 1941) is an American theater critic and writer. From 1992 to 2013, he was a staff writer and the senior drama critic at The New Yorker. He has written more than twenty books related to theater. Lahr has been called "one of the greatest biographers writing today".
Lahr was born in Los Angeles, California to a Jewish family. He is the son of Mildred "Millie" Schroeder, a Ziegfeld girl, and Bert Lahr, an actor and comedian most famous for portraying the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. When his father left movies for the stage, the family moved from their home in Coldwater Canyon to Manhattan.
Until his father was on the cover of Time magazine when Lahr was in grade school, he did not know what his father did for a living. Lahr wrote:
On stage, Dad was sensational; in private he was sensationally taciturn: a brooding absent presence, to be encountered mostly in his bedroom chair at his desk, turned away from us, with his blue Sulka bathrobe knotted under his pot belly. The Bert Lahr my sister and I call "Dad" is the ravishing performer, not the indifferent parent. We loved him; we just couldn't reach him. The public got his best self—inspired, full of prowess—the family got the rest. At home, Dad was depressed, bewildered, hidden; in front of the paying customers, however, he was buoyant and truthful—a bellowing, cavorting genius who could reduce audiences to a level of glee so intense that from the wings I once saw a man stuff a handkerchief in his mouth to stop laughing.
However, Lahr did spend a lot of time with his father at theaters playing with props and costumes. His childhood was also filled with access to Hollywood and Vaudeville celebrities who were his father's friends, such as Eddie Foy Jr., Buster Keaton, Groucho Marx, and Ethel Merman.
Lahr received a B.A. from Yale University. While there, he was a member of the literary fraternity of St. Anthony Hall and was an editor of the Yale Daily News. He also has a master's degree from Worcester College, Oxford University.
Lahr started his career managing theaters. In 1968, he was a literary adviser to the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was an advisor to the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in Manhattan, New York from 1969 to 1971. He also was a literary consultant for the Lincoln Center's Repertory Theater in the 1970s.
He has adapted several books for the stage; these plays were performed at the Royal National Theatre in London, the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, the Royal Exchange in Manchester, and in the West End of London.
In 2002, he co-wrote Elaine Stritch's one-woman show Elaine Stritch at Liberty. He and Stritch won a Tony Award and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical for the show. However, Lahr sued Strich, claiming she "cheated him of profits" from the play.
Lahr became a contributing editor to Evergreen Review in 1967. At the same time, he was a freelance theater critic for The Village Voice and as a general theater editor for Grove Press. He has also written for British Vogue, BroadwayWorld, the Daily Mail, Esquire, The Guardian, The Nation, The New Indian Express, The New Republic, The New York Times, The Paris Review, Slate, and The Telegraph.
In 1992, when he was fifty years old, Lahr became a staff writer and a senior drama critic at The New Yorker magazine. He wrote profiles, reviews, and behind-the-scenes portraits. He also began reviewing regional and international theater, expanding the magazine's coverage beyond Broadway for the first time. His profiles are biographies consisting of 8,000 to 10,000 words. Each article takes him three to four months to write and research. Throughout his time at The New Yorker, Lahr profiled more than forty actors, including Woody Allen, Roseanne Barr, Ingmar Bergman, Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench, Bob Hope, Eddie Izzard, Tony Kushner, David Mamet, Arthur Miller, Helen Mirren, Mira Nair, Mike Nichols, and Al Pachino. On unique aspect of a profile by him is that "Lahr typically receives more access to his subjects than they've ever allowed before. Just as he wants to write about them, they want to be written about in his magazine." For example, Sean Penn gave his mother's telephone number to Lahr.
In 2000, his compilation book, Show and Tell: New Yorker Profiles, included a profile of his mother who was a Ziegfeld Follies girl. Lahr's most recent book, Joy Ride: Show People and Their Shows in the US (2015), is a collection of his New Yorker profiles on playwrights and directors, as well as some of his reviews of their work.
He retired from The New Yorker in 2013. His 21-year stint is the longest in the magazine's history. He is currently a chief theater critic emeritus of The New Yorker and writes two profiles a year.
In 1987, Lahr co-produced Prick Up Your Ears, a film version of his 1978 book about a British playwright, Prick Up Your Ears: The Biography of Joe Orton. Lahr was portrayed in the film by Wallace Shawn.
Lahr has also written movie scripts, including the short film Sticky My Fingers...Fleet My Feet which was nominated for a 1971 Academy Award for Best Short Subject, Live Action Subjects.
When Lahr was 21 years old, he decided to connect to his father by writing a biography. Eight years later, he finished the biography called Notes on a Cowardly Lion, the week before his father died. Since then, he has written many other books, including the novels and biographies of theatrical figures. His biographies include the Australian comedian Barry Humphries, Joe Orton, and Frank Sinatra.
In 1994, Lahr published an expose in The New Yorker detailing the behavior of Lady Maria St. Just, the literary executor of playwright Tennessee Williams's estate. Lahr's profile helped Lyle Leverich publish Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams after "a five-year legal stranglehold" by St. Just. In 2000, Leverich died while working on a planned second volume about Williams, and named Lahr as his successor in this project; Lahr agreed to complete book, covering Williams from 1945 to his death in 1983.
Lahr's stand-alone biography, Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, was published in 2014. In the United States, the biography won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Vursell Award, and the Lambda Literary Award for the best gay biography. In the United Kingdom, it won the 2015 Sheridan Morley Prize for Theatre Biography.
In July 1965, Lahr became engaged to Anthea Mander of Wightwick Manor in Wolverhampton who he met while they both were attending Oxford University. She was the daughter of the Liberal politician, art patron and industrialist Sir Geoffrey Mander. They married on August 12, 1965, at St. Peter's Church in Eaton Square, London. They also had a second wedding in New York City for Lahr's parents who were unable to travel to England. After their marriage, they lived in New York City. They had a son named Christopher.
Lahr moved to London in 1973. While he was still working for The New Yorker, he divided his time between the two cities, spending two weeks in New York City a month, returning home to London for the rest of the month. Rather than maintaining a residence in New York, he rented the maid's room of producer Margo Lion's apartment.
In 1988, Lahr began a relationship with New York-born ex-pat actress Connie Booth, co-writer and a cast member of Fawlty Towers and ex-wife of John Cleese. Lahr and Booth lived together for fifteen years before marrying 2000. They live in Highgate in north London.
Lahr contributed to John Kerry's presidential campaign and Democratic organizations. His sister is the editor and writer Jane Lahr.