Monday, January 12, 2009
Very few people outside the film industry knew who Steven Spielberg was in 1976. But everyone knew the film he directed, the blockbuster Jaws.
I was standing near the entrance to the Universal Studios Tour waiting to meet him to film a Kidworld interview, when it occurred to me I had no idea what he looked like. I guess it was the panicked look in my eyes and the clipboard that gave me away. I turned around and heard, ‘Are you Rusty?” It was Steven Spielberg.
What I think makes this story interesting is how I booked Steven Spielberg for the show, what happened after the interview…and later that night.
It’s hard to describe the impact that Jaws had in Hollywood. Everyone was talking about it. And there were ‘Steven Spielberg’ sightings all over town. The stories were amazing. There were actually people impersonating him all over town; trying to get seats at Chasens, pitch projects and other bizarre stories.
I got a call that Steven Spielberg wanted to be interviewed for the TV show I was working on at the time called KidsWorld. Stars loved the show. It was a kid’s version of 60 Minutes. Stars were interviewed by 10-12 year old kids, and we went to their homes or offices so it was convenient, fun and great exposure.
Getting Steven Spielberg for KidsWorld would be a great booking, but I was skeptical because of all the stories, so I called his office at Universal and sure enough it was a bogus request. But when I told his secretary about the show and how easy it would be she thought he might like doing it. Sure enough, she called back and said yes. I suggested we do it at the Jaws stage (which was being constructed as an attraction on the tour) and that we’d meet at the tour entrance. Booking confirmed. I called everyone with the good news.
We decided to shoot the interview on the Orca. Little did I know that it was one of the actual production boats used in the filming. It was the first time that he had been down to this area and had been on the boat.
He went inside the cabin, where he said the cast and crew had all signed their names - Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider and Steven Spielberg. The look in his eyes said it all.
Someone had painted over the inside of the cabin and all the signatures were erased. They spend endless hours on this small little boat and now this personal tribute was gone.
He was obviously upset. We shot right on the boat, and he was just great with the young girl doing the interview. They talked about what he was like as a kid, and how he started in the movie business. He answered all her questions about filming the shark, who I later found out he named Bruce, after his lawyer!
When we finished he got up and I am sure made a few phone calls.
A few hours later I went to the premiere of A Star is Born in Westwood. After the screening, we walked down a red carpet that was two city blocks, lined with over 100 Klieg lights, marking our way to the premiere party at Dillons, a hot new club in Westwood.
The place was packed. The Hollywood elite gathered to celebrate. Sitting at well guarded table in the VIP section on the 3rd floor was Steven Spielberg. He called me over and introduced me to the film’s star, Barbra Streisand. What a way to end the day, December 18, 1976.
I never knew who called pretending to be Steven Spielberg, but I am glad I had the chance to work with the real one.
PS. I booked Steven once more for the ABC Show Kids Are People Too. (I loved working on kid’s shows). He was a much bigger deal by then, and it wasn’t as easy to this time. But he remembered me and said yes. I met him at the gate at the ABC Prospect studios, and he was upset. His dog was sick and he really needed to get home. We pushed the segment, and as expected he was warm and inspiring talking with kids.
By that time, everyone knew who he was.