Harold V. Cohen (1906-1969) first showed an interest in theater in his hometown of Wampum, Pa., south of New Castle, where he acted in schools plays. “Zez” continued acting at Penn State University, where he was also the editor of the Collegian, the student newspaper.
Cohen reviewed movies in his spare time while working as a copy editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In 1929, the newspaper gave him a five-day-a-week column called “Drama Desk” where he covered motion pictures and later theater. While working at the Post-Gazette, Cohen also helped create a Pittsburgh edition of TV Guide in the mid-1950s and served as the Pittsburgh correspondent for national publications such as Variety and The Stage. Among his awards, Cohen was named “Movie Critic of the Year” by the Screen Directors’ Guild in 1955.
Partial to bowties and plaid jackets, and sporting a Van Dyke beard for much of the 1950s, Cohen moved comfortably among the worlds of film, theater and television. His career stretched from the advent of sound in motion pictures in 1927 to the end of the Motion Picture Production Code in 1968. He hobnobbed with celebrities while corresponding with local readers.
“I’ve reviewed motion pictures since March 1, 1929, and I confidently expect to die with my adjectives on,” Harold V. Cohen said in a 1949 interview. When Cohen died unexpectedly in 1969, his death sparked numerous tributes, private and public. “The glittering names of the great and famous, and names never seen in print before, were equals and brothers in the common meeting place of Harold’s warmth and wit,” Paul Lang said before the November 9, 1969, showing of “Harold V. Cohen’s Sunday Afternoon Movie,” a program Cohen hosted on KDKA-TV and later on WTAE-TV.
Harold and his wife, the actress Stephanie Diamond Cohen, had one daughter, Barbara Cohen. His brother, Eugene Cohen, was one of the original board members of the Pittsburgh Jewish Publication and Education Foundation, the non-profit created to oversee the publication of the Jewish Chronicle of Pittsburgh in 1962. Harold V. Cohen also helped found the Pittsburgh chapter of the American-Israel Cultural Foundation.