Born: July 13, 1905 in Lutherville, Md.
Died: March 7, 1981 in Mount Kisco, N.Y.
Known for: His tenure as the New York Times in-house film critic who lived in Winston-Salem in the ’10s.
Bosley Crowther wrote more than 4,000 film reviews as the New York Times film critic from 1940 to 1967, and the newspaper eulogized him as “one of the nation’s most powerful and respected voices on the cinema.” He was known for his sometimes brutal honesty. Of 21st Century Fox’s “Pin Up Girl” starring the famed Betty Grable, he said, “Could it be that this is the musical which really scraped the bottom of the barrel?”
The second of three children born to Eliza Hay Leisenring and Francis Bosley Crowther Sr., Crowther was born just north of Baltimore where his father was employed with an oil company. They lived in Winston-Salem from 1911 to 1921 on N. Spring Street — a few doors from R.J. Reynolds — before moving to Washington D.C. A Princeton University graduate, Crowther wrote for the school paper, attracting the attention of the New York Times. He initially declined a job offer for $30 a week, preferring to find a position with a smaller paper in the South, but none of them paid more than half of the Times’ original offer.
He was aware of the impact of his words and held a high standard for movie quality and the studios’ social responsibility. He extended those high expectations beyond the theater, taking on Sen. Joseph McCarthy with veiled and not-so-veiled jabs in reviews of movies such as “The Manchurian Candidate,” and in features about London-born actor Charlie Chaplin that frankly discussed the Senate’s inability to force him from the industry — and the country. His approach earned him accolades, and he received the first award for film criticism given by the Screen Directors Guild. He was chosen to be president of the New York Film Critics Circle three times.
Ultimately, it was his standards that cost him his position at the Times when he panned Warren Beatty’s 1967 “Bonnie and Clyde” for its gratuitous violence. He remained unapologetic and went on to say, “My first rule has been to scrutinize those pictures that have been the breakthroughs that have opened new ground not just in techniques of expression, but in the discoveries and revelations they have made.”