Mr. Gardner was born on March 24, 1944 in Danville, IL. He graduated from Danville High School and earned a B.A. from the University of Illinois in 1966. Shortly thereafter, he attended the College of Fine Arts at UCLA where he earned an MFA in Playwriting in 1968. In the same year, he was awarded the Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award for his play August and Ice Cream. The play was soon after produced in Los Angeles.
In 1972, Mr. Gardner earned a PhD from the University of Illinois, but quickly returned to UCLA in 1973 as a young Assistant Professor in the Theater Department. He remained there for the remainder of his 40-year teaching career, where he directed many shows and taught a popular class called "History of the American Musical." His students included Shane Black, Nancy Cartwright, Susan Egan, Diane Frolov, Mariska Hargitay, Tom Shumacher, Ed Solomon, Michael Stuhlbarg and Tim Robbins.
As a playwright, Gardner wrote the book and lyrics for the Off-Broadway musical The Matinee Kids with composer Brian Lasser, with whom he wrote cabaret and nightclub material for performers Carol Lawrence, Karen Mason and Donna Murphy. Mr. Gardner also teamed with composer John Kroner to write the children’s musicals Rabbit Sense and Everything About a Day (Almost) for Off-Broadway professional children’s theatre TADA! Each has been revived numerous times since their Off-Broadway debuts.
As an actor, Gardner performed at several theatres throughout Los Angeles, including Buffalo Nights Theatre, founded by UCLA graduates; The Actors Gang, founded by Tim Robbins; the CAST Theatre and the 21st Street Theatre.
He is survived by his sister, Gloria K. Tapp of Fredricksburg, VA.; a niece; and two nephews. The Theater Department at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television will host a music, song and dance filled “Celebration of Gary Gardner’s Life as Friend, Artist and Teacher” in Fall 2013. Specific dates for the celebration will be posted on a Facebook page created in Gardner’s memory and on the TFT website. In response to many requests from his former students, the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television is creating two scholarships in his honor, The Gary Gardner Musical Theater Scholarship and the Gary Gardner Playwriting Scholarship. Information about the scholarships will be available on the TFT website.