YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Polly Warfield, 89; L.A. Critic Known for Her Upbeat Theater Reviews

October 04, 2003|Don Shirley | Times Staff Writer

Very few theater critics are beloved by the artists they review. In Los Angeles, Polly Warfield was the exception to that rule.

Warfield, 89, died Thursday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center of complications arising from an Aug. 19 car accident near her Gardena home.

She was best known for hundreds of upbeat reviews of Los Angeles theatrical productions, primarily in the weekly actors trade newspapers Drama-Logue and Back Stage West.

"Not that she was a pushover, but she always came in with a glass-half-full attitude and an undying faith in artists," said David Emmes, producing artistic director of South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa.

Her praise was never "hollow," said Richard Scaffidi, a longtime colleague, but always "literate and insightful."

"She was never dishonest," he said. "She had the gift of wanting to find the best thing about every production, and that's what she would accentuate. She was a bona fide, knowledgeable critic who came from a perspective that was benign."

Warfield once wrote that she preferred to be called a reviewer, rather than the harsher-sounding "critic."

She didn't begin professional reviewing until relatively late in life. She had previously worked as radio station KNX's first female newscaster and as a radio producer for Eleanor Roosevelt.

Born Theola Arlene Beech in Brownville, Neb., she took the name Polly from the character of Polly Pepper in a favorite book, "The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew." Her mother died when she was 4. A few years later, she was sent to live in Gardena with an aunt, Nettie Carr.

Warfield wrote plays while a student at Gardena High School, from which she graduated in 1932. At Los Angeles City College, she studied English, drama and journalism, and she appeared as Kate in "The Taming of the Shrew" -- a case of casting against type, judging from her personality in recent years.

After a brief marriage that ended in divorce, she worked at a gas company until she got a job at KNX in 1941. In late 1943, she began reporting the 6 a.m. news, using the name Katherine Carr. "Femme Newscaster for Early Risers," reported Variety. She met her second husband, Patrick Warfield, at the station.

In 1948, they moved to New York, where she produced "Anna and Eleanor," a radio program featuring the former first lady, for 10 months. After the program ended, Warfield worked for two years at the San Francisco Chronicle before retiring to raise her two daughters.

She and her husband briefly operated a floating Chinese restaurant, the Canton Ferry, moored off Oakland. But they ultimately divorced, and she returned to Gardena about 1960.

Warfield worked for the Gardena Valley News from 1961 to 1976, rising to the position of editor. She started reviewing plays there in a column called the Passionate Playgoer.

Although politically conservative, Warfield wrote reviews for the left-wing Los Angeles Free Press in 1976 and for Drama-Logue in 1980, where she became theater editor. She moved to Back Stage West as senior critic when it bought Drama-Logue in 1998.

The next year, Warfield received a lifetime achievement award from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, which also created the Polly Warfield Award, presented each year to a small or mid-size theater company for a distinguished season. She received the first annual Queen of the Angels award at the L.A. Weekly theater awards in 2000.

For many years, Warfield attended as many as five plays a week, though in recent years she had slowed down to about two a week. But she was still writing a weekly column, as well as reviews for Back Stage, at the time of her accident.

Survivors include her daughters, Carola Clasen of Long Beach and Jocelyn Lane of Houston; and three grandsons. A celebration of her life is scheduled for Nov. 17 at 8 p.m. at El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood.

Los Angeles Times Articles