December 28, 1934|
Brooklyn, New York
|Died||September 25, 2003
Manhattan, New York
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Gardner was the son of a bar owner. Gardner's brother, R. Allen Gardner, is a professor of comparative psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno and is famous for teaming with his wife on Project Washoe, the attempt to teach American Sign Language to a chimpanzee named Washoe.
Gardner 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 The Nebbishes. The comic strip was picked up by the Chicago Tribune and syndicated to 60-75 major newspapers from 1959 to 1961. Even before syndication, the Gardner characters were a national craze, marketed on statuettes, studio cards, barware (including cocktail napkins), wall decorations and posters. In 1960, after "the balloons were getting larger and larger, and there was hardly any drawing left", he dropped it and began writing plays.
Plays and films
Gardner 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 11-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. In 2012, a theater group in Germany came under fire for allowing a white actor to paint his face and take the part of the black character Midge Carter.
Gardner's autobiographical novel, A Piece of the Action, was published 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 Gardner and Rafferty Gardner. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he was the boyfriend of actress Marlo Thomas.
Gardner died in his Manhattan apartment from complications of lung disease.
- Herb Gardner at the Internet Movie Database
- Herb Gardner at the Internet Broadway Database
- Obituary of Herb Gardner
- Tribute to Herb Gardner by Alan Waldman