Stevens, Ashton

Alternative names
Birth 1872-08-11
Death 1951-07-12

Biographical notes:

San Francisco and Chicago journalist and drama critic.

Ashton Stevens was born on August 11, 1872 in San Francisco, California to James and Hannah Laura Stevens. His brother was Landers Stevens, an actor and father of film director George Stevens. For over 50 years Ashton Stevens reviewed plays, vaudeville acts, minstrel shows, and interviewed actors, actresses, opera stars, and producers. He became known as the "dean of American drama critics," who aimed to be "right if possible, to be read if possibler." He started his career as a drama critic in 1894 on the San Francisco News Letter, succeeding Ambrose Bierce as "Town Crier." For a brief period he edited the Overland Monthly and served for a year on the San Francisco Morning Call. He began a tenure at the Hearst Newspapers when he joined the San Francisco Examiner in 1897. After ten years at the Examiner he took over the drama critic's post on the New York Evening Journal until moving to Chicago in 1907. Over the next 40 years he covered the theatre world of Chicago, first at the Chicago Examiner, then the Chicago Herald and Examiner, the Chicago American, and finally the Chicago Herald-American where he wrote until his death. He published one book in 1923, Actorviews, a collection of his feature interviews. He wrote several plays, most significantly Prospect Avenue which nearly reached the stage, but fell victim to a lack of funding. Stevens was a highly regarded and much loved critic who was in the front row, aisle seat at every play opening throughout his years in Chicago. He interviewed and advised such stage luminaries as Ethel Barrymore, Mary Garden, Nat Goodwin, and Sarah Bernhardt. He was a friend and confident to many actors and entertainers such as Ben Bernie, Morris Gest, Gene Markey, and Orson Welles' guardian Dr. Maurice Bernstien, who often wrote to Stevens lamenting Welles' unreasonable behavior. He was known for his sharp wit, satire, puns, and paradoxes, and gave honest, but fair criticism stating, "critics should write about plays and players as they would about the weather, with hardly any regard for the weather's feelings."

From the description of Ashton Stevens papers 1850-1952, bulk 1920-1940. (Newberry Library). WorldCat record id: 213408277


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  • Vaudeville--History
  • Opera--20th century
  • Banjo--History
  • Theater--20th century--History and criticism
  • Dramatists
  • Actors--20th century
  • Manuscripts, American
  • Playwriting
  • Drama--20th century
  • Theater--20th century--Reviews
  • Comedians--20th century
  • Theater--History--20th century
  • Theater critics


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  • United States (as recorded)
  • Illinois--Chicago (as recorded)
  • California--San Francisco (as recorded)