×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

AFI, Kennedy Center Honors Founder George Stevens Jr. on His Youth Spent on His Father’s Film Sets

Fifty years ago, multiple Emmy Award winner George Stevens Jr. helped found the American Film Institute. The organization’s many activities include the annual AFI Fest and essential preservation efforts as well as televised salutes to top film creatives, which have earned Stevens Jr. two Emmy awards and 15 other nominations as a producer and writer. He came to AFI after growing up on sets where his father created cinematic masterpieces such as “A Place in the Sun,” “Shane” and “Giant.”

In 1961, Stevens Jr. went to Washington, D.C., at the behest of newsman Edward R. Murrow to supervise the film and TV output of the U.S. Information Agency. He later founded the Kennedy Center Honors. His career is filled with awards, including 17 Emmys (10 for his work on the “Kennedy Center Honors” telecasts), a 2013 Honorary Academy Award and eight Writers Guild trophies. He was first mentioned in Variety on Sept. 5, 1951, during the Wyoming location filming of “Shane.”

Variety columnist Mike Connolly reported you were “ablaze” with Alan Ladd’s daughter Carol Lee Ladd.

We were acquainted. “Ablaze” would be an overstatement.

You were still a teenager. What was your role on the production?

I believe my formal title was “company clerk.” What that meant was I kept track of every shot, every camera angle.

This sounds like quite an introduction to filmmaking.

I learned about leadership from my father. It was how he ran his company, how he worked with actors. I learned excellence from him. He gave me a compass, so to speak. But I think the real crucible of my learning was earlier, in the editing room when my father was finishing “A Place in the Sun.” He made his films in the editing room. It came so naturally to me to tell pictures with stories, and I learned how to see performances and how they’re refined and modulated. And I learned pacing.

The editing room on that film was a controlled environment, but is it fair to assume Jackson Hole, Wyo., in 1951 was not?

Almost all great films are an act of war. You’re going to war against long days, bad weather and nervous studio executives. My father developed ulcers on the set of “Shane,” but he concealed his discomfort because he had work to do.

Aside from the hard work, being part of Hollywood in the 1950s must have had its pleasures.

I remember having lunch with Elizabeth Taylor on the Paramount lot the day of her 18th birthday. And I was sitting next to my father the night he won the Oscar for “A Place in the Sun.” I remember driving home that night with Oscar on the backseat of the car between my mother and grandmother. I was so excited. And my father said, “We’ll have a better idea what kind of film this is in about 25 years.”

So you were absorbing filmmaking lessons they never teach in film schools.

I got my acting work permit when I was 2 years old on an “Our Gang” comedy. By the time I was working on my father’s films, I was already seeing the world through the eyes of film directors of that time — people like Billy Wilder, William Wyler, Fred Zinnemann and John Huston. Years later, I wrote a long, verbose, windy request letter to Huston [asking him] to help us with a USIA film. Huston put my verbosity to shame with a two-word reply: “Of course.”

Any other George Stevens films that you’re fond of?

When I was a kid, I used to run a 16mm print of “Gunga Din” over and over at our house.

That was an influential film for so many filmmakers.

Well, we know that Steven Spielberg watched it!

More Vintage

  • Sesame Street PBS

    'Sesame Street' Was First Brought to You by the Letters PBS 50 Years Ago

    “Sesame Street” bowed 50 years ago, on Nov. 10, 1969, one week after the launch of PBS. A month later, Variety reporter Les Brown gushed, “It may be just the show to put public television on the ratings map.”  He was right. “Sesame Street” drew 1.9 million households — especially impressive since it was seen [...]

  • Eckhart Schmidt

    German Filmmaker Eckhart Schmidt's Career Took Off in 1968 With 'Jet Generation'

    When German filmmaker Eckhart Schmidt’s 1982 romantic shock thriller “The Fan” plays the prestigious Thessaloniki Festival this year, it’s a culmination of the film’s long multi-decade road back from critical disdain and commercial obscurity as well as a sweet vindication for the obstreperous octogenarian film artist and critic. The Munich-based Schmidt’s iconoclastic career has taken [...]

  • Beau Bridges

    Beau Bridges on His Mentors: UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden and His Father

    Three-time Emmy-winner Beau Bridges is in his eighth decade of professional acting. His name first appeared in Variety when he was just 6, in a March 29, 1948, review of the Arthur Miller play “All My Sons” at the Las Palmas Theatre in Hollywood. The reviewer enthused, “One of the highlights of the first act [...]

  • Angela Lansbury

    Angela Lansbury's Remarkable Career Spans 75 Years Across Films, TV and the Stage

    An old bromide says powerful women are always threatening. Disproving that: Angela Lansbury, who in a 75-year career has earned only admiration and affection. During the 1984-96 run of “Murder, She Wrote,” she quietly and peacefully increased her control over the series, which CBS and Universal TV were happy to give her; Variety pointed out [...]

  • Tyler Perry

    Tyler Perry on Building His Production Empire and How 'Ownership Is Non-Negotiable'

    Long before Tyler Perry entered Hollywood, he built an audience through plays that he wrote, produced and often starred in. His strategy was spurred by his pursuit of ownership, and he says his prayers led him to create and showcase stories about religion, family and their triumphs over worldly evils. Since then, he has built [...]

  • Bruce Springsteen

    The Boss at 70: A Look Back at Bruce Springsteen's Early Years

    In a March 6, 1973, review of Blood, Sweat & Tears at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Variety briefly praised the opening act: Bruce Springsteen was “a young man with a hot guitar from Asbury Park, N.J.” If you substitute the word “ageless” for “young” — the Boss turned 70 on Sept. 23 — the description [...]

  • Bullitt Rexford Metz Cinematographer

    Second-Unit DP Rexford Metz Took to the Sky and Water for Memorable Shots

    King of the second-unit cinematographers, Rexford Metz is second to none when it comes to getting shots on the ground, in water or high in the sky.  He operated the camera during the famed 10-minute chase sequence in “Bullitt” on the streets of San Francisco in 1968, and it was his coverage of muscle cars [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content