Class of 195
In a career that spanned 37 years at Newsweek, Jack Kroll specialized in being a generalist. He joined the magazine in 1963 as an art critic but went on to write 19 cover stories and more than 1,200 pieces reviewing art, theater, movies, books and dance. As a senior editor, a post to which he was appointed in 1964, he not only edited Newsweek's cultural sections but continued to write his own pieces, including cover stories on subjects as diverse as Janis Joplin and Pierre Boulez, Joyce Carol Oates and “All in the Family.” His tastes embraced the traditional and the avant-garde. He was an admirer of playwrights like Sam Shepard as well as the classicists, and he could appreciate Abstract Expressionists as well as Pop Artists.
One of his first big stories — Jack Ruby's shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald — began: "It was as if Damon Runyon had written the last act of a tragedy by Sophocles." As one of his colleagues later wrote, "That sentence is him all over: highbrow and lowbrow allusions colliding to create intellectual fission."
Kroll — who called himself a "cultural journalist" — was a jazz drummer and a sports fan who could expound on Miles Davis or Venus Williams with equal expertise. In 1973, he edited a special issue of Newsweek entitled "The Arts in America." An examination of this country's artistic spirit and direction, it won a 1974 National Magazine Award and a Page One Award from the Newspaper Guild of New York. In 1980, he won the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism. A year later, he was presented with an ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for his coverage of the death of John Lennon, and in 1982, his cover profile of Richard Pryor earned another Page One Award. His last cover story appeared in December 1998. It was a piece on Nicole Kidman’s Broadway debut in “The Blue Room.”
Kroll was also influential in one more area that had a direct effect upon some of his peers. It was traditional in those years for the nation’s two top newsweeklies, Newsweek and Time, not to give individual critics bylines. Kroll took a leading role in reversing that policy at Newsweek.
Born in Manhattan in 1926, he was christened John, but always called Jack. His father, Lester Kroll, was a radio personality also known by a name different from the one on his birth certificate. As John J. Anthony, host of “The Goodwill Hour,” he took telephone calls from listeners and advised them on how to sort out their troubled personal lives; his mother had been an Earl Carroll showgirl. Kroll started his college education at the University of
California, interrupted it to join the Army during the Korean War, and returned to New York and got his degree at the College in 1954. The following year, he received an M.A. in English and comparative literature from Hunter College.
For the next five years, Kroll was a copywriter with the advertising agency Benton & Bowles. In 1960, he joined the staff of Art News as an art critic, and in 1963, his editor gave him a recommendation to Newsweek, which hired him as its art critic. He was named senior editor in charge of all cultural sections in 1963, drama critic in 1967, and critic-at-large in 1975. Kroll died on June 8, 2000 at the age of 74.