Gary Goddard Accused of Child Abuse in Santa Barbara
Victims Participated in Santa Barbara Youth Theater
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal that has rocked Hollywood since October 5, 2017, dozens of allegations of sexual harassment and abuse have been made against other powerful men, not only in the entertainment industry, but also in business, politics, and education. The rising public demand for accountability, symbolized by the hashtag #MeToo, reached Santa Barbara on November 10 in the form of a poignant personal essay titled “Yes Mom, There Is Something Wrong” by actor Anthony Edwards.
In his statement, Edwards, best known for his work as Dr. Mark Greene in the long-running television series ER, recounts the sexual abuse he suffered during the 1970s at the hands of Gary Goddard, an entertainment industry veteran who was at the time directing musicals in Santa Barbara. The incidents began when Edwards was a 12-year-old child appearing in plays directed and produced by Goddard for the Santa Barbara Youth Theater.
Since the appearance of Edwards’s claims on Medium.com, several more men have come forward, claiming to be victims of Goddard during that time, including Bret Nighman, an actor and an administrator at UCLA, and Mark Driscoll, a former actor who now operates a company focused on attraction and destination development. In response, Goddard has both stepped away from his leadership role with the Goddard Group, a company that develops concepts for theme parks and casinos, and issued a statement through a representative denying all charges and insisting that these accusations are entirely false.
Over the last two weeks, the allegations have roiled the Santa Barbara theater community. Many members of that community who spoke with me about these revelations expressed shock, dismay, and horror and are now reassessing their recollections of this time. Although the majority wished their remarks to remain off the record, by listening to them compare their memories with what has been claimed publicly, I was able to piece together the following account of the context and circumstances of these horrific claims.
In the 1960s and 1970s, musical theater reached a peak of influence in Santa Barbara. From the Santa Barbara Junior High auditorium to the stages at San Marcos High School, the Lobero Theatre, and the Santa Barbara Bowl, an extraordinary generation of young performers presented theatrical productions both entertaining and strikingly professional to large audiences. The city recreation department collaborated with the schools and hundreds of enthusiastic volunteers to create a youth theater scene that remains a high-water mark not only for the city but for the entire country. Many of the talented people who participated in these shows went on to earn fame on Broadway, in Hollywood, and beyond, or to become great teachers. Many continued to contribute to our robust regional theater scene. The long list of national talents who first discovered their love for theater as teens in Santa Barbara during this golden age includes Timothy and Joseph Bottoms, Anthony Edwards, Eric Stoltz, Cady Huffman, Rod Lathim, Rich Hoag, and many, many more.
When musical theater in Santa Barbara was at its peak, no one was more in demand or more influential than Gary Goddard, a talented and energetic performer who attended Santa Barbara Junior High School, Santa Barbara High, and CalArts. From an early age, Goddard was known as a theater prodigy with star presence and a variety of impressive skills. By the time he was a high school senior, Goddard was writing and directing multiple shows a year and had become a regular consultant behind the scenes on other people’s shows, including those directed by Marjorie Luke at the junior high. Not content with helping out at the schools, Goddard sought and discovered a way to extend these youth shows by creating a youth theater repertory company and taking young performers on tour in the summer months.
Regardless of how they feel about him today, everyone I spoke with, on and off the record, acknowledged Goddard’s talent and his dedication to the performing arts in Santa Barbara. An excellent performer, a savvy director and choreographer, and, most of all, an extraordinarily persistent and charismatic producer, especially of youth theater, Goddard was seemingly everywhere at once, typically followed by an entourage of younger boys—the “Goddardites,” as they were nicknamed by their frankly envious classmates. Together with Tony Christopher, then known as Tony Jenkins, Goddard formed a production company that transformed these child actors into the stars of a touring company with successful productions of plays such as Peter Pan and Jesus Christ Superstar. What began in Santa Barbara as a way to support and market youth theater grew into Landmark Entertainment, a diverse company that Goddard and Christopher started in 1980 and grew into an international practice providing design and production not only for plays, films, and television programs but also for themed attractions such as Jurassic Park: The Ride at Universal Studios and the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Goddard remained with Landmark through 1996, when he sold his 50 percent of Landmark to Kingdom Entertainment, a company co-owned by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia and Michael Jackson.
For the young men and women who were captivated by Goddard’s vision and who got their first taste of the big time in his shows, the experience was thrilling, to say the least. To go from acting in your junior high school play to performing at the Hollywood Bowl in a period of less than a year seems unlikely, but that’s exactly what Goddard made happen, and not just for a few, but for many of the young people who worked with him. Later in the 1970s and in the early 1980s, after these touring productions had closed, some of the performers — especially the boys — became clients of Goddard’s when he began managing talent in Los Angeles.
Imagine the excitement of being excused from a play rehearsal at one of the local high schools to travel to an audition in Hollywood and the next day to return to tell the rest of the cast that you had landed the part. This is what Goddard offered and what he helped achieve for some of his talented, ambitious young actors. Yet today many of those same men who benefited from Goddard’s guidance now claim they were also victims. In case after case, past members of the Santa Barbara Youth Theater are now coming forward to allege that Goddard’s excellent professional advice, including his coaching, the auditions he arranged, the expensive dinners and the show tickets he paid for, and, most of all, the high-level connections that he made for his protégés — all of these things came with a price, and too often that price was sexual contact with Gary Goddard.
Beginning on November 10, posts about Goddard began appearing on the popular social media website Medium.com. A project of Evan Williams, former CEO and cofounder of Twitter, Medium was created to allow individuals to publish statements that are too long for the Twitter limit of 140 characters. Staffed by experienced editors from publications such as Wired, the site is open to anyone as a blogging platform; Medium does not claim to be hard news. Instead there is the stated intention to provide a well-designed, ad-free opportunity on the web to “find the right audience for whatever you have to say.”
There’s no question now that through Medium, Edwards did find his audience. Within days, his initial post had been read by thousands of people, and one week later, another former child actor from Santa Barbara, Bret Nighman, came forward with a much more detailed account of Goddard’s activities during that period. Where Edwards had left much to the imagination, limiting his direct claim to “I was molested by Goddard, my best friend was raped by him — and this went on for years,” Nighman, in a piece called “Anthony Edwards Is Telling the Truth — Gary Goddard Is a Pedophile,” went further. In an illustrated personal essay, Nighman delivered the following specifics: Goddard began taking advantage of children he met through musical theater in the early 1970s; he raped several of the boys who performed in such shows as Peter Pan, Oliver, and Jesus Christ Superstar; and he continued having sexual relations with some boys, including Scott Drnavich, over a number of years. Drnavich, who succumbed to HIV/ AIDS in 1997, told several people that he had been raped by Goddard before he died, and he is, according to Nighman, the unnamed friend mentioned by Edwards as having been raped in his Medium essay.
A gay man with a husband and a career outside of the entertainment industry, Nighman strikes a fearless pose in his accusation and includes the kind of personal details in his piece that lend it an air of authenticity. His tearful testimony became the centerpiece of a December 7 broadcast of The Dr. Oz Show on ABC that also featured one of the next people to come forward, Mark Driscoll. Driscoll’s piece of November 22 was titled “A Pedophile Among Us” and featured a 1971 photo of Goddard instructing the young Driscoll with a sword. Driscoll also claims that he was abused by Goddard, and that he knows of many other victims. His essay provides the most concrete and systematic account of what happened, including this damning assessment:
By assisting the junior high school theatre teacher with her productions, Gary, an 18-yearold high school student, was able to initiate contact with us beginning when we were just 13 years old. Over time he would build the trust necessary with our parents and ourselves to take us to movies, restaurants, plays, and eventually overnight trips out of town. Pedophiles are patient and clever and know that love and trust are keys to their conquest. … Then … they strike their young prey. While the abuses by Gary vary by individual, there is one common denominator; Gary used his position, his friendship, his role as mentor and big brother to take advantage of young and vulnerable teens through molestation and in some cases this involved rape.
Driscoll continued to work for Gary Goddard’s entertainment company for several years even after he knew something of the extent of the abuse that had taken place in Santa Barbara. When I spoke with him, Driscoll sought to explain how this relationship develops. Goddard’s grooming process was intense and significant, he said: “It took a long time and it was complete …. Why work for the guy who had done these things? He had given me love and trust and support from age 13. He made me feel that anything positive in my life was from him, and that made it almost impossible for me to get the heck out.”
Driscoll also said that these recent revelations have irreparably tainted the memories of what was for many a high point in their lives. “This is part of the grooming — to leave you with too strong an impression of his importance. We were friends before Gary came along. He did not bring us together. This was still the best time of my life, and I will not let him take that from me.”
For his part, Gary Goddard has remained silent in the weeks since these articles began appearing. He has maintained his total innocence through his spokesperson, San Francisco–based crisis management publicist Sam Singer. However, that statement does open the door to speculation about another, higher-profile Hollywood figure who has been a business partner of Goddard’s. First, here’s the relevant section of the statement:
Gary played an important role in helping start Anthony’s acting career and acted as his personal manager. He has nothing but the greatest respect for Anthony as a person. Gary is saddened by the false allegations. The post by Anthony, as well as many of the news stories today, reference a legal claim made against Gary approximately four years ago regarding sexual harassment. The complaint was demonstrated to be fraudulent as it was completely fabricated, and ultimately withdrawn by the complainant and his attorneys.
The legal claim in question was a lawsuit filed in 2014 by Michael Egan III, a young actor who said that Goddard, along with X-Men and The Usual Suspects director Bryan Singer (no relation to the publicist), was part of a group of men who had exploited and abused him sexually at a number of locations, including an Encino mansion and a Hawaiian estate. The case ended with Egan withdrawing his suit.
What has lingered is the sense that, since the Weinstein scandal, the longstanding Hollywood practice of looking the other way when figures like Goddard and Bryan Singer indulge their taste for the company of much younger men may be coming to an end. Singer, who was abruptly removed from directing the upcoming Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody early this month, has since been accused, on December 7, 2017, of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old boy in Washington State in 2003. The Miami attorney, Jeff Herman, representing that client was the same lawyer who abandoned the earlier Egan claims. As part of a settlement in 2015, Herman wrote a letter to Singer saying: “I believe that I participated in making what I now know to be untrue and provably false allegations against you.” For Singer and his attorney, the fact that the same lawyer is trying to press similar claims by a new plaintiff is evidence that this suit has no merit. Regardless, Singer has been removed from Bohemian Rhapsody by Fox, where executives cite his failure to report to the set as the proximate cause of his dismissal. In addition, Singer and the University of Southern California’s (USC) administration agreed to take the director’s name off the Bryan Singer Division of Cinema & Media Studies after 4,000 students signed a petition demanding it be removed “until the allegations against him are resolved,” according to a statement issued by USC.
No charges, criminal or civil, are currently pending against Gary Goddard. He maintains his longtime personal friendship and business relationship with Bryan Singer, including plans for an epically expensive, perennially stalled Times Square project known as Broadway 4D. Perhaps in the entertainment business, notoriety of this sort might still retain some allure. Singer, despite his alleged crimes, is definitely an A-list director with four X-Men movies to his credit. It’s been 30 years, however, since Goddard’s last motion picture directing credit, 1987’s Masters of the Universe, a box-office flop that has earned something of a cult following for its absurd plot. Since then, Goddard has designed theme park rides and produced a handful of Broadway shows. His production company, the Goddard Group, won a Tony for the 2009 Broadway revival of Hair, and he has consulted on numerous projects, most recently two large casinos on the Cotai Strip in Macau, China.
What happens next is anyone’s guess, as the allegations against Goddard join an increasingly bewildering and constantly expanding array of similar claims against other powerful men. One thing that is for sure, however, is that this tragedy in no way diminishes or invalidates the great work and the loving solidarity of those who participated in Santa Barbara Youth Theater, which operated from 1962 to 1978, or the other great Santa Barbara theater programs of that period. And as Anthony Edwards wrote in his statement that started it all, “secrecy, shame and fear are the tools of abuse, and it is only by breaking the stigma of childhood sexual abuse that we can heal, change attitudes, and create safer environments for our children.”