PATRICK O’CONNOR 1925-2012
WRITER, PUBLISHER, POET, THEATER AND DANCE CRITIC
by Ellen Levene
Patrick O’Connor, writer, theater and dance critic, publisher, television producer, poet, and theater director, died from complications of pneumonia on Saturday, October 13, 2012, in Houston, Texas. He was 87.
E.F. Benson, the author of the Mapp and Lucia books, owed a huge debt to Patrick , who published them in this country when he was at CBS Books, NAL, Warner Books, and Pocket Boooks, among others. (Patrick actually used Mapplucia as his email address.) He also published a series of first-and-only novels by the likes of New York City Ballet’s Lincoln Kirstein and The New Yorker’s Janet Flanner (“Genet” was her nom de plume), and he annually commissioned a “beach” novel, always with great success. He published the now-legendary Edwin Denby in paperback book form. At the other end of the spectrum, Patrick edited (Father) Andrew Greeley, the Chicago-based priest who wrote best-selling (trashy) novels.
(Robert) Patrick O’Connor was born in coal territory—Braddock, Pennsylvania—the eldest of four (a cousin also lived with the family and was considered another sibling), on August 26, 1925. His father was the soccer coach at Carnegie Tech. Braddock continued to play a major role in Patrick’s life: Up until quite recently, Patrick wrote a weekly-ish column for the local paper, The Valley Mirror, about his life and experiences from all over the country and the world. He continued to review theater, celebrating the Oregon Shakespearean Festival, which he attended for at least one week every year (until this one). His first book, No Poem for Fritz (1978), is all poetry. His second, Don’t Look Back: A Memoir (1993), like the third, which will be issued posthumously, is a collection of short pieces. He served as editor for The Prayers of Man, an anthology.
During the 1960s and ’70s he was the first on-air reviewer of both theater and dance at the then-new Channel 13/WNET New York. More recently, he reported on the arts on Lee Ryan’s program on WBAI. Patrick had attended Catholic University, where his classmates, who became lifelong friends, included Sada Thompson and Philip Bosco and where he studied with New York Times critic Walter Kerr (Patrick would quote Kerr on the subject of Chekhov; Kerr said that Chekhov was not a playwright. This, of course, appalled almost everyone). With these classmates , he ran a theater troupe in Rochester (Olympia Dukakis was the box-office treasurer), eventually coming to New York, where he had a variety of jobs, including that of assistant to a theatrical agent. One of his very best friends was Norma Lee Clark, Woody Allen’s secretary for 30 years, who was encouraged by Patrick to start writing. She had quite a bit of success with her bodice-rippers.
Patrick was a major fan of everything. (Were you to ask him how he enjoyed a performance, he inevitably replied, “I was crazy about it.”). He had on-going correspondence with a wide range of artists, writers and academics; among them Paul Taylor, F. Scott Fitzgerald-expert Matthew Bruccoli, and Robert Wilson. He launched many careers, including those of Leonard Maltin and Michael Medvedev, and he mentored Hilton Als, now a staff writer and theater critic at The New Yorker and professor at Columbia University.
Patrick was a founding member of the Dance Critics Association and also served as its president and conference coordinator, dipping into his own pocket when DCA’s funds were frozen. Whenever a dance book was published, he would insist that he be sent a copy and a second one be sent to the Patrick O’Connor Dance Library, in Israel. As a dance critic (and sometime judge), he attended the annual competition in Varna, Bulgaria.
He made many, many lifelong friends. One of them was an East German scientist whose son is one of Patrick’s godchildren and to whom Patrick would send long-playing records. For years, his friend would express his confusion about Patrick’s choice of records: Why send us classical records? One day, he decided to listen to one. It turned out that Patrick had been sneaking jazz records into East Germany in Beethoven sleeves.
Patrick lived in New York City most of his adult life, moving to Killington, Vermont, so his partner, the late Andrew Ciesielski, and he could be ski instructors. Then, they moved to Glendale, California and also had a home in Pompano Beach, Florida.
Patrick was cremated. There will be memorials in Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale at a later time. He is survived by two sisters and one brother, dozens of nieces and nephews, and by his partner, Bill Sansom of Houston. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Dance Critics Association: P.O. Box 1882, Old Chelsea Station, New York, NY 10013, Attn: Patrick O’Connor Memorial Fund. (Please put “Patrick O’Connor Memorial Fund” also on the memo portion of the check.) All donations will be entirely tax-deductible.
Ellen Levene was a dance publicist for more than 40 years. She worked with nearly all the majors (NYCB, ABT) and most of the moderns (Paul Taylor, Alvin Ailey, Twyla, Graham, et al) for their stage and television appearances.
A Note on Patrick O’Connor’s Publishing Career
by George Dorris
My friend Patrick’s great accomplishment was to republish out-of-print books in inexpensive paper editions, for that was his principal area in publishing at his various firms. This made them widely available to new audiences, often much wider audiences, giving them a second life that, on occasion – as with the Benson Lucia/Mapp books – led to their republishing yet again in hardcover editions and going on to far greater fame than they had heretofore managed. Other worthy books had a second chance that may not have led to a lasting revival, but that was not his fault, for his taste was as indeed catholic, cutting across genres and cultural levels. It is because of him that I have read (and still preserve in tattered form) Denby’s Scream in a Cave and Kirstein’s Flesh is Heir, as well as his paper editions of Denby’s dance writings. It was because of his great success as an editor of paperbacks, both originals and reprints, that his employers allowed him to play in this fashion. And it was his pleasure to invite friends and acquaintances to write romance novels, mysteries, and such, including a mystery by the choreographer Toby Armour, among others. For all this, as well as for so many other things, I will always be grateful to Patrick, who will indeed be missed far beyond the dance world.
George Dorris, co-founder–with Jack Anderson–of Dance Chronicle, is also one of DCA’s earliest members and has been a staunch friend of the organization since its founding.