December 13, 2018

UCLA Alumna Heads Film School

Barbara Boyle has come full circle.

When she first entered UCLA in 1957, she was one of four female law students in a class of 140. She considered herself a beatnik, dreaming of saving the world. Now she’s back at UCLA as head of the Department of Film, Television, and Digital Media.

During the intervening four decades, Boyle worked as a corporate counsel for American International Pictures and put her business savvy to work at New World Pictures. As a film company executive, she oversaw production of “The Terminator” and “Platoon.” As an independent producer, she made “Phenomenon,” one of the top-grossing movies of 1996. In April 2003, she stepped down from the presidency of Valhalla Motion Pictures (“The Hulk”) to accept the post at her alma mater.

Boyle’s travels through the film world pale in comparison to her parents’ journey from Europe to the United States. Her father, William Dorman, left a Russian shtetl at age 13 to accompany his 22-year-old brother to America. Without an American nickel between them, the two brothers walked from Ellis Island to the Brooklyn Bridge, where they planned to meet a cousin.

That walk through the teeming streets of New York, circa 1905, quickly showed them the dark side of American life. Their payot, black coats and dangling tzitzit immediately established them as greenhorns, and thus fair prey for the Bowery bums who scattered the contents of William’s cardboard suitcase before running away.

But the story has a happy ending: The suitcase was recovered (and remains one of Boyle’s prized possessions). The cousin told the two brothers that he had found them a grocery store job. Two years later, they bought the store from its owner and sent for the rest of the family.

America was the place where a penniless immigrant like Willy Dorman could grow up and become a successful businessman. But to Boyle’s mother, Edith Kleiman, America was a poor substitute for the world she’d left behind. She was the daughter of a Russian Jew whose high intellect endeared him to a local count. His patron smoothed his way into the legal profession, and he and his family enjoyed an affluent lifestyle. Then came the Bolshevik Revolution. The father was killed, and 17-year-old Edith took charge of getting the family to Paris.

Ultimately, they landed in New York. While making a speech about conditions in her homeland, she caught the eye of the much-older Willy Dorman. “Isn’t that romantic?” Boyle said. “I tell these stories, and it’s hard to imagine they’re not just stories. It’s like reading Sholom Aleichem.”

Boyle attributes everything she is to her parents. “If I’m anything, it’s all because of them.” Her childhood home was a place where Zionism flourished, and where political views were hotly debated around the dinner table. Her father, who had a passion for moral and ethical study, devoted his free hours to the Talmud, and the children were sent to an Orthodox cheder after school. Both proved to be gifted students. Brother Albert became a prominent engineer and architect, who later endowed the honors college at his alma mater, New Jersey Institute of Technology.

The expectations for Barbara were equally high. Her mother made sure she was educated, “So that I could stand side by side with my husband, and not on his shoulders.” When Barbara decided to become an attorney, she was fulfilling Edith’s own dream of studying law like her father before her.

While in law school, Barbara met Kevin Boyle, the son of immigrants from Ireland. It was she, and not her family, who insisted he convert to Judaism before they wed. Their marriage, which lasted 37 years until his death, produced two sons, both of whom, said the longtime member of Kehillat Israel, are strong in their Judaism.

Boyle has brought to UCLA the nonprofit experience she gained as president of both Women in Film and the Independent Feature Project West. She delights in the opportunity to interact with students. In William Dorman’s value system, teaching is the noblest profession of all. As Boyle settles into this new professional challenge, she keeps in mind her father’s words: “There’s only one way you can become a better person. Only one. And that is by giving to others.” She also relies upon her mother’s lesson: “Anything you can dream you can do.”