10 Things You Didn’t Know About Steven Spielberg
If someone asked you to name the first film director that jumped into your mind, Steven Spielberg would likely be the one. Movies like ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and ‘Jaws’ have become required viewing for every self-respecting film buff. In addition to creating the modern movie blockbuster, Spielberg’s work has become the measuring stick by which all great mainstream films are measured (okay, maybe not ’1941’). His latest film, ‘Lincoln,’ hit the theaters to rave reviews. Let’s take a look at some interesting facts about one of Hollywood’s most famous and interesting filmmakers.
1. He got the idea for ‘E.T.’ from a horror movie
Spielberg’s iconic sci-fi adventure became an instant classic and one of the most beloved movies of all time. However, it got off to an interesting start that could’ve made it a less family-friendly film.
Spielberg was filming in Tunisia for ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ when he received a script from screenwriter and director John Sayles called ‘Watch the Skies.’ It told a gruesome and dark horror story about a rural family being terrorized by aliens from another world. He originally wanted to do a horror movie about aliens but he had second thoughts after reading the gruesome script that featured the invaders dissecting a cow and a human in the same fashion. However, a scene about one of the smaller aliens being left behind as the spaceship flees Earth caught his attention. He developed the idea for ‘E.T.’ from this final scene and it became the opening for his less scary and far sweeter alien movie.
2. He was rejected twice for the James Bond franchise
Spielberg has a lifelong love of film, particularly the James Bond movies. He’s also made no secret of the fact that he always wanted to a direct a Bond film. Surprisingly, he got two chances to make his pitch and got a flat “No” both times from longtime producer Albert R. Broccoli.
According to Broccoli’s daughter Barbara who took over the producer role following her father’s death, Spielberg first got a chance to meet Albert just as he was starting to get his foot in the door of the film industry. Broccoli liked the young lad’s passion and drive but felt he didn’t have enough experience. Barbara said his father told the young Spielberg, “Kid, ya gotta get some more [films] under your belt.” Then just after Spielberg released one of his greatest films, ‘Schindler’s List,’ he sent a letter to Broccoli asking again if he could direct a Bond movie. Broccoli turned him down again by replying, “Now I can’t afford you.”
3. He was never paid for his work on ‘Schindler’s List’
Spielberg’s harrowing and uplifting tale of Oskar Schindler, the German businessman who saved the lives of over 1,100 Jews during the Holocaust, wasn’t just one of his most critically acclaimed movies — it’s also one of his most personal.
That’s why he has never accepted a dime for his work on the film or from its profits, according to an interview he gave to Katie Couric on ‘The Today Show.’ He described any money he would have received for the film as “blood money” and chose instead to donate his salary and all of his future profits from the film to The Shoah Foundation.
4. He owns the only remaining sled from ‘Citizen Kane’
Spielberg might be Hollywood’s most famous and successful director but he’s always been a lover of film first and foremost. And that spirit didn’t die when he became Hollywood royalty.
An avid collector of movie memorabilia, Spielberg’s most impressive collectible comes from Orson Welles’ most memorable film. Two Yankee Clipper sleds were made for the filming of ‘Citizen Kane’ in 1941, a prop that becomes a centerpiece for the film’s central story and theme. Spielberg bought the sole surviving sled that wasn’t burned at an auction in 1986 for $60,500.
5. He bought several classic stars’ Oscars just so he could give them back to the Academy
In addition to “Rosebud,” Spielberg owns one of the most sought after movie collectibles: several Oscar statues, not counting the ones that he won for ‘Schindler’s List’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan.’
He purchased the Best Actor award that Clark Gable won in 1934 for his role in ‘It Happened One Night’ and two of the Best Actress awards that Bette Davis won for her work in ‘Dangerous’ and ‘Jezebel.’ However, he didn’t keep them for his collection. Instead, he donated them to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as a generous effort to preserve film history.
6. He once pulled a prank on George Lucas with the shark from ‘Jaws’
As fellow USC students, Spielberg and Lucas have been old friends long before the two achieved success with their respective movie careers. They’ve had their share of successful collaborations (Indiana Jones, anyone?), but they’ve also had their fair share of rivalries like the day Spielberg invited Lucas to get an up close view of the mechanical sea beast for one of his most famous movies.
According to the book ‘Easy Riders, Raging Bulls,’ Spielberg’s team had just finished building the giant mechanical shark they planned to use in the movie that they dubbed “Bruce” (the name came from Spielberg’s lawyer). Lucas came to the set to check up on his old friend and Spielberg invited him to get a closer look at his creation. Just as Lucas stuck his head in the shark’s mouth, Spielberg grabbed the controls and closed the shark’s mouth trapping Lucas inside of it. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get the shark’s mouth to open again and after Lucas pried himself out of it, they feared they had broken this very expensive prop. So they ran to their cars and fled the scene. Luckily, ‘Jaws’ looked fine on the big screen.
7. He created the “Medal of Honor” video game series
Spielberg isn’t just a fan of the movies — he’s also a big fan of video games. In fact, Spielberg has had a very deep hand in creating several titles, one of which has become one of the most profitable franchises in gaming history.
Spielberg developed an idea for a WWII shooting game that would become the first “Medal of Honor” game from his Dreamworks’ studio. According to the book ‘Generation Xbox: How Videogames Invaded Hollywood,’ he developed the idea through the studio’s “interactive” division just before he started shooting ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ His hope was to make an interactive story about two brothers fighting in a massive virtual battle that was historically accurate and could do more than fulfill the player’s bloodlust.
The studio head’s felt that the public wasn’t ready for a gritty, realistic game about WWII and the project was shelved. Spielberg brought it back to the drawing board just before ‘Saving Private Ryan’s’ theatrical release as a game that could teach kids who couldn’t see his movie about WWII history. It was released on the Sony PlayStation in 1999 and became a breakout hit with several best-selling sequels under its ammo belt.
8. He was scammed by Bernie Madoff
The famed “client list” of money managing scam artist Bernie Madoff read like a “who’s who” of the financial world. Even Hollywood’s top director made this infamous list.
Spielberg was just one of the many, many billionaires who lost money under Madoff’s crumbling empire. The list doesn’t say how much money Spielberg gave to the disgraced money manager but noted that Madoff took the money through the director’s philanthropic enterprise, the Wunderkinder Foundation. Spielberg’s fellow Dreamworks founder Jeffrey Katzenberg also gave a large sum of money to Madoff that he said “has done extraordinary damage to my philanthropy.”
9. He helped establish the PG-13 rating
A lot of Spielberg’s movies obviously come from his inner child and the kind of movies his younger self would like to see. But some of those visions apparently weren’t all that appropriate for younger viewers.
He said in an interview with Vanity Fair that he came under sharp criticism for some of the scarier and more violent scenes in movies such as ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ and ‘Gremlins,’ which he served as an executive producer for.
Spielberg personally suggested to then Motion Picture Association of America president Jack Valenti that they offer a rating between PG and R that was fairer for films that teenagers could see without having to get their parents’ permission. “I suggested, ‘Let’s call it PG-13 or PG -14, depending on how you want to design the slide rule,’ and Jack came back to me and said, ‘We’ve determined that PG-13 would be the right age for that temperature of movie.’” And filmmakers have been pushing the boundaries of the rating ever since.
10. He cast his own dog in several of his movies
Like any longtime director, Spielberg has a cast of famous actors that he has depended on for several of his movies such as Richard Dreyfuss and Tom Hanks. He has also put his pets to work on some of his most famous movies.
Spielberg’s cocker spaniel Elmer probably has the most number of appearances in his film library than most of the famous actors whose names are on the poster. Elmer appeared in ‘The Sugarland Express,’ ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind,’ ‘1941’ and a memorable scene in ‘Jaws’ as the dog who mysteriously disappears just before the young boy is eaten by the shark.