Hollis Alpert, at 91; author cofounded film critic society

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Valerie J. Nelson
Los Angeles Times / December 7, 2007

LOS ANGELES - Hollis Alpert, a film critic and author who cofounded the National Society of Film Critics about 40 years ago in the living room of his New York apartment, has died. He was 91.

Mr. Alpert died of pneumonia Nov. 18 in Naples, Fla.

The society was started in 1966 after Mr. Alpert - then a critic for the weekly Saturday Review magazine - and other reviewers were denied membership in the New York Film Critics Circle, which then favored critics who worked for newspapers.

Influential critic Pauline Kael, who soon would work for The New Yorker, also played a key role in starting the group, said Richard Schickel, a founding member who was then Life magazine's movie critic.

"At the time, there was an enormous stir and fervor about the movies. . . . There was a little shaking of the foundations, and we were kind of at the forefront of that. It was fun," Schickel, who now reviews for Time magazine, said.

Even though the first members were all New Yorkers, they called themselves a national society because they wrote for publications with national circulation. Today, the group's 60 members also include critics for major daily and weekly newspapers.

Joe Morgenstern, who was then Newsweek's film critic, recalled that one reason he helped found the group was to counteract Bosley Crowther, The New York Times movie critic "who was the really dominating influence on the New York film scene. And it was a deadening influence."

The lesser-known Mr. Alpert "was widely seen as a serious, knowledgeable, dedicated film critic. The Saturday Review . . . was a considerable presence on the scene then when movie reviews mattered and were taken seriously as an intellectual matter," said Morgenstern, who is now The Wall Street Journal's film critic.

The world of entertainment also permeated Mr. Alpert's many fiction and nonfiction books.

He captured the controversial history of "The Life and Times of Porgy and Bess" (1990) in "crisp, engaging prose," according to a 1991 Baltimore Evening Sun review. In another book, "Broadway! 125 Years of Musical Theatre" (1991), he presented a concise history of the American musical.

Among the biographies he wrote were "The Barrymores" (1964), about the illustrious acting family, and "Fellini: A Life" (1986) about the Italian director.

Mr. Alpert novelized Hollywood filmmaking in "For Immediate Release" (1963) and "Smash" (1973), two books that demonstrated his ability to write readable fiction, according to Los Angeles Times reviews.

Film critic and historian Leonard Maltin said in an e-mail that Mr. Alpert "was an erudite man at a time when that was a virtue, not a liability, in the world of journalism and film criticism."

Born in Herkimer, N.Y., Mr. Alpert served in the Army as a combat historian, writing lengthy accounts of World War II battles while sending home short stories that were published in magazines.

After the war, Mr. Alpert worked as an assistant fiction editor at The New Yorker from 1950 to 1956. He continued to freelance book and film reviews to other publications, which led to his being named movie critic for Saturday Review.

In 1975, Mr. Alpert left his reviewing post. He was editor of American Film Magazine for six years.

Mr. Alpert leaves a sister, Anita Olkin of Ewing, N.J.

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