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The Boston Globe

Obituaries

Jay Carr, 77; Globe film critic known for prolific writing, kindness

Mr. Carr was the Globe’s chief film critic from 1983 until 2002.

Jim Bulman/Globe Staff/File 1995

Mr. Carr was the Globe’s chief film critic from 1983 until 2002.

Sitting at a desk which, like his home, had been overtaken by books and records, Jay Carr often wrote through the night as he reviewed two, three, or four movies at a time.

As the Globe’s chief film critic from 1983 until 2002, he wrote thousands of reviews, end-of-year lists, and features on actors, working at a pace that made run-of-the-mill prolific writers look like slackers. For nearly 20 years he averaged roughly a byline a day, seven days a week. Four-review days were not unusual and editions that carried his byline two or three times were commonplace.

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Mr. Carr was also known as a generous writer and colleague, whether highlighting a poignant moment in the life of a movie star he profiled, treating gently a mediocre effort by a good director, or offering encouragement to young colleagues.

“To his Boston area readership he made the language of film accessible to all with warm, avuncular prose,” said Tom Meek, president of the Boston Society of Film Critics. “Jay always looked for the touching human aspect in a film, an attribute he embodied in his life as well. Inside or outside a movie theater, Jay Carr was one of the nicest people I ever met, ever warm and ever kind.”

Mr. Carr, who hosted a “Screening Room” segment on New England Cable News for many years and wrote reviews for Turner Classic Movies, died of late complications related to radiation therapy for cancer. He was 77 and was discovered in his Somerville home Thursday when he did not respond to the arrival of a dog walker who was returning his dog.

“Jay was the arbiter of cinematic taste in Boston for two critical decades, bringing countless moviegoers to countless memorable film experiences,” said Ty Burr, who began reviewing movies for the Globe after Mr. Carr retired. “Stepping into his shoes as Globe film critic was a daunting task – they’re still too big — and it’s a testimony to his status as Boston institution that 12 years after taking over for him, I still get asked ‘Where’s Jay Carr?’ on a regular basis.”

Burr added that Mr. Carr “was passionate about the medium, and he wrote with an elegance and wit that rarely attracted attention to themselves. In person, he was gracious and self-effacing, and only after talking with him awhile did you realize how sharp his opinions were and how well reasoned.”

‘To his Boston area readership he made the language of film accessible to all with warm, avuncular prose.’

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Mr. Carr, who also was the editor of “The A List: The National Society of Film Critics’ 100 Essential Films,” brought a breadth of cultural awareness to film criticism. Lincoln Millstein, who was one of Mr. Carr’s editors at the Globe and is now senior vice president and assistant to the CEO of Hearst Corp., said in an e-mail that “Jay produced a mountain of copy filled with knowledge, wisdom, and mirth. He had a wide range [film, theater, books] and a profound work ethic.”

Before moving to Boston, Mr. Carr worked at the New York Post and the Detroit News, where he reviewed theater, classical music, and movies. He was awarded the 1971-72 George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism, given out by the heads of the English departments at Cornell, Princeton, and Yale universities.

The award committee said Mr. Carr “produced in his daily reviewing a body of dramatic criticism remarkable for its range and solidity. It is a lucid and self-effacing criticism, sensitive to details of theatrical technique, no less than thematic substance.”

The oldest of four children, Jay Philip Carr grew up in the Bronx, N.Y. His mother had been a waitress and grew up in Eastern Europe. His father, a bartender, was an orphan who supplemented his income in earlier years as a pool hustler. Neither finished elementary school, yet the family read several newspapers a day in the household.

As a 3-year-old, Mr. Carr began earning money with his precocious reading skills. His father “could win bets in bars, walking in with a toddler and saying, ‘He can read newspapers,’ ” said Mr. Carr’s brother, Dr. Daniel Carr of Brookline.

Mr. Carr graduated from the Bronx High School of Science and received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from City College of New York. While there, he edited the college newspaper and began working for the Jersey City Journal, where he was a police reporter after graduating. Speaking to a class at Trinity College in Hartford years later, he recalled being “a really bad police reporter,” adding that “basically I just was really bad at talking to cops,” according to an account in The Trinity Tripod, the student newspaper.

Drafted into the Army, he spent two years stationed in Kentucky, where he met Nancy Hutchison. They married and had three children.

That marriage ended in divorce, as did two others. In 1991, Mr. Carr and his fiancee, film critic Kathy Huffhines, were visiting Philadelphia and were passengers in a vehicle that was struck by a falling branch after a storm. She died a few days later.

In his appearance before the Trinity College class, Mr. Carr said his initial reviewing efforts were unimpressive, “but I knew that I wanted to be a critic. When you’re a columnist there are days you have nothing to say, and it shows. When you’re a critic, your subject is always right in front of you.”

The Globe first courted Mr. Carr when there was an opening for a television critic. “Afterward, he declared that his chances were probably hurt by saying he had never owned a television,” his brother said.

When a film critic job subsequently opened up, Mr. Carr moved to Boston, bringing along a collection of albums that his family estimated at more than 200,000, and boxes containing tens of thousands of books. One landlord turned him down after seeing what was in the moving van. A second had to reinforce sagging beams in the building once he moved in.

When he moved to his Somerville home, he built an extension with a reinforced cement floor to house his albums and books.

“I would call him witty, eloquent, magnanimous, indomitable, and a bon vivant,” his brother said. “He had this debonair presence and could turn everything into fun.”

Mr. Carr’s daughter Diane of San Francisco said that he “would be attracted to, and attract to him, like-minded spirits, so there was never a shortage of good conversations and a good laugh.”

A service will be announced for Mr. Carr, who in addition to his brother and daughter leaves a son, Richard of Ferndale, Mich.; another daughter, Julia of Midleton in County Cork, Ireland; a sister, Mary Taylor of Boynton Beach, Fla.; his partner, Rebecca FitzSimons of Kensington, Md.; her two sons, Isaac FitzSimons of Seattle and Charles FitzSimons of Kensington; and six grandchildren.

When Mr. Carr retired, he called his long tenure at the Globe “a privileged existence” and added, “I’ll miss the friends I’ve made here.”

“He was about as kind a man as you’d ever want to meet,” said Globe critic Mark Feeney, a Pulitzer Prize-winner in 2008 for arts criticism for the Globe, “and who wouldn’t want to meet a man as kind as Jay?”

As a writer who spent much of his working life in theaters, Feeney added, Mr. Carr “may have spent more time in the dark than anyone I’ve known — it almost seemed sometimes that he’d seen every movie made — but despite that fact, or maybe because of it, he brought light wherever he went.”

Bryan Marquard
can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.
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