By Jill Place, The Acting Intuitive
I marked my calendar the first time I got an e-mail. All I saw was “Gary Gardner” and “Celebration”. And thought, “Well, it’s about time they did a tribute. 40 years a UCLA professor, chairman of the department, teacher of the year six times in a row.” The second time I got a reminder, I actually read it. Then I realized he was gone. The tribute was last Friday. 1000 people showed up. I barely got a ticket myself.
Gary Gardner was my friend and colleague my senior year at UCLA. I remember the first time we met in the Green Room at MacGowan Hall . . . we were instantly drawn to each other and began chattering away immediately; standoffishness was never one of Gary’s attributes. Or mine. I didn’t understand how valuable our relationship was, however, until now. I saw Gary from time to time over the years. But my memories of him are among the most precious I have of that time.
Gary was the kind of guy who was always himself, no matter what it cost him. We were in a reader’s theatre together, and, while someone was singing the umpteenth billionth verse of some ancient Irish song in some long-forgotten Irish play we read, Gary leaned into me, stared at the ceiling, and blared “I’ve been here so long my clothes are out of style.” Later that evening, the cast and Irish friends of the playwright repaired to an Irish pub. After even more verses, now fueled by buckets of Guinness, Gary and I sang and soft-shoed “Bye, Bye Blackbird” on top of the tables.
Gary wrote a part in a play for me; the character’s and my own last names were the same. Possibly because I was the only girl living with a gay guy that he knew and the character hung out with gay men like I did. Now it was the EARLY sixties; most of the fun you remember or heard about didn’t really begin until later and into the seventies. So our communal status scandalized even the liberal theatre department. The play was called “Just Like in the Movies”. It won the Samuel French award that year and was published; it was the first and last time my name appeared in a French-published play.
I was a big musical comedy buff just like Gary. We were constantly breaking into musical numbers . . . didn’t matter where. We both knew all the lyrics. Or doing the “Lions and tigers and bears . . . oh, my . . .” take from The Wizard of Oz complete with choreography. It actually ended up in the play. Most of all, Gary made me laugh.
I couldn’t help but wonder why 1000 people showed up that night. Then it dawned on me that Gary was the epitome of someone you’d want to know. He was authentic and outspoken to a fault, sometimes to his own detriment, quintessentially passionate about his work, drop-dead funny, and the fiercest and most loyal friend . . . both to peers and students alike. He was an amazingly creative actor and writer but totally humble and self-effacing about his talents. Most of all, Gary possessed a generosity of soul and spirit that couldn’t help but inspire others to be the best they could be. The kind of guy that made you discover qualities that you didn’t even know you had
One of the speakers that night suggested that we call up someone we care about and tell them we love them. I encourage you to do the same in the spirit of those like Gary. Are you lucky enough to know someone like him?
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Did you have a teacher or friend in your life that inspired you, made you laugh, and clued you into qualities you didn’t even know you had? What were they like? What about them inspired you? Have you called them up lately and told them you loved them?