Charles Champlin, longtime film critic, arts editor and columnist for the Los Angeles Times, died Sunday at his L.A. home of complications of Alzheimer’s disease, his son Charles Champlin Jr. told the Times. He was 88.
Champlin embarked on a career in writing upon graduation from Harvard University, first working at Life magazine and later Time. He joined the Times in 1965 and remained there for the next 26 years, serving as the newspaper’s principal film critic from 1967 through 1980. His career as a reviewer coincided with the launch of the new movie rating system in 1968. “I quickly came to realize that I had acquired an aisle seat at a period of historic ferment in American films,” Champlin wrote in Hollywood’s Revolutionary Decade, a 1998 annotated collection of his reviews from the 1970s. He estimated he saw about 250 films a year and reviewed half of them, according to the Times.
He eventually segued to book reviewing and a regular column titled “Critic At Large”. He retired in 1991, but still contributed to the Times‘ daily and Sunday Calendar sections.
Champlin was highly respected among Hollywood heavyweights. Actor Jack Lemmon was quoted in Don Widener’s Lemmon: A Biography, “I’ve gotten some pretty bad reviews along with the good ones from Chuck, but he’s always been honest and constructive.”
The DGA made Champlin an Honorary Life Member in 1992. “Charles Champlin devoted a lifetime to reviewing and critiquing our work, sharing invaluable insights into the world of filmmaking with moviegoers and fans,” DGA President Paris Barclay said in a statement. “As a teacher, critic and author, Charles brought his views on cinema into our homes through his books, television shows, interviews and articles; contributing even to our DGA publications.”
Champlin moved on to TV in the early ’70s. In 1971 he hosted Film Odyssey and arts series Homewood on PBS. He also co-hosted Citywatchers, a public affairs program on KCET Los Angeles, with columnist Art Seidenbaum.
Champlin is a founder of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and has served on the board of American Cinematheque. His books include The Flicks: Or, Whatever Became of Andy Hardy (1975; it was revised and republished in 1981 as The Movies Grow Up, 1940-1980); George Lucas: The Creative Impulse (1992); and A Life In Writing: The Story Of An American Journalist (2006).