Gil Cates, Founder of Geffen Playhouse, Dies at 77

Obituaries   Gil Cates, Founder of Geffen Playhouse, Dies at 77
Gilbert Cates, the founder and producing director at the Geffen Playhouse and the producer of 14 Oscar telecasts, died Oct. 31, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles-based Geffen confirmed. He was 77.

Gilbert Cates
Gilbert Cates

"Gil has always referred to the staff of the Geffen Playhouse as his second family," said Geffen Playhouse chairman of the board Frank Mancuso. "And it is as a family that we mourn this tremendous loss. Gil built this theatre and he will forever be at the center of it — we honor his life by continuing the fulfillment of his dream. As my dear friend Gil would no doubt say 'onward and upward with the arts.'"

The theatre has no further information in regards to memorial or burial services at this time.

In the late '60s and early '70s, Mr. Cates produced a series of Broadway productions, including the Robert Anderson plays You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running and I Never Sang for My Father. The former was a hit, the latter became a popular standard in regional and community theatre. He followed those shows with two markedly less successful double bills of once-acts: Murray Schisgal's The Chinese/Dr. Fish and Anderson's Solitaire/Double Solitaire. Voices, directed by Mr. Cates in 1972, also flopped. Eight years later, he directed Tricks of the Trade, which starred George C. Scott and ran a single night.

In the 1970s, Mr. Cates turned to film, directing the film version of I Never Sang for My Father with Gene Hackman in the lead. He also directed "Dragonfly," "Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams" with Joanne Woodward, "The Last Married Couple in America," "Dragonfly" and "OH God! Book II." But he earned his greatest notoriety in television, producing the annual Academy Awards broadcast. His piloted his first Oscars in 1990 and his last in 2008. During his tenure, the popular "In Memoriam" film segment was introduced. Elsewhere in television, he was nominated for Emmy Awards for the TV movies "Do You Know the Muffin Man?" and "Consenting Adult."

From 1990 to 1997, Mr. Cates was Dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. In 1994, when the Combs family donated the Westwood Theatre to UCLA, it was done under the premise that it would remain a theatre in perpetuity, and that Cates assume leadership. The building was renamed the Geffen Playhouse when entertainment mogul David Geffen made a generous founding donation. The new playhouse opened its doors in 1995 with John Patrick Shanley's Four Dogs and a Bone starring Brendan Fraser, Elizabeth Perkins, Parker Posey and Martin Short. In 1999, Mr. Cates enlisted Steppenwolf Theatre alum Randall Arney to become the theatre's artistic director, while Mr. Cates assumed the role of producing director. Thereafter, Mr. Cates regularly directed at least one production a season.

In September 2002, he staged David Eldridge's Under the Blue Sky at the Geffen and, in 2005, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the inaugural production in the newly-renovated Geffen Playhouse. In February 2007 he directed Jeffrey Hatcher's A Picasso in the Geffen's Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater.

In November 1996, he was the recipient of the Jimmy Dolittle Award for Outstanding Contribution to Los Angeles Theater. He received the 1999 Ovation Award for best play for the Geffen production of Collected Stories, starring Linda Lavin and Samantha Mathis.

Mr. Cates served two terms as President of the Directors Guild of America from 1983 to 1987. In 1989, he received the Guild's Robert B. Aldrich Award for extraordinary service and, in 1991, he received the DGA's Honorary Life Membership.

Mr Cates was born in New York City and attended Syracuse University. He is survived by his wife Dr. Judith Reichman, and, from a previous marriage to Jane Cates, four children. He was uncle to actress Phoebe Cates.

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