The Playgoer: Donald Lyons, We Hardly Knew Ye

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Donald Lyons, We Hardly Knew Ye

I vaguely remember the name of critic Donald Lyons being quoted on various show ads in the 90s. Alas the former NY Post reviewer he has just passed away at 73, but he turns out to have quite an unusual background for the standard middle-aged twentieth-century mainstream newspaper critic:

The critic's slumping, rumpled figure betrayed nothing that would hint at Mr. Lyons' previous life as a member of artist Andy Warhol's circle at the fabled Factory in Chelsea. He, in fact, had roles in two of Warhol's highly eccentric, experiment films, "Space" (1965) and, more famously, "Chelsea Girls" (1966), and contributed articles to the Warhol-founded magazine Interview. Patti Smith, in her memoir, "Just Kids," credited Lyons with inspiring her to become a musician after the two visited the famed Max's Kansas City, a Factory haunt, to hear the Velvet Underground.
Even odder was that, before the Post, he reviewed at even more right-wing outlets like WSJ and New Criterion!


Brian Wallace said...

This is sad news.

I knew Donald--only very briefly and very slightly--about ten years ago when I was a publicist at a couple of regional theaters, and trying to cultivate a rapport with as many media outlets as I could.

It was my pleasure to have lunch or dinner with him on occasion, and I found him to be an an almost intimidatingly gifted man, supremely smart and generous. Perhaps it is a reflection on us that we might not expect such a renaissance man to have worked for the Post, et. al.

One of the things I learned in that job was that most theater critics really do love the live stage and know so much more about it (and a host of other topics) than we give them credit for. A lot of them would like to write more, but editors and a dwindling readership are willing to allot only so much space. Producers are so often only looking for a pull quote, and see the review as little more than a way to sell tickets. But Donald and others like him were of a breed that saw criticism as part of an integral part of cultural discourse.

I fell out of touch with him when I went to grad school (for which he generously wrote me a recommendation). I always kept his mailing address handy and always intended to drop him a line--and never did.

Another lesson learned. Don't put off saying hello again until it's too late, because one day it will be.

BabyDave said...

I had the pleasure of working with Donald when he reviewed films for the 1980's-version of Details.
It's quite sad that he is gone.