For many, their childhood is defined by the movies they grew up with, their imaginations, and the creativity nourished by fanciful stories and images found in them. And if there’s one director that a generation of childhoods has been fed by the creative teat of his movies, it’s Steven Spielberg. His directorial credits include E.T., the Indiana Jones movies, Hook, Jurassic Park, and Jaws (we can even say The Goonies because he wrote the story the screenplay’s based on and he was the movie’s executive producer). Many children have imagined themselves as fedora-wearing, whip-cracking archeologists that go on splendiferous adventures, looting priceless artifacts, destroying ancient monuments and eating monkey brains while doing so. What? I’m on my own with the monkey brains thing?
Most of us know his movies well, but do we know the man? Did you know, for example, that he lives in a dungeon and sleeps and in a Brony-themed canopy bed? Actually, that’s a complete fabrication, but here are some very real and very interesting facts about the man that defined our childhoods with his films. (OK, Robert Zemeckis did his part to shut me in during my childhood, too, but more on at a different time).
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1. He made his first profitable movie at 16
When I say profitable, I don’t mean millions – I mean $1. Yep, just one singular dollar, and that was probably due to a member of the audience paying twice. In 1963, a 17-year-old Spielberg spent his weekends filming a movie called Firelight and it was shown at the Phoenix Little Theatre in Phoenix, Arizona. Not only did he film, edit and “produce” it, he also created the movie’s score on the clarinet (I never said he was the coolest 16-year-old). He made the movie for $500 dollars and sold single-dollar tickets to 500 moviegoers. Although I’m sure every single Spielberg fan (much like me) is salivating at the chance to watch the director’s first movie, the last copy was unfortunately lost when Spielberg was looking for directorial jobs and he gave them to a producer who lost them after his company went under.
2. Remember Jaws
The boat that was just as much a character as the pivotal gruff seafarer Captain Quint, the Orca was purported to be Spielberg’s oasis when he was stressed and under pressure. After the movies concluded, the iconic fishing vessel sat in the Universal Studios theme park and it is said that Spielberg would sneak into it, and sit and reflect on the filming of Jaws to put things into perceptive. The reason he did this, you ask? Well, how do I put this politely? Jaws was a literal shit storm. It was over budget, over schedule, and the first time they put the specially built mechanical great white shark (lovingly named Bruce named after Spielberg’s lawyer) into the water, it promptly sank to the bottom. Not the optimal setup you want for a creature that should float. Spielberg had another pet name for the animatronic leviathan – the Great White Turd – because it was notoriously unreliable during shooting. There is even an anecdote where George Lucas went to visit the set of Jaws: Spielberg convinced Lucas to put his head in Bruce’s mouth and then closed it as a joke but, due to a malfunction, it wouldn’t open. After prying himself out, Lucas and Spielberg fled the scene in fear that they damaged the very, very expensive prop (I imagine while giggling like little girls).
3. More Jaws trivia
Why more Jaws trivia? Because, let’s be honest: if there is one film that is responsible for 90 percent of adults with aquaphobia (the fear of water, Derp), it’s Jaws. Most people that are afraid of water probably hear the iconic theme playing while they are submerged, too, but what if I told you we almost never heard it? As the story goes, John Williams (famous movie score composer and Spielberg music go-to guy) went over to Spielberg’s house and played him the menacing two-note “daaa dum daaa dum” (you’re hearing it in your head right now, aren’t you?) but the director thought it was a joke. Luckily, he was smart enough to trust the composer and the rest is unnerving movie history.
4. He’s the reason why a kids’ movie can say shit
After Spielberg was criticized for some of the more violent scenes in his PG-rated movies such as Poltergeist and Indiana Jones (yes, Poltergeist was rated PG), he approached the then president of MPAA (the rating authority for movies in the U.S.) Jack Valenti and suggested the introduction of an in-between rating: PG-13. The suggestion was deemed reasonable and the rest was goddamn *bleep*-ing history. A little side note about Poltergeist since I brought it up: in the scene which received the bulk of criticism, paranormal investigator Marty hallucinates that he is tearing away his face in the mirror. The FX team only built one head for the scene, so one version of the story says that the actor felt too much pressure and asked Spielberg to do it instead; the other version says that Spielberg thought it looked fun and wanted to do it himself – in any case, the hands you see ripping fistfuls of flesh off of Marty’s face are none other than Spielberg’s.
5. He lost an Oscar to himself (kinda)
Poltergeist is considered a horror classic, not that it was unrecognized at the time of its release, though. The film was nominated twice in 1982 for best score and special effects but was beat out by another classic movie, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial which just so happened to be a different Spielberg movie. Granted, Poltergeist was written by Spielberg and E.T. was directed by Spielberg, but you get the picture. Ha, picture… as in movie picture! Look! I made a pun.
6. He lost the record of gross sales to himself (this time for real)
When E.T. came out, it actually broke the record for highest grossing movie in film history. Then when Spielberg released Jurassic Park on the same day but eleven years later, he broke his own record again. I got to say that at this point, I’m getting a little suspicious of Spielberg.
7. He has seven kids
Holy heck, dude, keep it in your pants! Spielberg and his second wife actress Kate Capshaw, who played alongside Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, have a total of seven kids. OK, granted, not all of them are the couple’s biological children – the couple has an adopted son and two children from each of their previous marriages. If you’re keeping track, though, that still leaves four children that were the fruit of Kate and Steve’s apparently very fertile loins.
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Do you have any other Spielberg facts that you think are fun? Let me know in the comments section below!