Gil Cates, an award-winning director and producer, who helmed 14 Oscar telecasts, died yesterday at age 77.
According to The Journals Tom Tugend, Cates was “a multi-faceted theater, film and television producer and director, university dean and the patriarch of large at-home family Seders.”
In addition to his entertainment credentials, Cates was a founder of the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood and a former dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, according to the LA Times. He served as producing director of the Geffen Playhouse for more than 15 years, reports Variety, and was active in the Directors Guild of America, where he served two terms as president. Variety also reports that Cates was instrumental in ending the 2008 Writers strike, and was part of a negotiating committee that determined the new rules for new media residuals, one of the key issues in the strike.
Sid Ganis, four-term president of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, said of Cates: “He was a man of the arts. Yes, he produced so many Oscar shows for the Academy, but he also directed beautiful movies like “I Never Sang For My Father” and produced a range of plays that made you laugh, made you cry… and made you think.” The Jewish Journal reviewed Cates’s 1999 production of Donald Margulies’ “Collected Stories” at the Geffen Playhouse two years after the play was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Reporter Diane Arieff wrote: “n director Gilbert Cates’ current Los Angeles production at the Geffen Playhouse, the play’s intelligence and emotional power remain intact.”
Cates won an Emmy for an Oscar telecast in 1991 and produced several feature films, including “I Never Sang for My Father” in 1970, “Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams” in 1973, and “The Last Married Couple in America” in 1980. The two former films were both nominated for Oscars.
His death was unexpected, according to reports, though TheWrap.com is claiming that he recently underwent heart surgery. According to TheWrap.com:
Cates was found collapsed in the parking lot on the campus of UCLA, according to an official at the Directors Guild of America.
According to UCLA, “Emergency medical personnel responded to a call on campus at about 5:50 p.m. Monday but were unable to revive Cates. The Los Angeles County coroner is investigating the cause of death.”
Cates was born Gilbert Katz on June 6, 1934, in New York, NY, according to a short biography published at filmreference.com. He was the son of Nina (nee Peltzman) and Nathan Katz, a dress manufacturer. His brother, Joseph Cates was also a director and producer and fathered the actress Phoebe Cates, who starred in “Gremlins” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” According to her Wikipedia entry, “Her paternal grandparents [Cates’ parents]...were Russian Jews”.
Tugend adds that in 1998, he co-produced Israel’s 50th anniversary celebration at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, which was nationally telecast. Of his Jewish identity, Tugend writes:
Following the example of his idolized older brother Joseph, also a director and producer, Gilbert Anglicized his last name.
In a Jewish Journal article by this reporter in 2000, based on an hour-long interview, Cates expressed some qualms about the name change and said he was astonished that many people didn’t realize he was Jewish.
A member of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Cates said “I don’t lay tefillin, and I only go to shul on the High Holy Days, but I feel very proud to be Jewish.”
To the question whether his Jewish background affected his role as producer and director, Cates observed that the answer goes well beyond a count of plays with specifically Jewish themes and characters. For instance, he saw in “Harriet’s Return,” which dealt with Harriet Tubman’s struggle for the freedom of African-American slaves, a play of basic Jewish concern.
According to Tugend, Cates is survived by his wife, gynecologist Judith Reichman, four children (including director-writer Gil Cates Jr.), two stepchildren, and six grandchildren. Reichman was reportedly in Tel Aviv at the time of Cates’s death, where her daughter had recently given birth to a baby.