"Here's to the health of the guy who just died," said Damian Woetzel, the recently retired principal dancer at New York City Ballet, hoisting a glass to late critic Clive Barnes after a Nov. 2 memorial celebration held at Lincoln Center's packed Walter Reade Theatre.
Barnes, who reviewed theatre and dance for two out of the three New York dailies, went out with a SRO gathering — fairly unheard of for a critic. His widow, Valerie Taylor-Barnes, assembled the guest list from his Rolodex, and his confrere at the New York Post, Michael Riedel, lined up an impressive array of speakers who leaned more toward dance (Frederic Franklin, Anna Kisselgoff, Arthur Mitchell, Wendy Perron, Alastair Macaulay, Paul Taylor) than theatre (Edward Albee, Bernard Gersten, Barbara Hoffman, John Simon).
All spoke amusingly and emotionally. But it turned out to be the dear departed himself who stole his own memorial, thanks to a 2005 clip from the PBS show "Theater Talk." Commenting on his idiosyncratic speaking voice (an odd amalgam of fussy hesitation, clipped British accent and tentative lisp), Barnes recalled, "I once had a taxi driver who said, 'That voice! That voice! I know that voice! You're Clive Barnes, aren't you?' I reacted modestly and said yes. He said, 'Tell me, that accent — what is it? English, gay or just affected?'"
It was English, and Barnes cited his first interview with the jittery management of The New York Times: "They were very strict. They wanted someone male, about 40 and straight as a dance critic, and there weren't any in America. This was made with great delicacy with lots of ums and ers. 'We don't hire people, er — we like to hire — well, family men, y'know.' This was about 1966, and I felt like saying to the person whom I was talking to, 'Would you like for me to go out into the news room and bring you in some of those kind of rather dubious people that you don't hire?'"