Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg: A Biography, Second Edition

Joseph McBride
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 640
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  • Book Info
    Steven Spielberg
    Book Description:

    Until the first edition of Steven Spielberg: A Biography was published in 1997, much about Spielberg's personality and the forces that shaped it had remained enigmatic, in large part because of his tendency to obscure and mythologize his own past. But in this first full-scale, in-depth biography of Spielberg, Joseph McBride reveals hidden dimensions of the filmmaker's personality and shows how deeply personal even his most commercial work has been.This new edition adds four chapters to Spielberg's life story, chronicling his extraordinarily active and creative period from 1997 to the present, a period in which he has balanced his executive duties as one of the partners in the film studio DreamWorks SKG with a remarkable string of films as a director. Spielberg's ambitious recent work--including Amistad, Saving Private Ryan, A. I. Artifucial Intelligence, Minority Report, The Terminal and Munich--has continually expanded his range both stylistically and in terms of adventurous, often controversial, subject matter.Steven Spielberg: A Biography brought about a reevaluation of the great filmmaker's life and work by those who viewed him as merely a facile entertainer. This new edition guides readers through the mature artistry of Spielberg's later period in which he manages, against considerable odds, to run a successful studio while maintaining and enlarging his high artistic standards as one of America's most thoughtful, sophisticated, and popular filmmakers.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-837-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-6)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 7-10)
  3. Prologue: “Cecil B. DeSpielberg”
    (pp. 11-15)

    A searchlight swept the night sky of downtown Phoenix as a limousine pulled up under the theater marquee. The director and his stars stepped out, bedazzled by the glare of strobes and exploding flashbulbs. Inside, a packed house awaited the world premiere of a science-fiction epic from American Artist Productions. For the next two hours and fifteen minutes, the audience watched enrapt at the spectacle of mysterious colored lights emerging from the heavens to abduct humans for an extraterrestrial zoo. At the night’s end, the box-office take from that screening at the Phoenix Little Theatre, at seventy-five cents a head,...

  4. One “How wondrous are Thy works”
    (pp. 16-34)

    The child’s eyes were wide with awe as he was borne from the surrounding darkness toward the red light burning before the Ark of the Torah. Framed in a colonnaded marble arch inlaid with gold and blue, the Ark’s wooden doors were hidden by a curtain that glistened in the candlelight with an alluring, unfathomable aura of mystery. Under the domed skylight with a bronze chandelier hanging from a Star of David, the child in his stroller was pushed down the blue-carpeted aisle. From all around he could hear the chanting of elders in beards and black hats, swaying rhythmically...

  5. Two “Mazik”
    (pp. 35-49)

    Steven Allan Spielberg’s birth certificate shows that he was born at Cincinnati’s Jewish Hospital at 6:16 p.m. on December 18, 1946—not December 18, 1947, as has often been reported.

    Just why Spielberg has felt it expedient to appear a year younger than his true age throughout most of his Hollywood career became a matter of controversy in 1995, when the issue provoked an exchange of lawsuits between Spielberg and one of his former producers, Denis C. Hoffman. But the truth about his age was not entirely unknown over the years. In 1981, when Patricia Goldstone, a freelance feature writer...

  6. Three “Meshuggeneh”
    (pp. 50-65)

    It was early 1952 in Camden, New Jersey, when Steven Spielberg, who had just turned five, first went to a movie theater.

    “My father told me he was taking me to see a circus movie,” he remembered. “Well, I didn’t hear the wordmovie, I only heard the wordcircus. So we stood in line for an hour and a half and I thought I was going to see a circus. I’d already been once before to a circus and I knew what to expect: the elephants, the lion tamer, the fire, the clowns. And to go into this big...

  7. Four “A wimp in a world of jocks”
    (pp. 66-93)

    Looking back on his childhood, Spielberg always has thought of Arizona as “my real home. For a kid, home is where you have your best friends and your first car, and your first kiss; it’s where you do your worst stuff and get your best grades.”

    Arizona was also the place where Steven’s family ties grew increasingly strained, almost to the breaking point, turning him more and more inward for emotional sustenance. And, most important, Arizona was the place where he set his sights on becoming a filmmaker. One of his boyhood friends in Phoenix, Jim Sollenberger, recalls Spielberg saying...

  8. Five “Big Spiel”
    (pp. 94-111)

    Because of its spaceage design, students in Spielberg’s day called Arcadia High School “Disneyland.” Campus life centered around “The Flying Saucer,” a circular library building raised up on stilts—today the building is often referred to as “E.T.’s spaceship.” Affluent and bustling, the two-year-old Phoenix high school already had a strong reputation in both academics and athletics when Steve entered as a freshman in September 1961. He was one of 1,539 students, and by the time he moved to California in his junior year, the enrollment had increased to 2,200. In those days, Arcadia was “a typical suburban middle-to-upper-class white...

  9. Six “Hell on Earth”
    (pp. 112-134)

    Spielberg began his unofficial Hollywood apprenticeship at Universal in the summer of 1964, following his junior year in high school in northern California. His mentor, Chuck Silvers, recalls that the ambitious teenager gradually “worked out his own curriculum” on the lot, visiting sets and kibitzing with editors and sound mixers. Silvers offered Steven a place to hang out in the television editorial building, provided he could justify his presence by helping in the office for a few hours every day: “I said to him, ‘There’s a certain amount of scut work you can do that’s not involved with the union.’...

  10. Seven “A hell of a big break”
    (pp. 135-166)

    Although he often has been described as part of “The Film School Generation,” Spielberg never attended film school. Unlike such contemporaries as George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Brian De Palma, who learned their craft at prestigious film schools in the 1960s, Spielberg remained essentially an autodidact. He took the few rudimentary film and television courses then available at California State College at Long Beach, but as he had done from his boyhood beginnings as a maker of 8mm films, Spielberg followed his own eccentric path to a professional directing career.

    Universal Studios, in effect, was Spielberg’s film...

  11. Eight “This tremendous meatgrinder”
    (pp. 167-198)

    They just signed me and told me to imagine up something, which to me is proof that the old Hollywood way of doing things is breaking up a bit,” Spielberg said in a December 1968 interview with theLos Angeles Times. His studio contract felt “like a dream come true,” he later recalled. “At last I had the means to show what I could do. But it was not something I wanted to do for the benefit of others. No, I wanted to do it for myself, for everything I had believed in since I was a child. I could...

  12. Nine “The Steven Spielberg business”
    (pp. 199-225)

    On November 22, 1963, the fantasy and science-fiction writer Richard Matheson was playing golf in Simi Valley, California, when he heard the news that President Kennedy had been assassinated. Matheson and his golfing partner, writer Jerry Sohl, stopped playing and headed back toward Los Angeles. Matheson recalls that as Sohl drove through a narrow canyon, a truck began tailgating them at a dangerously high rate of speed: “I’m sure the emotion with which I reacted to that experience was so much more extreme because we were going through the trauma of the Kennedy assassination. Partially we were terrified, and partially...

  13. Ten “A primal scream movie”
    (pp. 226-260)

    In November 1973, withThe Sugarland Expresscompleted and awaiting release, Spielberg told an American Film Institute seminar that “when you make your first feature in this town, you’re incredibly hot, and if you have a good agent, he’ll make your next three deals—before your film comes out. Then, if your film comes out and it crashes … you’ve got three films in which to redeem yourself. I have a terrific agent [Guy McElwaine], and he has created the greatest hype.… At four studios, he’s got me carte blanche to do whatever I want for a reasonable sum of...

  14. Eleven Watch the skies
    (pp. 261-292)

    Unlike most of the science-fiction movies Spielberg grew up watching,Close Encounters of the Third Kindtakes a benign view of human contact with extraterrestrials. The aliens in Spielberg’s film don’t carry ray guns or threaten to blow up the Planet Earth. They aren’t fire-breathing creatures with horns and tentacles, but childlike figures with spindly limbs, large craniums, and shy, beatific smiles. They are emissaries of goodwill, communicating through a dazzling display of light and music. And they are received in similar spirit. Spielberg’s optimistic vision of interplanetary contact marked a radical departure from the Cold War xenophobia that characterized...

  15. Twelve “Rehab”
    (pp. 293-322)

    I met a real heartbreaker last night,” Spielberg told Julia Phillips while they were working onClose Encounters. The “heartbreaker” was Amy Irving.

    The twenty-two-year-old actress, whose curly-brown-haired, sloe-eyed, high-cheekboned beauty masked an intense and fiercely ambitious nature, had recently returned to California from dramatic studies in London when she met Spielberg in 1976. The daughter of TV producer-director Jules Irving, former artistic director of New York’s Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center, and actress Priscilla Pointer, Amy was of Russian-Jewish ancestry on her father’s side and Welsh-Cherokee on her mother’s, but she was raised as a Christian Scientist. She was...

  16. Thirteen “Ecstasy and grief”
    (pp. 323-358)

    Surrounded by thousands of snakes on a British soundstage, Steven Spielberg was becoming depressed about the movie he was making.Raiders of the Lost Arkwas a mechanical job of work offering few opportunities to express his personal feelings. “Action is wonderful,” he said later, “but while I was doingRaidersI felt I was losing touch with the reason I became a moviemaker—to make stories about people and relationships.” Feeling lonely far away from home and his girlfriend Kathleen Carey, Spielberg yearned to escape into a world of the imagination where he could express the sense of wonder...

  17. Fourteen “Adult truths”
    (pp. 359-378)

    Describing the kind of woman he liked to cast in his movies, Spielberg once said, “Maybe I’ve been searching for the ultimateshiksa.”* He found her when Kate Capshaw walked into his office to read forIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. He was captivated with Kate’s finely sculpted model’s features, lissome figure, and midwestern emotional bluntness. She resembled a corn-fed, all-American, more innocent-seeming version of Julie Christie. Though not a natural blonde, Kate was willing to dye her brown tresses to conform to Spielberg’s fantasy image of ashiksaheroine. Sending her audition tape toTemple of Doom...

  18. Fifteen “An awfully big adventure”
    (pp. 379-413)

    A week before Max was born in 1985, Spielberg vowed that “the child is going to change my life…. I want to be like most parents. I want to drive home in bumper-to-bumper commuter traffic, which means I’ve got to leave the office by five-thirty to hit the peak traffic hours. And that’s going to change everything I do.’ Fatherhood did bring profound changes to his life. “Steven’s a great father—I sometimes can’t get him to go back to work!” Amy said when Max was a year old. “He’s cut his work week to four days; he doesn’t want...

  19. Sixteen Mensch
    (pp. 414-448)

    When he went to Poland in 1993 to makeSchindler’s List, Spielberg was “hit in the face with my personal life. My upbringing. My Jewishness. The stories my grandparents told me about the Shoah. And Jewish life came pouring back into my heart. I cried all the time.” The anguish he felt while makingSchindler’s Listwas translated directly to the screen. While immersed in his re-creation of the Holocaust, the viewer can readily understand why the filmmaker felt “constantly sickened” and “frightened every day” on location in Poland. To the almost overwhelming burden of paying witness to the history...

  20. Seventeen Mogul and director
    (pp. 449-468)

    Turning their new multimedia company, DreamWorks SKG, from a dream into a reality proved far more difficult than Steven Spielberg and his partners imagined. The grand vision Spielberg laid out in 1994 of “a place driven by ideas and the people who have them,” an innovative twenty-first-century studio encompassing all forms of moving imagery on a high-tech, cutting-edge “campus,” collided with some of the oldest obstacles in the business. Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen found their goal of total independence from the Hollywood system frustratingly elusive, but as Spielberg juggled his responsibilities as a mogul with his primary career...

  21. Eighteen Mainstream independent
    (pp. 469-486)

    Spielberg’s most influential public activity in the late 1990s and the early years of the new century was not his acceptance of the knighthood and the other honors he received for his work but his political support of Democratic candidates, especially Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Spielberg became friendly with Clinton and often had him as a house guest in the Pacific Palisades. Spielberg was also Clinton’s guest at the White House, and DreamWorks was conceived while the partners were in Washington attending a White House dinner for Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Clinton attended the Washington premiere ofAmistad...

  22. Nineteen Light in the darkness
    (pp. 487-504)

    I barely recognize this country anymore,” a character laments in one of the films Spielberg made in the aftermath of 9/11. And that is from one of hislighterfilms,Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Even in his “entertainments,” Spielberg addressed the national trauma and the repressive political climate of the George W. Bush–Dick Cheney era with a pointed and probing intensity. The attacks on the United States and the ensuing assaults on American civil liberties were reflected metaphorically (and sometimes more overtly) in film after film as Spielberg questioned what had become of his...

  23. Twenty “400-pound gorilla”
    (pp. 505-532)

    Being able to make a film such asMunich, which confronts the audience with difficult, if not intractable, moral questions, is one of the major reasons Spielberg values his commercial success and jealously guards his independence. He fully anticipated the firestorm of animosity the film provoked. Before committing to direct it, he repeatedly turned down the project, which had been developed by producer Barry Mendel and brought to him by Kathleen Kennedy. He said, “I’ll leave it to somebody else, somebody braver than me.” But he has earned the ability to speak his mind on subjects that concern him and...

  24. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 533-538)
    Joseph McBride
  25. Notes on Sources
    (pp. 539-546)
  26. Chapter Notes
    (pp. 547-596)
  27. Filmography and ideography
    (pp. 597-607)
  28. Index
    (pp. 608-640)