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Food was something that occupied Gina Mallet personally as well as professionally. Noisy restaurants and trendy wine labels were but a few of her pet peeves. (Peter Softly)
Food was something that occupied Gina Mallet personally as well as professionally. Noisy restaurants and trendy wine labels were but a few of her pet peeves. (Peter Softly)


Theatre critic Gina Mallet ‘never gave up on a story’ Add to ...

The Mallets were descended from Jacques Mallet du Pan, a Geneva-born French journalist who was a protégé of Voltaire and exiled writer on the French Revolution. Gina’s grandmother, Lady Marie Mallet, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria, wrote letters from court that were eventually published by Gina’s uncle Sir Victor Mallet. Gina’s mother, Isabelle Mallet (née McDonough) wrote radio plays and book reviews, as well as magazine articles about cooking.

Just after the Second World War was declared, Isabelle Mallet, an elegant American from Brooklyn, returned to New York with her two daughters, where they lived with the family of Whitelaw Reid, proprietors of the New York Herald Tribune. Lifelong family friends, the Reids are thought to have encouraged Gina’s interest in journalism.

Two years later, Arthur Mallet rejoined his family when he was posted to New York in 1942 as a British liaison officer. In 1945, the Mallets returned to the British town of Shillingford, Oxfordshire, while maintaining a London residence in the splendid flats that existed above the Harrods department store.

Gina attended Langford Grove, a boarding school with an eccentric headmistress who regularly sent students off to watch French films and opera rehearsals in the nearby town of Brighton. Inculcated in independent thinking, Ms. Mallet furthered her education with a two-year program at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Her friends included actress Anna Massey and photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, later the 1st Earl of Snowdon, who took her portrait. She came out as a debutante in 1958, one of the last to be presented to the Queen. The practice was thereafter discontinued, deemed as being elitist and out of step with the times.

In her mid-20s, Ms. Mallet moved to Los Angeles, then to New York. While in New York she found out she had uterine cancer and underwent a hysterectomy, thereby dashing any hopes of having her own children.

In 1964, with her good connections, theatre training and distinctive writing style, she was hired at Time magazine. She worked first on the People page, then as an assistant to the drama critic of the day, T.E. Kalem. Her byline appeared when he was unable to attend an opening.

Ms. Mallet’s style was pithy and direct. She loved nothing more than getting a scoop. In the early days of her career, she took direction well and would rework stories until they shone. In later years, she was a bit of a terror who’d fight like hell with editors over placement of her stories. Screaming matches were not uncommon.

In 1976, the Toronto Star recruited her as the paper’s theatre critic. Then-managing editor Ted Bolwell, who had been a senior editor at Time, remembered Ms. Mallet’s writing as brilliant. He suggested to the entertainment editor that she take a look at Ms. Mallet’s work. The deal was done.

Wanting to get up to speed on the Canadian scene, Ms. Mallet hung around Toronto’s TheatreBooks gossiping and picking the brain of store co-founder Leonard McHardy. “She did a lot of sleuthing about who was who. Like a dog with a bone, she never gave up on a story,” Mr. McHardy said.

Their relationship changed after he became the director of press and public relations at the Stratford Festival. “I had to be more discreet. She wanted answers faster than I could give them,” he said. “Some people called her a hatchet lady but she was extremely knowledgeable. She was a great supporter of Stratford and the Shaw Festival. She liked actors in general, and particularly William Hutt.” She was also extremely fond of British actress Dame Maggie Smith, who reportedly once said that a profile piece Ms. Mallet wrote on her was about the best she’d ever read.

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