Elliot Norton

Dean of American theater critics

Elliot Norton, dean of American theater critics whose name adorns Boston’s leading theater award, died Sunday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He was 100.

Tall, stately, urbane and witty, he was a legit crit nearly half his life, starting in 1934 and retiring in 1982 after having reviewed more than 6,000 perfs (likely the record) for the Boston Post, the Boston Record American, and the Boston Herald American (now the Boston Herald).

He also presented WGBH-TV’s “Elliot Norton Reviews,” bringing legit writers and stars onto the program. Neil Simon credited him with helping improve “The Odd Couple,” due to a comment Norton made on the TV show.

Harvard College grad was one of the leading practitioners of the writing style known as play-doctoring, as Boston was a leading tryout town for Broadway-bound shows. Norton’s input in particular was treasured by producers and playwrights, receiving praise from the likes of Alexander Cohen and Joshua Logan for his insights.

Honors include a 1962 Peabody for his TV work, a 1964 George Jean Nathan Award, a 1971 Tony Award and induction into the Theater Hall of Fame in 1988 by the American Theater Critics Assn. The Beantown legit honors were named after him in 1982.

His book “Broadway Down East” was a collection of lectures he gave at the Boston Public Library.

Survivors include a son, two daughters and three grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated this week at St. Patrick’s in Watertown, Mass., where Norton lived more than 50 years.

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