Farewell to Stewart Klein, theatre critic for New York's Channel 5 for more than 30 years. Mr. Klein, 66, died May 9 of colon cancer.
Mr. Klein reviewed movies as well as theater, but he was well remembered for being one of the few television critics to venture to Off-Broadway and smaller venues. He had the air of a curmudgeonly math instructor, yet there was always a tongue-in-cheek humor to even his most glib dismissals. Like most TV reviewers, Mr. Klein had to squeeze his critiques into a 90-second time slot, while leaving room for a clip from the production in question. Nevertheless, his reviews were extremely concise, using the fewest words to convey the most information. (Mr. Klein's channel 5 colleague, Bob O'Brien, credits him with the original idea of bringing camera crews into Broadway theaters for clips to show during reviews.)
Mr. Klein began his journalism career as a copy boy for the Philadelphia Enquirer and later as a columnist and editor for the Philadelphia Daily News. A Philadelphia native and Temple University graduate, Mr. Klein started as a radio reporter in 1961, according to the New York Times obituary. Mr. Klein joined The Fox Five 10 O'Clock News in 1967 and had been with "Good Day New York" since 1988. In 1980, he was cited by the Associate Press for the year's best coverage of a breaking story -- the death of 42nd Street director Gower Champion.
A three-time Emmy winner (including one for lifetime achievement), Klein suffered a mild stroke in winter 1998 but returned to work, making his last television appearance this past February. Robin Carter has been doing theater and film reviews since Klein's absence.
O'Brien, a channel 5 reporter and 31-year colleague of Mr. Klein, told Playbill On-Line his friend's strongest asset was his sense of humor. "It enriched everything he did," O'Brien said. "He was not a pompous kind of person. He took his work seriously but not himself. And he keeps the theater and moviegoing public from spending their entertainment budget on something not worth their time and money." Continued O'Brien, "[Mr. Klein] always gave his own honest opinion of the shows he reviewed. He told this story on the 25th anniversary of Channel 5 news a few years ago: Some movie producer took him to dinner at Le Cirque and drove him back in his limo, and then handed him a press kit, saying `Take a close look at this.' Stew smelled something fishy, so he ducked into a men's room stall. Inside the press kit were a hundred crisp hundred dollar bills -- $10,000 in cash. Stew called the guy back and said, ` I really can't accept this. Please send your driver to pick this up.' The guy replied, `No, I'll get it myself!'"
Added O'Brien, "Stew was honest to the core. If he liked a show, he would be effusive about it and be lavish in his praise. If he hated something, that's when his sense of humor became most deft. He was famous for his one-word reviews: `Ishtar - Stinkar.' `Feds - Feh!' `Tank - Stank.' When Titanic opened on Broadway, he stood outside the theater marquee and said, 'Glub glub glub. This one sank even before it hit the iceberg.'"
Concluded O'Brien, "He really loved his work and wanted to get back to doing what he wanted to do. He was a sweet man. Everybody who knew him loved him, and he will be very greatly missed."
Mr. Klein's funeral will be held May 13, 10 AM, at George Washington Memorial Park in Paramus, NJ. The day before, May 12, a memorial will be held at Frank A. Patti & Kenneth Mikatarian Funeral Home, 327 Main Street in Fort Lee, NJ. The family will receive guests 3-5 & 7-9 PM.
Colleague O'Brien told Playbill On-Line that Mr. Klein "always said his favorite funeral was that of Jule Styne, where everybody came around and roasted him with funny stories. So that's what we're going to do at the 7-9 service."
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations in Mr. Klein's name be made to the Actors' Fund, 1501 Broadway, New York, NY 10036.
-- By David Lefkowitz