Thursday, April 14, 2005

A veteran critic

The New York Daily News reports that Kay Gardella, who was for many years its top TV critic, has died; she was 82 and battling cancer, the newspaper said.
That's too bad. I wasn't friendly with Gardella but, on the rare occasions when we talked in recent years, we were at least cordial. I'm glad we managed that much.
When I started going to TV critics' press tours in 1984, Gardella was not merely a presence. She was an eminence. Publicists tried to address her every concern. Many actors, having long been covered and interviewed by Gardella, addressed her by her first name. Once, another reporter was in the middle of asking something -- only to be interrupted by the declaration that "Kay has a question."
As a young smart-aleck, I didn't like the bowing and scraping to Gardella, especially since her questions were occasionally dotty and she was on the wrong side in some fights. (In a room full of fans of "Hill Street Blues," Gardella did not hesitate to complain about what she considered excessive violence on the show.)
But the more I looked into television history, the more I came to see that Gardella had earned her stripes.
You'd dip into, say, a biography of Jackie Gleason and there would be Kay, talking about what it was like to follow Gleason in the '50s. The Daily News obit noted that Gardella was "legendary for her ability to pick up the phone and get Bob Hope or Gleason." The last time we talked, she was working on a project for the Hope family.

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