The man who gave us E.T., Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Indiana Jones, Jurasic Park and many many others great movies, is completing 66 today.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Spielberg.
A DIRECTOR IN ACTION:
Steven Allan Spielberg was born on December 18, 1946, in Cincinnati, Ohio, to a Jewish family. His mother, Leah Adler (née Posner, 1920– ), was a restaurateur and concert pianist, and his father, Arnold Spielberg (1917– ), was an electrical engineer involved in the development of computers. He spent his childhood in Haddon Township, New Jersey, where he saw one of his first films in a theater, as well as in Scottsdale, Arizona. Throughout his early teens, Spielberg made amateur 8 mm “adventure” films with his friends, the first of which he shot at the Pinnacle Peak Patio restaurant in Scottsdale. He charged admission (25 cents) to his home films (which involved the wrecks he staged with his Lionel train set) while his sister sold popcorn.
In 1958, he became a Boy Scout, and fulfilled a requirement for the photography merit badge by making a nine-minute 8 mm film entitled “The Last Gunfight”. At age thirteen, Spielberg won a prize for a 40-minute war film he titled “Escape to Nowhere” which was based on a battle in east Africa. In 1963, at age sixteen, Spielberg wrote and directed his first independent film, a 140-minute science fiction adventure called “Firelight” (which would later inspire Close Encounters). The film, which had a budget of US$500, was shown in his local cinema and generated a profit of $1.
After his parents divorced, he moved to Saratoga, California with his father. His three sisters and mother remained in Arizona. As an intern and guest of Universal Studios, Spielberg made his first short film for theatrical release, the 26-minute “Amblin'” (1968), the title of which Spielberg later took as the name of his production company, Amblin Entertainment. After Sidney Sheinberg, then the vice-president of production for Universal’s TV arm, saw the film, Spielberg became the youngest director ever to be signed for a long-term deal with a major Hollywood studio (Universal). He dropped out of Long Beach State in 1969 to take up the television director contract at Universal Studios and began his career as a professional director. His first professional TV job came when he was hired to direct one of the segments for the 1969 pilot episode of “Night Gallery”. The segment, “Eyes,” starred Joan Crawford, and she and Spielberg were reportedly close friends until her death.
Based on the strength of his work, Universal signed Spielberg to do four TV films. The first was a Richard Matheson adaptation called “Duel”. The film is about a psychotic Peterbilt 281 tanker truck driver who chases a terrified driver (Dennis Weaver) of a small Plymouth Valiant and tries to run him off the road. Spielberg will be back to the road in his debut feature film “The Sugarland Express”, about a married couple who are chased by police as the couple tries to regain custody of their baby. The film marks the first collaboration between Spielberg and composer John Williams. Studio producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown offered Spielberg the director’s chair for Jaws, a thriller-horror film based on the Peter Benchley novel about an enormous killer shark. Spielberg has often referred to the gruelling shoot as his professional crucible. Despite the film’s ultimate, enormous success, it was nearly shut down due to delays and budget over-runs. But Spielberg persevered and finished the film. It was an enormous hit, winning three Academy Awards (for editing, original score and sound) and grossing more than $470 million worldwide at the box office. “Jaws” made him a household name, as well as one of America’s youngest multi-millionaires, and allowed Spielberg a great deal of autonomy for his future projects. It was nominated for Best Picture and featured Spielberg’s first of three collaborations with actor Richard Dreyfuss.
Rejecting offers to direct “Jaws 2”, “King Kong” and “Superman”, Spielberg and actor Richard Dreyfuss re-convened to work on a film about UFOs, which became “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977), one of the rare films both written and directed by Spielberg. This second blockbuster helped to secure Spielberg’s rise. His next film, “1941”, a big-budgeted World War II farce, was not successful and Spielberg then revisited his Close Encounters project and, with financial backing from Columbia Pictures, released “Close Encounters: The Special Edition” in 1980.
Next, Spielberg teamed with “Star Wars” creator and friend George Lucas on an action adventure film, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, the first of the Indiana Jones films. The archaeologist and adventurer hero Indiana Jones was played by Harrison Ford (whom Lucas had previously cast in his “Star Wars” films as Han Solo). A year later, Spielberg returned to the science fiction genre with “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial”. It was the story of a young boy and the alien he befriends, who was accidentally left behind by his companions and is attempting to return home.
His next directorial feature was the Raiders prequel “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”. Teaming up once again with Lucas and Ford, it was on this project that Spielberg also met his future wife, actress Kate Capshaw. In 1985, Spielberg released “The Color Purple”, an adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, about a generation of empowered African-American women during depression-era America. In 1987, as China began opening to Western capital investment, Spielberg shot the first American film in Shanghai since the 1930s, an adaptation of J. G. Ballard’s autobiographical novel “Empire of the Sun”, starring John Malkovich and a young Christian Bale.
After two forays into more serious dramatic films, Spielberg then directed the third Indiana Jones film, 1989’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. Once again teaming up with Lucas and Ford, Spielberg also cast actor Sean Connery in a supporting role as Indy’s father. Also in 1989, he re-united with actor Richard Dreyfuss for the romantic comedy-drama “Always”, about a daredevil pilot who extinguishes forest fires. Spielberg’s first romantic film, “Always” was only a moderate success and had mixed reviews.
In 1991, Spielberg directed “Hook”, about a middle-aged Peter Pan, played by Robin Williams, who returns to Neverland. In 1993, Spielberg returned to the adventure genre with the film version of Michael Crichton’s novel “Jurassic Park”, about a theme park with genetically engineered dinosaurs. With revolutionary special effects provided by friend George Lucas’s Industrial Light & Magic company, the film would eventually become the highest grossing film of all time (at the worldwide box office) with $914.7 million. Spielberg’s next film, “Schindler’s List”, was based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a man who risked his life to save 1,100 Jews from the Holocaust. “Schindler’s List” earned Spielberg his first Academy Award for Best Director (it also won Best Picture).
In 1994, Spielberg took a hiatus from directing to spend more time with his family and build his new studio, DreamWorks, with partners Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen. In 1997, he helmed the sequel to 1993’s Jurassic Park with “The Lost World: Jurassic Park”. His next theatrical release in that same year was the World War II film “Saving Private Ryan”, about a group of U.S. soldiers led by Capt. Miller (Tom Hanks) sent to bring home a paratrooper whose three older brothers were killed in the last twenty four hours of action in France. In 2001, Spielberg filmed fellow director and friend Stanley Kubrick’s final project, “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” which Kubrick was unable to begin during his lifetime. A futuristic film about a humanoid android longing for love, “A.I.” featured groundbreaking visual effects and a multi-layered, allegorical storyline, adapted by Spielberg himself. Spielberg and actor Tom Cruise collaborated for the first time for the futuristic neo-noir “Minority Report”, based upon the science fiction short story written by Philip K. Dick about a Washington D.C. police captain in the year 2054 who has been foreseen to murder a man he has not yet met.
Spielberg’s 2002 film “Catch Me If You Can” is about the daring adventures of a youthful con artist played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Spielberg collaborated again with Tom Hanks along with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Stanley Tucci in 2004’s “The Terminal”, a warm-hearted comedy about a man of Eastern European descent who is stranded in an airport. Also in 2005, Spielberg directed a modern adaptation of “War of the Worlds” (a co-production of Paramount and DreamWorks), based on the H. G. Wells book of the same name (Spielberg had been a huge fan of the book and the original 1953 film). It starred Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning, and, as with past Spielberg films, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) provided the visual effects. Unlike “E.T.” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, which depicted friendly alien visitors, “War of the Worlds” featured violent invaders. Spielberg’s film “Munich”, about the events following the 1972 Munich Massacre of Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games.
Spielberg directed “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”, which wrapped filming in October 2007 and was released on May 22, 2008. In early 2009, Spielberg shot the first film in a planned trilogy of motion capture films based on “The Adventures of Tintin”, written by Belgian artist Hergé, with Peter Jackson. “The Adventures of Tintin”, was not released until October 2011, due to the complexity of the computer animation involved. Spielberg followed that with “War Horse”, based on the novel of the same name written by Michael Morpurgo and published in 1982, follows the long friendship between a British boy and his horse Joey before and during World War I. Spielberg next directed the historical drama film “Lincoln”, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as United States President Abraham Lincoln and Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln. Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s bestseller Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, the film covered the final four months of Lincoln’s life and was released in November 2012.