- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 2, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Anytime veteran Oscar producer Gilbert “Gil” Cates booked another superstar for the big show, he banged a giant golden gong outside his office.

Gong! Jamie Foxx. Gong! Jennifer Aniston. Gong! Sandra Bullock.

The gong _ like the Yiddish words and occasional expletives he used to pepper his speech _ hinted at the whimsy and charm Cates brought along with his leadership.

Cates died Monday at 77 after collapsing on the UCLA campus. The cause of death was not immediately known. Friends of Cates told the Los Angeles Times he recently underwent heart surgery.

Cates produced more Academy Awards telecasts than anyone else _ a record 14 times. He last produced the Oscar telecast in 2008, when the show was almost sidelined by the Writers Guild strike.

Cates was comfortable at the helm, calling the Oscar gig “an absolutely great job.” He’d assemble his staff of loyal workers, many of whom had been with him for years, and go about the task he had done professionally for more than five decades: Putting on a show.

“You prepare, you get out there and something happens,” he said in an interview before his 13th Oscarcast.

Cates, is credited with revitalizing the ceremony by bringing in comedians such as Billy Crystal, Steve Martin, Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Rock and Jon Stewart as hosts and establishing a template for the show that has been followed for years.

Martin tweeted his condolences Tuesday. “So sorry to hear Gil Cates has died,” the comedian wrote. “He helmed two Oscar shows I hosted. He was delightful, wise, canny and unperturbed. A great fellow.”

Academy President Tom Sherak said Cates was a colleague, friend and a “consummate professional.”

Cates “gave the academy and the world some of the most memorable moments in Oscar history,” Sherak said in a statement. “His passing is a tremendous loss to the entertainment industry, and our thoughts go out to his family.”

Though he was the boss _ a producer and director, founder of the School of Theater, Film and Television at UCLA, two-time president of the Directors Guild of America and member of the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences _ Cates was an affable man with an easy smile. He never seemed rushed or stressed, despite the mountain of high-profile tasks on his plate at any given time.

In 2008, he prepared two Oscar shows (in case the writers’ strike kept famous folks away), ran the Geffen Playhouse in West Los Angeles (which he founded in 1994), and led the directors guild’s contract negotiations. Yet he still had plenty of time to have a relaxed lunchtime chat with a reporter and proudly show off the theater he helped create.

Cates produced and directed plays at the Geffen Playhouse, where he was regarded as “our founder, our leader and our heart.”

“Gil has always referred to the staff of the Geffen Playhouse as his second family,” board chairman Frank Mancuso said Tuesday. “And it is as a family that we mourn this tremendous loss. Gil built this theater and he will forever be at the center of it.”

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