REMEMBRANCE | Texas film and theater icon Gary Chason passes at 78

Events celebrating Gary’s life are planned for Austin and Houston.

Gary Chason in 1979. Portrait by Janice Rubin / The Rag Blog.

By Thorne Dreyer | The Rag Blog | June 11, 2021

  • Listen to Thorne Dreyer’s August 17, 2010 Rag Radio interview with Gary Chason, here.

Gary Chason, an iconic figure in Texas film and theater – and my dear friend and longtime colleague – passed away on Sunday, April 18, 2021, at the age of 78. There will be celebrations of Gary’s life in Austin on Saturday, June 19, 3-6 p.m at Spiderhouse, 2906 Fruth St., Austin 78705, and in Houston on Saturday, June 26, 3-6 p.m., at Rudyards, 2010 Waugh Dr., Houston 77006.

Gary Chason and I first met in 1964, when we were both studying theater at the University of Texas. We lived in adjoining apartments (with only one kitchen) and we quickly established a friendship that would endure through the decades. Gary and I were both involved in the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the movement against the War in Vietnam and, in 1966, I helped Gary publicize the Student League for Responsible Sexual Freedom which he co-founded at UT: an organization way ahead of its time (it fought for sexual freedom for all students, regardless of sexual orientation).

Gary and I were in the cast of Dracula at the Austin Civic Theater, with Gary crawling through the set as the fly-eating geek, Renfield, and I was the Mad Hatter in Gary’s Curtain Club production of Alice in Wonderland. Later I helped Gary mount an innovative and provocative production of beat poet Michael McClure’s The Beard at a Houston art space. He produced and directed original plays like Charlie’s Ear at Equinox Theater in Houston, and at other venues. Charlie’s Ear would also become Gary’s first indie feature, released in 1992.

I was an editor of two underground newspapers in the ‘60s and ‘70s – The Rag in Austin and Space City! in Houston – and Gary was a regular contributor to both, especially known for his erudite film criticism.

Gary Chason, right, and Thorne Dreyer, circa 2015.

Gary was a talented and creative stage and film director, writer, and producer — specializing in the experimental and edgy — a brave and talented actor, an acting coach and mentor to many. He had a unique vision and he always followed his muse. In 2008, Gary wrote an article for The Rag Blog about the independent film movement and his role in it. In that article, he said, “With so many films vying for attention, to be different — unusual, weird, wacky, zany, schizo — should prove to be a big asset. And besides, I wouldn’t have it any other way because I’m fiercely independent!”

Gary also gained a measure of fame as a casting director for Robert Altman, Peter Bogdanovich, Louis Malle and more, doing the location casting for acclaimed films like Brewster McCloud, The Last Picture Show (on which he was Assistant to the Director), and Pretty Baby. He was also a dialect coach to Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Cloris Leachman (all in the Oscar-nominated Last Picture Show) as well as Brooke Shields, Tatum O’Neal, and Ann-Margret. The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) shows Gary with 21 credits for actor, 20 for director, 18 for writer, 18 for producer, and 10 for casting director. (To say nothing of credits for cinematographer, art director, and “additional crew”!)

I was an extra in Brewster McCloud (becoming good friends with leading actress Shelley Duvall), and in Futureworld I was a Houston Chronicle reporter escorting star Peter Fonda through the paper’s City Room. Alas, I ended up on the cutting room floor. But I did, at Gary’s behest, escort Fonda to the airport and we engaged in an animated discussion about life and politics. Gary brought me into his world and I brought him into mine.

In recent years I was living in Austin and Gary in Houston but every few months I’d come visit, always staying at Gary’s house, and we’d host a gathering of old friends – and some new ones — at a nearby bistro. And Gary, likewise, would come to Austin for my birthday parties and other events. Gary wrote an essay entitled “Space City! and Our Cultural History” for a book about Houston’s underground paper that I’m helping to edit. It will be published later this year. Gary emailed me his article four days before his death.

He ends his piece about Space City! like this:

Space City! was founded with a clear vision of the future, an accurate notion of the city’s culture and identity, without which Houston would have been greatly impoverished. And now our newspaper is an important historical document. It’s what happens when 50 years later you are discovered to have been right all along. We were on the right side of history. (And we still are.)

Much of this could also be said of Gary’s life and art.

Gary Chason died unexpectedly on Sunday, April 18, 2021. In a Facebook thread after Gary’s passing, a mutual friend wrote that he and I were like “brothers from different mothers.” Gary’s film and theater credits were certainly impressive but it was the way he lived his life that was truly special. Gary was not only passionate about his work and his friends, of which there were many, but he was also passionate about the world around him.

Please join us in celebrating Gary Chason’s life at one of these venues:

2906 Fruth St.
Austin 78705
Saturday, June 19
3-6 p.m.

2010 Waugh Dr.
Houston 77006
Saturday, June 26
3-6 p.m.

[Thorne Dreyer is an Austin-based writer, editor, broadcaster, and activist. A pioneering alternative journalist, Dreyer was a founding editor of the original Rag in 1966 Austin and Space City! in Houston, and was an editor at Liberation News Service (LNS). He was a programmer at and general manager of KPFT-FM, Houston’s Pacifica radio station. Dreyer, who is working on his second book, now edits The Rag Blog, hosts Rag Radio, and is a director of the New Journalism Project. Contact Dreyer at]

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3 Responses to THORNE DREYER :
REMEMBRANCE | Texas film and theater icon Gary Chason passes at 78

  1. Allen Young says:

    Sympathy wishes go out to Thorne as well as other friends and family of Gary Chason.
    Thanks for this tribute.

  2. Mariann Wizard says:

    So glad to have this info and this lovely remembrance of an excellent human being.

  3. Catherine says:

    When I was young I worked for Gary Chason at his casting agency in Houston. He was kind, and gracious. I decided to Google him and read this, wish I had researched him a few years ago to thank him for his kindness. Rest in peace.

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