I’m so sad to hear of this. I didn’t really know Mr. Mason, but over the last couple of years, he’s been seated next to me at many dance performances. I knew who he was because so many critics would stop by our row and greet him. He was the most lively man. I remember sitting next to him last year when then new ABT wunderkind Daniil Simkin danced Flames of Paris with Sarah Lane, and after Simkin completed an astounding series of barrel turns, Mr. Mason whistled, raised his eyebrows and shook his head, letting out a little laugh. I remember thinking, okay if this man, who’s apparently been around a while and seen a lot, is impressed by this guy, Simkin is officially impressive.

I also remember seeing Mr. Mason not long ago at a Cedar Lake installation performance. A young woman slid off our bench and began stretching and several of us kind of looked at each other, obviously wondering whether she was a dancer and part of the performance but too shy to ask. Mr. Mason took one look at her, and got up and called out to her, “Are you part of the performance?” (She wasn’t, she laughed.)

I feel like I just saw him and he looked perfectly healthy, although with elderly people I guess you never know — it can be any little thing that causes death. I’m actually shocked he was 88; I thought he was in his early 70s — probably because he was so active and sprightly.

And active he was, as you can see from the obituaries. I was just recently introduced to the excellent critical journal he edited, Ballet Review, one of the many things he did.

It’s just so sad thinking that you just saw the person and, now, that’s going to be the last time you ever saw them. I thought the same with Clive Barnes.

Here is James Wolcott’s obituary, and here Alastair Macaulay’s.


  1. I was blessed to have known Francis, to have counted him as a friend and mentor. He lived an enviably long, full, rich life, and perhaps we should mainly raise our glasses to him and say “Well done.” But I will still miss him terribly, and wish he were still here to share stories of great individuals from bygone eras and the wisdom of so many years, and argue with the Higher Powers that such a man ever had to leave us. Francis was a true gentleman of the Old School and a man made a big difference in the world. A heavy-hitter with no interest in the spotlight, he worked to better focus the spotlight on artists whose greatness demanded deeper appreciation. A superb model to follow of a life well lived. Hats off to you Francis! (And he did like to wear fine hats!)

  2. Thank you for that lovely tribute, Mr. Gesmer!

  3. Searching for notes on Francis, I came across your post – and liked it. Here's something my friend Joseph – a long-time friend of Francis – sent to some of his friends the other day. It's NOT for general publication – but I thought you might enjoy it! – gessie

    Subject: Francis Mason

    Francis Mason, my editor and mentor and dear dear friend died in his sleep last night after a bout with cancer he basically ignored. He was 87. Francis, was a fellow alumni of St John's College from the class of …long ago… he was the only one alive in his class for years. St John's College had tried to get him on their Board of Governors forever; even tried to make him president; asked him to make an art program at the College. He always declined.

    Instead, after serving in the US diplomatic corps in communist Europe, he befriended Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine and championed the founding the New York City Ballet, a company that revolutionized the art of Ballet, making it a modern art. Then he befriended Martha Graham and went on to spend lavish sums of his own resources salvaging her company after she died, serving as Chairman of their Board until they could stand on their feet again – something I am so grateful he was able to live to see. The magnificent revival of “Clytemnestra” was only last autumn. My friend Gessie Houghton – who has his own set of Francis Mason stories – and I saw him there with his brother, Camp. His stewardship of Ballet Review is legendary. It is the finest dance publication in the world, and the oldest. Ballet Review is a reflection of him: A class act.

    I was the first dancer to attend St John's College since 1696 when it was founded, and the governors were fast to tell him. He couldn't believe it: a dancer studying the Great Books. And so he secretly followed my career – choreographing Aeschylus and Yeats, working at the United States Naval Academy as director and choreographer of their shows – and he attended every performance, unbeknownst to me. He read all my essays, and came to Annapolis from NYC every time I gave a public talk. I knew none of this.

    When I graduated, I received a letter on elegant Ballet Review stationary, introducing himself to me and and telling me what he had been doing, following me all these years. I still have it. It begins, ” Dear Mr Houseal, I understand you are notorious. ” He asked me in that letter to please write for Ballet Review, which I have done since 1984. Also included was another letter, of endorsement from him, which he wrote, ” would open many doors in the dance world for you.” It did. All over the world. To this day, I can go almost anywhere in the dance world and say, “Joseph Houseal, Ballet Review, New York” and doors fly open. I get the best seats in the house… and have for 27 years. And then I continue a tradition of dance writing genuinely worthy of the ongoing greatness of the art, and of the individuals upon whose lives the art flourishes and transmits. In an era where dance writing has degenerated into market-driven criticism and detached so-called scholarship, Francis was unbending: “We write for history,” he would tell me.

    Francis invented me as a writer. Whenever I would tell him this, he would always protest, bellowing ( He never spoke, he always bellowed ) , ” Nonsense, boy! You get get a pen and some paper and start writing. What else is there?” Wherever there was an 'anonymous' donation to Parnassus Dancetheatre or Core of Culture – it always came from Francis, and he insisted I never tell anyone. Francis believed in me without reserve, and never expected anything but magic from me. I have spent the greater portion of my life trying to live up to him. And I have had the most wonderful and rich life in the process.

    I am endlessly indebted to Francis Mason. He was a hero to me. There are so many many stories. I remember driving with him to see Nureyev's 'radical' new version of the Nutcracker. He asked me to read the PR as we drove: “…Nureyev instead explores the psycho-sexual fantasies of a pre-pubescent girl” , I read. He bellowed in response, ” But we know that, don't we? “

    As the Japanese would say. ' My sleeves are wet with tears”

    Joseph Houseal
    September 24, 2009

    • Dr. Helga Wall-Apelt

      What a great story by Joseph. How lucky he was to have met F. Mason. Yes, there are genius and there are idiots, the letter applies to what I like to call our “society of ignorance”, ruling today.
      But there is consolidation: we have books of the real educators, which we can read to our heart’s delight. And we have writers like Joseph Houseal who remind us of the tradition of the great thinkers and masters of knowledge.

      Thanks to you too, Gessie, with best wishes from NYC.

      Helga Wall-Apelt

  4. Aw, thank you for this, Gessie! I wish I would have known him better!

  5. Aw, thank you for this, Gessie! I wish I would have known him better!

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