Edwin Wilson (1927-2023)

Author, theatre critic and teacher, Ed Wilson, died peacefully at home on December 2, 2023 at the age of 96.

He was born in Nashville, Tennessee, where he grew up with his parents, EE "Bitsy" and Catherine Wilson, and his younger sister Susanne. He attended Episcopal High School, where he was first introduced to his lifelong passion, theater.

Ed graduated from Vanderbilt University and then studied at Edinburgh and Yale, where he received the first Doctor of Fine Arts awarded by Yale. Ed moved to New York and from 1972-1994 he was the theater critic for the Wall Street Journal. He taught at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center for thirty years. He co-authored with Alan Goldfarb several college theater textbooks that are still widely in use.

Ed met and married Catherine "Chic" Stuart in 1967. Their 49-year marriage was one of extraordinary devotion. They lived in Manhattan and spent time in Quogue and Linville, North Carolina with many friends and family. Ed was president of the New York Drama Critics Circle and the Theater Development fund, Chairman of the Pulitzer Prize Drama Jury, and board member of the Tony Nominating Committee and the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the John Golden Fund. He hosted 90 half hour television interviews with many theater artists which appeared on CUNY-TV and PBS stations around the country.

Ed is survived by Matt Cambron (Cathy), Catherine Eberle (Reed), Charlie Robinson (Elizabeth), Wilson Robinson (Allison), Joanie and Bonnie Cambron, John Stuart (Bobbi) and Bob Stuart. Private burial will be held in Quogue. Donations may be made to the Linville Foundation, Sloan Kettering Cancer Center or the charity of your choice.

Published by New York Times on Dec. 9, 2023

Edwin Wilson was a critic, scholar, teacher/mentor of the first order. In an era when critics often sensationalized their reviews for readership, Edwin’s writings for The Wall Street Journal Edwin’s was thoughtful, concise, and fair. But that was his public side. There was also the consummate teacher, mentor and a champion of emerging forces and causes including American Dramaturgy. Few know that Edwin Wilson was an early advocate of LMDA when we early co-founders were wondering if this profession, with representatives from widely divergent geographical and ways of practicing, could survive and LMDA could support it. Edwin Wilson believed in LMDA, housed the early archives, created an office, championed it to others, and energized it’s early members. He even helped at the birthing of LMDA’s first Conference in 1986 at New Dramatists led by President Alexis Greene. 

But perhaps I remember his being a fierce advocate of my world now of 45 years from a moment on a staircase in the Spring of 1990 at The Actors Theater of Louisville Festival. I had been thoroughly drawn to Ellen McLaughlin’s Infinity’s House with David Strathairn. I sat beside my friends Oskar Eustace, James Nicola and we found ourselves leaning forward absorbed by the power and brilliance of the nuanced writing that explored Oppenheimer and so much more. It concluded and I raced, thrilled, up a staircase on a break and ran into Edwin Wilson. We chatted briefly and then a major New York theater critic interrupted us. Edwin thoughtfully stopped and introduced me as a Dramaturg from The Guthrie and now The Seattle Rep. The critic looked at me as if I were week old lint. The critic queried imperiously: “A dramaturg?” He gave Edwin and me a Lady Bracknellian—dismissive, barking “A Handbag!” judgment of me and the overall profession. But Edwin smiled, he would have none of it. He shared who I had worked with at those theaters and that I had worked on Broadway. The critic looked peaved, but he was clearly defeated by Edwin’s buoyancy and supportive, infectious energy for an “invisible” person and profession. Yes, we shall will miss him but Edwin Wilson’s past, invisible gestures still live among us and will continue to be a vital spark to us and our own formative future.

Mark Bly, Tribute to My Friend Edwin Wilson

Edwin Wilson was an exceptional theater critic for the Wall Street Journal, and when I was reviewing theater for TheaterWeek Magazine in the 1990s, it was always a great pleasure to exchange hellos and smiles (or the occasional grimace!) when passing each other in the aisle. He was dedicated to live theater -- as a critic, a committed supporter of LMDA and as a scholar. His Living Theater: A History, written with Alvin Goldfarb, is an illuminating portrait of live theater’s history and its evolution in our contemporary world. As he and Goldfarb wrote in the Introduction to their book, “The myriad of theatrical events and experiences open to us have their roots in the theater we have inherited.” 

It was those “myriad theatrical events and experiences” to which Edwin Wilson dedicated himself, and it is that dedication which we remain thankful for, and which we can hope to emulate, as we mourn his passing.

Alexis Greene, Tribute to Edwin Wilson

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