As good as his biography and filmography might look in his obituary, they can never do Gilbert Cates justice.
The producer of numerous Oscar ceremonies, director of the Geffen Playhouse and lead negotiator at times for the Directors Guild of America, Cates was the consummate gentleman — a true pro, with a wry sense of humor and an extremely well-rounded view of the world. That personality seemed perfectly suited to a career that straddled film, TV and theater, sometimes all at once, while still juggling the challenges of taking on the major studios.
Personally speaking, Cates was extraordinarily gracious — the kind of guy who would take the time to call or write a note when he read a column he liked. In fact, he might be the only person who ever bumped into me, told me he liked something I had written but couldn’t remember it, and then actually called later to tell me what it was.
Cates had exactly the right attitude for overseeing the Oscars, aware going in that you were never going to please everybody, and that the nature of the ceremony often flummoxed a producer’s best-laid plans.
In fact, Cates was fond of saying that when it comes to the unpredictable nature of such events — and the magical, unscripted moments that people invariably remember more than anything else — “either the award show gods smile on you or they don’t.”
If they’re really up there, I can only hope they’re smiling on him right now.