Renowned composer, lyricist, critic and columnist Douglas Watt of Southampton and New York City dies at 95
Oct 6, 09 7:25 PM
Renowned critic, columnist, composer and lyricist Douglas Watt, a summer Southampton resident, died of natural causes on September 29 at Southampton Hospital. He was 95.
Born January 20, 1914, he was the only son of Benjamin—a structural engineer—and Anne Watt.
Upon graduating from Cornell in 1934 at the age of 19, Mr. Watt became a copy boy with The Daily News in the drama department, where he was employed until 1993, working his way up. He had many assignments including chief drama critic, music critic and columnist. He wrote the column “Small World” from 1955 to 1970, and worked at two radio stations, WJZ and WEAF; he was on the job when Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds” came on the air, sending everyone into a panic.
In 1945, Mr. Watt was hired by William Shawn at The New Yorker to write about the music scene. He was asked by his new employer to leave The Daily News to become chief music critic, but he did not want to give up writing theater reviews, which was a passion. And so he continued writing theater reviews for The Daily News while writing music profiles on opera, classical and popular music for The New Yorker. He also wrote the “Tables for Two” column from 1948 to 1957. His recognition of the importance of the musical “Porgy and Bess” helped the production to re-open on Broadway to unanimous acclaim.
Mr. Watt’s career as a critic spanned over a half a century, affording a unique insight. When he first reviewed the 1949 opening of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” he left the theater for the office and, after writing his review, would get it down to Linotype operators for the morning edition. Near the end of his career 50 years later, he simply wrote his review and clicked the send button on a computer at his home.
A member of ASCAP since the 1940s, Mr. Watt, an accomplished pianist, composer and lyricist, wrote “There’s Not a Moment to Spare” (1939), “After All these Years” (1940), “I’d Do it Again” (1941), “Man” (1945), and “Heaven Help Me.” His songs were performed by such artists as Doris Day. His love and knowledge of music was the foundation of many of his friendships with composers and lyricists of the day including Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin, Kurt Weill, Frank Loesser and Cy Coleman.
Mr. Watt and Duke Ellington collaborated on a musical version of George Bernard Shaw’s, “Caesar and Cleopatra,” but they ceased production when Mr. Watt was approved by the Shaw estate and Mr. Ellington wasn’t because of the color barrier of the day.
One of the founders of the Drama Desk Awards, he was also a member of the Drama Critics Circle, the nominating committees for the Theater World Awards and Tony Awards, the Pulitzer jury for drama, the Derwent Awards, the Callaway Awards and chairman of the nominating committee for the Astaire Awards since their inception in 1980. He was a critic on the first cable television show reviewing theater in the 1960s and 1970s. He covered the theater for WNBC News during the 1962-1963 newspaper strike and has been often quoted in anthologies on the theater.
Besides his love of the theater and music, Mr. Watt enjoyed time with his wife at their summer home in Southampton. Survivors recalled his daily walk for a swim in Peconic Bay and how he hummed a melody as he walked back to the cottage. But New York City was where his soul resided, survivors said. Once, while on a plane from Los Angeles to New York, he was seated next to a man who was boasting how he had been to every city in the world. Mr. Watt asked him if he had been to New York. When the man answered, “No,” Mr. Watt replied, “Well, you haven’t been anywhere.”
He is survived by his wife, Ethel Watt; two sons, Richard Watt and James Watt; two daughters, Patricia Watt and Katherine Rosenberg; and 8 grandchildren.
Arrangements were under the direction of the Brockett Funeral Home in Southampton. A memorial service will be held in New York City at a later date.