George Stevens Jr.’s early life was fascinating: as the son of director George Stevens, he was attending the Oscars before he was a teenager, having dinner with Elizabeth Taylor before either of them turned 20, Helping his father to “Shane,” driving with James Dean in his ill-fated Porsche Spyder, and even directing the second unit for his father’s film “The Diary of Anne Frank” in Amsterdam. are.
Not surprisingly, Stevens Jr.’s new memoir, “My Place in the Sun: Life in the Golden Age of Hollywood and Washington,” is full of insanely entertaining anecdotes, ranging from legends from Katharine Hepburn to Cecil B. DeMille. If it was just celebrity encounters, though, the book would have felt like a sweet dessert of name-dropping.
Stevens Jr. uses not only his father’s story—including “A Place in the Sun” and “Giant”, but also historical footage shot on D-Day, Berlin, and the liberation of Dachau—where Came from to illuminate their own values. Once out of his father’s shadow, he lived a full and lucrative life of his own. (Stevens Jr. was never angry and says, “The most satisfying job I’ve ever done was making the documentary “George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey.”)
Stevens Jr. served as the Edward R. Produced 300 short documentary films for Murrow. Films included a march on Washington, the Oscar-nominated “The Five Cities of June,” which touched on everything from the fight for unification to John Kennedy’s famous speech in Berlin, and the Oscar-winning “Nine from Little Rock.” ,
Determined to take filmmaking seriously as an art form, Stevens Jr. then founded the American Film Institute, an institution that taught, celebrated and preserved films. He also founded the Kennedy Center Honors and produced events such as the 2008 inauguration of Barack Obama. Along the way, he became close friends with Bobby and Ethel Kennedy, winning Emmys for writing and producing “The Murder of Mary Fagan” and writing and directing “Separate But Equal”, a play about Thurgood Marshall. wrote.
Stevens Jr recently spoke via video from his porch in the capital’s Georgetown area. Now 90, he exudes a low-key fascination for looking back on both his and his father’s achievements. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
> Your book is full of fascinating stories. Were you conscious of trying to make this more than a series of amusing anecdotes?
There was a lot of discovery in writing the book – there are moments in life that you miss but when you look back on them, they have a consequence you don’t understand.
I remember riding home from the Academy Awards with my father after winning for “A Place in the Sun.” Oscar was in our middle seat and he said, “We’ll have a better idea of what kind of picture this is in about 25 years.” He understood that films needed to stand the test of time. What he didn’t realize was that he was talking to a future founder of the American Film Institute, for whom the test of time—in terms of Life Achievement Awards and preservation of classic films—became a defining characteristic. So, looking back, there’s a significance to this that I didn’t take credit for when it happened.
> Before moving from Hollywood to Washington, you worked for your father in films like ‘Shane’ and ‘Anne Frank’. Were you worried about escaping that “son of George” tag?
I was questioning whether I would be able to live up to his level or would I dedicate my life to become the second best film director in my family. But he was so wonderful and I had great respect for his skill, taste and intuition so I was enjoying what he was doing. I wouldn’t trade for anything at that time.
It was not planned for John Kennedy and Ed Murrow to go to work. I once rejected Muro. It was a roll of the dice. I went to see Murrow in Washington. He said that he really wanted my verdict by the end of the day. I went to the Lincoln Memorial—where I later filmed the March on Washington and produced the Millennium Show on New Year’s Eve in 1999, and then Obama’s inauguration ceremony in 2008. Then I went to the Washington Monument. When I got to the top I said, “Okay, let’s go.” It was not calculated in detail.
> You made some powerful films for the USIA but they are all ultimately pro-American, while the Kennedy administration, the FBI and the CIA were involved in some less likable actions at home and abroad at the time. Were you worried about being part of the hype machine?
Having Ed Murrow as my chief, I was nourished by his ease of leadership, purpose and integrity. He adopted the word propaganda, which comes from propaganda of the faith, saying that we would tell America’s story with mass and all.
This made it much easier for me to accept that we were doing the right thing. I was working under him and I had such faith in the Kennedy Presidency. And I was young – I don’t think I had any doubts. The first time I felt there was pressure to make a film about more Vietnam after Ed left. I believed in Kennedy’s strategy there. But there came a point during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency when we were asked to make this film and I had come to question what was happening in Vietnam, so it was time for me to move on.
> How long did it take you to achieve your goal of taking film as an art form seriously?
When I came to Washington, the people there only knew about Alfred Hitchcock and DeMille because they appeared in public. When Congress introduced legislation to create the National Endowment for the Arts, they listed painting, poetry, and literature, but not film, as the indigenous arts of the Americas. I called Senator Hubert Humphrey and said, “How can you not include the movie?” So he added it.
We started AFI in 1967 and I would say the climate changed around 1980. It was not only because of AFI, but I think in those years the awareness and appreciation of the film – and of the people making the film, not just the movie stars – quadrupled.
> You became close to Bobby Kennedy. Do you consider his murder to be more harmful to America’s future than the murder of his brother or Martin Luther King?
As hard as it is to imagine anything worse than those murders, I think Bobby’s death was a major tragedy. It’s partly because he was the last of the three so it felt like there was no return. But it was also because he possessed the qualities that would enable him to bring together the working class, the poor, the youth, to draw the whole country together.