Steve was a lonely kid. He was ridiculed, bullied, and mocked, mostly because he was Jewish.
He had few close friends, but he found relief from the sadness when he became obsessed with the movies. It helped him escape the pain of his parents’ divorce – and the wonder of making films was an escape to him, as it was for many lonely, hurting kids.
And so, Steve made little movies using a Bell and Howell wind up camera.
And after he saw “Lawrence of Arabia,” directed by David Lean, Steve became convinced that making films was going to be his destiny.
His fractured family briefly visited LA and Steve decided he wanted to take the Universal Studio tour to see what the studios and lots were like. In the days when he was a teenager, they didn’t have tour trams like they do now, they had tour buses. So, Steve bought a sightseeing ticket to Universal and was in awe of what he saw….sound stages, studio set ups, and familiar sets on TV and movies he watched as a kid.
He was hooked.
When the tour bus stopped briefly for lunch and a bathroom break, Steve got off and didn’t come back to the bus. Instead, he hid in the bathroom until the bus pulled away without him.
He wandered on the Universal lots all day and found an abandoned room. He decided he would take that room and pretend he belonged there.
So, he hitched a ride to Ventura Boulevard and found a store that had alphabet letters that fit into a directory. He bought the letters and snuck back into Universal and posted those letters and his room number. Some people were on to the charade, but no one had enough power to report him, or deport him off the lot.
He had no job but watched TV making and a couple of films being made. He talked his way into meeting a couple of studio executives, one of them was film giant Sidney Sheinberg who served as President and CEO of MCA Inc. and Universal Studios for over 20 years.
Somehow , little Steve , barely in his teens , convinced Sheinberg that he was an aspiring filmmaker, and incredibly, Sheinberg believed in Steve’s talent and moxie.
Steve had been ‘directing’ his first low budget film in his hometown. “Firelight” premiered on March 24, 1964, at a local cinema, the Phoenix Little Theatre, in Phoenix, Arizona. Steve managed to sell (via advertising by friends and family) 500 tickets at one dollar each. His entire film budget was $500.
Sheinberg had also seen Steve’s first short film, Amblin, and signed the director, then 20, to a 7-year contract to the MCA/Universal Television in 1968.
As recounted on numerous occasions, Sheinberg famously told him, “a lot of people will stick with you in success; I’ll stick with you in failure.”
Within a year, thanks to Sheinberg ,Steve was directing segments on Rod Serling’s “Night Gallery,” a TV show. And within another year, Steve was directing his first low budget film. When Sheinberg saw Steve’s work he was impressed.
Sheinberg green lit Steve’s major directorial debut, “Sugarland Express” starring Goldie Hawn.
By now, you’ve probably guessed the amazing and true story of that lonely, bullied kid, who believed in the magic of filmmaking and its healing and redemptive powers. At least to him.
Yes, that little kid, who hid in a bathroom and talked his way onto the Universal lot was and IS… Steven Spielberg.
Spielberg’s films have grossed an astounding $10.1 billion worldwide, making him the top-grossing director of all time, even without adjusting for inflation.
Spielberg has been nominated for 22 Academy Awards and has won four.
“Schindler’s List” (1994) earned him best director and best picture. “Saving Private Ryan” (1999) earned him best director.
All of this, at least in part, was because this young kid had a dream, nerve, drive, and respect for filmmaking…and of course, enormous talent.
But that dream may have never come true, had he not hid in that bathroom at Universal on a bus tour.