Ron Baham had a great laugh. Infectious and ever present, it reflected his larger-than-life personality: charismatic, funny, gregarious. As an undergraduate history major at UCLA, he seemed to know everyone. His friend Marco Greenberg called him “the king of north campus.” He had a knack for cultivating friendships, bringing people together and making them feel special.
“You couldn’t bring him to the library because everyone would come up to him while you were trying to study,” recalled Greenberg, now the president of Thunder 11, a boutique public relations firm in New York City, and the author of the new book “Primitive.”
Fellow Bruin Allan Mutchnik met Baham in 1982, when they were both 18-year-olds pledging at UCLA’s Jewish fraternity, Zeta Beta Tau. Baham wasn’t Jewish; he was Catholic, Black and in the closet. Though he came from a humble background, Baham ran effortlessly in ZBT’s affluent pack and was elected president of the pledge class.
“He was a chameleon. He was able to blend in with [different types of people],” said Mutchnik, a former practicing lawyer and the current president of Harbor Freight Tools, “and he had such an incredible personality. He had a very dry sense of humor and a really deep, amazing voice. He could have been a voice actor.”
Director David Winkler, Baham’s closest friend and a fellow Bruin, said what many others do as well: “So many of my friendships were made through him.” Those friends included Winkler’s younger brother, Adam, a professor at UCLA School of Law and one of the nation’s premier constitutional law scholars, and U.S. Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff.
In June 1997, just 11 years after graduating from UCLA and six years after he started his career in Hollywood, Baham’s life was cut short by AIDS. He was 33.
The loss was devastating to Baham’s friends. This was the man who had brought many married couples together — among them, Mutchnik and his wife, Nicole — and who passionately headed a new diversity program at Disney so that other people of color could have the kind of opportunities he was given. It was inconceivable that someone who had so much heart, was so genuine and who cared so intensely about everyone was gone so prematurely.
Not long after his death, the Ron Baham Memorial Fellowship in Comedy was set up at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television to honor his memory. Each year since 1997, up to $2,000 has been awarded to a screenwriting graduate student who shows artistic merit in comedy television writing. It was a fitting tribute to a man who loved to laugh and whose career revolved around half-hour sitcoms.
Now, nearly 25 years after its inception, the fellowship has gotten a boost: an influx of $112,000 via a new crowdfunding campaign on the UCLA Spark platform, exceeding its $110,000 endowment goal. In a fashion that Baham would have appreciated, it was a case of old friends coming together — twice — to celebrate one of their own.
Read the story about Ron Baham on the UCLA School of the Theater, Film and Television website.