UCLA Theater professor Gary Gardner, who was named No. 1 UCLA Instructor for eight straight years during his 40-year tenure at the School of Theater, Film and Television, died of natural causes in his Los Angeles home on June 15. He was 69.
Gardner is remembered by students for his most popular class, History of the American Musical Theater, in which the professor was known to break into Broadway songs.
The campus’ surge of interest in musical theater sparked by Gardner’s class led the estate of Ray Bolger (Scarecrow in 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz”) to launch the Ray Bolger Musical Theater Program. Gardner chaired the program from its inception until his death.
Gardner’s students included Shane Black, Nancy Cartwright, Susan Egan, Diane Frolov, Mariska Hargitay, Tom Shumacher, Ed Solomon, Michael Stuhlbarg and Tim Robbins.
A champion of student-written productions, Gardner was especially proud of directing the musical revue “Bruinhaha,” which played the Kennedy Center and won the ASCAP Award in 1985. Other Gardner student productions won the American College Theater Festival awards in 1977, 1984, 1989 and 2009. Some of Gardner’s sold-out musical productions at UCLA included “Company,” “A Chorus Line,” “Urinetown” and “Anything Goes.”
Gardner was also a playwright, with several off-Broadway credits. He wrote yearly galas for the 92nd Street Y with composer John Kroner , which included numbers performed by Judy Kaye and Sutton and Hunter Foster.
Gardner was born and raised in Danville, Ill. and earned his B.A. from the University of Illinois in 1966. He earned an MFA in Playwriting at UCLA in 1968 and was awarded a Ph.D from the University of Illinois before returning to UCLA to begin teaching.
The UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television will establish two scholarships in Gardner’s honor, the Gary Gardner Musical Theater Scholarship and the Gary Gardner Playwriting Scholarship.
Gardner is survived by his sister, a niece, two nephews and seven great-nephews and nieces.