Gil Cates and Me

Gil Cates handing me my diploma in 1993

I first met Gil Cates when I was an undergrad, an older undergrad, at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television.  Cates was the head of the department and already shaking things up in a great way.  He would come and see our performances, cheer on the students when they had any sort of success.   I shook his hand when I finally got my degree, an eternal fuck up in life made good, the only person in my family to graduate college.   What I remember about him then was that he was a force for good at UCLA.  He changed it from being just the film school – with theater kind of pushed to one side.  By putting it all under one umbrella, there was more prestige to graduate from the School of Theater, Film and Television.  Theater majors were all really pleased by this.  Film students might have been a little bugged.  Cates brought his many Hollywood connections to UCLA and really changed things mostly overnight.  His legacy is felt there still.

The next time I met Gil Cates I was on life change number two.  I had dropped out of grad film school at Columbia, gone through a miserable breakup and had very little to account for in life.  I somehow got a job working at the box office for the Geffen Playhouse.  During that time, we were worked so hard and under such bad working conditions (which weren’t all that bad) that we were going to vote to unionize — it was all a lot of hot air, looking back on it.  I got promoted to working in the subscriptions department before all of this happened — it’s true that as the Geffen Playhouse was forming they did use students as cheap labor for sure – we did work overtime and we didn’t get breaks and yes, their success depended on this.  So we were rightly angry.  But I think we took it too far.  I remember near the end of my employment there my friend and I were giving out subscriptions to “house seats,” like front and center that people would have as long as they wanted them. They were supposed to be reserved for VIPs but we, with all kinds of unlimited access, just started giving them out for the hell of it.  I still wonder if there are people who attend the Geffen Playhouse that have these great seats because my friend and I totally broke the rules.

The night before we were to strike and unionize, Gil Cates came down to our office and had a long discussion with us about what what we should do.  I remember how frank it was and how whatever it was he said it stopped us from taking action (again, trust me, this was hardly necessary and, in the end, just a lot of drama) — he promised us better pay and no more overtime.  It seemed reasonable enough but I was kind of over it and wanted to leave.  So I was about to write a very dramatic, scathing “letter of resignation”  that went on and on about my stay at UCLA and how disappointed I was in him and how he was treating employees.  His secretary at the time read the letter and pulled me aside. “You know, you can draw more flies with honey than vinegar.”  She was right. I never gave Cates the letter.  He might have known me if I had.

The next time I met up with Cates I was a single mom.  My website, called Oscarwatch then, was doing well but I wasn’t yet making a living off of it.  I went to work part time for the Dean’s office at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.  My boss was Gil Cates.  He didn’t have any idea I was the person who wrote Oscarwatch.com, nor would he ever remember I worked at and almost picketed outside the Geffen Playhouse.   He certainly would have never remembered shaking my hand as I got my diploma.  I worked under him as a regular assistant/secretary.  I spent most of my time talking on the phone and messing around online at that job.  I was never focused enough to do a good job and I’d end up quitting after about six months.  But I’ll never forget saying hi to Gil Cates when he’d come into the office, how friendly he was, how he never skipped over you when he walked by you. One time he stopped and looked at me and said “don’t I know you from somewhere?” I looked at him back and said “yeah, I attended school here and you gave me my diploma.”

He said “That’s right.  It’s nice to see you every day smiling and working hard. But make sure to do something with your life, will ya?” He gestured around the tiny office I was working in, “I mean really.” We both had a good, knowing laughed.  “I’ll try,” I said.

Since then, I’ve seen him a few times at Academy functions but of course, never said hello. He wouldn’t know me anyway.  I always wondered what I would say to him if I ever had a chance to have an actual conversation with him.  But I’ve always know that if I ever talked to Cates as the person I am now I like to think he would have been proud somehow.

But now I realize what bothered me so much about hearing that he’d passed on was that I never got to properly thank him in ways I’m only starting to realize now.  For things seen and unseen.   I know he will be missed.

12 Comments on this Post

  1. You have had a very interesting life so far Sasha (I mean that in a good way) and you inspire me. Thanks for sharing this!

  2. He would have been proud to read your heartfelt tribute.

  3. Tero Heikkinen

    “That’s right. It’s nice to see you every day smiling and working hard. But make sure to do something with your life, will ya?”

    I think you have. Not just your current job (that gives pleasure for people around the world), but your daughter and other things that really matter.

    Sasha, your writing is at its very best when you go personal. Well, I guess everyone is better then – the heart is included. There’s something most of us didn’t really know, or paid any attention if you mentioned this shortly.

    It’s like… when I tell people that I spent 8 months in the army. “Yeah, so?”. I was the one who was in charge with the 1200-seated movie theater in the garrison, and was the one who chose what flicks people will see, and ordered the films, picked up the reels (yes, actual film cans), did the advertising and welcomed the would-be-soldiers for film screenings. “Ah, that makes perfect sense”. I had the easiest job, and would be in charge with entertainment if war ever came to these shores. I was also the one who digitalized the movie theater’s sound system – Jurassic Park is to blame.

  4. Tero Heikkinen

    Didn’t really want to talk about myself in this thread. Ego-centric me.

    I said this somewhere else, RIP Gil Cates.

    True, if you bring in Billy Crystal – you have done something right. He seemed to be very down to earth in the short clips we’ve seen.

    Sasha must’ve written the best online obituary for him.

  5. Miss Stone: Thanks for sharing your anecdotes. It’s great to find out about these stories.

  6. Rudi Mentär

    :)

  7. unlikelyhood

    Yes, you’ve done something with your life, I mean really.

    In a few of this year’s columns, I’ve been sad to sense a little more defensiveness about working this circuit. You always come back to Well, It’ll Be The First Line of Their Obituary – as Cates again proved. But I’ve been meaning to say that there’s something more than that. The Oscars confer legitimacy upon films to a wide, wide swath of people who otherwise shrug their shoulders at any film not made for their quadrant. I mean, sure, as DiCaprio said in the article you linked to today, when it comes to a film like Titanic, the Oscars are the ones borrowing the legitimacy, not the other way around. But for more independent films and even just any film older than ___ years (maybe someone else can fill that in), an Oscar nomination says: this isn’t just some porno or J-horror or Plan 9 remake or whatever that my friend is trying to convince me was once cool. This was something. It’s like when I tried to get my wife to see the original Alfie – my synopsis of the plot wasn’t doing it. Then I remembered to say that Michael Caine had been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for the film. We rented it the next week. I think that effect happens a lot.

    The Oscars confer legitimacy on some great films (and some mediocre and some uneven ones), and you confer legitimacy on Oscars. Yeah. Cates would be proud.

  8. Steve Pond

    Very nice, Sasha. A touching tribute to a classy guy…and full of things I never knew. Makes me wonder if I ever came in to Gil’s office at UCLA when you were working there.

  9. Great little tribute Sasha! Wish I could’ve met the guy too, I’m sure he would’ve been awesome.

    And you’re right, I’m sure he would’ve been proud of you. Love how you’ve transformed since Oscarwatch! I will always be a fan of your work!

  10. Pierre de Plume

    Your story is quite touching, Sasha. You’ve revealed a human side to the man.

    It’s a relief to read a remembrance that doesn’t include a romantic tryst in the supply closet!

  11. Joao Mattos

    Miss Stone, this is the kind of story that stay with us for all our life, and are important to make us who we are. Thanks for sharing.

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