Norton, (William) Elliot 1903-2003

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NORTON, (William) Elliot 1903-2003


Born May 17, 1903, in Boston, MA; died, July 20, 2003, in Fort Lauderdale, FL; son of William Laurence and Mary Elizabeth (Fitzgerald) Norton; married Florence E. Stelmach; children: David A., Elizabeth N., and Jane Norton Hardy. Education: Harvard College, A.B., 1926. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening.


Drama critic. Theater critic for Boston Post, 1934-56; Boston Record American, 1956-62; and Boston Herald American (now Boston Herald), 1973-82; host of public television series "Elliot Norton Reviews," 1958-82. Lecturer and part time faculty member at numerous colleges, including Emerson College, Boston College, and Boston University.


Boston College Citation of Merit, 1947; Connor Memorial Award of Phi Alpha Tau, 1956; George Foster Peabody Award, 1962, for "Elliot Norton Reviews"; Rodgers and Hammerstein College Presidents' Award, 1962; George Jean Nathan Award 1963-64; Antoinette Perry Award, 1971; Humanities Award of the National Council of Teachers of English, 1971; New England Theatre Conference Award, 1974; designated a Grand Bostonian, 1978; voted into Theater Hall of Fame by the American Theater Critics Association, 1988; nine honorary degrees.


Broadway Down East: An Informal Account of the Plays, Players, and Playhouses of Boston from Puritan Times to the Present, Trustees of the Public Library of the City of Boston (Boston, MA), 1978.


Considered one of the great figures of twentieth-century drama criticism, Elliot Norton reviewed more than 6,000 plays during his forty-eight-year career with Boston newspapers. His style of writing, as Boston Globe contributor Ed Siegel explained in Norton's obituary, was known as "play doctoring." Producers would often bring their Broadway-bound plays to Boston first to test critical response. In many cases, reviewers pointed toward adjustments that, once implemented, improved the plays. Norton was considered one of the major figures among Boston's "play doctoring" critics. Directors as diverse as Neil Simon, Joshua Logan, and Robert Brustein credited him with sound judgment and helpful criticism in the service of the theater, which he obviously loved. Siegel noted in his obituary that producer Alexander Cohen called Norton "the most valuable critic in America," while Brustein noted that "his incisive, understanding, and encouraging reviews of our work [at Theatre on the Green at Wellesley] marked him as a man with a true devotion to the stage.… He was the exemplary critic, never an adversary, always a friend."

According to Norton's colleague Kevin Kelly, who served as Boston Globe theater critic from 1962 to 1994 and was quoted in Siegel's obituary, Norton "has always written from a strict moral point of view, sometimes dismissing ugly, if true-to-life, plays for their lack of edification, or uplift, which is based on [the poet and playwright John] Dryden's assumption that art must entertain and instruct.… He is sometimes unsettled by 'unpleasant' themes. But all this is not posture, nor attitude. It is the genuine man whose opinions are informed and intelligent, and the measure of his being."



American Theatre, September, 2003, p. 20.

Boston Globe, July 21, 2003, Ed Siegel, "Elliot Norton, One Hundred, legendary critic of American theater," p. C12.

Daily Variety, July 22, 2003, p. 9.

Los Angeles Times, July 23, 2003, "Elliot Norton, One Hundred, Boston Theater Critic Wrote 6,000 Reviews," p. B11.

New York Times, July 23, 2003, "Elliot Norton, One Hundred, a Critic in Boston Read on Broadway," p. A17.*

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Norton, (William) Elliot 1903-2003

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Norton, (William) Elliot 1903-2003