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Steven SpielbergA Biography, Second Edition$

Joseph McBride

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9781604738360

Published to University Press of Mississippi: March 2014

DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781604738360.001.0001

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Source:
Steven Spielberg
Publisher:
University Press of Mississippi

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“Scouting gave me my start,” Steven Spielberg once said. He began making story films as a Boy Scout in Phoenix, Arizona. Filmmaking allowed him to express his feelings in “a place where I felt safer: in front of my camera.” He is shown outside Ingleside Elementary School in July 1961 with fellow Scouts Ray Chenhall and Bill Hoffman as their troop prepares to leave for its annual summer camping trip. (Photo by Richard Y. Hoffman Jr.)

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For years, Spielberg claimed he was born on December 18, 1947, but his birth certificate shows the date to be one year earlier. (Cincinnati Board of Health, Office of Vital Statistics)

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Spielberg’s childhood home at 817 Lexington Avenue in the Avondale section of Cincinnati (a 1994 photograph). During the late 1940s, Steven and his parents occupied the lower-right-hand apartment in what was then a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. (Joseph McBride)

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Steven’s parents, Leah and Arnold, were delighted and somewhat bewildered by the unusual creature they had brought into the world. “When he was growing up, I didn’t know he was a genius,” his mother later admitted. “Frankly, I didn’t know what the hell he was.”

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When Spielberg received his Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute on March 2, 1995, his divorced parents were reunited. Paying tribute to them in his acceptance speech, he said, “Growing up was frustrating for me.… But I thank you for letting me own that experience. Thanks for giving me the chance to answer some of my own questions, for not panicking and trying to spoon-feed me all the answers.” (American Film Institute/NBC-TV)

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“Just as I’d become accustomed to a school and a teacher and a best friend, the FOR SALE sign would dig into the front lawn”—as it did in front of the Spielberg home at 267 Crystal Terrace in Haddon Township, New Jersey, on December 16, 1956, shortly before the family left for Arizona. (Loretta Knoblach)

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On the rare occasions when his “workaholic” father accompanied him on Boy Scout camping trips near Phoenix, “we became our closest,” Steve remembered. This was November 1958, shortly before his twelfth birthday. Bill Hoffman is at right. (Photo by Richard Y. Hoffman Jr.)

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Steve holding the Flaming Arrow Patrol Flag of Ingleside’s Troop 294 in the fall of 1960. He thought of the Boy Scouts as being “like a surrogate dad.” (Photo by Richard Y. Hoffman Jr.)

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Infatuated with the sixteen-year-old Spielberg, high school classmate Sue Roper, while babysitting for his sisters, sketched this soulful pose as Steve watched television on the couch of his home in Phoenix. (Susan Roper Arndt, 1963)

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This handmade credit emblazoned Spielberg’s 1960 World War II flying movie, Fighter Squad.

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Spielberg already had visions of becoming another David Lean when he re-created World War II in Escape to Nowhere (1959–62), his 8mm epic set in North Africa. This battle scene was shot on Camelback Mountain, Steve’s all-purpose location near his home in Phoenix. (Barry Sollenberger)

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A frame enlargement from Firelight (1964), with alien lights over the Arizona landscape. Allen Daviau, the cinematographer who later worked with Spielberg on such films as Amblin’ and E.T., said of this amateur feature, “The effects were what was really amazing—that’s what his heart was in. What he did with crumpled aluminum foil and bits of Jell-O on a kitchen table was pretty amazing.”

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By the end of his years in Phoenix, Spielberg had become such a home-town celebrity that the Arizona Republic sent photographer Ralph Camping to document the making of his first feature, Firelight, in 1963. Steve is shown behind his Bolex 8mm camera, directing actress Carol Stromme, with his father as a crew member, while shooting the opening sequence inside the family carport, using his mother’s Jeep to simulate a drive through the desert night. (Phoenix Newspapers, Inc.)

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The premiere of Firelight in Phoenix was commemorated with a mimeographed program. (Susan Roper Arndt)

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Conferring with cameraman Serge Haignere, Spielberg shows concern about the shooting schedule during the 1967 filming of his unfinished bicycle movie, Slipstream. Because the directors he watched at Universal wore ties and sweaters, the aspiring young director did too.

(© Ralph Burris)

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The first film Spielberg completed in 35mm, Amblin’ (1968), was a short subject designed to prove he could make a professional-looking movie. He began filming this bittersweet tale about a young hitchhiking couple that July on a soundstage in Hollywood. Amblin’ won Spielberg a seven-year contract as a Universal TV director.

(© Ralph Burris)

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The end of the road in Amblin’: foreshadowing the mature Spielberg visual style, this composition reveals the contrasting moods of Pamela McMyler and Richard Levin as they reach the Pacific Ocean. Allen Daviau, who later photographed E.T. and other Spielberg features, was the cinematographer.

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On his twenty-second birthday, December 18, 1968, Spielberg, wearing a Nehru jacket, premiered Amblin’ with a party at a screening room on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.

(© Ralph Burris)

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Producer Denis C. Hoffman accepting an award for Amblin’ with Spielberg at the 1969 Atlanta Film Festival. Twenty-six years later, the former partners sued each other over the option clause in their contract. (Denis C. Hoffman)

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Joan Crawford was taken aback by Spielberg’s youth, but the legendary star behaved like a trouper when he directed her in his first professional assignment, the “Eyes” segment of Rod Serling’s 1969 TV movie Night Gallery. (Photofest/Universal Television)

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Sidney J. Sheinberg, who launched Spielberg’s career by hiring him to direct for Universal, looks on with paternal pride as his protégé accepts the 1995 AFI Life Achievement Award. (KABC-TV, Los Angeles)

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The program Spielberg considers his best work for series television—the 1971 “Par for the Course” episode of The Psychiatrist, with Clu Gulager as a professional golfer dying of cancer and Joan Darling as his grief-stricken wife. (Universal Television)

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The landmark 1971 TV movie Duel, with Dennis Weaver, vaulted Spielberg into the leading ranks of Hollywood filmmakers. “I knew that here was a very bright new director,” proclaimed David Lean after Duel played in theaters outside the United States. (The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences/Universal Pictures)

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A portrait of the artist as a young man, circa 1976. (Columbia Pictures)

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The first Spielberg feature released to American theaters, The Sugarland Express (1974), was hailed by New Yorker reviewer Pauline Kael as “one of the most phenomenal debut films in the history of movies.” Spielberg shares a light moment with Goldie Hawn, William Atherton, and Michael Sacks on location in Texas. (Universal Pictures)

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An unforgettable moment of movie terror—the opening of Jaws (1975), with Susan Backlinie as the skinny-dipping swimmer attacked by an unseen shark. For Spielberg, clad in a wet suit as he directed the young stuntwoman off Martha’s Vineyard, the filming was an excruciating ordeal he feared might ruin his promising career. But Jaws went on to break all box-office records. (Universal Pictures)

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Two of Spielberg’s key collaborators on Jaws—film editor Verna Fields, with him on the beach at Martha’s Vineyard; and composer John Williams, whose music has become inseparable from the imagery of Spielberg’s films. (The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences/Universal Pictures; Columbia Pictures)

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Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) was Spielberg’s dream project, his $19 million “remake” of Firelight. The UFO landing site in Spielberg’s science-fiction masterpiece was Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming. (Columbia Pictures)

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Spielberg selected this scene when asked to identify a single “master image” that sums up his work—the little boy in Close Encounters (Cary Guffey) opens his living-room door to see the “beautiful but awful light” emanating from a UFO. “And he’s very small, and it’s a very large door, and there’s a lot of promise or danger outside that door.” (Columbia Pictures)

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Amy Irving with Spielberg at the Golden Globes ceremony in 1989, in the final months of their marriage. (Collectors Bookstore)

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Spielberg’s family name means “play mountain.” Here he is working on one, planning shots for Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) on a miniature mockup of a desert location. (Paramount Pictures)

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Rehearsing the cliffhanger opening sequence of the first Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Spielberg demonstrates to Harrison Ford why he gave up acting for directing. (Paramount Pictures)

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Spielberg’s secret in eliciting such extraordinary performances from children is simple—he treats them as equals. Speaking quietly to Henry Thomas before they shoot the scene of Elliott watching his alien friend dying in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, the director is telling the young actor, “It’ll be sadder if it’s happy-sad, you know what I’m saying? I think you’ll feel sadder if it’s more you’re trying to cover that up, trying to cover the sadness with some happy talk to E.T.” (Universal Pictures)

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Making E.T. left Spielberg with a “deep yearning” to become a father. Here he directs the irrepressible Drew Barrymore as Elliott’s little sister, Gertie. (Universal Pictures)

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Inspired by the nursery rhyme “The Cow Jumped over the Moon,” this famous Spielberg image from E.T. later became the logo of his production company, Amblin Entertainment. (Universal Pictures)

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During the making of Twilight Zone—The Movie on July 23, 1982, veteran actor Vic Morrow struggles to cross a river carrying seven-year-old My-Ca Dinh Le (left) and six-year-old Renee Shin-Yi Chen (right) at Indian Dunes Park north of Los Angeles. Moments later, the three were killed by a crashing helicopter. This footage was not included in the film but became an exhibit in the trial of director John Landis and four others involved in the filming. Spielberg, who produced the film with Landis, was not charged.

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Kate Capshaw as she appeared in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), five years before becoming the director’s second wife. (Paramount Pictures)

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Spielberg’s decision to film The Color Purple, Alice Walker’s novel about a battered African American woman, baffled many observers and angered some. But the director felt a deep personal kinship with the emotionally resilient Celie, played by comedienne Whoopi Goldberg in her heartrending 1985 film debut. (Warner Bros.)

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Spielberg’s film of J. G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun (1987) looks at World War II through the eyes of Jim Graham (Christian Bale), a British adolescent interned in a Japanese prison camp in China. Bale, whose performance is among the finest Spielberg has drawn from a child actor, is seen on the set in Spain with Spielberg and John Malkovich. (Warner Bros.)

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Spielberg’s true coming-of-age film, Empire of the Sun perversely celebrates the death of innocence even as it mourns the loss of childhood through his surrogate Jim Graham. Despite his identification with his Japanese captors, Jim’s love of airplanes also helps him identify with American flyers attacking his prison camp. (Warner Bros.)

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Spielberg at work on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) with producer Frank Marshall (far left) and executive producer George Lucas, two of his most important collaborators throughout the 1980s; British cinema-tographer Douglas Slocombe is at far right. (Paramount Pictures)

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One reason Jurassic Park be-came (for a time) the highest-grossing film ever made is that Spielberg so effectively tapped into primal fears about children in jeopardy. In the film’s most bravura set piece, child-hating paleontologist Grant (Sam Neill) is forced to protect young Ariana Richards from the rampaging T. Rex. (Universal Pictures)

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“The critics in awe of how much I’ve stretched just don’t know me,” Spielberg said after filming Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s List in 1993. “… I had to tell the story.” With Liam Neeson playing Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who rescued eleven hundred Jews from the Holocaust, Spielberg filmed this scene outside the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. (Universal Pictures)

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In Schindler’s List, the irresponsible father figure familiar from so many Spielberg films gradually comes to accept his responsibility. (Universal Pictures)

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Spielberg considers his work as founder of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation “the most important job I’ve ever done.” In the foundation’s 1996 documentary Survivors of the Holocaust, Sol Liber concludes his testimony by saying, “I cheated Hitler and his henchmen, and this is what I got right here—a lovely family, my wife and my kids. And this is the happiest moment of my life, because I loaded everything on tape. Maybe I’m not gonna be so crazy anymore.” (Turner Home Entertainment)

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“I feel I have a responsibility,” Spielberg said while directing Jurassic Park. “And I want to go back and forth from entertainment to socially conscious movies.” The film project he chose to follow Schindler’s List was The Lost World, his 1997 sequel to Jurassic Park. (Universal Pictures/Amblin Entertainment)

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Although it might have seemed unlikely, Spielberg has managed to balance his increased executive responsibilities as a studio mogul with his customary high artistic standards as a director. He is shown here in 1997, around the time of the release of Amistad, the first film he directed for DreamWorks SKG, his partnership with Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen. (DreamWorks)

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Spielberg directing Anthony Hopkins, playing former President John Quincy Adams, and Morgan Freeman, as the abolitionist and former slave Theodore Joadson, in Amistad (1997). Based on an historical incident, Amistad is a deeply moving story of unlikely allies joining to free African captives in 1841 America. Rather than grappling with the film’s themes, the media preferred to focus on a legal battle over alleged source material for the screenplay. (DreamWorks).

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With portraits of his parents, Abigail and John Adams, looming in the background in this scene from Amistad, John Quincy Adams (Hopkins) listens to the African captive Cinqué (Djimon Hounsou) explain through a translator (Chiwetel Ejiofor) how he draws strength and wisdom from his ancestors. (DreamWorks)

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Spielberg directing Tom Hanks, as U.S. Army Captain John Miller, on a beach in Ireland during the summer of 1997 for Saving Private Ryan (1998). The overwhelmingly powerful twenty-four-minute D-Day sequence set on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, is one of Spielberg’s greatest cinematic achievements. (DreamWorks)

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The shocking opening of the D-Day sequence in Saving Private Ryan, with American troops being mowed down by German machine-gun fire in their Higgins boat before they can reach Omaha Beach. Spielberg and cinema-tographer Janusz Kaminski were influenced by Robert Capa’s dramatically blurred photographs of the D-Day landings. (DreamWorks)

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These films show the often-schizophrenic approach of DreamWorks, alternating serious drama with unabashed popcorn fare for lowest-common-denominator audiences. A middle-aged man (Kevin Spacey) pursues a mad infatuation with a teenaged temptress (Mena Suvari) in writer Alan Ball and director Sam Mendes’s film about suburban angst, American Beauty (1999), DreamWorks’ first winner of the Best-Picture Oscar. Giant robots battle in the streets in the mindless CGI mayhem of director Michael Bay’s box-office smash Transformers (2007), based on a popular line of action toys. (DreamWorks)

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Joan Allen plays a U.S. senator whose appointment as vice president is almost derailed by a sex scandal and the sexism of the American political system in Rod Lurie’s The Contender (2000), an independent film acquired by Spielberg’s company in the wake of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment crisis. (DreamWorks)

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Perhaps the most distinctive films made by DreamWorks have been its animated features, spearheaded by company partner Jeffrey Katzenberg. Shrek (2001, directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson), a charming and irreverent fairy tale that satirized traditional Disney fare, became a popular sensation and led to a series of sequels. (DreamWorks)

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Though underappreciated by audiences on its first release, A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) is one of Spielberg’s masterpieces, a complex meditation on the meaning of human consciousness and the dangerous possibility that it could be replicated. Haley Joel Osment’s incarnation of the robot who, like Pinocchio, wants to be a real boy is another of the superb child performances in Spielberg’s work. (Warner Bros.)

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The horrific Flesh Fair sequence in A.I., a futuristic holocaust, was part of Stanley Kubrick’s conception of the film before Spielberg took over the project following Kubrick’s death. Robots, including David (Osment) and Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) (in left background), are consigned to destruction for the amusement of a brutalized populace. (Warner Bros.)

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The climactic scene in Spielberg’s futuristic thriller Minority Report (2002), when Tom Cruise, as a policeman confronting a suspect he thinks abducted his son, decides not to shoot him but to read him his Miranda Rights. Adapted from a Philip K. Dick short story, Minority Report began filming before the 9/11 attacks and the Bush administration’s resulting crackdown on civil liberties and proved remarkably timely in its depiction of “pre-crime” investigation. (Twentieth Century Fox)

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Spielberg found many autobiographical overtones in his 2002 comedy-drama Catch Me If You Can, with Leonardo DiCaprio playing youthful con man Frank Abagnale Jr. and Tom Hanks as his FBI pursuer and surrogate father figure. Drawing on Spielberg’s early escapades, both actual and mythical, as a brash interloper in Hollywood, Catch Me If You Can also deals directly with his most obsessive subject, divorce and family breakup. (DreamWorks)

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Spielberg, who rarely dated as a teenager, found when he began directing in Hollywood that he was suddenly attractive to young actresses. Frank Abagnale’s fraudulent role as an airline pilot brings him similar rewards in Catch Me If You Can. (DreamWorks)

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A visitor to the United States who finds himself stranded in New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) finds the resilience to survive with the help of some working-class friends in The Terminal (2004). This fable of immigration in an age when America often seems “closed” to newcomers was a lighthearted but eloquent reaffirmation by Spielberg of the nation’s true welcoming spirit. (DreamWorks)

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Spielberg plunged America into the depths of war-torn chaos in War of the Worlds (2005). His updated version of the H. G. Wells novel about interplanetary invasion put Americans into the position of Iraqis faced with “shock and awe” from foreign conquerors. In the director’s darkest metaphor for the post-9/11 environment, Tom Cruise plays a working-class father struggling to protect his children, played by Justin Chatwin and Dakota Fanning. (Paramount)

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Spielberg fully expected the firestorm of controversy that greeted his somber film about an Israeli hit squad avenging the murders of athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The team of trained assassins in Munich (2005), played by (from left) Daniel Craig, Eric Bana, Ciarán Hinds, Mathieu Kassovitz, and Hanns Zischler, became the focus of vitriolic debate in the media over the ethics of targeted killing and the price of fighting terrorism. (Universal)

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Old friends George Lucas and Steven Spielberg joined forces once again for the fourth installment of the Indiana Jones series, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). They wore desert headgear for the shooting of the opening drag-race sequence in Abiquiu, New Mexico. (Paramount)

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Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is confronted with a son he never knew he had, Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), in Indy IV. Despite Indy’s advancing years, he is not yet ready to hang up his hat or pass it along to Junior. (Paramount)

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Spielberg with his viewfinder, directing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2007. (Paramount)