The Kennedy Center

Herb Gardner


American writer Herb Gardner was known for his low-key comedies for the stage and screen. His Broadway successes, A Thousand Clowns about a social dropout and I'm Not Rappaport about an irascible, elderly activist, gained him widespread recognition as a creator of witty and sympathetic characters who are inclined to be a bit eccentric.

Born in New York in 1934, Gardner was educated at Carnegie Institute of Technology and at Antioch College. He graduated from High School of Performing Arts in New York in 1952. He began his career as a cartoonist at the Chicago Tribune where he created a popular comic strip, The Nebbishes, centered on endearing social outcasts. In the early 1960s he gave up comic work and concentrated on play writing. A Thousand Clowns won acclaim when it appeared on Broadway in 1962. As a result he was named the theater season's "promising new playwright" by the New York Drama Critics. In 1965 Gardner adapted the play as a motion picture and it was nominated for an Academy Award as best adapted screenplay.

Gardner's next screenplay was Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying those Terrible Things about Me? The 1971 film did not garner the praise his previous works had. He returned to Broadway with Thieves about the trials and tributions of two glum schoolteachers in their twelfth year of marriage. Gardner's greater success was in the mid-1980s play, I'm Not Rappaport. In 1997 he wrote and directed the film adaptation of the play, which starred Walter Matthau and Ossie Davis.

In 2000 Gardner published The Collected Plays containing the complete texts of five plays that include A Thousand Clowns and I'm Not Rappaport. He died from lung disease at 68 in 2003 at his home in New York.
Herb Gardner