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U.S.LIFE > People > Biographies of Famous Americans > Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg is the most successful director of our age and one of the most acclaimed of any era. His movies amuse and amaze us, startle and move us, make us laugh, cry, think and dream-in some cases all at once. In the 100 or so years that the world has been going to the movies "no director or producer has ever put together a more popular body of work," wrote Roger Ebert in Time magazine, which at the end of the 20th century named him the most influential person of his generation. "That's why the movies we're now seeing are made in his image," continued Ebert. That image, powerful, dynamic and wondrous, was first outlined by his feature debut in 1974, The Sugarland Express, and subsequently enriched and refined by hit after hit, masterpiece after masterpiece: Jaws (1975); Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977); Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and its sequels Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989); E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982); The Color Purple (1985); Empire of the Sun (1987); Jurassic Park (1993); Schindler's List (1993); Saving Private Ryan (1998); A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001); Minority Report (2002); Catch Me If You Can (2002); War of the Worlds (2005); and Munich (2005).

Spielberg has been nominated for six Academy Awards for Best Director, winning twice, for Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan. Seven of his films have been nominated for Best Picture (Schindler's List won). As a producer, he's also been honored with the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. He is the director who defined the modern summer blockbuster with Jaws, made dinosaurs walk the earth in Jurassic Park, introduced us to both present and future aliens and robots in Close Encounters, E.T., and A.I.; and created a true adventure hero in Indiana Jones, at a time when the cinema was filled with anti heroes. He is also the man whose most powerful films portray deeply flawed people; explore slavery and racism; war and the Holocaust; loneliness and friendship; terrorism; the search for identity and the quest for freedom. His has depicted the human comedy in comedy, fantasy, adventure and drama. "Steven's passion and enthusiasm for ideas and for human understanding is very much what fuels his work," says Harrison Ford.

His films, particularly the early ones, often focused on children and young people. When young, he focused on making films: amateur 8 mm adventure and horror movies, often featuring his family and friends. His first professional short film was Amblin', which later became the moniker for his production company, Amblin Entertainment. He left California State University in Long Beach early (although he returned four years ago to finish his degree) to accept a television directing contract with Universal Studios, which resulted in the cult Joan Crawford segment of "Night Gallery" as well as episodes for such '60s classics "Marcus Welby, M.D.", "Name of the Game", "Columbo" and one of the classic made-for-television movies, "Duel", first broadcast in 1971. That led to The Sugarland Express and then to Jaws. Famously a disaster-in-the-making, Jaws won three Oscars (editing, score and sound), grossed over $100 million (the first film to do so) and scared more people than anything that had come before. Its musical theme became synonymous for unbearable suspense and horror, and its composer, John Williams, became Spielberg's lifelong collaborator. As the first summer blockbuster, Jaws changed our movie-going habits and transformed Hollywood forever.

Refusing to direct a sequel, he turned his attention from the seas to the skies and created the classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Another hit, another John Williams soundtrack, and his first nomination for directing. (It was honored for Vilmos Zsigmond's luminous cinematography and for Sound Effects editing. Much more great work was still ahead, of course.) The Indiana Jones films are landmarks of action movies. E.T. is many people's favorite fantasy film and the top-grossing film of all time for many years. The Color Purple was nominated for 11 Oscars. Jurassic Park set new standards for visual effects and breathless adventure and was released the same year as Schindler's List, a watershed film in his career. It was huge at the box office, and it was listed by the American Film Institute as one of the 10 Greatest Films Ever Made.

Spielberg co-founded the first new major Hollywood Studio with Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, Dream Works, which released its first picture in 1997, Amistad, based on the true story about the ship carrying enslaved Africans, who rebel against their captors. Next came Saving Private Ryan and another directing Oscar, and his massive co-production of "Band of Brothers" for HBO, which was acclaimed as one of television's greatest triumphs and showered with Golden Globe and Emmy awards. In this young century Spielberg has already produced what Billy Wilder described as the "most underrated film of the past few years," A.I., Stanley Kubrick's final unrealized project; two Tom Cruise blockbusters, War of the Worlds and Minority Report; and most recently, the stunningly controversial Munich, which was nominated for five Academy Awards.

For Spielberg, movies are his passion, and his compassion has made him a generous philanthropist. His projects include Starbright World, which helps hospitalized children; Righteous Persons Foundation, which distributes the profits from the film Schindler's List, and Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which he founded to chronicle the testimony of Holocaust survivors. Spielberg is an entertainer, an artist and a humanist. The majority of his films "work on every level that a film can reach," wrote Ebert, because Spielberg has a "direct line to our subconscious."

This information was provided courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.


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