19 Feb 2002
The son of Morris and Rose (Morson) Friedman, he was born in the Bronx, New York, on December 21, 1935. Majoring in English, he received his B.A. degree from City College of New York in 1957, followed by an M.A. in English from Boston University in 1959. Enrolling in the doctoral program at Harvard in 1959, he studied part-time until 1967 while carrying out teaching stints at C.C.N.Y., Boston University, and Harvard. He completed his course requirements and passed his orals, but never got around to completing his planned dissertation on Sir John Gielgud's several productions of King Lear.
His lifelong enthusiasm for the theater may have been inherited from his father (1901-61), a Yiddish stage actor who was especially lauded for his performance as the old bookbinder Itche Meyer in the left-wing Artef troupe's 1939 production of Clinton Street at New York's Mercury Theater. The son always took special pride in the father's theatrical activities.
During the 1960s, Arthur Friedman was involved in numerous Harvard productions at the Loeb Drama Center and Agassiz Theater, acting with such fledgling performers as Stockard Channing, Tommy Lee Jones, John Lithgow, and James Woods. In 1968 he also directed a production of Alice in Wonderland at the Loeb.
In 1966 he joined the faculty of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, where for three decades his offerings regularly included courses in Shakespeare. For reasons of health, he retired as professor of English in September of 1996.
The journalistic side of his career began when he served as first-string theater critic for the Harvard Drama Review (1965-67), the Boston Spectator (1966-67), the Cambridge Phoenix (1969-72), the Real Paper (1972-81), and the Cambridge Express (1981-83). In addition to reviewing shows, he also penned a regular hard-hitting column entitled "Bouquets and Brickbats."
When the celebrated critic Elliot Norton retired in 1982, Friedman was soon engaged to succeed him at the Boston Herald. He covered shows for more than a dozen years until the progression of his disease forced him to cut back to his periodic "Curtains" column, the last of which appeared in 1998. Although he was allotted far less space at the Herald than at his previous publications, he was twice named Best Theater Critic by Boston Magazine.
In 1990 he was invited to join the selection committee of the annual Elliot Norton Awards in theater, and he continued to participate as much as feasible until tendering his resignation in May of 2001.
He was a member of the American Federation of Teachers and, for a time, the American Theatre Critics Association. In addition to his newspaper work he contributed articles to Educational Theatre Journal, Prime Time, and Shakespeare Newsletter. Though he lived in Cambridge continuously from 1957 until shortly before his death, he let nobody forget that he remained a lifelong booster of the New York Yankees. And he often stated that the most charismatic performer he had encountered in his lifetime was Paul Robeson.
Towards the end of his life he turned over a lot of valuable material to the Harvard Theatre Collection, which will gratefully accept contributions in Friedman's memory (Harvard Theatre Collection, Pusey Library, Harvard University, Cambridge MA 02138).
Friedman is survived by a sister and brother-in-law, Esther S. and Joseph Williams, and a niece, Alisha Williams — all of New York City — along with a cityful of admirers.
— by Caldwell Titcomb (Boston)
Special to Playbill On-Line