Henry Herx, past chief film critic for US bishops, dies at 79
By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Henry Herx, who spent 35 years of his working life reviewing movies and television for the Catholic Church, died Aug. 15 at his home in the Newark, N.J., suburb of Ramsey of complications from liver cancer. He was 79.
Herx also edited several editions of The Family Guide to Movies and Videos, the last edition of which was published in 1999, the year he retired from a career in cinematic criticism.
His one-sentence paragraphs pulled few punches in informing readers not only of the moral quality of a film, but whether it was worth seeing by any audience.
Herx may have been one of the last living links to the old Legion of Decency, which reviewed and rated movies based on their moral content. Beginning in 1964, Herx reviewed movies for the Legion of Decency for five years in Chicago before its film department was merged into the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures, which later changed to the Office for Film and Broadcasting of the U.S. bishops' conference.
Following the job from Chicago to New York, Herx estimated that by the time he retired at the end of 1999, he had seen 10,000 of the 12,000 movies in the office's databank.
Herx's daughters remembered their father fondly.
"He was very kind and generous," said Katherine Herx, who recalled how much her father "liked movies from the 1930s and the silents. It used to drive me crazy, but he loved them."
Katherine Herx added, "We used to have a portable screen" to watch films at home. "This was a while ago, back in the olden days, this was before we moved to New Jersey. He taped so many movies, it's like being at the Smithsonian."
"He would show us Frankenstein and he would show us the Three Stooges and we would have root beer floats," Margaret Libero, another daughter, told Catholic News Service Aug. 16. "We would go into the city with him and see movies, and go to church as well. The movies were the biggest thing. I could never get my kids to watch the old black-and-white movies, but he could."
Libero said Herx's diminishing health was "tough for him, but he was strong. He had a very good faith, and a good family."
Katherine Herx said her father, in retirement, helped friends with their video productions. However, Herx's own post-retirement pet project, a documentary about Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust, never got off the ground.
"Henry was as much of an icon in the Catholic press as any Hollywood figure," said CNS Director and Editor-in-Chief Tony Spence in an Aug. 16 statement. "He set the bar on intelligent film and television reviews from a faith-based perspective. He was hugely respected be it in Los Angeles or New York or Peoria."
Herx's successors joined in mourning his passing.
"Henry was a veritable treasure trove about the church's interaction with Hollywood throughout the 20th century," said Gerri Pare, Herx's immediate successor as director of the office. "He was very knowledgeable, going back to the Legion of Decency in the 1930s to the formation of the MPAA's ratings system in the '60s, and he led the Office for Film and Broadcasting with distinction, right up to the millennium. He loved movies and their potential to both entertain to uplift the human spirit."
"I'm deeply saddened to hear of Henry's passing. I had spoken to him quite recently, and he sounded much the same as ever, vitally interested in movies and how the CNS was doing with reviews. He was a real mentor to me during my tenure as director," said an Aug. 16 statement by Harry Forbes, who succeeded Pare.
"His frequent commendation on my reviews was the highest accolade," Forbes added. "Above all, he was a wonderfully caring, steadfast friend for many years, and I'll miss him."
"We're in mourning here," said John Mulderig, the assistant director for media reviews for CNS, which in 2010 incorporated the Office for Film and Broadcasting into its mission.
"Although I never had the opportunity to meet Henry, my appreciation of, and admiration for his legacy is tremendous," Mulderig said. "Along with his encyclopedic knowledge of film he brought to bear in his reviews a keen eye for cinematic aesthetics as well as a sure sense of the spiritual and moral influences underlying each movie. He serves as an enduring role model for my work and that of my colleagues in the Media Review Office."
"Henry Herx had an encyclopedic knowledge of film and an acute sense of what made a good film," said an Aug. 16 statement from Msgr. Francis J. Maniscalco, former communications secretary for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "Just talking to him was an education in film history. He combined this knowledge with his strong and informed faith to guide several generations of moviegoers toward artistically worthwhile films with significant moral themes."
Herx was married 49 years to his wife, Marilyn, before she died in 2005.
Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops