October 3, 2022
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From his father to his own career, George Stevens Jr. recalls 90 years in film with ‘My Place in the Sun’ – Daily News

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George Stevens Jr. had a charmed early life: As the son of director George Stevens, he was attending the Oscars before he was a teenager, having dinner with Elizabeth Taylor before either of them had turned 20, helping his father on the set of “Shane,” driving with James Dean in his ill-fated Porsche Spyder, and even doing second unit directing in Amsterdam for his father’s film of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

Not surprisingly, Stevens Jr.’s new memoir, “My Place in the Sun: Life in the Golden Age of Hollywood and Washington,” is filled with hugely entertaining anecdotes, featuring legends from Katherine Hepburn to Cecil B. DeMille. If it was just celebrity encounters, however, the book would have felt like a sugary confection of name-dropping.

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Stevens Jr. not only uses his father’s story – which also includes “A Place in the Sun” and “Giant,” but also historic footage shot at D-Day, in Berlin and at the liberation of Dachau – to illuminate where his own values came from. He also lived a full and fascinating life of his own once he moved out from his father’s considerable shadow. (Stevens Jr. was never resentful and says “the most satisfying work I ever did was making the documentary “George Stevens: A Filmmakers Journey.”)

Stevens Jr. came into his own producing 300 short documentary films for Edward R. Murrow at the United States Information Association during the Kennedy administration. The films included one on the March on Washington, the Oscar-nominated “The Five Cities of June,” which touched on everything from the fight for integration to John Kennedy’s famous speech in Berlin, and the Oscar-winning “Nine from Little Rock.”

Determined to see filmmaking taken seriously as an art form, Stevens Jr. then founded the American Film Institute, creating an institution that taught, celebrated and preserved films. He also founded the Kennedy Center Honors and produced events like Barack Obama’s 2008 inaugural. Along the way, he became close friends with Bobby and Ethel Kennedy, won Emmys for writing and producing “The Murder of Mary Phagan” and for writing and directing “Separate But Equal,” and wrote a play about Thurgood Marshall.

Stevens Jr., spoke recently by video from his porch in the Georgetown area of the capital. Now 90, he exuded a low-key charm as he looked back at both his and his father’s achievements. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. Your book is filled with fascinating stories. Were you conscious of trying to make it more than just a series of amusing anecdotes?

There was a lot of discovery in writing the book – there are certain moments in life you remember but when you look back at them, they have a consequence that you didn’t understand.

I remember riding home from the Academy Awards with my father after he won for “A Place in the Sun.” The Oscar was on the seat between us and he said, “We’ll have a better idea what kind of picture this is in about 25 years.” He had a sense about films needing to stand the test of time. He didn’t realize he was talking to the future founder of the American Film Institute, for which the test of time – in terms of the Life Achievement Award and preserving classic films – became a defining trait. So, looking back, there’s a significance that I didn’t attribute to it when it happened.



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