GORDON DAVIDSON, RIP
Earlier this week, LA theatre lost an icon. Mark Taper Forum founder Gordon Davidson was the pioneer in bringing true legitimate theatre to Los Angeles. I’m still in shock.
I had just seen him two weeks ago, twice in one week, and he looked great. He told me his brother is due to be speaking at my Brooklyn high school’s anniversary event later this month, but that he and his wife, Judi, decided to sit the trip out. I told them I’d let them know all about it when I get back. And now he’s gone. How awful for his family. I’ve rarely seen Gordon and Judi apart. My heart goes out to her, and their children.
I first heard the name Gordon Davidson when I was just a seventeen-year-old future actress in Brooklyn. His devoted father, Skipper, was my first college acting professor. He was a legend himself at Brooklyn College; he had taught my father before me! (And he became my very first play director. I think he was just being kind when he cast me in Federico Lorca’s Blood Wedding; type casting it was not!)
Skipper was so proud of his son, who had come out to LA and founded the Mark Taper Forum. Skipper spoke of Gordon in our classes almost as much as my high school English teacher mother talked about me to hers! He always told me, “If you ever go out to California, you have to look-up my son. He’ll help you.”
So, just a year later, out here I came. But I was never brave enough to call theatre guru Gordon. That’s just not my style. But every time I heard his name in this town, I felt a bit of pride, being just one degree of separation and all.
So, some years later, I started doing my TV show, Karen’s Restaurant Revue, and because of it, I began getting invited to opening nights at—you guessed it—the Mark Taper Forum! And at one of my very first ones of those, I got a surprise. Before the play began, out came Gordon Davidson to bestow some awards on members of his staff. The name of those awards? The Skippers, of course! I felt such a connection to Gordon at that moment.
So, at the after-party, I finally worked-up the courage to approach him and introduce myself. He could not have been more receptive. And, from that moment on, we always greeted each other warmly. He often called me “dear,” which may have been because he’d forgotten my name, but I still got a kick out of it.
Sometimes, he’d seek me out to let me know that someone else from Brooklyn College was in the audience that night, and sometimes it was to talk about his father. Or even my parents! When Gordon introduced me to his by-then-widowed mom, she and I became phone buddies, and her pride in her son reminded me so much of the beloved Skipper. (And she once told me that when she got back to Brooklyn after a visit out here, she called my parents to them that I “was wearing a sweater,” so they wouldn’t worry about me. How adorable!)
And then, when I met Gordon’s wife, the flame-haired Judi Davidson, and started an association with her PR firm, I began to see this power couple more often, all over town. On any occasion that we chose the same event for an evening, I was a bit more sure of my choice, knowing it was that of the Davidsons, as well.
We often sat together in temple on Yom Kippur. I was always happy to see them there, but even more so four years ago. None of my friends wanted to go that year, but since it was the first Jewish New Year since I had lost my mother, I felt the need to go. I never go anywhere alone, but I just had to buck-up and do it that time. It was a bit hard seeing so many families there, while I was all alone. But then Judi and Gordon came and sat beside me, and I suddenly felt better.
So, after we shared a few laughs, and Brooklyn remembrances on those two nights two weeks ago, I told the Davidsons that I’d see them in temple again this coming week, and then I’d be off to Brooklyn, and that I’d keep their names alive there, (which I will still do, of course. Now more than ever.)
I haven’t stopped thinking of them since the awful news the other day. But I’ll hold my fond memories of Gordon even dearer now.
RIP, Gordon Davidson.