Monday, March 1, 2010

Herb Gardner: Who's Almost Who?

I'd love to find out where his father's place on Canal Street was
Gardner was born in Brooklyn, New York. His father owned a tavern on the lower east side of Manhattan, on Canal Street, where Gardner spent many hours soaking up the atmosphere and listening to the men talk to one another. As a teenager he worked grunt jobs at the Cort Theater and National Theater, using his access to performances to watch repeated performances of plays that struck his interest.
He was educated at New York's High School of Performing Arts, Carnegie-Mellon University, and Antioch College. While a student at Antioch, he began drawing his revolutionary slyly left-wing-slanted comic strip The Nebbishes, which was picked up by the Chicago Tribune in 1954 and syndicated to 60-75 major newspapers for a short time in 1959, becoming a national craze for six years even before syndication, appearing on greeting cards, barware (including cocktail napkins), wall decorations, and anything white — except surgical masks. In 1960, after "the balloons were getting larger and larger and there was hardly any drawing left", he dropped it to begin writing plays.
He is best known for his 1962 play A Thousand Clowns, which ran for two years. He received an Oscar nomination for the screenplay for the successful 1965 movie adaptation. The play was revived in 1996 and 2001. Both the 1962 play and the movie starred Jason Robards, Jr. as Murray Burns, a charming, unemployed children's show writer with Peter Pan Syndrome, who is forced to choose between social conformity and the probable loss of custody of his eleven-year-old nephew to the Child Welfare Bureau. The Robards character was in part based on Gardner's friend at that time, humorist Jean Shepherd. In 2000 Robards wrote: "I feel A THOUSAND CLOWNS is his masterpiece. It is a real human comedy of poignancy and laughter, with all of humanity's foibles and eccentricities. There is a great depth of love and understanding for all in this play. There are great life lessons to learn daily, which I find myself still doing. For Herb Gardner to have written this play in his early twenties is a miracle."
Gardner's biggest commercial success was the 1985 play I'm Not Rappaport, which ran for two years, won the Tony Award for Best Play, and became a 1996 movie.
Other Broadway credits include The Goodbye People (1968), Thieves (1974), and Conversations with My Father (1992). He collaborated with Jule Styne on the ill-fated 1980 musical One Night Stand.
He published the novel A Piece of the Action in 1958. Gardner was the screenwriter and co-producer of the 1971 motion picture Who Is Harry Kellerman, and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? which starred Dustin Hoffman.
Gardner made a brief screen appearance as Rabbi Pierce in the 1987 motion picture Ishtar.
Gardner's first wife was actress Rita Gardner; the union ended in divorce. He later married Barbara Sproul, with whom he raised two adopted sons, Jake and Rafferty.In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he was the boyfriend of actress Marlo Thomas.
He died in his Manhattan apartment from complications of lung disease.

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