Longtime Eagle journalist Milton Bass dies at age 91

Milton Bass sits in his third-floor office on Eagle Street in Pittsfield in 1976. Bass, a longtime Eagle editor and columnist, died Tuesday at age 91.

To read Milton Bass' obituary, click here.

Column from Sept. 28 | Milton Bass: Fearful network of death

Column from Sept. 21 | Milton Bass: One victim at a time

RICHMOND -- Author and critic Milton R. Bass, who served as The Berkshire Eagle's entertainment editor for more than 30 years, and as a columnist for 60, died on Tuesday. He was 91.

A Pittsfield native, Bass came to The Eagle as a part-time copy editor in 1951, and became the paper's first full-time arts and entertainment editor the following year.

Bass retired in January 1986 after suffering a heart attack, but continued to write his column, "The Lively World," on topics ranging from art to politics to gardening to his experiences serving as a U.S. Army medic during World War II. In his last Eagle column, published Sept. 28, Bass decried all the death and misery in the Middle East.

"The Lively World was an apt kicker for his columns because Milton thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of life," said Eagle Editorial Page Editor William Everhart.

Bass covered theater, television, movies, travel and restaurants during his long tenure at The Eagle, and interviewed dozens of national theater and film celebrities. His Eagle years were broken by a two-year stint as program director at WMHT-TV in Schenectady, N.Y.

Bass wrote about jazz for the Atlantic Monthly and hired future author Jay McInerney ("Bright Lights, Big City") to review rock music reviews for The Eagle when McInerney was a student at Williams College. Bass was also the author of 13 published novels, including four westerns, two detective series and several traditional novels.

In 1995, Bass was nominated for an Edgar Award for best paperback original mystery novel for "The Broken Hearted Detective."

"Writing has always been as natural to me as breathing," Bass wrote when he retired from The Eagle 28 years ago.

His first novel, "Jory," was made into a feature film starring actor Robby Benson. But one of his former Eagle colleagues said Bass didn't like the movie and tried to prevent it from being shown locally.

"He tried to keep it out of Pittsfield without success," said former Eagle associate editor Grier Horner with a laugh.

Those who worked with Bass at The Eagle remembered him Tuesday as a prolific writer with a sense of humor whose personality brightened up the newsroom.

"He had a great sense of humor," said Eagle music critic Andrew Pincus, whom Bass hired for that position 40 years ago. "He was always ready with a joke, sort of a wise kind of joke, funny but not mean. He was definitely a newsroom character."

"I seldom ever saw him angry," said former Eagle columnist and photo editor Charles Bonenti, who retired from The Eagle last year, but is still a freelance contributor. "He had a wise and knowing way of talking about people.

"He knew so many people in the theater and the entertainment world," said Bonenti, who worked for The Eagle for 40 years. "He was a constant source of inspiration about those people."

In an email message, former Eagle managing editor and current reporter/columnist Clarence Fanto described Bass as a "unique character -- witty, sardonic, very knowledgeable, highly appreciative of the performers who work so hard at their craft on stage and screen.

"His passing is not only a tremendous loss to his devoted family and friends, but also to the Berkshire community he served so well as an Eagle entertainment editor, critic, feature writer, and columnist chronicling his take on the local and national scenes."

Former Deputy Managing Editor Debra DiMassimo said via email that Bass' Lively World column, "showcased the breadth of his interests, from the arts, film and fiction to travel, politics, history and gardening among others.

"Aside from being a superb writer and editor, Milt was a lot of fun to work with, often displaying an incisive wit and a wicked sense of humor. He was kind to young journalists and always willing to help them along, as I'm sure some of his former interns in the entertainment department would attest."

The Eagle's current entertainment editor, Jeffrey Borak, who succeeded Bass in that position in 1986, said he will remember Bass for his guidance, mentoring, friendship, insights and knowledge of the arts community, "and most of all for his sense of humor, his incisive wit which also kept me well grounded.

"Nothing that's been done in our coverage of the Berkshires' cultural scene could have been accomplished without the solid foundation Milton put down over his three-plus decades as the Eagle's first arts and entertainment editor."

Stockbridge resident Gene Shalit, the actor and author who served as the book and theater critic for NBC's "Today" for 37 years until his retirement in 2010, also paid tribute to Bass.

"Milton Bass, a treasure who will never be replicated," Shalit wrote in an email. "An ornament of the Berkshire Eagle, an erudite critic and columnist who never showed off his erudition. Good-humored, benevolent, and brave, a glory for all he touched. O rare Milton Bass."

Bass was born in Pittsfield on Jan. 15, 1923, the son of Philip and Lena Bass. He lived on Bradford Street in the city's West Side neighborhood. When he was a student at the Tucker School in 1937, Bass won the Berkshire district junior chess championship sponsored by the Massachusetts Chess Association to qualify for the state junior championship in Boston.

He left college at the age of 19 to enlist in the U.S. Army, and served from 1942-45 as a medic with the 104th Infantry Division, known as the Timberwolves, in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. His division liberated the Nazi concentration camp at Nordhausen, an experience that haunted him for the rest of his life. He was awarded a Silver Star for gallantry in action in Holland in 1944 when he and his fellow medics crawled across a minefield under German fire to rescue two injured soldiers.

With his sense of humor, Pvt. Bass sent a note to his parents telling them to watch for a package, something a man had given him for working nights. The box contained the Silver Star, but the letter arrived first, and his father sent him two $1 bills with a note saying to let him know when he needed money; he didn't want Milt working nights.

Bass graduated from Pittsfield High School in 1940, earned a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Massachusetts in 1947, and a master's in English and comparative literature from Smith College in 1948. He did pre-doctoral work at Columbia University, passed the oral exams, but never wrote a dissertation. His master's thesis at Smith was titled, "The Relationship of Jonathan Swift to the Satire of James Joyce," "but he claims this has nothing to do with his style of writing," according to a piece about Bass that was published in the Eagle in 1967.

Bass met his wife, the former Ruth M. Haskins, of Greenfield, in 1956 at The Eagle where she served as the paper's police reporter and building editor. The couple married in 1960. Besides his wife, Bass is survived by three adult children, Michael, Elissa and Amy.

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