The local theater community recently lost an icon. Longtime theater critic and supporter Jack Lyons passed away on Oct. 13 from prostate cancer at the age of 90.
Virtually every valley actor, director and producer CEO knew Jack—and he was almost universally loved.
Jack studied motion picture/TV writing, producing and directing at Loyola University of Los Angeles. He earned a bachelor’s degree and went on to do post-graduate work. He had a long career as an entertainment journalist, theater critic and film critic for magazines and newspapers, both in print and online. He critiques were also featured on two locally produced TV shows: Desert Entertainment This Week on Time Warner Cable, and Coachella Valley This Week on KRET-TV Channel 14.
He reviewed theater productions from San Diego (The Old Globe, the La Jolla Playhouse) to Los Angeles (Mark Taper Forum, the Pasadena Playhouse), as well as here in the valley. Jack covered film, too, including the Palm Springs International Film Festival and the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival. He was a long-time member of the Screen Actors Guild, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
I first met Jack Lyons more than 20 years ago, when I performed in a play with his late wife, Jeannette. We became fast friends, and when Jeannette suggested that Jack join me as co-host of my weekly entertainment show on K-News Radio, it seemed like the perfect fit. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of film and theater, which added a whole new dimension to the program. We worked together for five years. Jack and Jeannette were like second parents to me, and Jack actually began to referring to me as his “honorary daughter.”
Jack was a fixture on the local theater scene, rarely missing a play. He sometimes had a habit of cornering directors at intermission to offer unsolicited critiques. Though these critiques were not always welcomed, it was hard to get angry at Jack, since his opinions were offered good-naturedly—and he knew his stuff. When he had to mention flaws, he always managed to be diplomatic about it, which is not always an easy thing to do. I took my cue from him when I began writing play critiques myself.
Jack was like a second father to me in many ways. He and Jeannette were there for me through some pretty tough times. He was very supportive, but did not hesitate to give me advice—even if I didn’t necessarily want to hear it at the time. We never once exchanged a cross word.
When Jack’s daughter Lisa called me to say he was in hospice, I had to go see him to say goodbye. I will be forever grateful she gave me that opportunity.
At the Desert Theatre League’s awards ceremony earlier last month, there was a moment of silence to honor Jack—a lovely gesture that he would have appreciated.
Godspeed, Jack. Thank you for your contributions to theater in the valley. I will miss my “honorary dad” always.
Bonnie Gilgallon is an award-winning actress and singer who hosts The Desert Scene on Radio 111. She also writes theater reviews for Independent.