Friends of the late Gil Cates gathered Monday night for a memorial tribute that highlighted his idealism, humor, warmth and pragmatism.
“He was the great embodiment of joy in this business,” said Tom Hanks, one of more than a dozen speakers at the Directors Guild of America headquarters.
“He was so much fun to be around,” Hanks added.
Cates passed away Oct. 31 after a career that included lenghty leadership roles at the DGA, the Geffen Playhouse and the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television along with producing 14 Oscar shows.
The Cates signature — a phone call seeking assistance — was impossible to resist, Annette Bening recalled.
“He’d always say, ‘I’m only calling the busiest people, which was brilliant,” she noted. “How could you say that you were too busy?”
Bening said she was particularly proud of working with Cates at the Geffen, adding, “You cannot be a producer of nonprofit theater without being an idealist.”
Billy Crystal got a big laugh when he said, “We did six Oscar shows together or 312 hours of live TV.”
Crystal said it’s strange to be hosting this year without Cates, adding, “This show, it will be for you.”
Jon Stewart, speaking on tape, recalled being asked by Cates to host the Oscars and being told he was the only host Cates wanted.
“He really had that Jedi producer mind trick going,” said Stewart, who hosted twice.
Longtime friend Lionel Chetwynd retold what he said was Cates’ favorite joke — “If a Jewish husband is in a forest and expresses an opinion no one hears, is he still wrong?”
Chetwynd also said, “I loved Gil Cates in a manly and platonic way.”
DGA president Taylor Hackford said that Cates retained a strong sense of looking forward.
“What I loved most about Gil was that he never stopped growing,” he noted. “He was the mench of menches.”
DGA national exec director Jay Roth recalled that Cates was DGA president during the guild’s only strike in 1987.
“It lasted only 15 minutes but had the precision of the Normandie invasion,” Roth said. “He had a unique method of developing consensus and leadership.”
Alan Alda recalled Cates telling him “I wouldn’t change a thing” on the last night of his life.”
Attendees included John Lithgow, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Barry Meyer, AMPTP chief Carol Lombardini, SAG chief David White, John Wells and Bob Pisano