George Stevens, Jr. has achieved an extraordinary creative legacy over a career spanning more than 60 years. He is a writer, director, producer, playwright and author. He has enriched the film and television arts as a filmmaker and is widely credited with bringing style and taste to the national television events he has conceived.
As a writer, director and producer, Stevens has earned many accolades, including 15 Emmys, two Peabody Awards for Meritorious Service to Broadcasting, the Humanitas Prize and 8 awards from the Writers Guild of America, including the Paul Selvin Award for writing that embodies civil rights and liberties. In 2012 the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted to present Stevens with an Honorary Academy Award for “extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement.”
Stevens served for eight years as Co-chairman of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities following his appointment by President Obama in 2009.
Stevens is Founding Director of the American Film Institute and during his tenure, more than 10,000 irreplaceable American films were preserved and catalogued to be enjoyed by future generations. In addition, he established the AFI’s Center for Advanced Film Studies, which gained a reputation as the finest learning opportunity for young filmmakers.
Stevens was executive producer of The Thin Red Line, which was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. He co-wrote and produced The Murder of Mary Phagan, starring Jack Lemmon, which received the Emmy for Outstanding Mini-Series. He wrote and directed Separate But Equal starring Sidney Poitier and Burt Lancaster which also won the Emmy for Outstanding Mini-Series. He produced an acclaimed feature length film about his father, George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey and in 1994 produced George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin, which depicted the wartime experiences of his father – one of the most highly regarded directors of all time. In collaboration with his son and partner Michael Stevens, he produced the feature length documentary Herblock – The Black & The White on the famed political cartoonist Herbert Block for HBO.
Stevens made his debut as a playwright in 2008 with Thurgood, which opened at the historic Booth Theater on Broadway. The play had an extended run starring Laurence Fishburne as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Fishburne received a Tony nomination and returned to the role in the summer of 2010 with runs at the Kennedy Center and the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. Thurgood was filmed while at the Kennedy Center and shown on HBO in 2011.
In 2006, Alfred A. Knopf published Stevens’ Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age – the first book to bring together the interviews of master moviemakers from the American Film Institute’s renowned Harold Lloyd Master Seminar Series. Conversations with the Great Moviemakers – The Next Generation was released by Knopf in April, 2012.
Please enjoy my conversation with George Stevens Jr.
George Stevens Jr. 0:00
You may find along the way that you thought, oh, I want to be an actor. And you find out later, you know, I, I'd like to be a costume designer, I've seen that. And, or, or director, whatever. And you know, so have some flexibility. Don't kind of set you're saying, Oh, I'm going to be a director, because you may find that may not be your strongest suit.
Alex Ferrari 0:27
This episode is brought to you by the best selling book Rise of the Filmtrepreneur how to turn your independent film into a money making business. Learn more at filmbizbook.com. I'd like to welcome to the show, George Stevens Jr. How you doing George?
George Stevens Jr. 0:42
I'm doing well. Thank you.
Alex Ferrari 0:43
Thank you so much for coming on the show. Sir. I'm, I'm excited to talk to you. You've lived a very interesting life, sir, to say the least.
George Stevens Jr. 0:50
Well, I'm working on it.
Alex Ferrari 0:53
You have, you have definitely gone through some journeys in your life and in the film industry and in politics in so many different areas. So my first my first question to you is, how did you get started in the film industry, and I know your father was a little well known, directed, the little guy started out a few years ago. But how did you get your interest? How did you get your foot in the door, if you will?
George Stevens Jr. 1:14
Well, as you suggest, my father was a director of I did just for full disclosure, my great grandmother was born in San Francisco after the Civil War and became an actress and a fine actress on the stage. And she was known as the youngest Ophelia to the great Edwin booths Hamlet. He was the greatest Shakespearean actor really, I think, in American history. Certainly, his Hamlet is renowned. And she started five generations of Stevens is in showbusiness, her daughter, Georgie Cooper, was my father's mother. And she married an actor called landers, Stevens, and it kind of went on from there. And yes, having been born to a father, who was the director. At the time I was born, he was photographing Laurel and Hardy comedies was a cameraman. And in 1935, he directed Alice Adams, with Katharine Hepburn and Frederick Berry, at age 30. And from then on, he really just made great films, one after the other, had a three year experience in World War Two overseas in that chronology. And when he came back from the war, I was buying a couple of years after that I was graduating from high school, and I didn't have a summer job. And he said, Well, you can help me. And he gave me two jobs. One, did this at home, and was to break down Theodore Dreiser's an American tragedy, the great novel of a, of a murder in, in the eastern United States, because he was about to write the screenplay for what became called a place in the sun with welcome Marie Clift, and Elizabeth Taylor and Shelley Winters, which was there his first Oscar winning picture as a director. And I broke that down and gave him all the information and two notebooks. And then also I was to read the stories, they sent from Paramount Pictures where his company was, they'd send books, screenplays, all sorts of stuff. And it was pretty. It actually was kind of boring, because most of these were kind of treat Glee love novels, you know, for a 17 year old or hot summer afternoons. But one afternoon, a smaller book came, and I picked it up, and I read it in the afternoon, and I went to see him that night with the book in my hand, and I walked in, he was in bed reading and I said, Dad, I said, this is really a good story. I think you want to read it? And he said, Why don't you tell me the story? So I started and my brain started working and I started reconstructing this book that I'd read and I walked around his bed, telling him the story of Shane. It was Jackson novel. And you know, I could get more interested in that a little boy with this gun gunslinger he had. And then the next summer, I was in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with my first job on a movie set. I was what was called company clerk, which meant I kept track of stuff, but I was right near that camera. And I did not know it was going to be a class. like film, Shane is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. So it was 71 years ago that I was in Jackson Hole. And watching Alan Ladd and Ben Heflin and Jean Arthur. And this little boy from New York who'd never been west of New Jersey. And he, Jack Palance, who came was his first major role. And so I was there. I've seen it all. And, and I did kind of fall in love with it.
Alex Ferrari 5:37
You got so I mean, you were born into the business. I know a lot of people who've been born in the business don't get bitten by the bug. But it seems like you were not only bitten, you were not you were mauled by the bug.
George Stevens Jr. 5:50
Some, some people get bitten badly by it. To take particularly, I mean, I'm very fortunate that I had a wonderful father and mother. But sons of famous fathers, they're, you know, at the time that most of them were having difficulty with it. And I think largely by the nature of my father. It worked out beautifully for him. And for me, we became partners into things together later.
Alex Ferrari 6:21
Now, you. You've also worked on he worked as a PA on a bunch of your father's movies. One specific one specifically was a little film called giant. What was it like? Being on set, watching Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean, and what's the biggest lesson you pulled from being on the set of, of such a classic film like that?
George Stevens Jr. 6:44
Gotcha. There are so many Alex. But it was a great experience. Because I gotten out of the Air Force. I gotten out of college, Occidental College, and the Korean War ended. And, and they postponed my commission for a year. And I had nothing to do. And at that very moment, or just a couple of months before dad had acquired the novel giant, and made a deal with Warner Brothers to make it. So I spent nine months with him and two writers, in his living room, working on the script of giant is obviously as a junior partner observer, for the most part, but it he started to learn about film structure. And then one night, then I went in the Air Force. And when he started shooting, just before I was in Los Angeles, and he said, when it goes to show you a movie, so my mother and dad and I went to so Frank's on Hollywood Boulevard, and then across the street to the Egyptian Theatre. And so ealier Kazakhstan's East of Eden and the reason he wanted me to see it was that this young actor never seen before, comes on the screen and had this way of kind of walking in his hooded eyes. And it was James Steen. And dad was considering casting him in the role of jet Reek, who in the book was described at this sort of burly, big fellow. But Jimmy Dean was shooting Rebel Without a Cause at Warner Brothers. And he kept hanging around dad's office because he knew about giant and he wanted to be in giant. And though he was very different than jet, Rick had been imagined. Dad thought he was a kind of a once in a lifetime talent and gave him that role. And when you think about it, the three stars Rock Hudson was 28 These actors all going on to play in their 50s You know, with gray hair. Elizabeth was 23. And Jimmy Dean was 23 and was worth I was 23. And, you know, but to watch this work go on. Being in the Air Force. I I flew to Virginia to see the film shot in Virginia, where the film begins, where Elizabeth Taylor is the daughter of this man with a great stallion war winds. And Rock Hudson comes from Texas, by war winds and they fall in love very quickly, et cetera, et cetera. So I was there, and then I would fly into Marfa, Texas, and then I would be on this set. And, and there were lots of experiences. Sad experience. I was on the set very late in the picture. Jimmy Dean had finished all of his shooting. And he had he had agreed not to draw he had a little racecar and he agreed not to drive it while the film was going on. Because of he broke his leg. Everybody would be out of work. He understood that that he had finished shooting. So he bought a sport a Porsche spider. I think a poor spider 500 It was called and I was On the set one day and Jimmy walked in with his kind of tinted glasses, and told me about the car. And he said, you want a ride? So I walked outside the big soundstage at Warner Brothers with all those, you know, narrow roads. You've seen pictures if you haven't been there, and this little gray roadster sitting on the ground seem so tiny. And we got into it. And he revved it up and we drove through the studio. Lots of thank God, a prop truck wasn't coming or studio policeman, and, and back art. And he said, What do you think? And I said, Well, it's pretty good, pretty good. But now of course, the sad part of the story is that to two weeks later, Jimmy had told my father, he was going to ship the car up to Salinas, from Los Angeles, where he was going to be racing, and bid on the morning of the day, he decided not to ship it, and he and his mechanic, got in the car, and Jimmy drove it up. And they had that accident on the Pacific Coast Highway. And Jimmy was really a it's a complicated guy, but he was talented and, and fun. And I think he had plans to become a director. And, you know, but it was such a tragic loss. And it is strange. How, you know, this is 65 years ago, giant. How his memory lives today.
Alex Ferrari 11:39
Oh, without question. He's, I mean, I've been I've been at the observatory. I've seen the clock there and that statute, James Dean. Yeah, I mean, he's, I mean, rebel with those those movies giant rebel and East of Eden. I mean, they just, it is one of the tragic stories of Hollywood history. Without question well could have, what else could have been? What else could he have done? If given the opportunity, it was it was pretty
George Stevens Jr. 12:03
good. Just by then 24 had a whole life ahead of him. You asked about lesson on giant and one might be interested, two years, filmmaker. listeners. Were editing the film, I was now out of the Air Force. And it's three hour and 20 minute film giant. We, we premiered it at the Turner Classic Movies Festival last year, Steven Spielberg, and I introduced a restoration of it. And that film plays to see it with an audience in all those years later, and they are just with it every minute on the big giant IMAX screen. It's all about an independent women woman. They weren't making films about independent women in 1956. And it's a film about the Hispanic problem, or that that existed back then. And it's a issue we are still working with in our country. So the film is so far ahead of its time, and it's in its kind of values, and concerns. But we were editing. And we've been I've been working with him for a year in the editing room, again, hot summers. And I've got a golf game to worry about. And we've had two previews. And I said to him, just the two of us there. And, you know, we're running the picture. And I said, Dad, I said this picture, we've had two previews, audiences love it. I think just don't you want to just get it out there. And he looked at me and he said, Well, you think how many man hours I think today said man and woman hours are going to be spent over the years, watching this picture people sitting and watching it, how much time will be spent? Don't you think it's worth a little more of our time, right now to make it as good as we can. And it's a lesson that I took with me and everything that I've done in that idea that and that it's just, I just finished a book called My Place in the Sun, life in the golden age of Hollywood in Washington. And I was finishing it during COVID, which gave me time and I worked on it like giant to I just would go back to the quote real one as well. He would do chapter one, and go through it and just polish it and make it as good for the audience as you can. So the lesson is respect for the audience. And I think that should be in the head of every filmmaker.
Alex Ferrari 14:50
Absolutely. Without question. Now. You were when you were on the set of giant you had a young Elizabeth Taylor, which was your age at the time. She's obviously The legend and what she was able to do. I've got to imagine God a guy, you must have had a crush on her. I mean, every man on that set probably had a
George Stevens Jr. 15:10
rage. I met her a few years before when dad was placed in the sun. And I came on the set, and a Saturday, and Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor, we're shooting a scene. And I'm watching dad direct the scene, and a quick story, because people who make films and and he said, Monty, want to go over there by the pool table. And Elizabeth, why don't you just start at the door? And then we'll just try to. And so they went, and they did the scene with a clip, clips, clip script girl, a person giving her, you know, corrections if they missed the dialogue. And that's it. All right, he said, Let's do it one more time, and suddenly went back. And they did it again. Yeah. And it sounds good. Let's do it one more time. It's got to go. They do it again. And then after that money comes over and comes up close to him and starts asking questions, and Elizabeth comes over anyway. And then anyway, they barely get the scene all set, and it was time for lunch. And I said it and I said, Why don't you have them do it three times before you gave him any instruction. And he said, sometimes it's helpful for the actors to know that they may need some help.
Alex Ferrari 16:35
That's really, that's actually pretty brilliant. It's a brilliant way of,
George Stevens Jr. 16:39
you know, his his job was to make the actors comfortable. But in order to give them advice, the advice has to be welcomed. If he goes over there says no, no, why don't you go here, and you go there and do that. Anyway, it's just a little lesson in indirect thing, but on that day, he introduced me to Elizabeth, on the SAT. And she was without question, in my mind, the most beautiful person on the planet, you know? And then as we're getting ready for lunch, Lisbeth walks over, said, Would you like to go to lunch, too, I found myself walking down the streets of the Paramount Studio. We were both 17 and right. And we go to the commissary, and she kind of walks in, and I follow in her wake as the woman takes her to a corner table, and all and then we had an end. She said, What would you like? And I was kind of fumbling around with the menu. I'm going to have a hamburger and a chocolate milkshake. And I said, that works. Let's do. And so I had lunch with Elizabeth Taylor, which was and, and throughout many episodes in my book, because Elizabeth kept coming in and out of my life and right up to the very end of hers. And she's a she was a wonderful talent, and great fun.
Alex Ferrari 18:14
That must have been this amazing. Well listen with all of the, I mean, you grew up in the golden age of Hollywood, and you were in the midst of it. You were in the thick of it. Were there any actors or actresses that had a major impression on you in your life? You will
George Stevens Jr. 18:31
obviously many from on the screen. And lucky some of the older ones, Jimmy Stewart, and Henry Fonda. Bette Davis, and I when I started the American Film Institute, that's another story share we use we I started the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award. And, you know, the first was John Ford, and the second was James Cagney and Orson Welles and Jimmy Stewart and Capra and Fred a
Alex Ferrari 19:04
few other names. Yes, yeah.
George Stevens Jr. 19:07
And so I knew all of those greats, but I think the two who because I had I worked with him and personal situations were Sidney Poitier and Jack Lemmon. They were a few years older than I am, but more of my generation. And I knew I knew them in all aspects of their lives, not me became great friends, but I did, produced and directed and wrote separate that equal. The story of Brown versus Board of Education, a miniseries that won the Emmy for Outstanding miniseries and I did another only I've only done two mini series and both one the me one with Jack and one was Sydney and, and Jack was this this extraordinary gift If did Othello who could do drama and comedy, and, and was such fun. And Sydney had of all the great human qualities, in addition to being such a pioneer in the matter of and separate that equal was about equal justice, he played Thurgood Marshall arguing, developing and arguing the case against segregated schools in the Supreme Court that led to the outline of segregated schools. So
Alex Ferrari 20:34
those two those are two pretty, pretty impressive wants to say the least. Both legends in their own right, because we're in the golden age so much, is there any misconceptions that people have of that time in Hollywood at that time in filmmaking in general, any misconceptions that you think that? That you can think that kind of suit to your mind,
George Stevens Jr. 20:55
I guess what, I don't think, I guess there are all kinds of conception, Alex. But one is, it looks like a lot of fun. It was really hard work, and make and making the great films, particularly though, you know, accepting those challenges, and then films are filled with adversity, if something's gonna go wrong, you know, and if you're talking from the director standpoint, how do you deal with adversity? How do you deal with personalities. But when you tie a ribbon around it, you know, Turner Classic Movies. It's just amazing how so often you turn on and there's something that's just delightful. And it's, there's another phrase that's kind of part of the Stephens family that it involves another little story, but dad and I went to Academy Awards in 1952. And then I sat next to him and Joseph L. Mankiewicz came on the stage, who had won the Oscar the year before for All About Eve. And he read the nominees for Best Director. And he said that John Houston, The African Queen, William Wyler, Detective Story. Vincent Minelli, An American in Paris elior, Kazakhstan, A Streetcar Named Desire, and George Stevens of place in the sun.
Alex Ferrari 22:46
It's a pretty good year to say the competition was stiff that year, let's just say.
George Stevens Jr. 22:51
And I wouldn't be telling you this story. If John Houston had one for African Queen. My father won his first Oscar for our son. And we were riding on that night. And the Oscar was in the seat between us. He was driving the car, little old school air. And the Oscar was on the seat between us. And for some reason, he looked at me. And he said, you know, he said, we'll have a better idea what kind of a film this is in about 25 years. Now this is when movies came and went, there were no cinema texts. There were no DVD, there was no street in. But he having grown up in the theater, and we read the great plays, understood that the important thing about a film was what it stand the test of time. And he did not know that the 17 year old sitting next to him would one day be the founder of the American Film Institute, which is based on the idea of movies that last and the test of time, or the Kennedy Center Honors, which is about artists whose work stands the test of time, but it is also like respecting the audience. This idea of the test of time is kind of how I frame my appreciation for my own work for you know, the work that that I value and treasure now how
Alex Ferrari 24:25
did you says he since you brought up the AFI which is obviously a legendary institution, a film institution, one of the greatest film schools ever to be created as well as the honors that you create the Lifetime Achievement Award, which I watched every year when they came out. I started in the 80s when it started to come out and you know I remember Clinton Marty and Steven and you know Jack and these guys, there was just so much fun. Especially if when Robin Williams showed up.
George Stevens Jr. 24:56
Or John Stewart
Alex Ferrari 24:58
or Rickles or Rickles I mean, destroying Scorsese, which was in a way only rape was good. Yeah. So what how did you begin and what caused you to begin to create the AFI, which is pretty, pretty, you know, audacious goal to start with?
George Stevens Jr. 25:16
Well, I was I after giant, I worked with my father, I started directing, I directed Peter Gunn, Alfred Hitchcock Presents those kind of shows. And then I went to work with my father on the Diary of Anne Frank. And we completed that I was associate producer. And then he got behind schedule, and I directed all of the location work in Amsterdam. It always done his own location work. So it was a big step up for me. But I, I did kind of joke to my friends that I said, I think I'm spending I'm going to devote my entire life to becoming the second best film director in my family. And then Edward R. Murrow, the great broadcaster came into my life, President Kennedy had been elected, had asked me to run the United States Information Agency, which made the Voice of America telling America's story abroad. And they had a film division. They made 300 documentaries a year. And Ed wasn't satisfied with the documentaries. And he asked me to come run the motion picture division of USAA. And it took me into the new frontier and President Kennedy. And it's just a whole exhilarating new world. And I was making films, I mean, we've had was able to add wanted, total rejuvenation of what was being done under the More staid Eisenhower administration. And I've brought lots of young filmmakers who went on to have great careers, and we made wonderful films. And I love one thing about President Kennedy, he was so eloquent. And he was off, I had wonderful quotes in his speeches. And one that I remember, I'd written down, he, he read the ancient ancient Greek poetry, you know, and he loved to quote, and then he spoke of the Greek definition of happiness, which the ancient Greeks said, is the fullest use of one's powers along lines of excellence. And I realized that Ed Murrow and President Kennedy had put me in the saddle of Greek happiness. I was making films loving what I was doing, along lines of excellence and for public purpose. So it was a wonderful Moreau and Kennedy were great influences on me at age 3029 and 30, when I came to that job, and 1967, but I had, you know, in the Kennedy government, because there's not much about film going on. And I, you know, had earned some prominence because people were conscious of the films we were making, and working with Murrow. And so people would come to me when it was an issue of film, and the National Endowment for the Arts was created to support the arts, the first legislation, funding for the arts, and they knew how to they could give grants to ballet companies or symphony orchestras. But what do they do about film? You can't give a grant to MGM, you know? So, we came to me and I suggested an American Film Institute, because I had been working with young filmmakers and knew that we needed a better opportunity and training. I was conscious of the disappearing of our film heritage that all the film was made on nitrate stock from the beginning of the 1940s. were disappearing. Nope, good catching on fire. In great archive fires are. So we started this film rescue program at AFI. And I was asked to run it and actually, Gregory Peck was the first chairman and Sidney Poitier to bring his name up again, was vice chairman of AFI when we started it.
Alex Ferrari 29:25
Now, at that time, and correct me if I'm wrong, there weren't that many film schools or programs in the country at all right. And the six were
George Stevens Jr. 29:33
several there, you know, UCLA and USC had programs, Columbia, and NYU, maybe a few others, but they were part of four year courses. We have a theory I had a theory that what we needed was a bridge, from education to the profession. And so we called our students fellows and they came for two years. To gain that added knowledge, you weren't required to have been a film student. You know, I was as interested in what they were going to bring to the screen as to what whether they knew how to run a movie Ola, you know, among our first outstanding students, one was Terrence Malick. And Terry had made one little 30 minute film, I think, in the back of it taxi cab. But he had, he was a Rhodes scholar. He was teaching philosophy at MIT men, a journalist, he was going to bring something to the screen. And another was art student in Philadelphia. And we gave a grant to make a little film called The grandmother, which is picture a perfect little film about a grandmother. It was quite weird. And then he came to AFI, and his name was David Lynch. I knew where you were going with that. Ahead of me,
Alex Ferrari 31:05
I was ahead of you on that one. Second, you said weird, and I already felt that was David coming in. I mean, yeah, who are some heat for the audience? Can you kind of talk a little bit about who the alumni are because you have really, you know, the AFI is popped out some of cinemas, Best Tours and best filming.
George Stevens Jr. 31:24
Honest Kaminsky, the cinematographer who's worse there's all of Steven Spielberg's films at Darren Aronofsky, Caleb Deschanel, who's with one of the first fellows and is still a top cinematographer. Oh gosh, somebody, the woman who directed coda? Oh, yeah, yes, she's there. And just outstanding. I wish I had the list in front of me. But those are a few memory. But the district you many, many wonderful filmmakers are from a Ed's wick. And Mark.
Alex Ferrari 32:10
I've had it on the show. It is such a wonderful, such a beautiful soul. Oh, he's such a want to say talking I when I had him on the show, it's like talking to the church of cinema. So just the reverence like yourself, the reverence for cinema is remarkable. You mentioned that you worked on Alfred Hitchcock Presents as a director. Am I Am I fair to say that you met Mr. Hitchcock and spoke to him and
George Stevens Jr. 32:33
worked with him? And what? Indeed, yes. Oh, please.
Alex Ferrari 32:37
He's happy to tell me some stories about Alfred please.
George Stevens Jr. 32:43
Actually, only to say only almost to say hello, when I was directing Alfred Hitchcock, because he would busy making psycho or something. But he had a wonderful woman, Joan Harrison, in this woman who ran it and I really worked through Joan. But then when I started the AFI, Hitchcock would come and do wonderful seminars at AFI. He was just so so precise about moviemaking, and wanted to simplify it. And I remember him saying, Well, how important the screenplay is. And it he said, once the screenplay is right, he says, It's automatic. And then somebody to work with Why don't you let somebody else then go direct it. He said, they may screw it up.
Alex Ferrari 33:44
And that drove away oh, that's
George Stevens Jr. 33:50
what we honored him with the AFI Life Achievement award show. I saw that um, and, you know, he, he was very much at the end of his career. He died the next year. But he is what you see is what you get with hitch. That's that manner and attitude is who he is.
Alex Ferrari 34:21
As a director, we all go through times that the we feel like the world is going to come crashing down around us on set during a production. What was that? Out of all the projects you've been on or been on your father set or your set? What was the biggest calamity or thing that you obstacle that came across? And how did you overcome it in the day?
George Stevens Jr. 34:42
Gosh, I'm trying to think of my father's films they were so frequent, the betta if this is not right in the line, but I'll tell you a story of his story of mine. The day we were going to shoot the scene where Jack Palance gunned down guns down. Stonewall Tory in front of Grafton saloon. And Shane, which is has to be one of the three. I don't know what the other two are most famous gunshots in films that your dad had this idea of, of. He wanted the muddy Street and then we you know, and he was looking for clouds up there in the Tetons. And he got there. And it was a Saturday. And they hadn't gotten that they've watered the street, but it was not. And he did not. And he was willing to send the whole crew home for Saturday. Bring them back on Sunday. And he said, get water from the river. I want this street flooded. And if you remember, Stonewall Tory, the little Southerner when he gets off his horse and start walking toward the saloon where Jack Palance is standing on the boardwalk in front of it. He's sliding through this mud. His foot footsteps are so unsteady. But for Dad, that was a disaster. You know, he knew how important that scene was to him. He decided to send the crew home at whatever cost and bring them back the next day, because that scene had to be perfect. When I was working with Sidney Poitier and this is a more personal I had been doing a lot of stuff since Peter Gunn, I'd founded the AFI Kennedy Center Honors this and that, and and actually, two separate but equal was the first time I had been directing. I produced and written the murder of Mary Fagan, which act lemon which won the Emmy. Now I'm doing this, and I hadn't. But Cindy believed in me, he loved the script. Both Jack and Sidney refused to do television that based on scripts I handed them they agreed to do television in these instances. And we were filming the scene. Cindy has been down in the south and seeing that trouble there. And and has gotten people in Clarendon County, African Americans to agree to file a suit that would become part of the Brown versus Board of Education legal case. He comes back up to New York, where the NAACP Legal Defense Fund law offices are. He comes in late, several of the lawyers are playing poker and Rio and and Sidney comes in, puts his stuff down, comes and sits down with him and plays and a poker before telling him where the story is in South Carolina. I unseen the comedies that Cindy had made with Cosby, you know, we're really great stuff. And Cindy started doing some kind of comic stuff. That wasn't what I was expecting. And I, I kind of Ted Cotton said Bassam to change the light and make an excuse, and kind of walked around, the only place we could find was that store room with lights and junk and everything. And I walk in with Sydney, and this is the two of us. And I said Sydney, I said, I'm not quite sure what what we're doing in this scene. And I don't think I phrased it very well. And that wonderful face looked at me with those eyes. And you said, Well, what is it that you want done in the scene? And I saw this whole thing falling apart. It's at the first kind of direction I give him, you know, and, and I just stood there and we looked at one another. And I don't know where it came from. But I said, I see Thurgood Marshall, as a man with secrets, said he says when that is what to want. Say that word. We went back to work. And we never had a false moment the rest of the way. But it's, it's you know, I've I look back on it. Thankfully, you know, if I faltered there, it could have been uncomfortable going forward.
Alex Ferrari 39:25
Right? You know, it's really interesting. That's such a great thing because each actor is his or her own world. And they work in a very specific way. And it's really interesting, because if you have two or three or four actors in the scene, and they all are working in different styles in different ways, as a director, it's difficult to you can't just do a broad direction you got to do this to that one. That one's being method that one's not being method and, and this time and get into the personalities and egos of the situation. It's a very interesting job.
George Stevens Jr. 40:00
To record. And a very good rule of thumb is, if you have something difficult, I mean, if it's everything fine, but if there's something and you want to address something with one app, if you know things are difficult, you want to address something with one actor, how to break it up, and then quietly take the actor aside and talk to them one on one. You don't want to embarrass an actor, or, you know, in front of the other actors, or right, then they might feel they have to dig in or justify themselves. So it private attention to individual actors is very important.
Alex Ferrari 40:44
Now, with all the professional accomplishments you've had in your life, which is the one that you are the most proud of.
George Stevens Jr. 40:51
Gosh. I'll pick one for you. It's a film called a film called George Stevens, a filmmakers journey. I've made it shortly after my father's death. And it's a film biography of my father. And I'm pleased to say that some friends and colleagues and some strangers say that it's the best documentary about a filmmaker ever. And it was so important to me. And I am so happy that it you know, I applied those rules that I learned from him, just work on it until you get it right. And to respect the audience, let the audience bring something to the film. And that film is going to celebrate its 40th anniversary next year. And it was on turning movies a few nights ago. And in I think your audience, people who are interested in filmmaking to go George Stevens, a filmmakers journey. So on the criteria Terry to channel I think it's on HBO, Max, are there ways to see it? And it you know, I was able to interview I mean, Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn and Warren Beatty and directors, Houston and moody and and Capra, it's for a film lover, or even a
Alex Ferrari 42:26
smorgasbord. Yeah, it's a smorgasbord without question. If you could go back in time, and give your 17 year old self, who's just finished having lunch with Elizabeth Taylor, some advice? What advice would that be?
George Stevens Jr. 42:44
About? Gosh, it's pretty plain, but find something to do that you love. You know, that's the end, if it's making movies, be prepared for a tough road. And you and your show are often exploring with people, how do you get somebody to look at my movie pay for my movie, read my script, you know, and there's there, there's no short answer for that. It's whatever the circumstances, you have to work with those circumstances. But, but to stick with it, and, and you may find along the way, that you thought, oh, I want to be an actor. And you find out later, you know, I I'd like to be a costume designer, I've seen that. And, or, or direct or whatever. And, you know, so have some flexibility. Don't kind of set your say, Oh, I'm going to be a director. Because you may find that that may not be your strongest suit. So kind of determination and flexibility. And, and always to be reminded once you get some control and gaining control over your work, if you're a director is very important, and very hard to achieve. But once you have it, respect the audience, I remember my father saying and it's from another era, but he you read us a wonderful pictures of the early 40s Woman of the Year The first Spencer Tracy, picture, Joel McCrea and Jean Arthur. And the more the merrier. Cary Grant and Jean Arthur and Ronald Colman. There's just so many pictures. But he talked about they would open in the RKO City musical, which has 5000 seats, have a picture of him in front of it when Penny Serenade was opening a picture showed at that Turner Classic Film Festival last week with Irene Dunne and Cary Grant. But he said there's something when 5000 minds come together, he said, they close the circuit, they bring their intelligence, they bring their curiosity. And the link is closed between the filmmaker and the audience. And just to have that idea that the audience he said about shame, which, you know, classic Western at all, somebody was trying to make it a little fancy. And he said, You know, I think I made Shane for the truck driver in Arkansas, says he spends a day alone driving his truck, and he may not be able to articulate his thoughts. But he's thinking, and he's curious about things, and he has ideas, and I want to leave a little something for him to do when it comes to the movie, let him bring something to it. That was beautiful.
Alex Ferrari 45:59
Really, really beautiful. You know, since you've, you know, been raised in Hollywood, and you've seen the change from the Golden Age, to where we are today. Where do you think the future of the industry, with all this new technology, this new generation that's coming up that is not as in love with movies as maybe my generation or your generation was? Because so many other options for entertainment are out there? What do you think the future is for Hollywood moving forward?
George Stevens Jr. 46:31
Well, it's very much up in the air. And I tell you what, I hope it's I hope that the movie going experience revives itself, that there's something more than Marvel Comics and the big, you know, pictures that people love, for good reason. But that, that, right now, it's almost only those that are flourishing in today's theatrical, you know, and I want people to see pictures on the big screen, that idea of my father with 5000 people, if it's 500, or 1000, you have seen it with other people. So I'm hoping that that will renourish itself. And of course, there are values to streaming people, our sets are getting bigger at home. And it's a better experience than it used to be. But it's it's, and more good directors and writers are now working for streaming and television. Yeah. Because they can tell stories that they want to. And that's in my, my plans for the immediate future, because it is a way to tell ambitious stories. So and now we have this writer's strike, which is, I think, very serious, because I think the writers are really feeling genuine. And I'm, of course, a member of the Writers Guild of displacement, that there are just there are less jobs and people are finding way and they kind of fear that AI, they're going to start asking AI to write a script or Polish a script or whatever. And so I'm very much interested in the writers reestablishing a place. But it has changed so much that it it's going to be difficult, but very important that the studios and the writers and the other guilds come together in a way that's fair. I mean, there are people in making $50 million a year off of the work that these writers are doing, and asked to be some way to find a fair situation that allows this fabulous medium that is so rich and provide so much for it to flourish.
Alex Ferrari 49:10
It isn't always the way though, that the machine will always take advantage of the artists if let left alone to its own devices. Right and that's why the unions are important. And that's why you know, collective and all that stuff with what's going on. I agree. And it's more I've spoken. I've spoken to so many writers on the show, who are just saying it's just becoming more and more difficult to make a living, not even become rich just make a living in the business directors as well because it's becoming more gig orientated like here. Here's a flat fee. Thank you very much out the door. You go in that there was a job every week maybe. But yeah, but there isn't a direct
George Stevens Jr. 49:57
people used to direct television kind of Like I did long ago, there were three networks or four networks with a whole season, what 2030 episodes, you know, that's kind of diluted. Now. Someone told me that prominent agent speaking to two days ago, that I think the last strike was 2008, seven or eight. And that year, the network's shot 55 pilots, right this year, there were 15 pilots. So it's all changing. And I hope there's some smart enough people sitting at the top and working for the unions that can find a balance that's going to, as I say, nourish this medium that we all love so much. I agree
Alex Ferrari 50:56
with you, 100%, I don't want to I grew up in the I grew up in the the the video store days, I worked in a video store. And that's what I fell in love with release. And yeah, that's where I mean, I was in high school, and I rented movies. And that's where I discovered giant, and that because I could see them all. And I just started and that's where I fell in love with movies and became decided to become a director. But I worked at a movie theater and believe me, and I remember my first movie in the theater and things, but my children don't like I've taken to the theaters, but they're just like, it's nice, but it's not as important.
George Stevens Jr. 51:28
So did not grow up with now going to have the first adult generation that did not go grow up going to the movies, and are at and it's something that's going to have to be managed. And you know, in the ID you can look at a movie on your phone with all due respect.
Alex Ferrari 51:47
No matter how clean and crisp the phone is. I mean, it's a travesty to watch taxi driver on your iPhone. I mean, seriously, I mean, are giant, for God's sakes, it's the movie itself is called giant, you should not be watching it on a small screen
George Stevens Jr. 52:01
it to watch taxi driver in a taxi?
Alex Ferrari 52:06
Essentially, that's it? Well, that's a different experience, depending on what street you're driving down and who's driving. George, what do you hope to leave behind is a legacy in film, with the work that you've done over the course of your your life and career,
George Stevens Jr. 52:23
will I encourage people to read my place in the sun, or listen to it just come out on the audiobook. It's hard for me to recite, but I've I've, from my standpoint, I love I've loved being involved in it. And, and kind of aspiring all the way I really did kind of set for myself as standard of excellence, and perhaps made a few mistakes along the line. But every time I did it, it was aiming high. And I'm pleased that so much of it people are, you know, I feel good that this film I made about my father 40 years ago, and it was still you know that it's still there and looking great. We've restored it. And so that test of time. I'm a I'm a respect the audience, test of time guy.
Alex Ferrari 53:22
It's such a beautiful place to be my friend. I'm going to ask you a few questions. I asked all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?
George Stevens Jr. 53:31
Well, I spoke about it before but you I would say don't have it. Figure out where you're going believe in yourself and keep your eyes open. And you're not choosing the easy path. So you have to be prepared for doors to slam and but make good friends, work with friends and set your sights high.
Alex Ferrari 54:01
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life,
George Stevens Jr. 54:05
I think to listen. Listening is very important. And I think when you're young or even when you're old
Alex Ferrari 54:17
depending on if you're struggling or not
George Stevens Jr. 54:23
that that being a good listener. I remember Jimmy Cagney saying in some context for me, he said, Well, I'm a listening actor, you know, and I think in in any field in politics, and journalism, so we entered and purchased as a human being listen to the other person.
Alex Ferrari 54:53
And three of your favorite films of all time.
George Stevens Jr. 54:56
Alex Ferrari 54:59
Today Today Today,
George Stevens Jr. 55:02
today you have you know, I like Christopher Nolan's work. I loved Sarah Polly's women talking to beautiful film. And you know, there's just so many we have so a third I think I'll just say because it's its 70th anniversary, Shane. Right answer
Alex Ferrari 55:27
my friend. And where can people find out about your new book and what can they purchase it? At
George Stevens Jr. 55:32
official je s i think is my Twitter handle. I'm not a huge Twitter person. But I did put on Twitter yesterday, I came upon a letter I wrote to my father on Gunga Din, when I was five, five years old. And picture of him on the set that George Stevens jr.com is my website. all lowercase letters, GE o RG E Ste and s. jr.com.
Alex Ferrari 56:11
And then Amazon, you could buy the book or audible to listen. Yes, exactly. George, it has been an absolute pleasure and honor speaking to you, my friend, thank you so much for not only sharing your journey and your knowledge with all of us, but also for everything you've done for the film industry and for the arts throughout your life. So my friend, I appreciate you so so much and thank you again and for many more things to come in your future my friend. Thank you. Well, Alex,
George Stevens Jr. 56:38
I enjoyed talking to you. i i I felt I found many shared values with you. And that's always a nice conversation. A pleasure.
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