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Obituary of Joe Pollack: Writer, reviewer, man about town

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 9, 2012 - Joe Pollack, for many years St. Louis’ best-known man about town, died early Friday morning at his home in Clayton. He was 81 years old.

Mr. Pollack retired in 1995 after many years as the movie, food, wine and theater critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but he continued to write about his many interests, which also included sports and travel, until the day of his death. In addition to his blog, he wrote for St. Louis magazine and regional and national wine and travel publications.

“I found him at 2:27 this morning,” said Ann Lemons Pollack, his wife and co-blogger. “I had gone to bed, and he stayed up writing as he so often does. I woke up a couple of times and noticed that he had not come to bed and so I got up and went to see if he was all right and I found him in the bathroom. He was gone. There was no doubt, he was well gone.”

Ann Lemons Pollack is a veteran nurse, and she is credited with saving her husband’s life several years ago by noticing the early symptoms of a aneurysm and insisting, against his gruff objections, that he go immediately to the hospital.

“If I had to say what happened this time,” she said, “I would say that it was an embolism or a heart attack. It must have happened quickly, or he would have called out and awakened me.”

After calling 911, Pollack looked at her husband’s computer. She noticed, she said with a sense of sorrowful pride, that he had finished what he was writing. It was a review of the heart-wrenching movie “We Need to Talk About Kevin” for the Pollacks’ many-faceted blog. At 5:02 a.m., she posted the review of the movie, in time for its opening day.

“I was thinking about Joe the other day,” said Matt McGuire, manager of Brasserie by Niche in the Central West End and veteran St. Louis restaurateur. “I was listening to people talk about food on public radio, and I thought, ‘Joe Pollack was really ahead of the curve by 20 or 25 years.’ He was writing about food and restaurants before anybody else. Now it's like everybody is doing it.

“I remember him writing about Richard Perry (of the old Jefferson Avenue Boarding House) when I was in grade school. He was such an important guy in food in St. Louis for so long. He would write about a little Chinese place out on Olive one week and one of the important restaurants like Tony’s the next week, and you could trust him.

“Joe had eaten at all the good places in New York and Chicago and New Orleans and he knew where to get the good barbeque in Kansas City. He knew what he was talking about. I always figured, it someone was going to hold my fate in his hands, it would be nice if they knew what they were talking about. And Joe did.”

Joe Pollack was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., studied journalism at the University of Missouri in the late 1940s and early 1950s, wrote about sports for the old St. Louis Globe-Democrat, and worked for several years as a publicist for the old St. Louis Cardinals professional football team.

He joined the Post-Dispatch in 1972 and for the next 23 years was one of the best-known writers in St. Louis, doing movie, theater, restaurant and wine reviews and writing a general interest column. He was perhaps the most prolific journalist in town, and used to say, “I can write faster than anybody who can write better, and write better than anybody who can write faster.”

When reminded of that statement, Gerry Kowarsky laughed and said, “He was telling the truth.” Kowarsky, who now reviews plays for cable channel HEC-TV, got his start as a theater critic writing freelance reviews of community theater productions for Joe Pollack and the Post-Dispatch.

“Joe was really passionate about theater,” said Kowarsky. “When he was at the Post-Dispatch, his reviews mattered more than any others, and he still carried considerable weight when he was writing his blog. One reason was that he kept alive the old journalistic tradition of overnight reviews – he saw the play, went home and wrote it up, and got it on his blog by the next morning.

“Joe had the universal respect and affection of his colleagues. I’m really going to miss him.”

Robert Cohn, editor-in-chief emeritus of the Jewish Light, is also a longtime critic of film and theater. He said, “I was deeply saddened over the passing of my dear friend Joe Pollack.”

“Through the years, Joe has been a mentor, friend and respected colleague. I always looked forward to seeing Joe and his wife, Ann, at the Rep and at film screenings. His sense of humor, his eclectic critical skills and his warm and engaging way with his fellow critics were greatly valued and we will all miss his presence and his writing.”

He served for six years as president of the Post-Dispatch chapter of the American Newspaper Guild, and remained active in the union after retirement.

In addition to his wife, he leaves three daughters: Wendy Pollack of Stavanger, Norway; Dara Silverberg of Tucson, Ariz., and Sharon Brown of St. Louis; and two stepchildren, Terry Lemons and Jennifer Lemons Hagler. He has four grandchildren.

Update: A memorial will be held at 11 a.m. March 17 at the Mainstage of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. According to Ann Pollack, "Joe was quite specific that he wanted memorial tributes to be for arts organizations."

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