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Theater world remembers Gil Cates

November 1, 2011 |  6:21 pm


Gil Cates, who died Monday at the age of 77, wore many hats during his long career in Hollywood. Cates served as the lead producer of the Academy Awards telecast for a record 14 times. He directed movies and produced for television. But the man's prime passion was live theater, and the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, which he founded in 1994, was one of his most prized legacies.

During his tenure at the Geffen, Cates worked with some of the top playwrights, actors and directors in the country. He was actively involved in all aspects of the Geffen and even directed a number of productions, ranging from musicals to traditional plays.

Cates also founded the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, where he served as dean from 1990 to 1998.

Some of the people who worked with Cates shared their thoughts about his life and career with The Times.

Annette Bening (actress): Gil Cates was one of the most enthusiastic, active, involved men I have ever known in show business... As much as he loved showbiz, our rambling conversations inevitably turned to family. The only time I ever heard him brag was about his kids, his grandkids, and his remarkable wife, Judy.  My heart goes out to them. A big presence in our community is gone, but Gil's inspiring love of work and community, evidenced especially at UCLA and the Geffen theater, lives on.

Donald Margulies (playwright): He was a total mensch. I consider him a good friend and someone I always looked forward to having dinner with in L.A. He was a beacon of sanity in the craziness of Hollywood. A completely unpretentious man. Really a champion of writers and artists.

Michael Ritchie (artistic director, Center Theatre Group): He was not only one of my favorite people in L.A., he was one of my favorite people in the world.  He was the first person to call me to welcome me to L.A. It mattered the world to me for one of my peers to make that gesture. We had regular contact, had regular lunches... We shared some of the same perspectives. The Geffen is one of my favorite theaters to go to in the country.

Sheldon Epps (artistic director, Pasadena Playhouse): There's often a sense that we L.A. theaters are in competition with each other or that there is some envy or something. In fact, we are very supportive of each other, and Gil was always very supportive and encouraging when I first got here, and sympathetic and eager to offer help if he could.

Stephen Eich (former Geffen Playhouse managing director): This is a sad day for me. I worked closely with Gil for eight years. It's a sad day for the theater community in L.A. He was a very passionate guy, full of life, dedicated, hard working and a real showman. He had a real style to him.

Lou Moore (Geffen Playhouse's first managing director): Gil was bigger than life. His passions, his dreams, his infectious personality. I learned so much from him.... He never stopped. He never wanted to be still for a minute. He was an amazing man. I don’t say "passion" lightly. He loved to learn about people. He always used to tell me that his greatest love was the circus. I think he loved the life of it -– the energy, humor, thrill.


Gil Cates: an appreciation

Gil Cates: Consummate Hollywood professional

Theater review: 'The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity' at Geffen Playhouse

-- David Ng, Mike Boehm and Reed Johnson

Photo: Gil Cates at the Geffen Playhouse in 2002. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times