Otis L. Guernsey Jr., longtime chronicler of American theatre as editor of the "Best Plays" series, died May 2 of pancreatic cancer, at his home in Woodstock, VT, according to Jeffrey Eric Jenkins, chairman of the American Theatre Critics Association.
Earlier this year, Mr. Guernsey, who was 82, retired after 36 years as editor of "Best Plays." Jenkins succeeded him.
In addition to his work on "Best Plays," Mr. Guernsey was "a Herald Tribune man" who worked at the now-defunct Manhattan paper for 19 years, rising from copy boy to become a film and theatre critic. As arts editor of the Herald Tribune, he hired and mentored a young writer who later became well known as a theatre critic himself: Walter Kerr.
He became a free-lance writer in 1960. His "Season in New York" chapters in the "Best Plays" series were collected in "Curtain Times: The New York Theater 1965-1987" (Applause Books). The "Best Plays Yearbook" was founded in 1919 by Burns Mantle and is an invaluable source for artists, writers and historians. It documents openings, closings, deaths, facts, figures and information about productions on and off Broadway and in the regions. It also offers synopses of and excerpts from significant plays.
Mr. Guernsey's father, Otis Sr., was a former college football star who later became CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch. According to Jenkins, "Otis liked to tell how his father was once asked, 'How do you find the time to run that store and also write all those reviews?'" Mr. Guernsey worked for "Show" magazine and edited the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." He received the Margo Jones Citizen of the Theater Medal, the New England Theater Conference Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Founders Award of the Theatre Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in January 2001.
He was a founding member of the American Theatre Critics Association and served on the New York Film Critics Circle (past chairman), the New York Drama Critics Circle, the Pulitzer Committee for Drama, the Tony nominating committee and many others.
Mr. Guernsey is survived by his wife, Dorianne, and two brothers, David T. Guernsey of North Falmouth, MA, and Peter E. Guernsey of New York City.
— By Kenneth Jones