Jack Palance

Gil Cates: the Wizard of Oscars

Gil Cates: the Wizard of Oscars

Seven years ago, I was asked to cover the Academy Awards from backstage. To get the necessary credentials, I had to be personally vetted by producer Gil Cates. As I made my way along the shiny floor of the Oscar production offices, I was prepared for Oz, the great and terrible — at this point, having produced the show 11 times, Cates was the Oscars. Instead, I met a man who wore blue jeans and cowboy boots, who twinkled when he smiled and even when he swore.

I covered the Oscars from backstage for the next four years; in 2005 and 2006, it was a Cates production — the first time Chris Rock hosted, the second Jon Stewart. Over the years, Cates had orchestrated...