We all grow up dreaming of fame and fortune, worshipping our idols, awaiting the day we join their ranks. Some of us hope to be doctors, some of us lawyers, but as time moves on so do our dreams. What will become of us remains a mystery – a fantasy at best – but for the few who find the courage to succeed, dreams sometimes become reality.
Relating to the celebrities of our time is hard to do when you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck with four roommates and a 1988 Tercel. It’s easy to believe our idols graduated from Harvard and drove Corvettes to school, and maybe some of them did. More likely than not, however, your hero probably wasn’t much different than you are today.
Then there are some who were almost exactly like you in the day before their time. They are those who lived in Isla Vista, went to class in Campbell Hall and religiously read the Daily Nexus the way you’re doing right now. Some pretty incredible people were shaped here, and who knows? Maybe you’re next.
Setting the Stage
Among the best of our kind is actor and director Michael Douglas. Douglas turns characters and story lines into people that magically come alive to us with long-lasting impressions. He is the master of his art, and the inspiration to become what he is originated here at UCSB. In a June 1998 interview with Cigar Aficionado magazine, Douglas describes his earlier days.
“Going to California to go to college at UC Santa Barbara was the first real decision in my life. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was a real tight-ass, and I figured I had to change, so I made the most radical change I could think of. I went to my college adviser and then to a travel agent and I looked at all these brochures and said, ‘I want to go there.’
“It was great to be in California in the early 1960s. The UC system was in fabulous shape. The whole culture was just spectacular. It was an important time in my life and I think it paid off pretty well. I was undeclared for years and years, and then in my junior year they called me and said, ‘You gotta get a major.’ I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was a hippie and I was hanging out. I had flunked out for a year already and I was enjoying myself. So, I thought, I’ll take theater. I figured, Mom was an actress in the theater and my stepfather was a Broadway producer before he was a writer, and it just seemed like it was an opportunity to do something that would be easy.”
After receiving his B.A. in 1968, Douglas moved to New York City and began a life of drama. He co-starred in “The Streets of San Francisco” for three years until 1975, when Douglas left the show to produce “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” with Jack Nicholson, setting him on an irreversible path to success. Acting didn’t always come easy to Douglas, however, according to Emeritus Professor of Dramatic Arts Robert Potter.
“He grew up on the East Coast and deliberately came to Santa Barbara because he thought the beaches and women looked like a better alternative to snow. He liked to tell the story about how he played a messenger’s role in a Shakespeare play at UCSB. His dad came to see it and wasn’t impressed at all and told him to find another profession. That didn’t stop him though, and his dad gradually came around. He definitely didn’t get any encouragement to start with.”
Student, Surfer, Singer
More recently the likes of singer and guitarist Jack Johnson graced our campus with a success story of his own. Johnson graduated from UCSB in 1997 with a B.A. in film studies and left an impression on faculty that is difficult to overlook within the department. Described as humble and immensely capable by those who knew him, Johnson possessed a cinematic talent that thoroughly impressed film studies lecturer Dana Driskel.
“While he was an undergraduate I never once saw him wear pants. Jack would wear nothing but shorts. Between surfing and trying to do cinematography anywhere and anytime he could, he had a passion for surfing and music and was very fully involved in almost everything. He was always supportive of the other filmmakers, too. In the arts, sometimes people can be talented and know it and be condescending to others around them. He might have been aware that he was talented, but he never made a thing of it.
“I was on vacation on the East Coast a while back, and I heard a voice on the radio that sounded familiar and it was about film – things that may be subtle or invisible to people outside the film industry – and then I learned that it was Jack Johnson. So here I was, 3,000 miles away, and people were listening to Jack all the way out there. It’s nice to see nice things happen to nice people every once a while.”
The chain of events that led to Johnson’s solo album began when he started getting requests from friends on boat trips in Indonesia. Bootleg copies of Johnson’s melodies circulated the surf community when collaborations with G Love and Special Sauce and Ben Harper launched him into performances and recordings on his own. Johnson moved on to produce Brushfire Fairytales and is presently on tour promoting the album all across the country.
Under the Sea…
Representing UCSB scientists everywhere, famed oceanographer and deep-sea explorer Dr. Robert Ballard also spent his undergraduate years at UCSB as a geological sciences and chemistry major. Ballard was the chief scientist of the team that discovered the wreckage of the Titanic in 1987 and has since developed a world-renowned program that televises expeditions to classrooms everywhere.
Ballard returned as a guest speaker to UCSB this past fall to discuss his career and the expedition that made him famous.
“Here we’d done all these expeditions leading up to that: proving the concept of plate tectonics, finding hydrothermal vents, helping to understand the origin of life on the planet, possibly of life outside our planet, all that kind of stuff. I never got a letter from a child – and then I find this rusty old ship on the bottom of the ocean.”
When Ballard returned to his office following his discovery, his desk was overflowing with 16,000 letters.
Today, the Nexus, Tomorrow the Pulitzer
Former Daily Nexus staff writer and current Los Angeles Times editorial writer Bob Sipchen won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing. The Pulitzer Committee called his winning piece about mental illness and homelessness in Los Angeles “comprehensive and powerfully written,” and it inspired the city and California to take more active measures in treating the mentally ill homeless.
Sipchen said editorial writing is too often “fist-pounding” and is not accessible for policymakers or readers, though it should be.
“I think in many ways, it’s an antiquated institution, and we are trying to bring it to the 20th century,” he said. “It can be very influential for policymakers, but it needs to be more readable for the public so it can increase its influence. … The editorial voice needs to connect with readers.”
During his UCSB years, the former Nexite lived in Isla Vista and said the community really hasn’t changed.
“Essentially, I.V. seems the same – still vibrant, still crazy, still noisy. I was recently out there with my daughter, who wanted to look at the school. I was very impressed with the campus,” he said.
Sipchen also recently joined the UCSB Press Council, which is a committee made up of journalists and university faculty to oversee the activities of the Daily Nexus and KCSB radio station.
“I was chagrined to see I wasn’t as prolific during my time at the Nexus as a staff writer … but I still remember my first lede,” he said. “You’ve got a good paper there; I’m curious to see what the Nexus will do in the future.”