Poet, playwright, retired UCSB professor and political activist Bob Potter died at home with most of his family near on Sunday July 11. He was very active until the very end. As a prolific playwright his thirty plus works stretched from Where Is Sicily? in 1969 to The Last Days of Empire in 2008 and family and close friends will soon publish a volume of his favorite pieces entitled Six Plays. Often political in their topics and themes, Potter’s works are bitterly funny, sometimes set in surreal circumstances with real and fanciful protagonists drawn from Classical literature, history and even the insect kingdom. His plays often included anti-war and anti-corporate themes. Potter also adapted plays and collaborated with other writers including Ellen Anderson (A Fine and Private Place, 1991) and the poet Sojourner Kincaid-Rolle (Ayo’s Journey, 2002). With Anderson, Potter formed the Santa Barbara Theater group Dramatic Women, which encourages a wide range of community voices. He was also a founding board member of Center Stage Theatre in Paseo Nuevo where most of the company’s fifteen productions were mounted.
Bob Pottter’s academic career was dominated by theater, too, though he began as an English literature professor at Harvey Mudd College and at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He joined the drama department there in 1972 and was also head of the playwriting program until 2001.
Born in New York, Potter was raised in Brentwood, California, the son of Hollywood director H.C. Potter, whose films include The Farmer’s Daughter and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. Potter attended the Harvard Military Academy and studied literature at Pomona College in 1952 during the worst years of the Hollywood blacklist. He also served in Army Intelligence, which he loved to describe as his favorite oxymoron. His graduate work was at Claremont College and in 1963 Potter was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Bristol. Bob joined the faculty at UCSB in 1966. He was a visiting professor at the University of London in 1985. His academic publications included extensive examinations of Medieval Morality Plays. At UCSB, Potter was deeply affected by the student anti-Vietnam War protests and the subsequent riots in Isla Vista. With economist Jim Sullivan, Bob proudly co-authored “The Campus by the Sea Where the Bank Burned Down” for the Presidential Commission on Campus Unrest. He was a Democratic Party stalwart, and very active in the State Street peace marches in the wake of the Iraqui War. He also supported the veterans’ protest at the Stearn’s Wharf Arlington West weekly demonstrations.
Potter is survived by his five children, Lucilla Callendar Hoshor, Daniel Latimer Potter, Jane Wylie Thornquist, Maria Theresa Potter, Bryn Ann Potter and a step-daughter Crosby Buhl, his spouse Ellen Anderson and three former wives, Sally Alabaster Evans, Nancy Collinge Rose, and Pamela Howard. Bob also has a surviving brother, Earl Potter and his wife Deborah of Santa Fe. There will be a memorial celebration at Elings Park on August 10 at 6 p.m. and the family encourages donations to the Bob Potter Memorial Fund at UCSB or the American Civil Liberties Union in Potter’s name.