Rocky Mountain News theatre critic Jackie Campbell dies at 89

Jackie Campbell Thom WiseRocky Mountain News theatre critics Thom Wise and Jackie Campbell.

The pioneering theatre critic followed her own voice and left her mark on the city, former editor John Temple says.

By John Moore
Senior Arts Journalist

Two things you knew with longtime theatre critic Jackie Campbell, says former Rocky Mountain News editor John Temple, “is that she loved the theater — and that she knew what she thought. Period. She followed her own voice.”

And that voice took all of us to some very interesting places.  

“She was one of the pioneering women journalists at the Rocky Mountain News,” said Temple . “She left her mark not just on the newsroom, but on the city.”

Campbell died this morning, according to the man who succeeded her in that job in May 1997, Thom Wise. She would have turned 90 this coming Feb. 8.

“Jackie was quite something,” said Wise, “She was an old-guard member of the newspaper world, for sure. Jackie will always be remembered for her sharp mind and keen insights. And she was one of the earliest female rock ‘n roll writers at a daily newspaper.”

Jackie CampbellCampbell had “a spectacular sense of humor,” Rob Reuteman, adjunct Journalism Professor at Colorado State University, posted on Facebook.

Campbell was a highly respected theatre critic whose opinion mattered, whether pro or con, and she was not afraid to state a contrary opinion. For example, she rode against the tide when the DCPA Theatre Company staged Waiting for Godot with Ann Guilbert (Estragon) and Kathleen Brady (Vladimir) playing the two tramps.

“What abomination is at work here that someone thought it clever to transform Beckett’s Gogo and Didi into Valley girls?” Campbell wrote. “I didn’t forget for a moment that these two men were women.”

On the other hand, she helped elevate smaller productions into the larger public consciousness. She called Su Teatro’s Intro to Chicano History: 101 “a homegrown product of the blue-ribbon quality. If anything can draw the disparate segments of an Anglo-Hispano population closer, it might be the destination of artfully composed statements like this play.”

Said Mike Pearson, Campbell’s boss at the Rocky for a decade: “I can think of countless adjectives to describe her: Smart, funny, clever, sardonic, generous, imperious and passionate about her craft. She was always quick to speak her mind which, as you can imagine, made managing her difficult at times. Still, my memories of Jackie are largely fond. I can only imagine that the choirs of angels are trembling at the thought of her wielding her critic’s pen in heaven.”

Campbell covered all the big stores of the theatre day. One in 1996, when a Boulder lawyer led a successful challenge to a city of Boulder smoking ordinance that drew international attention after it was used to crack down on a Boulder’s Dinner Theatre staging of Grand Hotel. After weeks of negative publicity, the city adopted an amendment exempting live performances.

Photojournalist Dean Krakel said Campbell edited the first story he ever wrote for the Rocky Mountain News. “She was always funny and witty and a pleasure to be around,” he wrote on Facebook. “What a great voice and laugh.”

Added former Colorado Theatre Guild General Manager Gloria Shanstrom: ” She was a great voice for theatre and the arts, an amazing lady and always delightful to spend time with and talk to.”

Comedian Rob Becker found himself on the wrong end of a Campbell review and had great fun with it. “Back on a Limb” was an emotionally raw one-man theatrical exploration of his mental  illness. Campbell gave it a D, “because it sounded like a madman yelling at the back of the bus.” Becker responded: Jackie, that’s what it is. Give it an A!”

This report will be updated.

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