For Irene – by Marlene S. Gaylinn

Irene Backalenick — a nationally known journalist, theater critic, and a founding member of the Connecticut Critics Circle, passed away at home on December 16, 2023. She was 102 years old. Longtime friend and colleague Marlene Gaylinn remembers Irene.

I met Irene when I began writing theatre reviews for “The Darien News-Review.” My editor, Virginia Bates, knew Irene from the CT Press Club and informed me that we may have something in common. It was at the Press Club that we first met. Soon afterwards, Irene became one of the founders of The Connecticut Critics Circle and I became one of its original members. Now I’m one of the original “old-timers.”

My former editor was correct in that we had similar backgrounds. Irene and I along with Supreme Justice Ruth Ginsberg, were among the few women of our generation who attended college while our husbands cared for the children – which alone is an accomplishment.

Irene was a likeable, unpretentious, down-to-earth woman. Because she seldom spoke about herself, it took me a long time to learn about her other prestigious, publishing accomplishments. Being very new at becoming a theatre critic, it amazed me how Irene could attend all the major theatre openings within commuting distance and review all of them for “The Westport News.” It would mean attending several openings in one week. I was only able to review one theatre opening a month and so, I naively asked Irene if she needed any help — with the hope that she might share some of her writing assignments with me. Well, I’m certain that Irene was shocked at my boldness. Nevertheless, she explained in a matter-of-fact way, that she was fully capable of handling her position with this newspaper by herself and the embarrassing moment smoothly passed. I never dreamed that as a freelancer, we would soon attend ALL the Press Openings in Fairfield and New Haven counties with our husbands. We laughed when Irene said, “one day I expect to die in my aisle seat.”

Irene not only founded our organization, she, along with Dave Rosenberg, were re-elected to lead the Connecticut Critics Circle for a number of years.

May Irene be remembered by “The Connecticut Critics Circle” forever.

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