Frank Rich

Frank Rich

Frank Rich at the 73rd Annual Peabody Awards
Born Frank Hart Rich, Jr.[1]
(1949-06-02) June 2, 1949
Occupation Essayist, columnist
Alma mater Harvard College
Genre Non-fiction
Spouse Gail Winston (divorced)
Alexandra Rachelle Witchel[1]
Children with Winston:
--Nathaniel Rich
--Simon Rich

Frank Hart Rich, Jr. (born June 2, 1949) is an American essayist, op-ed columnist and writer notable for having held various positions within The New York Times from 1980 to 2011.[2]

On March 1, 2011, it was announced that he would be leaving the Times to become an essayist and editor-at-large for New York magazine starting in June 2011.[3]

Early life

Rich grew up in Washington, D.C. His mother, Helen Fisher (née Aaronson), an artist, was from a Russian Jewish family originally settled in Manhattan, but moved to Washington after the stock market crash of 1929. His father, Frank Hart Rich, a businessman, was from a German Jewish family long-settled in Washington.[4][5][6] He attended public schools and graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in 1967.

He attended Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At Harvard, he became the editorial chairman of The Harvard Crimson, the university's daily student newspaper. Rich was an honorary Harvard College scholar and a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and received a Henry Russell Shaw Traveling Fellowship. He graduated in 1971 with an A.B. magna cum laude in American history and literature.[2]


Before joining The New York Times in 1980, Rich was a film critic for Time and The New York Post, and film critic and senior editor of New Times Magazine. In the early 1970s, he was a founding editor of the Richmond (Va.) Mercury.[2]

Theatre criticism

Rich served as chief theatre critic of The New York Times from 1980 to 1993, earning the nickname "Butcher of Broadway" for his power over the prospects of Broadway shows.[7] He first won attention from theatre-goers with an essay for The Harvard Crimson about the theatre musical Follies (1971), by Stephen Sondheim, during its pre-Broadway tryout run in Boston. In his study of the work, Rich was "the first person to predict the legendary status the show eventually would achieve". The article "fascinated" Harold Prince, the musical's co-director, and "absolutely intrigued" Sondheim, who invited the undergraduate to lunch to further discuss his feelings about the production.[8]

A collection of Rich's theatre reviews was published in a book, Hot Seat: Theater Criticism for The New York Times, 1980–1993 (1998). He also wrote The Theatre Art of Boris Aronson, with Lisa Aronson, in 1987.[2]

Media and political criticism

In 1994, Rich became an op-ed columnist for The New York Times; from 2003 to 2011, he wrote regularly for the Times on mass media and public relations, particularly its coverage of U.S. national politics. His columns, now appearing in New York Magazine, make regular references to a broad range of popular culture — including television, movies, theatre and literature — and draw connections to politics and current events. His columns are published in the International Herald Tribune, the international edition of the Times.

As a political commentator, Rich has been criticized by Bill O'Reilly, host of The O'Reilly Factor, a talk show on the Fox News Channel. Rich is critical of Fox News, accusing it in 2004 of having a politically conservative media bias.[9]

In a January 2006 appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, a syndicated weekday talk show, commenting on the James Frey memoir scandal, Rich expanded on his usage in his column of the term truthiness to summarize a variety of ills in culture and politics.[10]

His book, The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina (2006), criticized the American media for what he perceived as its support of George W. Bush's administration's policies following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Rich dismissed the historical-drama film The Passion of the Christ (2004), directed by Mel Gibson, as "nothing so much as a porn movie, replete with slo-mo climaxes and pounding music for the money shots," and praised Christopher Hitchens's description of it as "a homoerotic 'exercise in lurid sadomasochism' for those who 'like seeing handsome young men stripped and flayed alive over a long period of time'".[11]

A July 2009 column focused on what Rich believes is the bigoted nature of President Barack Obama's detractors.[12] On the Tea Party movement, which emerged in 2009, Rich opined that at one of their rallies they were "kowtowing to secessionists." He wrote that death threats and a brick thrown through a congressman's window were a "small-scale mimicry of "Kristallnacht" (or "night of broken glass", the November 1938 anti-Jewish pogrom in Nazi Germany and Austria).[13][14]


Flop-hit, a term coined by Rich in his book The Hot Seat, refers to a theatrical production (often on Broadway, where economics are difficult) that appears to be a hit but turns out to lose money (a "flop").

The mechanics of a flop-hit are complex. As Rich explains it, in order to produce a play a certain amount of capital must be raised; when the play runs, it has weekly expenses that must be paid by weekly ticket receipts. In order for a play to run it must meet this weekly break-even point, but that initial capital (sometimes over many millions of US$) is only paid back in weekly bits out of whatever is left over after the expenses are met. Thus a play can run indefinitely and appear to be a runaway hit, but close to a large financial loss for its initial backers.

Some recent Broadway productions that fall into the category of flop-hit are Woman of the Year, Jerome Robbins' Broadway, The Will Rogers Follies, and Sunset Boulevard, the latter of which ran more than two years on Broadway in the mid-90s without paying back any of its more than US$10 million outlay.[15]


Rich is co-executive producer of the HBO political comedy series Veep.


In 2005, Rich received the George Polk Award given annually by Long Island University in Brookville, New York, to honor contributions to journalistic integrity and investigative reporting.[16]


In 2011, The New Republic named him one of the "Most Over-Rated Thinkers" of the year, calling him "an utterly conventional pundit of the old salon liberal variety".[17]

Personal life

Rich is married to Alexandra Rachelle Witchel, who writes for the New York Times as "Alex Witchel". He has two sons from his previous marriage to Gail Winston; as of 2010, one, Simon Rich, was a writer for Saturday Night Live, and the other, Nathaniel Rich, is a novelist and was an editor for The Paris Review.


Frank Rich's memoir Ghost Light (2000) chronicles his childhood in 1950s Maryland through his college years, with a focus on his lifelong adoration of the theatre and the impact it had on his life.[2]



  1. 1 2 "Alex Witchel, Times Theater Writer, To Marry Frank Rich, Critic, in June". The New York Times. March 24, 1991.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 "Columnist Biography: Frank Rich". New York Times. Retrieved May 20, 2010.
  3. "Frank Rich Joins New York Magazine". New York Magazine. March 1, 2011. Retrieved March 1, 2011.
  4. Jewish Washington: Scrapbook of a Community: Frank Rich June 3, 2005
  6. "The International Who's Who 2004".
  7. "Books: Stages of Development". Time. October 30, 2000. Retrieved March 13, 2011.
  8. Chapin, Ted (2003). Everything Was Possible — The Birth of the Musical Follies. New York: Knopf. pp. 116, 193–195. ISBN 0-375-41328-6.
  9. Rich, Frank (essay) (September 19, 2004). "This Time Bill O'Reilly Got It Right". The New York Times. Retrieved April 5, 2007.(registration required)
  10. Transcript of interview (January 26, 2006). "Journalists Speak Out". Accessed May 17, 2010
  11. Rich, Frank (essay) (March 7, 2004). "Mel Gibson Forgives Us For His Sins". The New York Times. Retrieved July 7, 2010.
  12. Rich, Frank (essay) (July 19, 2009). "They Got Some 'Splainin' to Do". The New York Times. Retrieved August 4, 2016. (registration required)
  13. Rich, Frank (essay) (March 27, 2010). "The Rage is Not about Health Care". The New York Times. Retrieved August 4, 2016.
  14. Jewish Journal: "When Jews on the Left See Americans on the Right as Nazis" by Dennis Prager May 4, 2010
  15. Hurwitz, Nathan. "The Third Act" A History of the American Musical Theatre: No Business Like It, Routledge, 2014, ISBN 1317912055, pp. 210-211
  16. Press release. "George Polk Awards for Journalism". Long Island University. Retrieved November 15, 2006.
  17. The Editors (November 3, 2011). "Over-Rated Thinkers". The New Republic.

External links

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