Remembering Robert Sklar

Robert Sklar at the 2004 Cinema Studies Conference

Although it’s how I found out about the Japanese earthquake, I cannot fully believe what I read as “news” on Facebook or Twitter. Not until I can confirm with some kind of journalistic news source. Sorry.

Because I haven’t been able to verify it with an authoritative source, I have been in disbelief over the death of former NYU Professor of Cinema Studies, Robert Sklar. I saw that he had died this weekend on my Facebook News Feed two days ago from some very trusted and accomplished friends, but I haven’t seen anything from the local newspapers or from the university. (I mean no disrespect to fellow NYU alum J. Hoberman, Frances Guerin, and Matt Singer, who all wrote touching tributes to a great scholar.)

[Update: The New York Times has published an obituary on Thursday, July 7, and Richard Allen penned the department’s official tribute on the Cinema Studies website.]

Unlike most Cinema Studies students at NYU, I never took any of his classes. During my years, he taught only the masters-level introduction to historiography, a course I had been excused from taking because of my extensive undergraduate coursework at UCSB. Despite missing out on this ritual of passage at NYU, I had some great moments with Bob Sklar over the years.

For one thing, he needed a lot of help with his computer. Having heard from someone in the department that I was good at “computer stuff,” I was contracted to help him and his wife, Adrienne Harris, an intellectual powerhouse in her own right, with their computers. I did a few things over the years, like get their printers installed and working with their Windows machines, installing and securing their wireless network, and finally convincing them to get an iMac. However, after migrating them to Macs, I never heard from them again about needing help with their computers.

While we waited for downloads and installations, Bob and I would talk. Sure, we chatted about film and my own research, but we didn’t talk about that for long. I think he and I shared a certain weariness about “shop talk.” So we talked about baseball. A lot. He was a Yankee fan, and he held a certain disdain for my loyalty to the Dodgers. It was mostly because, like me, he was a transplanted Los Angeleno (Long Beach, actually), but, unlike me, he rooted for the Angels. The Los Angeles Angels. Not of Anaheim but of the Pacific Coast League. I never argued with him, figuring that he deserved respect for even having been to a PCL game and that he wasn’t a fan of the San Francisco Seals.

One of my favorite recollections of him was when I submitted a Statement of Progress as part of my transition from the masters to the doctoral program. Having managed the Cinema Studies softball team for the prior two years, I thought it would lighten the mood if I included my softball hitting statistics with my statement. Professors Straayer and Sklar were in charge of my meeting, and since they were both baseball fans, I knew my stunt would go over well. Sure enough, Sklar looks over my documents and comes across my softball statistics. He nods approvingly and says, “pretty good. But why no home runs?”

I never talked about Fantasy Baseball, figuring it would be a sore point for him, given that he was one of the developers of the game but never made any money from it. But we did go to a few games together. He was nice enough to take me to a few Yankee games. It was the closest I ever felt to watching a game with my father, other than, of course, seeing a game with my father. I kept a neat and thorough scorecard, and deferred to him on whether it was a hit or an error. For a graduate student with no income duringthe summer months, it was a nice treat to be his guest at those games. And I’m glad that I had enough money left that summer to buy him a beer.

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  1. Bob Sklar and I served on the Long Beach Poly High Life Staff back in 1952-53. He was a year behind me. I followed Marty as Editor of the newspaper and Bob was my sports editor when I took over as Editor. What I remember most about Bob, other than his obvious intellect, was that he was always funny – laughing and smiling especially in the tense times of trying to get that little newspaper put to bed. He was my buddy, and I have always cherished what he wrote in my yearbook.

    Although we had not kept in touch through the years, I knew where he was and rejoiced for his success. Such a sad loss.

    Barbara “Bobby” Dobbins Title, Mira Loma, CA