George Stevens Jr.
George Stevens Jr.
George Cooper Stevens Jr.
April 3, 1932
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Known for||film and television|
George Cooper Stevens Jr. (born April 3, 1932) is an American writer, author, playwright, director and producer. He is the founder of the American Film Institute, creator of the AFI Life Achievement Award and instigator/producer of the Kennedy Center Honors. Since 2009 he has served as Co-Chairman of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. Accolades to date for his professional career include seventeen Emmys, eight Writers Guild awards, two Peabody Awards, the Humanitas Prize and an Honorary Academy Award.
George Stevens Jr. was born in Los Angeles, California, son of Academy Award–winning director George Stevens (1904–1975) and actress mother Yvonne Howell (née Julia Rose Shevlin; 1905–2010), and grandson of actors Landers Stevens and Georgie Cooper and comedian Alice Howell. In July 1965, he married Elizabeth Guest, and has children Michael Stevens (producer/director, (1966–2015)), David Averell, and a stepdaughter Caroline Stevens (a producer).
Stevens began his career in Hollywood as production assistant to the director on several of the landmark films directed by his filmmaker father. These films included A Place in the Sun, Shane and Giant. His two years of military service were spent in the U.S. Air Force and drawing on his background and established talents, Stevens was tasked with directing training films.
After his discharge, Stevens returned to Hollywood and gained experience as a second unit director and associate producer (The Diary of Anne Frank) and occasional TV director (Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Peter Gunn).
United States Information Agency
In 1961, the distinguished broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, at that time Director of the United States Information Agency, recruited Stevens to supervise the Agency's film and television output. Stevens relocated to Washington, D.C. and as Director of the USIA's Motion Picture Service, supervised over 1,500 films, primarily short subjects, during a five-year period. Among the notable films produced by Stevens during his tenure were John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning, Day of Drums (the agency's first full-length feature), which was designated as one of the Ten Best Films of the Year by the National Board of Review, and the Academy Award-winning documentary Nine from Little Rock, which told the story of the first black students admitted to an all-white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas.
American Film Institute
Prior to 1967, there was no national organization in the United States that celebrated and promoted the excellence of the nation's cinematic heritage. In the mid-1960s Stevens joined with other influential voices to call for a national film institute that would foster the film arts in the United States. The campaign succeeded and President Lyndon B. Johnson instigated and signed the legislation that created the American Film Institute in 1967. Stevens was appointed as the founding Director – a position he held for thirteen years. When he stepped down in 1980 to resume his filmmaking career, the AFI elevated him to be a Life Trustee and Co-Chairman of the Board and presented him with an Honorary Life Achievement Award.
Stevens' thirteen-year tenure in establishing the organization included several key initiatives that are now fundamental parts of the AFI's infrastructure.
Film preservation: As of 1967 over half the films that had been made in America since the start of the movie era had been lost or destroyed (to salvage their silver content), creating a significant gap in American cultural history. Under a preservation program instituted by Stevens, by 1977, 14,000 historic films had been gathered safely into the AFI Collection at the Library of Congress.
Film bibliography: Stevens also launched the American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures, a film bibliography that details every feature-length film produced in America from 1894 to the present, together with all newsreels since 1908 and all short films since 1911.
Grants for independent filmmakers: Stevens created the Independent Filmmaker Program in 1967. It was the first American program offering grants exclusively to independent filmmakers.
Film magazine: Under Stevens' direction the first issue of American Film, the magazine of the Film and Television Arts, appeared in October 1975, growing quickly to 140,000 subscribers.
Programs to foster new directors: The AFI's Internship program allowed promising young directors to learn at close quarters from directors such as Billy Wilder, Milos Forman and Steven Spielberg. The Directing Workshop for Women sought to redress the virtual absence of women directors from the American filmmaking scene.
AFI Conservatory: Stevens led the AFI to launch the Center for Advanced Film Studies in Beverly Hills in 1969, to provide training for the nation's most promising screenwriters and directors. Graduates include David Lynch (The Elephant Man; Twin Peaks), Terrence Malick (Badlands; Days of Heaven; The Thin Red Line), and Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver; Raging Bull).
AFI Life Achievement Award: Stevens identified a need to honor participants in the film world for their entire body of work as distinct from their achievements in an individual year or film, and in 1973 he created the AFI Life Achievement Award which has become one of the most prestigious recognitions for a career in motion pictures. The accolade, which is awarded annually has been bestowed upon screen legends such as James Cagney, Orson Welles, Bette Davis, Jack Nicholson, Frank Capra, David Lean and Martin Scorsese. Stevens wrote and produced the nationally televised tributes each year between 1973 and 1998. The shows have been regularly nominated for Emmys, and Writers Guild Awards, winning on several occasions.
Kennedy Center Honors and Christmas in Washington
Stevens has also been responsible for two holiday television specials.
In the late 1970s, Stevens created the critically acclaimed Kennedy Center Honors with the late Nick Vanoff. Stevens produced the first gala in 1978 and remained as its producer and co-writer until 2014, for 37 consecutive annual shows. Under his supervision, the TV special of the event, aired annually by CBS, has received multiple Emmy nominations and awards for its writing, production and direction.
Shortly after in 1982, he created Christmas in Washington, an hour-long variety special showcasing top stars in the world of popular music and opera, recorded in Washington, D.C. The show began on NBC, then moved to the TNT network for the latter part of its run.
In 2015, Stevens sold the production rights to the Kennedy Center Honors special, while cancelling Christmas in Washington after a 33-year run as he was unable to find a new network or presenting sponsor.
Film, television and theater productions
Stevens has produced many movies, TV specials and stage productions. He has been a prolific participant - frequently producing and/or writing and sometimes directing - in film and television productions ranging from documentaries such as two award-winning films about his father George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey (1984) and George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin (1994); to miniseries including The Murder of Mary Phagan (1988) and Separate But Equal (1991); to TV specials America's Millennium, CBS, 1999, Ultimate Trek: Star Trek's Greatest Moments, UPN, 1999 to movies The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) for which he was Associate Producer. He is also the creator-producer of the annual Christmas in Washington TV specials - aired annually since 1982.
Alfred A. Knopf published his recent book, Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age at The American Film Institute. He is also a playwright, writing the one-person play Thurgood, the story of the life of Thurgood Marshall, the American lawyer and civil rights activist. The show premiered in 2006 at the Westport Country Playhouse, starring James Earl Jones and directed by Leonard Foglia. In 2008, Laurence Fishburne was nominated for a Tony as best actor in the play on Broadway.