Joseph Cates (1924 - 1998)

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Birthdate:
Birthplace: Bronx, NY, USA
Death: Died
Occupation: TV producer
Managed by: Ben Rabin
Last Updated:
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About Joseph Cates

Joseph Cates, a pioneering television impresario and Broadway producer with an eye for quality, an ear for a good country twang and a weakness for trapeze acts, died on Saturday at Mount Sinai Medical Center. He was 74 and lived in Manhattan. The cause was complications after long treatment for leukemia, his family said.

In an industry in which he was ever in danger of becoming known as the actress Phoebe Cates's father and the Hollywood director Gil Cates's brother, Mr. Cates more than held up his end of the show business dynasty he founded. By his own estimate, from the live high school talent program he staged for the old Dumont network in the late 1940's to his recent string of fund-raising specials for Ford's Theater in Washington, Mr. Cates wrote, directed and produced more than 1,000 television productions.

Along the way, he helped create the first big television game show, The $64,000 Question, cast Art Carney as Jackie Gleason's pal, designed the original set for The Honeymooners and almost single-handedly made the television special a regular feature of network broadcasting. Although he won two Emmy Awards as an independent producer -- for a 1970 Anne Bancroft special and for a 1972 tribute to George Gershwin -- Mr. Cates preferred television specials devoted to comedy, circuses and country music, as well as beauty pageants, popular music and award ceremonies.

A native of Manhattan, Mr. Cates -- who changed his name from Katz when he entered show business -- attended New York University and flew rescue missions in the Pacific in World War II before getting his accidental start in television. While working in advertising after the war he got the idea of using television to sell candy, and signed a contract with Dumont to do a high-school talent search program he called Look Upon a Star, with Bess Myerson, the 1945 Miss America, as host. Operating on a $100 budget, limited to two cameras and facing the unforgiving pace of live television, Mr. Cates managed to pull it off and emerged as one of the most experienced and skilled variety-show production specialists in a fledgling medium.

He was soon in demand, working at Dumont with Gleason and Carney on The Cavalcade of Stars and with Buddy Rogers on The Cavalcade of Bands, then moving to NBC to produce the Bob and Ray show. His network experience helped lay the groundwork for his later career as an independent producer, which included a succession of specials with Alan King, Robert Klein, Steve Martin and other comedians, and more than 200 circus programs, not to mention a string of David Copperfield magic shows and a number of musical programs for Gene Kelly, Ethel Merman, Victor Borge, Perry Como, Andy Williams, Nat King Cole and others.

A master showman who knew how to promote as well as stage a complicated production, Mr. Cates demonstrated his flair when he switched to Broadway in the 1960's and staged Spoon River Anthology. When the dramatic readings of the poetry of Edgar Lee Masters drew rave reviews but virtually no customers, Mr. Cates wrote an impassioned letter to The New York Times, chastising those who regularly complained about a lack of quality on Broadway then failed to support it when it was staring them in the face.

The letter attracted so much attention that it extended the show's run and enhanced Mr. Cates's reputation. His later Broadway productions included What Makes Sammy Run, and Joe Egg, but it was his experience with Elmer Gantry, based on the Sinclair Lewis book, that established his credentials as a man of infectious tenacity. After losing $400,000 on the the original short-lived Broadway production of Gantry, in 1970, Mr. Cates cheerfully kept producing the show over and over at regional theaters for more than two decades.

For all his other work, Mr. Cates, who had a native New Yorker's awed infatuation with country music, seemed proudest of the dozens of country music specials he produced with Johnny Cash. Those shows, which used sophisticated lighting and other softening techniques, were credited with making country music safe for a mass medium, and the country music industry was so grateful that Mr. Cates became the only producer honored by the Country Music Hall of Fame.

A raconteur who could hold an audience spellbound for hours at the Friars Club simply by telling stories about the old days, Mr. Cates, a gregarious man who tended to turn casual acquaintances into lifelong friends, was at once a television visionary and a creature of habit. Indeed, he kept a weekly poker game going for 41 years. In addition to his daughter Phoebe and his brother, Mr. Cates, who was married three times, is survived by a son, Phillip, of Los Angeles; two other daughters, Valerie and Alexandra, both of Manhattan; a sister, Kit Adler of Los Angeles, and two grandchildren.

-- New York Times, October 12, 1998

http://www.nytimes.com/1998/10/12/nyregion/joseph-cates-74-a-producer-of-innovative-specials-for-tv.html?scp=1&sq=joseph%20cates&st=cse

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Joseph Cates's Timeline

1924
1924
NY, USA
1963
July 16, 1963
Age 39
1987
June 14, 1987
Age 63
New York, NY, USA
1998
October 10, 1998
Age 74
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