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They Don’t Exist, But They Went to Cal

Fictional characters with Berkeley backgrounds

November 30, 2023
by Pat Joseph
the fictional characters mentioned in this article Illustrations by Patrick Welsh
Dr. Ian Malcolm
Dr. Sarah Harding

In the fictional world of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum in the Spielberg film adaptation) and Dr. Sarah Harding (played by Julianne Moore in The Lost World sequel) first cross paths at Berkeley, where Malcolm, a visiting lecturer on mathematical models of evolution, serves as an outside reader on Harding’s dissertation. Of course, the two become romantically involved. Both are big characters. Where Malcolm is all swagger and skepticism, Harding shows considerable moxie and a sharp tongue. “I’ve worked around predators since I was 20,” she tells him. “Lions, jackals, hyenas, you.”

Bruce Banner/ Bill Bixby

The Hulk’s story begins with a laboratory accident. In Ang Lee’s 2003 movie version of the Marvel comic, that accident involves a lethal dose of radiation from a real piece of equipment at Berkeley Lab called the Gammasphere. Scientist Bruce Banner isn’t killed however. He’s transformed, at times of extreme stress or anger, into a superheroic green beast. Interestingly, the first film version of Dr. Banner was played by former Berkeley student Bill Bixby on the 1970s TV show The Incredible Hulk.

Joanie Caucus

Joanie Caucus applied to law school at Berkeley at age 38. Never mind that she was a cartoon character in Garry Trudeau’s popular strip Doonesbury; the Boalt Hall Office of Admissions kept a file on her all the same and treated her as a matriculated student. Her creator played along, even flying in from New York to speak at the graduation ceremony in May 1977. “I flew here, Joanie, to say how proud I am of you,” Trudeau said to the assemblage. Joanie’s seat, between classmates Anne Cathcart and Kevin Chee, was empty, save for a mortarboard.

Cristina Yang

Dr. Cristina Yang is the best friend of title character Meredith Grey on the show Grey’s Anatomy. A cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Yang has her Ph.D. in biochemistry from Berkeley, her M.D. from that other Bay Area med school (not UCSF). Despite struggling with dyslexia, she graduated top of her class at both schools, as well as at Smith College, where she was an undergrad. Played by Sandra Oh, Yang is, like the actor herself, of Korean descent. Originally, Oh said, the character was written as a “pert little blonde.” Yang appeared regularly in the first ten seasons of the show, which is now in its 20th year. 

Elaine Robinson

Sadly, the Caffe Mediterraneum, where a lovelorn Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) once stalked his love interest, Cal student Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross), is no longer a fixture of Telegraph Avenue. But the image lives on in the minds of film buffs. In truth, most campus scenes in director Mike Nichols’s 1967 film The Graduate were shot at USC. But crucial to the story was Elaine’s enrollment at Berkeley, then a hotbed of nonconformity and political unrest. That’s why Benjamin’s landlord wants to make sure he’s not one of “those outside agitators.” He’s not. The only thing agitating him is Elaine.

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