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UCLA

A Consummate Showman

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By Mary Daily

Published Nov 3, 2011 2:36 PM


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Photos courtesy of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.

UCLA lost a great friend and beloved mentor on October 31 when Gil Cates died of natural causes in a parking structure on campus. He was 77.

Cates, a towering figure in the entertainment industry, was the founding dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television (TFT) from 1990-1998 and remained on the faculty as a professor. He was also the founder and producing director at the Geffen Playhouse, where a theater (above) bears his name.

A stage director who was also successful in film and television, Cates produced 14 Academy Awards telecasts. He was widely credited with revitalizing what had become a tired format by hiring comedians such as Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg.

In addition, he served as longtime president and chief negotiator of the Directors Guild of America. His feature films included "I Never Sang for My Father" in 1970 and "Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams" in 1973.

Los Angeles Times theater critic Charles McNulty said Cates' vision and risk-taking in the theater made him "an example to his fellow artistic leaders, who have increasingly been pursuing a more commercial course. Los Angeles has lost one of its most unrelenting champions of theater," he said.

At UCLA, Cates was admired as a leader who successfully practiced what he taught and took a genuine interest in his students and their aspirations. "Gil was extremely approachable and always responsive—not something you expect in someone of his stature, particularly in an industry that is so cutthroat," says Kinga Dobos '05, who earned a bachelor's degree in film production. "When he spoke at the Women in Film Speaker Series during the Writers Guild strike in 2009, he encouraged us to not fear change. He was inspiring, and he had a great sense of humor."

At TFT's farewell event for Cates, when he stepped down as dean, several of his faculty and administrative colleagues spoke. But his biggest smile came when a group of students performed a joyful musical dance rendition of "There's No Business like Show Business." It was a tribute to the man who had imparted to them his great love for his work.

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