Today: Gil Garfield, an early rock star who overcame a dark secret to build two more successful careers.
In 1955, rock ‘n’ roll captured the music world, a grip it has yet to release. Among its early stars was Gil Garfield, who with singers Sue Allen and Bert Convy, a man who later became famous as an actor and a game show host, formed the “Cheers” a year earlier.
In that red hot year of 1955, they had a big hit with “Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots,” written by Mike Stoller and Jerry Lieber.
Stoller and Lieber became one of the most successful song writing teams of the 1950’s and 60’s, including writing Elvis Presley’s hits “Hound Dog” and “Jail House Rock.”
“Black Denim Trousers,” was the story of a young woman who begs her boyfriend not to race his motorcycle on the streets but he does anyway and tragically loses his life.
With such a compelling tale and a driving rock beat, teenagers loved that record and the Cheers were big-time. 22 year old Gil, a former University of Southern California business student was on top of the world.
But he had a secret that at that time could crush his career, get him arrested and even endanger his life. It was a secret kept by some others too, including Hollywood heartthrob Rock Hudson.
Gil was gay.
Fortunately, the public did not find out and Gil was free to enjoy his stardom.
But music is a fickle business and as rock stars like Elvis, Little Richard, Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis came on the scene, the Cheers would have no other hits. But “Black Denim Trousers” remains popular today on radio stations that play 1950’s oldies.
Yet Gil, who started singing in nightclubs as a USC student, wanted to stay in the music business and he turned to song writing. With writing partner Perry Botkin, in 1963 they landed a big hit with “Wonderful Summer,” sung by Robin Ward.
However, that was the last of their hits.
As much as he loved his music career, Gil knew it was time to move on. He wondered what else he could do as an artist that would also make money.
Then it occurred to him. Buy run down houses cheaply in nice areas and beautifully restore them for resale.
After applying his artistic touches, buyers paid him a premium for those dream homes, which Gil found joyful to renovate and very profitable. It became a 2nd successful career.
So successful, that eventually it made him financially independent. That independence led to a 3rd new and joyful career, as he became a painter and an art collector.
“I find a satisfaction and fulfillment in painting that I have never had in my life,” Gil told the Los Angeles Times in 1990 following his Los Angeles one man art show.
And that is how he lived his life, filled with the happiness painting brought him.
But on January 1st, 2011, Gil’s life slipped away from cancer at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. He was 77 and is survived by his partner, Mike Hiles.
But there was another aspect to Gil’s life. He had generously donated money to organizations such as the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and to the Dumont-UCLA Liver Cancer Center, where nine years earlier he had a liver transplant.
Gil is survived by the recipients of his donations, survived by those who love his paintings and his houses and he is survived as well by everyone who enjoys “Black Denim Trousers” or “Wonderful Summer,” his long ago hits.
Success Tip of the Week:
If your career has fallen and you cannot resurrect it, it may be time as it was for Gil in the music business to ask yourself what else you love and do well. You may find a more joyful, profitable career awaits you as it did him.
In the next KazanToday:
A woman builds a successful career she didn’t even start until she was nearly 40 years old.