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The Life of Film's Living Legend Steven Spielberg

Aired June 23, 2001 - 11:30   ET



ANNOUNCER (voice-over): Cherries, a pressure cooker, and his mother's kitchen were the main ingredients in his very first recipe for special effects.

LEAH ADLER, MOTHER: The cabinets really were ruined. Didn't faze me. I thought, Isn't that neat?

ANNOUNCER: He kept beachgoers around the world out of the water and in theaters with "Jaws," the first movie in history to pass the $100 million mark.

RICHARD DREYFUSS, ACTOR: It was like the culture phenomena of the early '70s.

ANNOUNCER: He brought us "E.T.," "Indiana Jones," and "Private Ryan."

Now get ready for David, the robot with the heart of a boy. The story of Steven Spielberg next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.


DARYN KAGAN, HOST: Welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Daryn Kagan.

He has brought us some of Hollywood's most memorable characters, from hungry sharks to aliens named E.T., to modern-day dinosaurs. And his heroes have names like Jones and Schindler and Ryan.

Now Steven Spielberg unveils his next creation with the release of the much-anticipated "A.I., Artificial Intelligence." Here's the story of Hollywood's master story-teller.



UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Where are we going? Someplace nice?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: They hate us you know. They're humans, they'll stop at nothing.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "A.I., Artificial Intelligence," is the story of a futuristic Pinocchio, an android boy who yearns to be something more, a sense of curiosity is a trait the main character shares with the film's director, Steven Spielberg.

According to the moviemaker's dad, young Steven was curious and active from the very beginning.

ARNOLD SPIELBERG, FATHER: Steve was always a wired kid, if I can say it that way. He was nervous, energetic, curious, always interested in looking at things. But he could never sleep. Whenever we'd go for a little walk, he'd always stop and want to look at things.

MATTINGLY: Arnold Spielberg and his wife, Leah, welcomed their firstborn, Steven, into the world on December 18, 1946. Steven would be the only boy with three younger sisters. Even the dog was female, he'd joke.

Like the families he would portray in his movies, they lived in comfortable middle-class homes in suburban New Jersey and Arizona.

STEVEN SPIELBERG, FILMMAKER: You know, my dad was extremely obsessive about computers and the whole burgeoning computer industry in the early '50s, and my mom played concert piano and was just a terrific pal.

ADLER: I don't know what other houses are like. There was always something happening. You'd get up in the morning, you'd bolt out of bed, and wait to see the next thing about to happen. It was wild.

MATTINGLY: Young Steven was zany, but he was also very fearful.

STEVEN SPIELBERG: I was afraid of small spaces, and I was afraid of the tree outside my window, and I had all these phobias, what was under the bed. I think many kids have those phobias, but I probably had more than most.

MATTINGLY: And Spielberg found an outlet for those many fears.

STEVEN SPIELBERG: My mom and my dad gave me a free rein at expressing myself, up to and including torturing all my sisters, you know, to the point that I did get in trouble for that. And they were my first audience.

ADLER: He cut off the doll's head of Nancy and served it to her one night on a platter, this doll's head on a bed of lettuce, an array of sliced tomatoes.

STEVEN SPIELBERG: I could get them really terrified. It was kind of like having a hit. It was, like, wow, it was great affirmation, you know, that I had told a story that somehow succeeded.

MATTINGLY: But on one of those family camping trips, he would discover another way to get a hit.

ARNOLD SPIELBERG: He said, "Dad, you don't know how to take pictures. Let me have the camera." He says, "You're taking pictures out of the window while the car's going. It's a big blur." And so he fixed that.

STEVEN SPIELBERG: I kind of took it from him to sort of do a better job. At least he was doing -- photographing the summer camping trips that we'd all go on together. The movie camera gave me a tool that I could start to, you know, apply some of this more sadistic behavior into something that was a little bit more entertaining.

MATTINGLY: Once Steven picked up a movie camera, the Spielberg household was never the same. He started writing scripts complete with special effects. Everyone in the family was assigned a role or put on crew call.

ADLER: Steve became a director and a producer from the moment. We all worked for him.

MATTINGLY: As a teenager, Steven Spielberg began making movies about World War II, inspired by stories told to him by his veteran father. When the younger Spielberg was 16, he won an amateur film contest.

ARNOLD SPIELBERG: We dyed some shirts, one color for the Nazis and another color for the allies, and we had a Jeep, and I put on my fatigues and scrunched way down and drive the Jeep leading a column of troops, you know?

ADLER: And some of the mothers were very upset about it. One mother said, "I just don't like -- my child is always out in the desert, and he doesn't do his homework." And now I think they're very excited they were doing a Steven Spielberg film.

MATTINGLY: The Spielbergs had moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, in 1957, where they were the only Jewish family in the neighborhood.

STEVEN SPIELBERG: It's one of those things that I always hate to admit, but I was ashamed of being so different. And I was ashamed of my grandfather calling me by my Hebrew name, Shmuel, which is not the most romantic of Hebrew names I could have been called, you know. Moses, I would have preferred, rather than Shmuel. My God, he would cry out -- you know, I'd be playing, you know, you know, touch football with friends in the -- out across the street, and he'd yell my name, dinner was ready, you know, and he would also speak in Yiddish.

And I think I was just a very insecure kid, in a sense, and I kind of put a big magnifying glass up to myself and said, you know, I'm not as good as anybody else.

MATTINGLY: But he was good at making movies, and at age 16, Steven Spielberg traveled to Los Angeles and visited Universal Studios. When Steven returned to high school, he finished his first feature film, "Firelight," with his own script, actors, and close encounters with mysterious lights that abducted people.

"Firelight" played for just one night, but his family went all out. His father rented a local theater, his mother and sisters sold popcorn and sodas. And Steven Spielberg had his first box office success.

When we continue with the story of Steven Spielberg, the young director takes a huge bite out of the summer box office.


KAGAN: Just when you thought it was safe to take a commercial break, a brief pause for "Passages."

ANNOUNCER: Those were the days. Carroll O'Connor, who managed to make a bigot lovable on TV's "All in the Family," died of a heart attack Thursday. He was 76. Although best known for his award- winning work playing Archie Bunker, O'Connor also earned an Emmy as the sheriff on "In the Heat of the Night."

Legendary blues guitarist John Lee Hooker died of natural causes Thursday at the age of 83. The son of a sharecropping minister, Hooker's distinctive boogies influenced modern-day rockers from the Rolling Stones to Bruce Springsteen to Bonnie Raitt.

Hooker lived and died in San Francisco, although he always remained true to his Mississippi Delta roots.

Baseball's Iron Man is calling it quits. Baltimore's Cal Ripkin Jr., says he's hanging up his glove at the end of the season, his 21st in the majors. Although the popular infielder earned league MVP honors twice and is one of the sport's greatest hitters, he will always be known for his link to Lou Gehrig and The Streak. Ripkin played in 2,632 straight games over a 16-year period, breaking Gehrig's long-standing record. Coincidentally, Ripkin's final game will be where Gehrig made his name, Yankee Stadium.

Even though Cal Ripkin is taken, you can check out "People" magazine's picks for America's top 50 bachelors in this week's special issue. Included among the likes of George Clooney and Russell Crowe, CNN's own sexy, single, and sizzling anchor, Bill Hemmer.

We'll be right back.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): By 1975, the boy who had loved terrifying his three sisters was an up-and-coming director with a chance to scare millions. When he was just 24, he directed "Duel," a critically acclaimed television movie about a killer truck.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I'll take the girl.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MATTINGLY: Three years later, his feature film debut, "Sugarland Express," also dazzled critics. But nothing had prepared him for this giant leap into the water, a mainstream, big-budget movie based on a wildly successful novel about a very hungry shark, "Jaws."

DREYFUSS: It was like the culture phenomena of the early '70s, and everyone was saying, Show me. And within five minutes of the film's beginning, he showed them.

MATTINGLY: Making "Jaws" tested Spielberg in every possible way. The shooting schedule went from 55 days to 155, the budget doubled. But all doubts faded upon "Jaws"' release. It became the first movie in history to gross more than $100 million. And it inspired a new phenomena, the summer blockbuster.

The next Spielberg blockbuster came in 1977, reached into the galaxies with "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." It earned him his first Oscar nomination, and a close encounter of a more romantic kind. Actress Amy Irving auditioned for Spielberg but didn't make the cut. However, soon after, they began an on-again, off-again relationship that would last 13 years. In 1985, they married and had a son, Max. They divorced amicably in 1989.

Steven Spielberg's next big movie came at the suggestion of a close friend and fellow movie-maker, George Lucas.

GEORGE LUCAS, FILMMAKER: He was saying that he wanted to do a James Bond film, and I said, "Oh, well, I've got a project that's just like James Bond, only better, and you'll love it." And I told him the story there on the beach, and he said, "I'll do it."

MATTINGLY: "Raiders of the Lost Ark" hit theaters in 1981. Its James Bond was Indiana Jones, played by Harrison Ford. In all, Spielberg directed three Indiana Jones films and reinvented the old Saturday morning serials he loved so much as a child.


KATE CAPSHAW, ACTRESS: I mean to tell you, just when my career is starting to pay off, you come along.


MATTINGLY: In 1983, Kate Capshaw auditioned for "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom."


HARRISON FORD, ACTOR: You look beautiful.

CAPSHAW: I think the maharajah is swimming in loot. Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea coming here after all.


MATTINGLY: Capshaw got the role, and several years later, the director. She and Spielberg were married in 1991. Their partnership became so important to Spielberg that when he pondered starting a major new business, Capshaw had a say.

JEFFREY KATZENBERG, PARTNER, DREAMWORKS SKG: She turned to me and she said, "So here are my ground rules. Assuming that everything else can get worked out in this, is, you can have him after he takes the kids to school, and you deliver him back here to have dinner with them at night."


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Maybe you just probably imagined it...

HENRY THOMAS, ACTOR: I couldn't have imagined it.


MATTINGLY: The dinners Spielberg remembered from his childhood were immortalized back in the 1982 classic, "E.T.: The Extraterrestrial."

STEVEN SPIELBERG: I always felt alone for some reason, and my mom had her agenda, my dad had his, my sisters had theirs. And I think "E.T.," which certainly defines loneliness from my own perspective, is also about how I felt about my mom and dad when they finally got a divorce.

And along comes this magical entity from who knows where, and makes Elliot's life, for a very small amount of time, complete.

MATTINGLY: Spielberg returned to fantasy with the fantastically successful "Jurassic Park," a 1993 summer blockbuster. Later that same year, he took an abrupt departure from the world of make-believe with the all-too-real "Schindler's List."

BEN KINGSLEY, ACTOR: Off the screen of his films comes, You are in the right cinema at the right time for the right reasons. Watch this. And you remain utterly spellbound.

STEVEN SPIELBERG: "Schindler's List" changed -- altered my life completely, my professional life completely, and certainly in many regards altered me completely, because, you know, it made me believe in something that wasn't a guess about outer space.

MATTINGLY: He says he threw away his director's toolbox and started from scratch. He filmed in black and white, used a handheld camera, and got rid of his storyboards. The film he hadn't expected to make any money grossed $321 million dollars worldwide and was hailed as a masterpiece.

The original book had been given to him by his first mentor, Sid Sheinberg.

SID SHEINBERG, FORMER PRESIDENT, MGA/UNIVERSAL: There were many in the Hollywood community who were rooting against him. I think the subconscious reaction is, if a man has been so successful financially, and so successful becoming a pop hero, do the movie gods really need to also make him so successful as a creative genius in filmmaking? And people no longer raise that question. I don't hear anybody wondering today, you know, whether Steven can make any kind of a picture.


QUESTION: How do you feel about people saying that this is the film that will probably win you an Oscar?

STEVEN SPIELBERG: Oh, I don't know.

QUESTION: Thank you.


MATTINGLY: In the end, Spielberg won two, an Oscar for best director and best picture. He served as the film's producer as well.

STEVEN SPIELBERG: These were lives that were spared from the Holocaust and lived to tell about it.

MATTINGLY: Spielberg took home Oscars but not his profits from "Schindler's List." Instead, he funneled them into projects like the Shoah Foundation. The foundation allows Holocaust survivors to take their place in history along with Oskar Schindler's 1,100.

STEVEN SPIELBERG: The crime changed the world, and I'm simply, with my Shoah Foundation, trying to continue to remind people that it did change the world, and we have to now take responsibility for those changes and make our children remember why that was such an important time.

MATTINGLY: By 2001, the Shoah Foundation had taped over 50,000 interviews with Holocaust survivors and produced three documentaries. One, "The Last Days," was awarded the Oscar for best documentary feature in 1999.

When we continue with the story of Steven Spielberg...

ED BURNS, ACTOR: He told us, you know, from the time he was 12 years old, he's always wanted to make a war picture.

MATTINGLY: Hollywood storyteller captures World War II.


KAGAN: Long before Steven Spielberg brought us a private named Ryan, he introduced us to a boy named Elliot. Here's our weekly feature, "Where Are They Now?"

ANNOUNCER: He's taken one of the most famous bike rides in movie history. Henry Thomas played Elliot, E.T.'s best friend and Reese's Pieces distributor, in the 1982 blockbuster. So where is Henry Thomas now? Now 29 years old, Thomas has kept busy entertaining people both through his acting and music. He appeared in the 1998 movie "Niagara, Niagara," on the screen and on the sound track with his band, The Blue Heelers. Most recently, Thomas played opposite Matt Damon in "All the Pretty Horses."

We'll be right back.




MATTINGLY (voice-over): In 1998, Steven Spielberg again took on the role of director and producer with the World War II epic "Saving Private Ryan."


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You want to explain the math of this to me? I mean, where's the sense in risking the lives of the eight of us to save one guy?


STEVEN SPIELBERG: I was always looking for a World War II movie to make, but one day my agency in a meeting, out of 20 projects they were suggesting, this was one of 20 projects. And it was given no more or less spin than the other 19 projects that were pitched to me that day. But something struck a chord in me.

MATTINGLY: Arnold Spielberg, who had served as a radio man on a B-52 bomber, had filled his growing son's head with stories of World War II.

ARNOLD SPIELBERG: It makes me feel very, very proud of Steven, that he could take, with no war experience himself, and put together a story as powerful and strong and realistic as that movie is. A real credit to him.

MATTINGLY: And it was his father who Spielberg singled out when he won the Academy Award for best director.

ADLER: "Private Ryan" really is our -- Steve says, you know, "I've done this for Dad."

MATTINGLY: Now a devoted father himself, Spielberg and Capshaw brought along on Oscar night three of what had grown into a family of seven children.

STEVEN SPIELBERG: I think the most important thing that I've gotten from the attention to my films, you know, is the fact that my kids respect me, and they're proud of me.

MATTINGLY: And when asked what his kids like the best, it's not the serious works, says Spielberg, but pure entertainment.

This spring, DreamWorks, the entertainment studio led by Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen let loose the computer-animated "Shrek." A monster of a hit, it earned an estimated $42 million its first weekend, DreamWorks' most successful debut.

Following quickly in the fairy tale's big footsteps comes another hoped-for Spielberg hit, "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence." Spielberg developed the film with the late director Stanley Kubrick. Spielberg, the consummate multitask champion, was editing "A.I." while shooting "Band of Brothers," a 10-part series on World War II to air on HBO this September.

Of course, in the middle of editing and taking meetings, real life can happen. Last spring Spielberg checked into a Los Angeles hospital and underwent surgery to remove one of his kidneys. An irregularity had been found during a routine physical examination. A spokesman for Spielberg says he's fine, and no follow-up treatment is needed.

But within weeks of his operation, he was once again receiving praise, this time the Vanguard Award from the NAACP.

Spielberg has said his most important agenda is to create tolerance. In April Spielberg announced he was leaving his post on the advisory board of the Boy Scouts of America. The filmmaker said he could no longer associate with a group that engages in discrimination, an apparent reference to Scouting's exclusion of gays.

Ironically, Spielberg's first film glory came when, at age 12, he showed his fellow Boy Scouts an 8-millimeter movie he had made.

STEVEN SPIELBERG: My first real experience at some kind of, you know, you know, affirmation was, you know, 90 kids in a Boy Scout community screaming and yelling and clapping at something. And that feeling has not changed from the days I was in the Boy Scouts for that first little movie to, you know, to whatever I'm currently doing.

MATTINGLY: Steven Spielberg's own story has come full circle. The boy who felt like an alien growing up is now arguably the world's most successful filmmaker. But he's still not without worries.

STEVEN SPIELBERG: I still have pretty much the same fears I had growing up. I've carried them with me right through my life, right until now. And I'm not sure I want to give those up, because I think a lot of those insecurities are fuel for the stories that I tell.

MATTINGLY: And as long as Steven Spielberg tells stories, the world will likely listen.


KAGAN: The story of "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence" first began with Stanley Kubrick nearly three decades ago. Spielberg worked with Kubrick on the project and decided to finish the film upon his friend's death. For more facts on Steven Spielberg, fire up your computer and surf over to You won't want to miss next week's show, a special look at the legacy of Princess Diana on what would have been her 40th birthday. Her brother, Lord Charles Spencer, takes us through the family estate at Althorpe and offers up seldom-seen video of a very young Diana Spencer.

That's it for this week. I'm Daryn Kagan. For all of us here at PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, thanks for watching.



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