HOME RUNS: I’m With Ya, Duke
Apart from a brief performance as the Greek war orphan Avram Sidarogis in Through the Narrows starring Rodney C. Steiger (l946), author and director Herb Gardner began his career in the theater checking coats and selling orange drink after school with his colleague Dom DeLuise. It was in this capacity–working for the ABC Vending Company from 1949-1952–that Mr. Gardner inadvertently first experienced his own penchant for theatrical effect: a nosebleed onto the returned change of a customer at The Constant Wife caused the surprised recipient to exclaim “Martha, there’s blood on my money!” just as Katherine Cornell stood silently reading the letter in Act II, scene I. The result was impressive.
Mr. Gardner began his artistic career as a sculptor of nativity scenes for the Bliss Display Company in l953, but found greater success two years later when he was nineteen as a cartoonist of “The Nebbishes”, a strip syndicated in more than forty papers including the Chicago Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Times, The Baltimore Sun, and the London Observer. It ran for six years. Scratchy, pen and ink people, the Nebbishes (or ‘Lost Souls’ in Yiddish) became a national fad in the late 1950s. They were printed on almost every white surface but surgical masks uttering such hopes as “Next week we’ve got to get organized”. As the cartoon characters’ speeches grew longer and the drawings of necessity smaller, Mr. Gardner turned to writing fiction in various forms. His novel A Piece of the Action was published in 1958. Several short stories appeared subsequently, such as “Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?”, which was printed in Best American Short Stories of 1968. Simultaneously, Mr. Gardner wrote plays.
A Thousand Clowns (1962) was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play and Mr. Gardner won the Variety Critics Poll as Outstanding New Playwright that year. The Goodbye People (1968), Thieves (1974), I’m Not Rappaport (l985), andConversations with My Father (1991) followed. I’m Not Rappaport won the Outer Critics’ Award, the John Gassner Award and the Tony Award for Best Play. Conversations with My Father was the runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in l992. Mr. Gardner’s work has been performed by such actors as Jason Robards, Sandy Dennis, Yves Montand, Barbara Harris, Dustin Hoffman, Dom DeLuise, Charles Grodin, Marlo Thomas, Milton Berle, Sam Levine, F. Murray Abraham, Judd Hirsch, Cleavon Little, Paul Scofield, Walter Matthau and Ossie Davis.
Mr. Gardner’s plays have appeared throughout this country as well in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Israel, Japan, Norway, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Yugoslavia and Zaire. They have been collected in Best American Plays of 1961-1962, 1985-1986, and 1991-1992. The French production of A Thousand Clowns won the Moliere Award for Best Foreign Play in 1966 as did I’m Not Rappaport in 1987.
Mr. Gardner’s one-act plays include How I Crossed the Street for the First Time All By Myself, The Forever Game, and I’m With Ya, Duke, which was collected in the Best American Short Plays of 1996-1997. Mr. Gardner also wrote the screenplays for Who is Harry Kellerman? (1971) and Thieves (1976). For his film adaptation of A Thousand Clowns (1965), Mr. Gardner won Best Screenplay Award from the Screenwriters Guild and received Academy Award nominations for Best Screenplay and Best Picture of the Year. He also adapted and directed The Goodbye People (1983) and I’m Not Rappaport(1996) for the screen.