Joe Pollack, St. Louis’ best known and often-feared critic of
theater, movies, restaurants, wine and journalism was still pounding
out columns and reviews up to the age of 81 when his heart couldn’t
keep up with his workaholic lifestyle.
He died March 9, 2012 of an apparent heart attack at his home in
Clayton. “My dear Joe has left us, far more quietly than was his
usual style,” said his wife, Ann Lemons Pollack, to readers of their
St. Louis Eats and Drinks website.
He was known mainly because of his 23-year career at the St. Louis
Post-Dispatch. His obit in the paper stated a good word from him in a
review could fill a restaurant or theater and a bad review was
something to be feared. When he entered a restaurant, sometimes under
an assumed name, word quickly spread: “Joe Pollack is here.”
He would not take a free meal and once refused to accept an envelope
full of cash sent to his home by a restaurant owner who wanted a
favorable review. Joe never again went to that restaurant, his wife
He retired from the Post in 1995 but continued doing reviews for a
number of media outlets, including television, KWMU radio, St. Louis
Magazine, and the St. Louis Journalism Review (now the Gateway
Journalism Review). He and his wife wrote books about food.
He made his living with words and loved writing. “Give me a deadline
and I’ll get it done,’” he would say, even if the deadline was in ten
minutes. He liked to quote his mentor, media critic A. J. Leibling, as
saying: “I can write faster than any man who can write better, and
can write better than any man who can write faster.”
Pollack was known for his considerable ego and big waistline. He would
quip: “I’m in shape for what I like to do best.”
He said he fell in love with the theater as a kid in Brooklyn, N.Y. He
hoped to become a shortstop for the Dodgers but when he got to the
journalism school at Missouri University, at age 16, he decided on
becoming a sportswriter. In a placement test speech at Mizzou he
criticized the baseball Cardinals and their announcer, Harry Caray.
The young critic was assigned to a remedial speech course.
He was a sportswriter for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat from
1955-61 and was public relations director for the football Cardinals
from 1961-72. When the team left St. Louis he came to the
Post-Dispatch. He worked his way into eating out and going to movies,
the theater and musical events — all for the newspaper.
A memorial service for Pollack was held at the Repertory Theatre at
which speakers from various venues of his work life praised him with
anecdotes. Charles Taylor, an attorney and friend of the Pollacks,
said Joe charted the course for getting the word to the public about
quality offerings at the area’s theaters, restaurants and movies.
“The region owes him gratitude for his enrichment if it,” Taylor
He was a stickler for the truth and didn’t hedge when his opinions
might hurt. Steven Woolf, artistic director of the Repertory Theatre,
said, “He loved the theater and everybody in it. He was a curmudgeon
from time to time… when he retired from the Post we all gave him a
send off. Joe loved the theater as much as anyone I know. He just
wanted us to get it right.”
Pollack would say: “A splendid performance sends me floating… an
awful one causes me to walk slowly, stooped over, encased in a cobweb
of gloom.” As for wine, he said, “Drinking wine is a great
Pollack was president of the St. Louis Newspaper Guild for six years.
“Some younger reporters thought he was a little gruff,” said Jeff
Gordon, now the Guild president. “But he would be out there fighting
for us [on contracts and other union matters].”
In January, at a Guild dinner, Pollack was given an award for his
career achievements. Post columnist Bill McClellan announced the award
with his recollection of when he came to the paper and couldn’t
believe a critic could be one of its star writers. But Joe Pollack