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Syracuse University alumnus and entertainment industry leader Gil Cates dies

November 09, 2011

Erica Blust
(315) 443-5891

Gilbert “Gil” Cates ‘55 G’65, an alumnus of Syracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) and a leader in the entertainment industry, died Monday, Oct. 31, in Los Angeles. He was 77.

catesCates was founding dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television (TFT) and founder and producing director at the Geffen Playhouse. He was perhaps best known for producing 14 Academy Award television broadcasts—for which he garnered numerous Emmy Awards and nominations—between 1990 and 2008. He was credited with boosting the ratings of Hollywood’s biggest annual awards show by hiring such well-received hosts as Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg and Steve Martin.

Cates served as dean of TFT from 1990 to 1998 and was a distinguished professor on the school’s faculty. He was secretary-treasurer and past president (1983–87) of the Directors Guild of America (DGA). Among his many awards and honors are the DGA’s President’s Award, Robert B. Aldrich Award for extraordinary service and the DGA Honorary Life Member Award; the American Society of Cinematographers Board of Governors Award; and the Jimmy Dolittle Award for Outstanding Contribution to Los Angeles Theater.

Cates also produced and directed feature films, television specials and Broadway and off-Broadway plays. His directorial highlights include “I Never Sang for My Father,” “Collected Stories” and “Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams.” He most recently directed Jeffrey Hatcher’s “A Picasso,” starring Roma Downey and Peter Michael Goetz, for the Geffen Playhouse.

Cates studied drama at VPA under Sawyer Falk, who served as director of the Department of Drama from 1927-1961. In May 1987, Cates returned to campus to address VPA’s graduating class at the college’s convocation and called Falk “the most influential man in my life next to my father.” Cates also received the college’s Distinguished Alumni Award at the ceremony.

“The social necessity of art should guide each of you graduating as you embark on your professional career,” Cates told VPA’s Class of 1987. “You have first-rate technical resources, learned and developed at a fine university. In my own field of motion pictures, I am staggered at the proficiency of new graduates joining the craft; they know all about lens capabilities, film stocks and every piece of equipment. But too often, they bring only their utilitarian selves to market and leave aside their spirituality and the commitment to ideas and the ability to work with them, which is the ultimate goal of the educated person.”

Cates served as a member of VPA’s Advisory Council and as a guest speaker for the college’s Sorkin in L.A. Learning Practicum for drama and film students. He received the George Arents Pioneer Medal, SU’s highest alumni honor, in 2003 and the University’s Chancellor’s Medal in 1974. His son, Gil Jr., is a 1991 graduate of VPA’s Department of Drama.

“The college is saddened by the loss of Gil Cates,” says VPA Dean Ann Clarke. “He was a bright spirit and proud member of the University’s West Coast alumni community. We were fortunate to have him share his wisdom with generations of VPA students who aspired to work in the entertainment industry. His legacy at SU is the success of the countless students he inspired.”

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