Eliot Fremont-Smith has died.

He was 78.

While book/daddy was in graduate school, Eliot Fremont-Smith was a model of what i thought a non-academic literary critic should be: learned but light with that knowledge, drily humorous, perceptive, willing to explore, to give an author a chance, but also swift with the hammer when it came to idiocy and lazy work.

I'd always wondered what happened to him after he left the Village Voice in 1984. To my mind, the Voice's literary criticism never really recovered.

The sad surprise was learning, in the NYTimes' obit, that he'd struggled with alcoholism for years. The last, badly written line of the obit doesn't make clear whether -- for the past 23 years -- Mr. Fremonth-Smith battled the bottle or if that battle had already led him to become a counselor, which he was for the past 23 years.

It reminded me a little of the memorial service for Jean Eckart, the former Broadway designer who, with her husband Bill, had created the sets, lighting and costumes for such incredible classic musicals as Damn Yankees and Mame. People from the worlds of Dallas and New York theater got up and spoke at length about what a wonderful artist and design teacher she'd been.

Then, at the very end, a middle-aged guy no one knew stood up and said, I didn't know any of that about Jean. I just knew her as my therapist. And she saved my life.

By her 50s, Jean had left the theater, left academia, and then worked as a therapist for decades. This whole, huge, other aspect of her life suddenly opened up to us, something we'd shamefully forgotten.

In any event, I felt a sharp stab at the loss of Mr. Fremont-Smith and a deep sympathy and respect for what he accomplished -- as a critic, as a counselor and as a struggling alcoholic.

September 8, 2007 10:58 AM |



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