Howard Smith, Legendary Voice Writer, Dead at 77

Categories: in Memoriam

sarahmarjoe-i.jpg
via Wikimedia Commons
Co-directors Sarah Kernochan and Howard Smith accepting the Academy Award for their 1972 documentary Marjoe.
"H. Smith" is a designation that spans two drawers and more than a foot of hand-typed index cards in the Village Voice card catalogue. The cards say things like:

1. Anglomania among German rock groups 2. Never trust the Transit Authority 3. David Krotz publishes "How to Hide Almost Anything" 4. Ivan Karp and Soho Chinese Restuarant 5. The First Annual Broadway Drag Race--with dresses, not cars

page 20

and

1. Pseudo-sheiks in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania 2. more on biorhythmics 3. new single recording, "Why?," eulogizes Nixon. 4. establishment of Habit Controllers, Inc., behavior modifiers

page 18

Howard Smith, the Voice's legendary "Scenes" columnist, passed away on Thursday. He was 77.

Smith was born in Manhattan and grew up, with his sister Barbara Tripp, in New Jersey.

"Howard was incredible, extraordinary writer, extremely articulate, and in grade school always questioning the teachers," Tripp recalls. "He left college" -- Smith matriculated at Pace but dropped out after a year -- "because he thought that they were inhibiting his writing." He started writing for the Voice almost immediately, and his byline appeared in the paper's pages through 1989.

Smith was hired by Voice founder Dan Wolf. Smith's son, Cass, recalls, "He spoke about Dan Wolf a lot, and Ed Francher -- you know, the guys that started it -- he always spoke admirably about them, because they were older and mentored him when he was young."

Smith's column, "Scenes," served as a kind of countercultural scrapbook from the late '60s through the early '80s. "You wouldn't believe, when he became ill and I would go to his apartment to pick up messages, the people who were calling wanting to be mentioned in his column," Tripp says.

That, more or less, was how Smith came to meet Marjoe Gortner, a former child-star revivalist preacher billed in newspapers as "The World's Youngest Evangelist." By the time Gortner met Smith, he was older and disillusioned with a system he'd come to see as exploitative. The two went on to make a documentary together, Marjoe. Smith kept the Oscar Marjoe won ("Best Documentary Feature," 1972) on his Voice desk.

Smith's byline began to appear less frequently in the pages of the Voice in 1983. Says Tripp: "He stopped writing for one reason: He was a manic depressive and he became so ill that he was not able to write any more."

After the break: a few of Smith's best-known pieces -- his recollection of being present at the raid of the Stonewall Inn in 1969, the famous "Scenes" column "1,001 Reasons to Hate the French," and a recording of an interview with Janis Joplin (the last the singer ever gave)...


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