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PETER GARDINER (1937-1968)

Although Peter Gardiner began Amherst as a premed, his real loves were the entertainment media, music and pop art. After college he worked in New York radio stations, then moved to Los Angeles where he and the company he started with classmate Tom Rounds, Charlatan Enterprises, pioneered in making the earliest rock videos.

The New York Post, which called Peter “Father of the Pop Film,” said he immediately attracted attention by creating kaleidoscopic light studies that tried to “reproduce the phenomenon of psychedelic perception.” He was, in short, experimenting with visual special effects – flashing lights, bursting colors and abstractions.


Peter worked in both film and television. When the 1967 picture “The Trip” was released on DVD in 2003 (directed by Roger Cormier and starring the young Jack Nicholson), a reviewer praised Peter’s special effects as “sheer psychedelic euphoria… whose kaleidoscopic visuals were ground-breaking at the time.” He also did special effects for such films as “The Wild Racers,” “Wild in the Streets” and “The President’s Analysts.”

In July 1967, TV Guide reported in a feature article, “The world of psychedelia … has been invaded by a young TV producer-director, Peter Gardiner, who says, ‘The influence of psychedelic art is just about to hit TV and advertising full force.’” Peter had achieved a “conglomeration of colors, lights and movement,” the article explained, through a process of colors and patterns passing across a camera lens. “We have a way of capturing the effect so that the colors explode.”

Sheer psychedelic euphoria…
whose kaleidoscopic visuals were
ground-breaking at the time.

And so, Peter said, “All of a sudden we’re in demand. People want us to do psychedelic commercials. I’m going to capitalize on it while it’s a craze.” Even if people didn’t own color TVs,” (this was 1967) “it looks just as wild in black and white.”

Sadly, this rapid success ended suddenly. Peter turned to drugs and died of a heroin overdose just 10 years after graduating. His son, Jeremy, was only 5 at the time and has limited “but still vivid” memories of his dad – his love of his wife, Rockie, of jazz and of late night Chinese food. Jeremy works in Hollywood as a producer of nonfiction programming for various cable networks. Rockie writes the Rockie Horoscope for the LA Weekly, the Village Voice online site and the Improper Bostonian.

Jeremy, Rockie, and Tom and Barbara Rounds recently attended an industry function where they were guests of five-time Oscar-nominated Director of Photography Allen Daviau, who was to receive a lifetime achievement award from the American Society of Cinematographers. During his acceptance speech Allen generously described how Peter gave him his first real assignment behind a camera and what that meant to him. Sadly, Jeremy says, although Peter created amazing images of others for a living, there are very few of him from the last couple years of his life.

Peter Gardiner died Oct. 21, 1968, in Los Angeles.

Peter and his son, Jeremy, from late 1967July 1967 TV Guide article about Peter
and his artistic “world of psychedelia”