Edgar Lloyd Brokaw
Professor of Film and Television, Emeritus
Edgar Brokaw, one of the most committed and beloved professors in the history of UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film, and Television, died on December 9, 2002. He was 85 years old. Hundreds of students will never forget this dynamic teacher who changed their lives and taught them to love both film and life.
Ed Brokaw started at UCLA on the G.I. bill as a student in 1947 in the new Theatre Arts Department. He earned his B.A. in 1952 and was asked to stay on as a lecturer. In 1954, after the tragic death of his beloved wife, Beatrice Branscombe Tenney, he returned to New York City as staff producer-director with Seminar Films. He formed his own company, New York Studios, Inc., and produced and directed corporate films, short musicals, training films, and commercials. He was the director of photography for 65 episodes of the popular television program, Kukla, Fran and Ollie, and three features. He produced 71 films.
Ed Brokaw returned to UCLA in 1961. Among his students were Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek of the rock group, The Doors; documentary filmmakers Joan Churchill and Robert Hooper; screenwriters Gloria Katz and Michael Miner; directors Francis Ford Coppola, Elodie Keene, Gregory Nava, Alex Cox, Alexander Payne; and many others who have distinguished themselves.
In the 1960s, Ed Brokaw, in concert with Colin Young, then department chairman, created the “project” system under which the school gained its international reputation. In his controversial “Design” course, each student made a three-minute film. In the final screenings, these films always played to a packed house with a turnaway mob. Ed’s personal life was a mystery, but there was no mystery about Ed’s love of learning. His teaching and his students were his life. He was on campus at all hours, talking to students about story ideas, and helping with their films and personal problems, and challenging them to push the boundaries.
“Professor Brokaw gave me the confidence to pursue a career in motion pictures when women were being told it was impossible. Ed made film a passionate and exciting experience. He gave us the courage and freedom to create.” — Gloria Katz, screenwriter
Ed’s standards were high, but he taught with an air of mischief, holding students captive with instructive true stories of Hollywood. He was brilliant, unique, and eccentric. He eschewed riding in automobiles, using the telephone, the banking system, and university rules and regulations. He was often spotted deep in thought walking across campus or along Westwood Boulevard. Sometimes you could find him – after first checking the Research Library – in Ships’ Coffee Shop, or the old Westwood Drug Store, or Thai Dishes in Santa Monica. Ed never met a used bookstore he didn’t like, especially Acres of Books in Long Beach and Leon’s Books in San Luis Obispo. He regularly traveled a route of used bookstores in New York, California, and the state of Washington.
Ed inherited his father's quiet, reasoned approach to life. Both were deep, critical thinkers. But Ed, young and rebellious, left school to work on the docks of the New York waterfront. At the outset of World War II, he enlisted in the army Signal Corps, rose quickly through the ranks, and was honorably discharged as a decorated Master Sergeant. He served most of the war in Burma and India. Ed chose to live on the West Coast to study film at UCLA. He returned to New York from 1954 to 1961 but became distanced from his family. He remained in close contact only with his father, who died in the late 1960s. Although Ed was confined to a convalescent home for the last two years of his life, he was reunited with his only living relatives, nephew William Benmore and niece Lisa Benmore, and was able to share family memories.
For many years after his retirement, he could usually be found in one of the libraries on campus, researching and writing. His students, after graduating, continued to keep in touch with him.
“Ed Brokaw's graceful engagement of the creative spirit works today among the Dyaks of Borneo and the Minangkabau of Sumatra, as it once did for student filmmakers at UCLA. Ed Brokaw's work lives in my own filmmaking and international teaching.” — Robert Hooper
All who knew Ed Brokaw will miss his creative stimulus, his encyclopedic knowledge, his engaging self, and his fine contempt for deans and bureaucracy.”
Prudence Macgowan Faxon