remembering Earle Gister

On this Facebook page, students and friends remember the great Earle Gister. dean of the Acting Program at the School of Drama from 1980-1997. I wanted to share some of them here.

In 1968 Earle auditioned me in New York for Carnegie Mellon. I made it in, and was on my way with my ten month old daughter and her mother. I had recently turned eighteen. When I arrived in Pittsburgh, there was a problem with my living quarters on campus. They didn’t know I was coming with a family. Earle solved the problem by taking us into his home on Squirrel Hill. It was a mansion. We had the upstairs room while Earle, his wife and child was on the floor below. I found out that Earle was the head of the drama department. I would ride with him everyday to the campus.
I brought a little money from New York with me because I wanted a used car. I told Earle about it, so one day he took me to a used car dealership to purchase one. The car I wound up getting had a stick shift. Not only could I not drive a stick shift, I couldn’t drive a car period. However, I didn’t tell Earle this. I also failed to tell him I didn’t have a driver’s license. He soon found this out, of course, but somehow decided to do whatever he had to do so that I could have that (stick shift ) car.
He left his own car at the dealership and drove my car home with me as a passenger. This was a good thing since I couldn’t drive. Once we got home and parked, like a father, he said that I couldn’t take the car out until I got my license. At night and early in the mornings I would sneak the car out and practice on the trolley track streets of Pittsburgh. It was definitely a challenge, but I soon got the hang of it. I took my drivers test and passed with flying colors. Driving on the trolley tracks has made me an excellent driver in New York where I dodge cabs. Thanks again Earle. Who else would have done that for me? Of course on the other hand, if you knew I couldn’t drive…

I was a scrappy latchkey kid, who grew up in a house of ham-bones. When I did theatre in high school, I was hooked. The stage, a place where being sensitive had value, where I finally made sense. I found HOME. I was a hippy with a theatre company in the Haight-Ashbury when Earle plucked me out of obscurity. Yale was a dream come true for me, and our times in that basement with Earle, where times of great terror and triumph. We were all his children, he was our father. We lived and died by his word. We could change the world. He told us to make our time there as selfish and focused as we could muster, because OUT THERE, you won’t get to play these parts, you won’t have this luxury of time and talent. “Don’t f#@K it up”. HIS FACE when an actor would GET IT? He would whirl his small frame around in his chair to meet each of our eyes with his, ” DID YOU SEE THAT, THAT’S IT!”, the joy in his face. Often he would throw down the mike and speak with his hoarse gruff sounds, and the clarity in which he could communicate was remarkable ! He was beloved by many and his legacy carries on in all our words, our hearts, and most importantly in our actions. Rest in peace, dear Earle, rest…

In my first year at Yale, I arrived knowing that my father was dying of cancer. A few days into our third month – my mother called me to tell me that my father had taken an unexpected turn and that he wouldn’t make it through the night. I immediately made plans to leave. I remember running through the streets of New Haven to Earle’s office to let him know my father was dying and that I had to leave right away. I was lucky enough to find him in his office. He listened to me and without a pause he embraced me and told me to take as long as I needed. Nine hours later my father was gone.

That moment with Earle has a deep imprint on my memory. It was special for me and through my 3 years at Yale I always felt those kind arms of support around me. I’m so thankful to have had a chance to be one of Earle’s many students. The acting tools, lessons of life – and O yes those kind arms of support have helped me time and time again. A second father – yes most definitely. Thank you Earle – you rocked my world and I’m all the better for it . . .

My brother passed away suddenly three months before I was to start school at Yale. I was in a cloud. When I started class, I was upset and withdrawn. I was going to leave school. I went to tell Earle. After I told him, he was silent and then closed his office door. We sat silent for quite some time until Earle finally spoke. He said he hadn’t lost a brother so he said he would not pretend to know how I felt. He then asked my to tell him about my brother. I told him he was successful, loved, and a good businessman. He asked what my brother thought of my attending Yale. I told him my brother was proud of me.

He then said, “It doesn’t sound like your brother would want you to blow such a great opportunity.” That was all I needed. I dove into my work and never looked back. Someone mentioned Earle as a second father: Nailed it.

We all owe you such a debt that went beyond teaching. I owe him my life.
Evermore thanks, Earle, say Hi to my Bro

Best memory of Earle Gister and this goes to the HEART of the man was Graduation Day 1987- My father who had lung cancer travelled from Wyoming in his Cowboy hat and boots to see his daughter graduate from an Ivy league school. Something no one in our famiy had done- we never had much money- and Dad wanted to meet Earle Gister and when we went into his office – dad in the western tradition hung his hat off the end of Earle’s desk and then said,” I feel I have known you my entire life” and started weeping- Earle came around the side of the desk and held my father in his arms….ok? That is the kind of man Earle Gister was…..

Not long after 9/11, when every security precaution was taken, from removing shoes, checking backpacks and passing through metal detectors, I had driven Earle to an event in NY. As I pulled into a parking garage, the attendant met us. He asked me to open the trunk of my car, in order for them to search it. I was more than willing to oblige but Earle jumped out of his seat and nearly knocked this poor man over. He utterly refused to allow him to search my car. The audacity, that someone would think, that it was possible, to look into a person’s trunk, was more than he could stand. I had no worries, what did I have to hide and what did I care if he looked inside my trunk? He hurled many an expletive at this attendant while I talked our way out of there. At the time, I wanted nothing more than to allow this man to do his job. Earle saw things differently; if we allow others to impinge on the “little” things what is to stop them from impinging on the bigger ones?

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