Starting as a newspaper reporter — itself an unusual profession for a woman in the 1940s — Crist moved into movie reviews in the 1960s, fulfilling a childhood dream that started when she saw Chaplin’s silent The Gold Rush in the 1920s. Shortly after making the move, there was a newspaper strike in New York, so Crist delivered her reviews on a local TV station. That caught the eye of the Today show, which hired her as the first female network film critic. Once the strike ended, she was named film critic at the New York Herald Tribune, making her the first female full-time film critic at a major U.S. newspaper.
Readers loved her no-holds-barred reviews, but because she said everything she thought, Hollywood didn’t. Director Otto Preminger, for instance, called her “Judas Crist”. “Getting her to review a film is like asking the Boston Strangler for a neck massage,” grumbled Billy Wilder. Warner Bros. was so upset at her review for Spencer’s Mountain that it banned her from the studio’s screenings. As a critic for 22 years for TV Guide, Crist found herself one of the most powerful film critics in the country, and studios had to let her in if they wanted reviews. It’s not that she hated everything: “One of the joys of criticism is in wanting to share discovered pleasure,” she said. “You can’t kill the trash, but at least you can give the good a push and pass it on.” Meanwhile, she taught writing at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism for more than 50 years. Crist died August 7 at her Manhattan home, at 90.