Gil Cates: Consummate Hollywood professional
This post has been corrected. See note at the bottom for details.
Gilbert "Gil" Cates, a consummate Hollywood professional who combined a natural showman’s flair with a scholar’s erudition, and who as a 14-time producer of the annual Oscar telecast brought fresh blood and new energy to the industry’s biggest showcase, has died at 77.
Cates, who also was the founding former dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, was found collapsed in a parking lot on the UCLA campus late Monday afternoon. Emergency medical personnel responded to a call but were unable to revive him. The Los Angeles County coroner is investigating the cause of death.
Cates had undergone heart surgery earlier this month, UCLA sources said.
"Our entire TFT community is overwhelmingly saddened by the loss of our beloved mentor, colleague and friend," Teri Schwartz, dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, said in a statement.
An effusive, outspoken man, Cates maintained a bulging portfolio of job titles that matched his bulging Rolodex of personal and professional contacts. Virtually no one who was anyone in Hollywood didn’t know Gil Cates.
One of his signature accomplishments was revamping the annual Academy Awards telecast. Cates was widely credited with re-energizing a formula that had grown tired by recruiting such comic talents as Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, Steve Martin, David Letterman, Chris Rock and Jon Stewart to host the show.
Cates produced the Academy Awards 14 times between 1990 and 2008, more than any other individual.
"So sorry to hear Gil Cates has died," Martin tweeted Tuesday morning. "He was delightful, wise, canny and unperturbed. A great fellow."
In a statement, academy President Tom Sherak said that Cates "gave the academy and the world some of the most memorable moments in Oscar history. His passing is a tremendous loss to the entertainment industry, and our thoughts go out to his family."
Cates also served three consecutive terms as a governor of the academy's Directors Branch, from 1984 to 1993.
He returned to the board for another term beginning in 2002, and held the post of vice president from 2003 to 2005, according to the academy.
Among Cates’ own feature films were "I Never Sang for My Father" (1970) and "Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams" (1973).
Cates served two terms as Directors Guild of America president, from 1983 to 1987. His extensive personal and professional connections with the film and television worlds helped establish him an influential and trusted player by the major studios.
Cates also produced and directed Broadway and off-Broadway plays.
Cates served as dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television from 1990 to 1998 and was on the faculty of the school as a professor.
Born in New York City, Cates majored in theater at Syracuse University. He was married to Dr. Judith Reichman and had four children and two stepchildren. He is the uncle of actor Phoebe Cates.
A full obituary will follow at latimes.com/obits.
[For the Record, 1:27 p.m. Nov. 1: An earlier version of this post was missing some words in a sentence detailing the members of Gil Cates’ family. It should have said that he had four children and two stepchildren.]
-- Reed Johnson and Susan King
Photo: Singer Dolly Parton and music director Bill Conti discuss with Gil Cates, right, a production number for the 2006 Oscar telecast. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times