Walter Kerr: A Legacy in Words

by John Bell | Aug 25, 2014

Walter Kerr

DeSales University is honored to hold the working library of the New York Times Pulitzer prize- winning theater critic and playwright Walter Kerr. Located in the Trexler Library, the collection includes over 3000 titles which Mr. Kerr used when writing his reviews. The books are available for circulation on the second floor of the library.

American critic, playwright, and director, Walter Kerr was one of the most influential theatre critics of his generation, and also an accomplished theatre artist - a rare balance. Born in Evanston, Illinois, he was educated at Northwestern University and took a teaching job at Catholic University in 1938. A number of plays and musicals which Kerr wrote, co-wrote, or adapted transferred to Broadway, including Count Me In (1942), Stardust (1943), and Song of Bernadette (1946 with his wife Jean Kerr). He moved to New York in 1949 to become a theatre critic for Commonweal; in 1951 he left that publication for the New York Herald Tribune where he worked until 1966 when he became the chief drama critic until his retirement in 1983. Kerr was noted for the intelligence of his criticism and his strong sense of principle; he never attacked a production on moral grounds. In 1990 the Ritz Theatre on Broadway was renamed in his honor.

Jean Kerr

American comic author and playwright and wife of Walter Kerr, Jean Kerr had a knack for finding wry humor in the worlds of marriage, suburbia, and show business. Her novel Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1957) was made into a movie (1960) and a television series (1965-67). Her other books include The Snake Had All the Lines (1960) and How I Got to Be Perfect (1978). Among her plays are Mary, Mary (1961), Poor Richard (1964), Finishing Touches (1973), and Lunch Hour (1980).

"The gift of one's library is such a beautiful legacy. It captures not only the breadth of a person's interests, but, in the case of the Kerrs', it chronicles a history of the performing arts in the 20th century. To place such a collection at a liberal arts college seems so right, because Walter and Jean Kerr were real Renaissance people" say John Bell, head of the Division of Performing Arts.

Each fall semester, Bell, working in collaboration with Michele Mrazik, a reference librarian in the Trexler Library, constructs a "Walter Kerr Scavenger Hunt" which leads the freshmen theatre majors into the stacks, the collection and the archives to discover and explore the scope of the Kerrs' gift. "It would be silly not to tie the collection in with the Introduction to Theatre course as a way of introducing the students to Walter and Jean Kerr and to the various holdings within the collection" says Bell.

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