Steven Spielberg is an Academy Award-winning director responsible for some of Hollywood’s biggest hits. The filmmaker recently drew a lot of attention thanks to his stance on Netflix’s inclusion among various award categories. He’s still at the helm with several films planned and produces even more through his company, Amblin Entertainment.
For decades, Spielberg has been a major force in shaping how Hollywood creates, distributes, and consumes content. It all started with a career in TV directing that set him on a path towards the man versus shark blockbuster Jaws. Outside of the business, his work with the USC Shoah Foundation helps collect and catalog the testimonies of Holocaust survivors across the world.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Spielberg Was Rejected by USC Film School
The director didn’t always have the name recognition he does today. As a student in Phoenix, and then California, Spielberg had dreams of becoming a filmmaker but failed to have the necessary grades. USC turned him down, leading the young auteur to take his talents to Cal State, Long Beach.
While at Cal State, Spielberg would eventually drop out before getting a degree. Decades later, Spielberg would quietly finish his studies for the degree. The filmmaker would say in an interview with The Telegraph that his children were the surprising inspiration to finish his degree. “They began saying, ‘Why do we have to go to college? Dad didn’t graduate and he’s really successful,” Spielberg told the publication’s John Hiscock. He formally received a BA in Film and Electronic Arts during a 2002 ceremony.
It’s not the end of the story for Spielberg’s connections to USC. In the 1990s, he would become a trustee and ultimately received an honorary degree from the film program. According to Variety, the director would say during the School of Cinematic Arts new facility dedication, “As you know, I have tried to have some association with this school, but eventually I had to buy my way in.”
2. He Thought Jaws Would End His Career
It may be known as Hollywood’s first blockbuster, yet Jaws was anything but smooth sailing for the young filmmaker. A range of issues had Spielberg questioning his entire future in the business. “I thought my career as a filmmaker was over,” the director said while looking back on the difficult shoot.
This was not your standard film shoot. Spielberg was intent on shooting as much as possible on the ocean and the film would become the first shot on open waters; this aspect would create a difficult filming schedule full of sick crew members and failing equipment. So much went wrong that the initial plan of 55 filming days ballooned into 159 days according to The Guardian. Not everything about the shoot was a disaster, the pneumatic sharks that were supposed to be the film’s highlight began malfunctioning soon into filming. Their failure led Spielberg to go with a Hitchcockian approach that emphasized what was unseen and shifted focus to the score by John Williams.
A massive opening alleviated the director’s fears and cemented his status as a top Hollywood talent. Jaws remains on the list of the highest-grossing films of all time. In fact, it sits at number 7 on Box Office Mojo’s list of inflation adjust earners.
3. Spielberg Purchased Old Hollywood Oscars & Gave Them Back to the Academy
Spielberg takes his film collecting seriously, but his motivations for purchasing Academy Awards are singular. He has actively sought out any auctions that sell Oscar statuettes and bought them with the highest bid. After securing the awards, he makes sure they are donated to the Academy.
The most notable of his purchases have been two Academy Awards given to legendary actress Bette Davis. Both awards for Dangerous and Jezebel were up for auction and acquired by the filmmaker as revealed in the Los Angeles Times. He also picked up Clark Gable’s Best Actor trophy for his work in 1934’s It Happened One Night.
While the Academy may be in the process of building their new museum, don’t expect to see the statuettes on display any time soon. According to Forbes, the organization “rarely displays old Oscars” and those it receives are stored away in special vaults. The practice is not a novelty that stops with Spielberg, Lew Waserman has also purchased an Oscar destined for Academy vaults.
4. Spielberg Made a Cameo in 1984’s Gremlins
Many people remember the story of cute Mogwai Gizmo and his fight against some very evil. offspring. What you might not have noticed is Spielberg’s cameo in the film. As Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) calls in from the inventor’s convention, the filmmaker can be seen riding a recumbent bike.
Spielberg did not take the helm on this film, turning it over to director Joe Dante. Instead, he serves as one of the film’s producers. Once settling on Dante, Spielberg was a constant advocate for the director. Indiewire states that it was Spielberg himself that choose Dante to lead the picture. That alone was reason enough for Spielberg himself to stop by for a cameo in what would become one of the year’s biggest hits.
His appearance in Gremlins was far from a one-off for the filmmaker. Spielberg can be seen in several other cameos. The most notable of his appearances was in the film Austin Powers: Goldmember in which the director portrayed himself. Of course, stunt actors did the backflips seen during the opening sequence.
5. He Was a Boy Scout
Scouting is a subject that traces its roots back to Spielberg’s childhood. He became a Boy Scout in the ‘50s and eventually earned a merit badge in photography thanks to an eight-minute short film. The film, titled The Last Gunfight, was his first attempt at directing and took on the then-popular genre of Westerns. It was a partnership that lasted through his teenage years with young Spielberg attaining the rank of Eagle Scout.
As an adult, the director was committed to the organization and became a prominent voice of support. Spielberg was instrumental in helping the Scouts develop a cinematography badge that was unveiled in 1989. Thanks to his work developing the badge and promoting Boy Scouts of America, he received the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award.
This camaraderie would all come to a halt when the director voiced his concerns about the Scouts’ policies against LGBTQ members. Spielberg, who was a Boy Scouts of America advisory board member, resigned in 2001. “The last few years in scouting have deeply saddened me to see the Boy Scouts of America actively and publicly participating in discrimination. It’s a real shame,” Spielberg said as part of a statement listed on Hollywood.Com.