George Stevens Jr: A son of Hollywood
Honorary Academy Award recipient George Stevens Jr. attends the 2012 Governors Awards, at The Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, Calif., December 1, 2012. (Richard Harbaugh/AMPAS)
(CBS News) George Stevens earned two Academy Awards for Best Director. His son, George Stevens, Jr, was a Production Assistant on his father's film "Giant," which is when movies became a FAMILY AFFAIR. He recently received an honorary Oscar for his life-long contributions to film. Rita Braver runs down the list:
Maybe you've seen an American Film Institute tribute to a Hollywood great. And then there's the cachet of the Kennedy Center Honors, presented to those who've made a difference on stage, screen and through other performing arts.
But you may not know who came up with the idea for both awards shows: television and film writer, director and producer George Stevens Jr.
"It's an opportunity for audiences to see wonderful lives of achievement," he told Braver. "And I think it moves them. And I think it inspires them."
So there was a nice turnabout when Stevens himself got a very big award in December, presented by Sidney Poitier -- an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement in film.
And Stevens' life is a REAL Hollywood story.
His grandmother, Alice Howell, appeared in films with Charlie Chaplin. His mother appeared in silent movies, too. But most important, his dad, George Steven Sr., was a legendary Hollywood director who made more than 50 films between 1930 and 1970, including "A Place in the Sun" (which earned him a Best Director Oscar).
When Elizabeth Taylor turned 18 during the making of that film, young George was invited to her birthday party.
What was Liz like? "I think she was, without question, the most beautiful woman in the world," Stevens said. "And great fun and light-hearted."
Stevens went to work for his dad, reading scripts and stories for prospective films. He told his father, one of them really moved him: "And he said, 'Well, why don't you tell me the story?' So I was pacing around his bedroom, telling him the story of 'Shane.'"
Within a few years, George Stevens Jr., was working fulltime with his dad, making films like "The Diary of Anne Frank" (1959).
But in 1962, he got a visit from Edward R. Murrow, the former CBS Newsman who had joined the Kennedy administration as head of the United States Information Agency (USIA), charged with telling the rest of the world about the U.S.A.
Murrow wanted Stevens to run the film division. Stevens' first instinct was to say "No."
"I had become, after 'The Diary of Anne Frank,' like my father's partner," Stevens said. "And a few days later I was with dad at the studio, and he looked at me and he said, 'You have to do it.'"
So Stevens came to Washington, and at age 29 stared producing some 300 short documentary films a year for USIA.
He became friends with members of the Kennedy family, and got to know the President. "It was a time filled with possibility, and it was thrilling to be part of it," he said.
When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Stevens poured his sorrow into producing a highly-praised documentary about his life and presidency, "Years of Lightning, Day of Drums."
Stevens left government to help found the American Film Institute, with his friends, actors Sidney Poitier and Gregory Peck. Working with the Library of Congress, AFI has been a leader in preserving original prints of classic films; and, through a program in Los Angeles, training future generations of filmmakers.
After launching AFI's tributes to film pioneers, Stevens says he got the idea of the Kennedy Center honors from the President's own words: "I look forward to an America that will honor achievement in the arts the way we honor achievement in business and statecraft."
At age 80, Stevens, who has been married to his wife Elizabeth for 47 years, has managed to become a force in both Hollywood and Washington. He jokes he had to forge a career that was different from his famous father.
"There's the issue of, how do you establish yourself and your own identity? I didn't suffer about it.
And now, Stevens has his own Oscar to display -- along with two won by his father. "I think he'd be pleased that his Oscars have company!" Stevens laughed.
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