Lahr, John

John Lahr

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John Henry Lahr is a British-based American theater critic, and the son of actor Bert Lahr. Since 1992, he has been the senior drama critic at The New Yorker magazine. His books include Joy Ride and Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh.

Lahr was born in Los Angeles, California, the son of Mildred (née Schroeder) (1915-1998), a former "Miss Cincinnati", and Bert Lahr (1895-1967), an actor. Lahr holds a B.A. from Yale University and a master's degree from Worcester College, Oxford. He has written many books, including the novels The Autograph Hound and Hot to Trot, as well as three biographies of important theatrical figures: one on his father called Notes on a Cowardly Lion; one of the British playwright Joe Orton called Prick Up Your Ears; and one of the Australian comedian Barry Humphries called Dame Edna Everage and the Rise of Western Civilization: Backstage with Barry Humphries. In 1987 he co-produced a film version of Prick Up Your Ears directed by Stephen Frears and written by Alan Bennett in which Lahr appeared as a character played by Wallace Shawn. Lahr also wrote the foreword to Love All the People: Letters, Lyrics, Routines, a 1994 collection of Bill Hicks's work.

In 2002, Lahr became the first drama critic ever to win a Tony Award for his part in writing actress Elaine Stritch’s one–woman show, "Elaine Stritch at Liberty", for which he and Stritch also won the Drama Desk Award for the Best Book to a Musical. Among his many awards, Lahr has twice won the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism.

In 1994, Lahr published a profile in The New Yorker detailing the vagaries of Lady Maria St. Just, an executor of playwright Tennessee Williams's estate. The profile helped liberate Lyle Leverich's biography of Williams, Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams, from a four-year legal stranglehold. While working on a planned second volume in 2000, Leverich died and named Lahr as his favored successor. Lahr agreed to complete the second volume, which would follow Williams from 1945 to his death in 1983. In October 2007, Lahr said that he was taking a half-year sabbatical from writing New Yorker profiles to work on the biography, and stated, "I'll probably finish it when I'm in my seventies."

When he was 73, Lahr's stand-alone biography "Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh" was published to great acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. In America, the biography won the National Book Critics Circle Award, The American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for "quality of prose", the Lamda Award for best gay biography and it was a finalist for the National Book Award. In the United Kingdom, it won the Sheridan Morley Prize for Theatre Biography. Writing in the London Sunday Times, John Carey said: "John Lahr's biography is magnificent. It fulfills the ultimate test for a literary biography by convincing you that the works cannot be understood without it." The biography, the London Observer, said, "confirms Lahr's standing as one of the greatest biographers writing today."

Lahr stepped down as Senior Drama Critic of the New Yorker in 2013, his twenty-one year stint at that position is the longest in the magazine's history. His most recent book "Joy Ride: Lives of the Theatricals" in the UK and "Joy Ride: Show People and Their Shows" in the US (2015) collects his New Yorker profiles on playwrights and directors, and some of his reviews of their work. Of that collection, the playwright John Guare said, "100 years from now this is where people will look to see what it was like back then."

Lahr was married for many years to the late Anthea Mander, daughter of the Liberal politician, art patron and industrialist Sir Geoffrey Mander, of the prominent Midlands family. In 1988, Lahr began a relationship with former actress Connie Booth; they married in 2000 and live together in a house in London. His sister is the editor and writer Jane Lahr.

Lahr has contributed to John Kerry's presidential campaign and Democratic organizations.