By Robert Simonson
07 Mar 2014
Though he held positions as daily theatre critic at Women's Wear Daily, New York Law Journal, Saturday Review and the New York Post, Mr. Gottfried was eventually less famous as a journalist than as a biographer, taking a long view of the stage, and typically spending years on his carefully researched books.
Success came early for the writer. He received Rockefeller Foundation grants in 1966 and in 1967. And, his first book of criticism, “A Theatre Divided: The Postwar American Stage,” published in 1967, won the George Jean Nathan Award for dramatic criticism.
In a review of the book, the New York Times wrote, "His opinions are forceful, clearly stated and strongly held. He is a writer of muscular prose and is an observer with an eagle's eye view of the contemporary theatre." The review added, however, that "the trouble is that Mr. Gottfried is not a team player. Virtually no single enterprise and no single person in the theatre, with the possible exception of Beckett, Pinter and Robbins, satisfies him."
Mr. Gottfried was, indeed, a man of strong argument. Soon after that review appeared, he wrote a lengthy letter, published in the Times, taking New York Times theatre critic Walter Kerr to task as an apologist for Broadway.
In the years that followed, Mr. Gottfried, despite writing for Women's Wear Daily, exercised a considerable amount of influence in theatre circles. His articles began to appear in the Times' Arts & Leisure section—pieces that often attracted a fiery letter to the editor or two themselves. Another book of essays, "Opening Nights," followed in 1970.
Mr. Gottfried published what is probably his best-known book, the popular “Broadway Musicals,” a broad survey of American musical theatre, in 1979, and followed it up with “More Broadway Musicals,” in 1991. In addition to Miller, Harris and Fosse, the subjects of his biographies included Angela Lansbury, Danny Kaye, Stephen Sondheim and George Burns. His biographies frequently delved as deeply into their subject's private lives as they did into their work, a fact that sometimes rankled their targets. For the Miller biography, the playwright agreed to be interviewed only about his writing, and nothing else.
In 1974 he dipped his toe into theatre work, authoring an American version of the West End musical Bar Mitzvah Boy for an Off-Broadway production.
Martin Gottfried was born Oct. 9, 1933, in New York City. He graduated with a B.A. from Columbia University in 1955 and attended law school from 1955-57. He served in the U.S. Army, Military Intelligence, from 1957-59.
He was a guest professor of theatre at Columbia University, Carnegie-Mellon University, Rutgers Universtiy and Colorado College.