Biography and History

Most renowned for having written the book, music and lyrics for You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Clark Gesner, Princeton Class of 1960, was born March 27, 1938, in Augusta, Maine, the son of H. Mortimer Gesner, Jr., a Unitarian minister, and Eleanor Clark Gesner. Gesner attended high school in Plainfield, New Jersey where he wrote and performed in high school theater productions. Like his grandfather, Herbert M. Gesner, Class of 1890, Gesner joined Triangle Club at Princeton, serving as cast member, writer, musical director and vice-president. He also produced a one-act musical Mother Loves Me in 1958. He majored in English and wrote his senior thesis on "The Evolution of the American Musical Theater, 1925-1960."

Gesner was an important figure in early children's television, writing for Captain Kangaroo, Mister Mayor, The Children's Television Workshop, and its programs, Sesame Street and The Electric Company.

After college, Gesner worked briefly for the Captain Kangaroo television show beginning in 1961, holding cue cards and doing some writing while also composing music and lyrics for a Yale Drama School production. Drafted into the Army in 1961, Gesner spent his two-year military career at Governor's Island and in Manhattan selling theater tickets at the USO in Times Square, while continuing to write for Captain Kangaroo and producing his first recording, A Musical Visit to Captain Kangaroo's Treasure House, in 1962. After his discharge in 1963, Gesner continued to work for Captain Kangaroo, the Mister Mayor show, and wrote satirical pieces for the television show That Was the Week That Was, and recorded Societus Manificat, a satire on Lyndon Johnson's Great Society from Julius Monk's 1965 review "Pick a Number XV."

During the early 1960s, Gesner had begun writing songs based on Charles Schulz’s Charlie Brown comic strip characters but was unable to get permission from United Features to use the characters in his songs. Eventually Gesner sent Schulz a tape of some of the songs and Gesner soon had permission to record them which he did in 1966 with Orson Bean as Charlie Brown and Gesner as Linus. At the time, Gesner had no plans for a musical based on this pre-production "concept album." However, encouraged by Arthur Whitelaw, Gesner quickly wrote the book for You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, which opened Off-Broadway on March 7, 1967 and ran nearly 1600 performances at Theater 80 in the West Village. An attempt to move the play to Broadway in 1971 closed within a month of opening night. A 1973 television show, road companies, productions in a number of foreign languages, and a 1999 revival fared better. The play remains a staple of local and community theater and Gesner commented that it was his "MacArthur Grant," providing a steady income for the rest of his life. Gesner was to write other plays, including Animal Fair, The Ransom of Red Chief, the musical review The Jello is Always Red (1998), The Adventures of Betty Boop, and The Utter Glory of Morrissey Hall. None ever achieved the success of Charlie Brown, and the latter closed on Broadway after a single performance in 1979 (it was also staged at McCarter Theater in 1977). Gesner also acted in various small theater productions in New York City (for instance B.T. McNicholls's Musicals in Concert) and in summer stock at the Weston Playhouse in Vermont for many years. Gesner authored Stuff, etc.: A Collection (1970) and wrote special material for television, Broadway and night-club reviews.

Gesner was a bachelor all his life. He joined the Advance Science Writing Program at Columbia University during the 1967-1968 academic year. He also served on the Triangle board and on the Advisory Council of Princeton's English Department. Gesner died on July 23, 2002, of a coronary in New York City.

Source: From the finding aid for C1163

  • Triangle Club Records. 1883-2016 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC122

    The Triangle Club Records consists of records of the Club and its predecessor, the Princeton College Drama Association, for productions performed by these organizations from 1883 to the present. Materials include correspondence, playbills, scripts, scores, newspaper clippings, posters, scrapbooks, and photographs as well as audio-visual recordings.

  • Princetoniana Committee Oral History Project Records. 1994-2015 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC259

    The Princetoniana Committee was formed by the Alumni Council in 1981 with the mission of proactively collecting worthy items of Princetoniana on the University's behalf. The Princetoniana Committee Oral History Project (POHP) Records consist of oral history interview transcripts from two separate oral history projects and related materials.

  • Clark Gesner Papers. 1940-2005 (inclusive), 1965-1990 (bulk).

    Call Number: C1163

    Clark Gesner (1938-2002) was an American composer, lyricist, and writer most famous for his theatrical production You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. His papers document his entire career and include scripts and scores, as well as production notes, correspondence, publicity and reviews, and photographs.

  • Clark Gesner Papers. 1940-2005 (inclusive), 1965-1990 (bulk).

    Call Number: C1163

    Clark Gesner (1938-2002) was an American composer, lyricist, and writer most famous for his theatrical production You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. His papers document his entire career and include scripts and scores, as well as production notes, correspondence, publicity and reviews, and photographs.