Richard L. Coe

Richard Livingston Coe, emeritus theater critic of the Washington Post, died Nov. 12 in Washington of lymphoma. He was 81.

Coe joined the Post in 1938 and, except for a stint in the Army during World War II, spent his career at the paper. He retired in 1979.

During those four decades, he saw Washington transformed from a legit backwater to one of the country’s key theater cities. Coe used his columns and reviews to promote improvement of Washington’s theater.

Actress Joan Fontaine once described Coe as “that great rarity, a critic who loves actors and loves directors and loves playwrights and even, by God, loves producers.”

Born in New York City, Coe joined the Post as assistant drama critic and radio editor. After the war, he was named drama critic. Coe, and Elliot Norton in Boston, were the deans of the tryout, their own power enhanced by the fact that producers, directors and authors often counted on their reviews for advice about getting their shows in shape for Broadway. Theirs was often the first word out to the public about up-and-coming talent and surefire hits.

Coe was instrumental in the creation of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and was a major supporter of the Arena Stage, Washington’s most prominent theater organizations. He was a founding member of the American Theater Critics Assn. and in 1963 was named Critic of the Year by the Directors’ Guild of America.

Coe married journalist Christine Sadler, the Washington editor of McCall’s magazine. Sadler died in 1983. They had no children.