George Jean Nathan

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George Jean Nathan
George Jean Nathan in 1928
Born(1882-02-14)February 14, 1882
DiedApril 8, 1958(1958-04-08) (aged 76)
New York City, US
  • Drama critic
  • magazine editor

George Jean Nathan (February 14, 1882 – April 8, 1958) was an American drama critic and magazine editor. He worked closely with H. L. Mencken, bringing the literary magazine The Smart Set to prominence as an editor, and co-founding and editing The American Mercury and The American Spectator.

Early life[edit]

Nathan was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the son of Ella (Nirdlinger) and Charles Naret Nathan.[1] He graduated from Cornell University in 1904. There, he was a member of the Quill and Dagger society and an editor of the Cornell Daily Sun. There is some evidence that Nathan was Jewish and sought (successfully) to conceal it.[2]

Relationships and marriage[edit]

Nathan had a reputation as a "ladies' man" and was not averse to dating women working in the theater. The character of Addison De Witt, the waspish theater critic who squires a starlet (played by a then-unknown Marilyn Monroe) in the 1950 film All About Eve was based on Nathan.[3] He had a romantic relationship with actress Lillian Gish, beginning in the late 1920s and lasting almost a decade. Gish repeatedly refused his proposals of marriage.[4]

Nathan eventually married a considerably younger stage actress, Julie Haydon, in 1955.


Nathan died in New York City in 1958, aged 76.


He wrote only one play, the one-act titled The Eternal Mystery, which premiered in 1913 at the Princess Theatre in New York.[5] Owen Hatteras referenced the play as a failure when he quipped that Nathan "has forbidden the production of the play henceforth in any American city save Chicago, in which city anyone who chooses may perform it without payment of royalties."[6]

Walter Winchell opened his column once in 1937 with a reference to Nathan as "a tough critic."[7] The George Jean Nathan Award, an honor in dramatic criticism, is named after him. Nathan was also inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.[8]


Nathan bequeathed his letters and papers to Cornell University. Among his papers were several letters he received from Eugene O'Neill.[9]

Secondary Sources[edit]

  • Isaac Goldberg: George Jean Nathan: A Critical Study (Girard, Kansas, Haldeman-Julius Company [c1925]).
  • Seymour Rudin: George Jean Nathan: A Study of His Criticism ([Ithaca, N.Y.] 1953).
  • Thomas F. Connolly: George Jean Nathan and the Making of Modern American Drama Criticism (Madison: Faileigh Dickinson University Press, c2000).


  1. ^ "George Jean Nathan |".
  2. ^ Benjamin Ivry "The Jewish Backstory behind 'All about Eve'", in: The Forward, July 15, 2020.
  3. ^ Green, Martin (February 2000), "Nathan, George Jean (1882-1958), drama critic and editor", American National Biography Online, Oxford University Press, retrieved 2023-07-15
  4. ^ Albin Krebs, "Lillian Gish, 99, a Movie Star Since Movies Began, is Dead", The New York Times, March 1, 1993.
  5. ^ "The Eternal Mystery". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 10 February 2022.
  6. ^ Hatteras, Owen (2002). "George Jean Nathan". Menckeniana. 161: 3–11.
  7. ^ Winchell, Walter (April 3, 1937). "On Broadway". The Daily Mirror. p. 10.
  8. ^ "Theater Hall of Fame members". Retrieved February 9, 2014.
  9. ^ James Milton Highsmith: The Cornell Letters, #4600-1407. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.

External links[edit]