Craig Gilbert, 94, creator of ‘An American Family’

Craig P. Gilbert, producer of a groundbreaking 1973 reality show chronicling an American family with a gay son, passed away April 10, following a brief illness. He was 94 and lived in Lower Manhattan.

In 1971, Gilbert was a writer and executive producer at WNET, the New York public television outlet, when he pitched the idea of following a real American family as they went about their daily routine. He then persuaded WNET to finance the project with $1.2 million and selected the Loud family of Santa Barbara, Calif. The family was composed of Pat Loud, her husband Bill Loud, and their five children. Filming took place in 1971-72. 

Gilbert produced 300 hours of footage over the course of eight months, which was edited down to 12 hours. The show aired every Thursday evening at 9 p.m. for 12 weeks in early 1973 and reached 10 million viewers.

Lance Loud, the oldest sibling, made it clear to viewers that he was gay on the second episode of the series, when Pat visited him in New York City. “He was always true to himself,” Pat, 93, told PGN.

She recalled that at the time of the show, the LGBT community was held in low regard by many Americans. But she said the entire Loud family accepted Lance, who was unapologetic about his sexual orientation. She said she received numerous letters from LGBT youths who watched the show and were inspired by Lance. 

After the series aired, Lance went on to become a media figure in his own right. He performed in a band known as “The Mumps” and wrote a monthly column for the Advocate. In December 2001, he died due to complications of Hepatitis B and HIV infection. Bill Loud died in 2018, but the rest of the family is still living. 

Pat Loud expressed admiration for Gilbert. “I’m very saddened by his passing,” she said. “I was lucky to have him in my life. He was really a remarkable human being. I have beautiful memories.”

She said she only spoke to Gilbert a few times after the show aired but considered him a friend. “I loved him as a friend,” she said. “He was a genius, brilliant. And he had a great sense of humor. I learned so much from him.”

Walter Newkirk, a longtime friend of Pat Loud, said watching “An American Family” prompted him to come out to his parents. 

“I was 19 years old when that [show] was on,” Newkirk told PGN. “I saw a gay son who was 20 years old. I felt that if his parents could accept him, perhaps my family would accept me. I think that a lot of gay men my age felt the same way and came out to their family.”

Gilbert left no immediate survivors. He separated from his wife, Suzanne (Stater) Gilbert, shortly before shooting began for “An American Family,” and they remained separated, though they never divorced. She died in 2005.

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Tim Cwiek has been writing for PGN since the 1970s. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from West Chester State University. In 2013, he received a Sigma Delta Chi Investigative Reporting Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his reporting on the Nizah Morris case. Cwiek was the first reporter for an LGBT media outlet to win an award from that national organization. He's also received awards from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Newspaper Association, and the Keystone Press.