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Gordon “Don” Garner

Gordon “Don” Garner

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Don was born October 24, 1923 in Greely, Colorado.  Son of the late Carrie Elser Garner and Robert Lee Garner. Attended Gardena High School in Gardena, CA and Los Angeles City College.

While attending City College, the film industry recognized his exceptional talent and signed him to a movie contract.  Don appeared in 37 motion pictures including:  My Darling Clementine with Henry Fonda, Captain Eddie with Fred McMurray, Law and Order with Ronald Reagan, Lady With A Passport with Hedy Lamar, and Command Decision with Clark Gable.

He also appeared in early network television—notably I Love Lucy, Father Knows Best, The Ray Milland Show and CBS Omnibus.

During the Korean War, he traveled with actor Raymond Burr in a USO tour in the Far East.  Before coming to Fontbonne College (now Fontbonne University) in St. Louis, Don served as Executive Assistant to Jose Quintero (one of Broadway’s outstanding theatre directors) at Circle In The Square.  He served as production stage manager and played the leading role in Thornton Wilder’s Plays for Bleeker Street, Tennessee Williams’ Camino Real, and a principal role in Elia Kazan’s production of Archibald MacLeish’s prize-winning play, J.B.

Prior to his Broadway experiences, Don was actor, director and co-producer during a seven-year Association with Dr. Madge Skelly who was producer at the famous Ramsdell Opera House in Manistee, Michigan.

In 1965 Don signed a one-year contract as artist-in-residence at Fontbonne College in St. Louis, MO.  He assumed the position of Director of the Department of Theatre and served in that role for twenty years.  Included in his position as Director of Theatre Don also taught, co-produced and appeared in numerous productions with the theater students.  One of his endearing roles was as BoBo, the clown, in the Summer Theatre for Children.

He also guest-directed in Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Southeast MO State University, and Stephens College in Columbia, MO.

In 2001 he received a  Fontbonne Founders Award for Distinguished Service in theatre and Education.  Don retired as Professor Emeritus in1985.

In tribute to their college theatre professor and friend, two of Don’s former students had this to say: “Once in a young person’s lifetime, if they are lucky, they happen upon another human being who alters their artistic perception of the world forever and who enriches them beyond measure in shades too brilliant for words to pursue…we asked the most influential teacher in our lives to play the role of Henry in our production of Fantastiks in Los Angeles.  He packed his bags and left his life back in St. Louis to join us on this unique theatre adventure.”

Don is survived by his partner of forty-four years, Russell McMahan, and his two brothers, Robert E Garner of Diablo, CA and John N. (Jack) Garner of Oceanside, CA.  Don’s sisters, Madelyn Garner Crippin and Helen Margaret Garner Cordts, as well as his parents Robert Lee Garner and Carrie Elser Garner, preceded him in death.

A memorial service will be held at a later date.

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  1. Jan Crites says:

    Russell, family and friends,
    Russell I am so sorry for the loss of your dear life partner and friend of many years. My condolences go out to brothers Jack and Bob and their families. You will be missed as a dear friend; sweet and gentle man; and as a experienced actor and educator of many grateful students especially those who worked with you and Sister Mary Charity in theatre productions and the summer theatre programs for children. And I shall miss a wonderful friend.

  2. Denny Augustyniak says:

    Dear Mr. McMahan, Family & Friends,
    I was genuinely saddened today to read of Mr. Garner’s passing. Mr. Garner’s influence in my college scholarship award made it possible for me to attend Fontbonne College in the Theatre Dept. and become the first college graduate (1975) in my family. As a student I benefited from his talent and mentoring. I am grateful to Mr. Garner for the better life I and my family have as a result of having known him. Mr. Garner leaves a legacy of goodness. May the many positive memories of this good man sustain you now and in the future.

  3. Kim Furlow says:

    I was saddened to hear of the loss of Mr. Garner, my favorite theatre teacher, mentor and actor at Fontbonne (then) College. I have fond memories of acting with Mr. Garner in The Miser and being directed by him in children’s theatre productions at FBC in the late 1980′s. A dear sweet man and wonderful teacher…Mr. Garner, you will be missed.

  4. Sister Donna Gunn says:

    Russ, I am so very sorry for your loss. Don was a wonderful friend and mentor. He directed me in Blythe Spirit which was an Alumna production. He made the whole event memorable by his kindness, professionalism and his gift of gentle humor. I offer you and Sister Mary Charity my prayers as you both grieve the loss of a good and dear friend. I have to sign this by the name Don always called me: Donna Mae

  5. Bill Nolan III says:

    Don Garner was a wonderful man, mentor and talent. His direction was meticulous and his classes were always challenging. I am so sorry that many years have passed since I had seen him. Russ, you came to our rescue in my first Fontbonne Production “Ah!, Wilderness” in 1983. I am sorry for your loss but proud to have worked with both you and Don. Peter Patches bids Bobo the clown a fond goodbye. As sure as I am that heaven has a stage, I look forward to performing there one day alongside Don Garner. A true gem of a man – God Rest his Soul.

  6. Christie Ripley says:

    Heaven has a stage Uncle and You’re on it.

  7. Zipora Kramer says:

    It is a privilege to be included in the list of those you hold near and dear that share in the beautiful lives of the Garner family.
    I did not personally know Don, except by association. Apparently he served as an inspiration to so many students and most of all to his grand nephew Dlyan.
    May he rest in peace. The world is a better place for having him spend a while on this earth.

  8. Vincent Lipe says:

    There is a profound sadness for me, an anguish for my inability to ever see or speak to Don again. Yet, I celebrate in finally seeing his physical torments removed. I feel blessed beyond measure for the time we spent together and for what he taught me. Everyday I will say a prayer for Don. A prayer that his spirit will continue to soar high and that his journey will be as beautiful as was his life here on earth. For all of us who have known him in our lives, take joy in knowing that each of us, in our own unique way touched Don in countless ways and hold those feelings forever in our heart. May his eternal light shine within each of us always.

  9. Keith Murray says:

    My life would not be what it is without Don’s gentle, clever, committed care. He was a more complete teacher than I think he knew, and we all know it’s just one step from the stage to the world. With gratitude to him, and sympathy to Russ at his loss, and to the family and life-long friends such as Sr. Mary Charity Dalton.

  10. Stephen and Ellen Snyder says:

    Don was a wonderful human being who will be missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him. He found the perfect partner in Russ, who is also an extraordinary person.

  11. Lee justice says:

    I just watched Perry Mason: the Case of the Screaming Woman and Don had a small part. It just struck me, how handsome he was. And such a nice voice. My heart goes out to those he left. My partner of 26 years and I are both reaching the age when you start to wonder how much longer we have together. Neither of us have any family to turn to for support at such a time. I worry what we’ll do. How we’ll be able to cope. Anyway, take care stay safe.

  12. Betty (Maugeri) Allman says:

    Mr Garner was one of the most influential people in my life! when I decided to Major in Theatre, in 1965, my friends were skeptical! “Why would you, who graduated with academic honors in high schol major in the easiest major on campus. THEATRE! Oh, they were so wrong! Mr Garner had us buliding sets with hacksaws, painting our greenroom, creating flats, plus, picking us for various roles in our productions! WE did studio theatre and Sr, Mary Charity, his partner in crime, was a sweet but thorough teacher! IN Fact, History of the Theatre was THE MOST DIFFICULT I HAVE EVER TAKEN!!!!! Even in my Ma Degree!!!Don Garner was like a kind father to us! On technical rehearsal nights, we sometimes stayed to 2 a.m. until every thing was perfect! On those nights, he would take us to get a hamburger and shake at the Dairy Queen by Fontbonne. On my 18th birthday, he and my mother planned a surprise birthday party for me on stage during a rehearsal! Since I was a small child, I had sung and acted for any of my relatives who would listen. HE made the stage home to me. He taught me that everyone involved in a production was absolutely just as important as the leads. I appeard in 7 of his plays and was stage maager for two. I alsp worked an old fashioned lighting board. During a romantic scene in “Summer and Smoke,” I accidentaly set off a smoke bomb that was meant for another scene! at intermission, the scenic designer found me and told me off in no uncertain terms. but Mr. Garner came up, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, ” She made a mistake, Only a mistake. I’ve seen YOuR mistakes and you are a profeesional. She is a student. But I’ll tell you one thing-this girl has a special love of theatre. It lights up her eyes! So, go pick on the slackers. She is a true talent and ceaseless worker, no matter what her part in any production is! His loyalty to his students was that of a father. I wil grieve over him but most of all, never forget those magical years! He taught me who I really was! God bless you , Mr Garner. You did God’s work on earth. Now break a leg in heaven!! I love you!

  13. Steven W Cook says:

    Honestly now, what an adventure waits for him now! His humor and talent will stick with me for the rest of my life. Good night sweet prince….

  14. Elizabeth Maugeri Allman says:

    WE both started Fontbonne the same year,remember Mr. G?? How we all loved you and admired you! But more than that! You taught us the beauty and HARD work of Theatre,to try our best, but most of all. to model our humanity after you! YOU WERE FONTBONNE AND YOU WERE THEATRE. But most of all, you loved and protected us! Not gonna say! RIP. No way are you resting! Now you are performing for your GREATEST AUDIENCE! I love you Mr. G. Thank you for making those college years more than just a learning experience! Theatre hs always been in my blood! But you showed me the total beauty of this amazing form of art!!! break a leg up ther, Mr. G!!! (Applaue!) I love you! <3

  15. Nancy Kowalczyk says:

    It was a lovely memorial service today. Mr. Garner was a beautiful spirit and I will never forget him. I was blessed to have known him and privileged to have learned from and acted on stage with him.

    Prospero:
    Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
    As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
    Are melted into air, into thin air:
    And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
    The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
    Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
    And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
    Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
    As dreams are made on; and our little life
    Is rounded with a sleep.

    The Tempest Act 4, scene 1

  16. Keith Mosier says:

    Dear Russ, I’m so sorry I just learned of Don’s passing. I can’t express how sorry I am. Roger and I so enjoyed our dinners and evenings with the two of you. Don was a wonderful teacher, actor, friend, and most of all, a wonderful human being. We’ll miss Don terribly, and we offer you our heartfelt condolences. Take care.

    Keith