Herb Gardner was a long-time partner of actress, Marlo Thomas.
Herbert George Gardner, born on December 28, 1934, was a multi-talented American artist, playwright, and screenwriter whose creative journey spanned the realms of commercial art, cartooning, and theater. Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Gardner’s artistic prowess and intellectual lineage set the stage for a remarkable career that left an indelible mark on the world of entertainment.
Early Life and Education
Growing up as the son of a bar owner, Herb Gardner’s roots were firmly planted in the vibrant cultural landscape of Brooklyn. His family background, however, extended beyond the borough, as his late brother, Robert Allen Gardner, achieved renown as a professor of comparative psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno. Robert and his wife, Beatrix Gardner, collaborated on Project Washoe, a groundbreaking endeavor to teach American Sign Language to a chimpanzee named Washoe, showcasing the intellectual curiosity that ran in the Gardner family.
Herb Gardner pursued his education at the prestigious New York High School of Performing Arts, where he began to cultivate his artistic talents. He further honed his skills at Carnegie-Mellon University and Antioch College, where his creative journey took an unexpected turn.
The Nebbishes and Early Success
While at Antioch College, Gardner embarked on a unique venture, creating the comic strip “The Nebbishes.” This whimsical creation quickly captivated audiences and was picked up by the Chicago Tribune, syndicated to 60-75 major newspapers from 1959 to 1961. The Gardner characters became a national craze, adorning statuettes, studio cards, barware, wall decorations, and posters.
However, Gardner’s artistic evolution didn’t stop with the Nebbishes. Feeling the constraints of cartooning as “the balloons were getting larger and larger,” he made a decisive shift in his creative pursuits.
A Thousand Clowns and Beyond
In 1960, Herb Gardner transitioned from the world of cartooning to playwriting. His most notable work, the 1962 play “A Thousand Clowns,” marked a significant milestone in his career. The play, which ran for an impressive 428 performances, delves into the story of Murray Burns, a charming yet unemployed children’s show writer faced with a pivotal choice between social conformity and the potential loss of custody of his 11-year-old nephew to the Child Welfare Bureau.
Gardner’s screenplay for the 1965 movie adaptation of “A Thousand Clowns” earned him an Oscar nomination, solidifying his reputation as a versatile and accomplished storyteller. The play saw revivals in 1996 and 2001, reaffirming its enduring relevance.