by Stephen Sachs
Shortly after Stanley Wolpert met Dorothy Guberman in an American government class at New York City College in 1953, he knew he wanted to marry her. They both knew. They had been thrown together to buy a present for a class professor, yet it was clear very quickly to these two perceptively analytical yet free-minded young people that they were meant to be life partners. They married six weeks later, on June 12th. Their bond continued sixty-five years. Stanley Wolpert passed away last Tuesday, on February 19th. He was ninety-one years old.
I met and knew Stanley through Dorothy, who joined our Fountain Theatre’s Board of Directors and now serves as its President. Stanley and I chatted often at Fountain opening nights and fundraising events. Always gracious, charming and warm-hearted, Stanley was a sharp-eyed gentleman with an easy smile and a comfortable manner that belied his stunning intellect and depth of knowledge. To me, the first few months after meeting him, he was simply “Dorothy’s husband” — a moniker for which I’m sure he’d have been happy to be known. But soon I discovered how formidable he truly was. Yes, Stanley was Dorothy’s husband, her partner, fellow traveler, her best friend. I quickly learned he was also Stanley Wolpert: nationally heralded scholar, author, lecturer and beloved UCLA teaching professor, the foremost historian of India in the United States.
The son of Nathan and Frances Wolpert, Stanley grew up in Brooklyn. He attended Brooklyn Technical High School and the New York State Maritime Academy. On his twentieth birthday, while serving as an engineer aboard a U.S. Merchant Marine ship, Stanley set sail to Bombay, India, for the first time. What he experienced there, the first day, would transform him.
On the day Stanley arrived in Bombay, Mahatma Gandhi had been killed just two weeks earlier and the nation was overwhelmed by grief. Stanley had never seen anything like it. Standing on a hilltop overlooking the holy Ganges River, he witnessed millions of mourning Indians rush to touch the ship moored at the sandy riverbank on which Gandhi’s ashes were placed to be scattered into the water below. As the ashes touched the water, the sea of countless mourners joined in a great roar of “Mahatma Gandhi ki jai” — victory to Mahatma Gandhi. Some wept. Some stood mute, their hands clasped before their faces. The scene of teeming multitudes deeply impacted the young engineer from Brooklyn.
“That early encounter with India,” wrote Stanley, “Changed the course of my life.”
Returning home to Brooklyn, Stanley abandoned his career in marine engineering for the study of Indian history. He received a B.A. from New York City College in 1953 and was awarded the Pell Medal for academic achievement in History. A fellowship from the Ford Foundation enabled him to pursue Indian Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, learning Sanskrit and earning his Ph.D. in 1959. His dissertation, published as Tilak and Gokhale, was selected for the Watumull Prize of the American Historical Association in 1962, recognizing “the best book on the history of India originally published in the United States.”
Stanley Wolpert became a world-renowned historian of India. He began teaching in the Department of History at UCLA in 1959. Over the years, he helped build the ranking of the History Department nationwide. He was appointed Chairman of the Department and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and was honored with UCLA’s Distinguished Teaching and University Service awards. His devotion to teaching earned him the gratitude and affection of thousands of students over the course of his 59-year teaching career.
Every work morning, Stanley would walk from his Westwood home to the UCLA campus. He’d grab a coffee and a bagel at a nearby coffee shop. On campus, he’d stride up the five flights of stairs to his office, balancing coffee and bagel, then plop at his desk to prepare for class, do research and write. Stacks of books littered his office. His advice to young writers was “Read everything.” His classroom was a mecca for history students for nearly six decades. He taught his last seminar at UCLA at 90.
In addition to his national reputation as a teacher and scholar, Stanley was a distinguished author. When Dorothy was asked if Stanley missed New York, she answered that as long as Stanley had his typewriter, he was fine where he was. He published fifteen books, including several highly praised textbooks and four novels, and was Editor in Chief of the Encyclopedia of India. His celebrated novel on the assassination of Gandhi, Nine Hours to Rama, was made into a feature film in 1963 starring José Ferrer. His A New History of India was hailed as “the best textbook on Indian history now available.”
Stanley was a man of impressive achievements. I would wager that he knew, deep in his heart and soul, that his greatest triumph was his marriage and his family. Ever a die-hard New Yorker, Dorothy begrudgingly moved to Los Angeles with Stanley in 1959 so he could pursue his teaching at UCLA. Stanley steadfastly acknowledged her contribution to his research and editor for many of his books. She joined him on numerous trips to India and was with him when he interviewed Jawaharlal Nehru for his book, A Tryst With Destiny. And Dorothy is notable in her own right. A Founding Principal of the Century City law firm of Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks, Lincenberg & Rhow, Dorothy Wolpert was selected to Benchmark Litigation’s “Top 250 Women in Litigation” in the United States for 2017. In 2018, Dorothy was chosen by her peers for inclusion in the 2019 edition of Best Lawyers in America. Dorothy and Stanley have two sons — Daniel and Adam — and three grandchildren—Sam, Max, and Sabine.
Stanley and Dorothy were partners. In life, work, and public giving. Best friends and soul mates who read books aloud to each other in bed every night. They were, as Gandhi taught, the unity of heart, mind, body and spirit.
A memorial for Stanley Wolpert is planned for the spring.
Stephen Sachs is the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.