Clark Gesner (March 27, 1938 – July 23, 2002) was an intensely private and often enigmatic composer, lyricist, and occasional performer. He is best known for his musical adaptation of the Charles M. Schulz comic strip Peanuts, entitled You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
Mr. Gesner is a graduate of Princeton University, where he helped write and produce original musical comedy for the Princeton Triangle Club. His iconoclastic song Ivy League Look, which pokes fun at the perception of Ivy League snobbery, is still a staple of the Triangle Club's musical revues.
Following his graduation from Princeton, Mr. Gesner kept close ties to his alma mater, serving as a member of the graduate board of the Princeton Triangle Club, and regularly patronizing performances by other groups on the Princeton campus, such as the Princeton University Players and Theatre Intime.
Mr. Gesner also was involved with numerous productions with the Weston Playhouse in Vermont.
Originally written before he had actually obtained permission to use the characters, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown grew out of Mr. Gesner's love for the comic strip characters. After sending Charles M. Schulz a sample of the songs he created, Gesner was granted permission to finish and produce the project. Though the initial production ran off-Broadway, it nonetheless became a wildly popular musical, and is, in fact, still the most produced musical in America.
The show was revived and brought to Broadway in 1999. Though Gesner was excited to see his most cherished production make it to the Great White Way, he was quietly displeased with some of the modifications and additions made to "modernize" the show, including extra verses in the opening number and "The Kite," as well as a complete change in tempo and key signature for "T-E-A-M (The Baseball Game), not to mention the replacement of Patty with Sally.
Mr. Gesner also produced other, smaller works, such as The Jello is Always Red, a charming collection of his cabaret songs which, like Charlie Brown, captured Gesner's clever, compassionate, and blissfully naive persona. However, none of his subsequent works matched the success of his first big hit.
For many years, and up until his death, Gesner called the tree-lined streets of Brooklyn Heights his home. He became very active in his local church, even delivering a sermon every now and then.
Never married, Clark Gesner died on July 23, 2002 from a heart attack. Much like his life, Gesner's death was very quiet and unassuming. In lieu of a funeral, a memorial service was held some two months later, attended by not only family, but the countless friends he had made in the world. As a testament to his enigmatic nature, the recollections shared by the numerous attendees painted the picture of many different personas. Many participants of his numerous stage productions were in attendance, and his life was commemorated by the singing of some of his most beloved songs.