May 21, 2014 at 1:00 am

Jay Carr, Somerville, Mass.

For News critic, a lifetime of drama

Mr. Carr )

Jay Carr never took a formal class in film or drama criticism.

But after a stint as a police reporter and serving two years in the U.S. Army, Mr. Carr came to The Detroit News and quickly established himself as an authoritative voice in the field.

He won the 1971-72 George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism, the field’s highest honor and was the first recipient not based in New York City.

Mr. Carr, who spent 19 years at The News, died Thursday, May 15, 2014, at his home in Somerville, Mass., after a brief illness. He was 77.

“He was married to his work,” said daughter Diane Carr. “That was the relationship that lasted a lifetime.”

A New York native, Mr. Carr grew up in a home with seven daily newspapers and he read them aloud at age 3, said Diane Carr. He graduated from the Bronx High School of Science and received a bachelor’s of science in chemistry from City College. He worked at the Jersey City Journal and the New York Post before coming to Detroit in 1964.

The George Jean Nathan award noted Carr’s work in Detroit as a “body of dramatic criticism remarkable for its range and solidity ... a lucid and self-effacing criticism, sensitive to details of theatrical technique no less than thematic substance.”

Daughter Julia Carr said her father credited the launch of his critic career to the guidance of a former New York Post theater critic, the late Richard Watts Jr.

While working at The Detroit News, Mr. Carr would often bring his three children into the office, Julia Carr said. They marveled at the attention their father would receive, even when walking into the cafeteria.

“He used to have this kind of aura around him,” she said. “It was one of those ‘look up to your dad’ moments.”

When he wasn’t working, Mr. Carr would take his children on summertime trips in his Ford Econoline van.

“He wanted us to share in that same sense of fun and adventure and curiosity,” Diane Carr said.

When he left Detroit in 1983 to become a critic at the Boston Globe, then-News Managing Editor James Vesely said: “Jay has spent his years at The News assessing the performances of others, but surely no performance in town matches his — as a writer of depth and insight, as a standard bearer for the best expressions of this city’s culture, and as a great fellow to be around.”

Richard Carr said his father would return to Detroit for visits. He was fond of Baker’s Keyboard Lounge and the Garden Bowl bowling alley.

“He appreciated Detroit for some of its antiquities,” he said. “I think he really appreciated the things that did last.”

In Boston, Mr. Carr would win many other honors, including being a Pulitzer finalist, as well as being named Chevalier, Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French government for his writings on French film and being named to the Library of Congress’ National Film Preservation Board.

Mr. Carr also is survived by his partner, Rebecca FitzSimons; a sister, Mary Taylor; and a brother, Daniel.

A memorial is planned for August in Boston. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to animal rescue, film preservation or other charities.