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George Stevens Jr., the founding director of the American Film Institute and creator of the Kennedy Center Honors, has donated a major collection of documents and films chronicling his career to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Margaret Herrick Library and the Academy Film Archive.
The collection will become part of the Stevens Family collection, which spans five generations, including that of Stevens Jr.’s father, Oscar-winning director George Stevens.
Stevens Jr., who received an Honorary Oscar from the Academy in 2012, began his career working as an assistant to his father on films like Shane and Giant; served as head of motion pictures at the United States Information Agency during the Kennedy years; and played a major role in the creation of both the American Film Institute and the Kennedy Center Honors. His films include John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning, Day of Drums and George Stevens: A Filmmakers Journey.
“The donation of the George Stevens collection in 1980 was an important catalyst for the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library evolving into the internationally recognized motion picture research resource it has become,” said Randy Haberkamp, the Academy’s managing director of preservation and foundation programs. “We are grateful to George Stevens, Jr. for his continued support over these many years and honored to preserve the legacy of such a multi-faceted family of film artists.”
“The Margaret Herrick Library and the Academy Film Archive stand at the forefront of expertly curated and accessible motion picture history,” Stevens, Jr. commented. “As an Academy member since 1959 and the son of a past Academy president, I am thankful that the history of the Stevens family will reside at this great institution.”
This gift joins Stevens Jr.’s earlier donations, beginning with his gift of the George Stevens collection to the library. He is also donating papers, films, photographs, playscripts and scrapbooks from the other four generations of his family, including his late son Michael Stevens, an award-winning writer-producer-director of feature films and television, as a gift from Michael’s wife, Alexandra Stevens.
The earlier generations represented by material in the Stevens Family collection include Stevens Jr.’s great-grandmother, Georgia Woodthorpe, who earned fame on the San Francisco stage in the late 1800s. One of her distinctions was playing Ophelia to the tragedian Edwin Booth’s Hamlet.
Stevens Jr.’s paternal grandparents, Landers Stevens and Georgia Cooper Stevens (known professionally as Georgie Cooper), were matinee idols in San Francisco in the early 1900s. Landers was an actor-manager who played more than 500 roles, many opposite his wife Georgie, and they each appeared in more than 50 films. Also represented in the collection is Landers’ brother Ashton Stevens, who wrote for the Hearst newspapers for 50 years, earning him a reputation as the dean of American drama critics. Ashton was a mentor to Orson Welles in Chicago, and Welles used him as a model for the character Jed Leland (played by Joseph Cotten) in Citizen Kane.
Stevens Jr.’s maternal grandmother, Alice Howell, went from vaudeville in New York to work with Mack Sennett in 1913, appearing in some of Charlie Chaplin’s earliest films. She went on to appear in more than 100 silent films and is the subject of the recent book She Could Be Chaplin! The Comedic Brilliance of Alice Howell by Anthony Slide. Her daughter Yvonne appeared in film comedies as Yvonne Howell in the 1920s, retiring when she married George Stevens.
In celebration of Stevens Jr.’s donation, the Academy will screen the 1935 Oscar-nominated classic Alice Adams, directed by George Stevens and starring Katharine Hepburn and Fred MacMurray, on June 4 at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. The 19th in the George Stevens Lecture series, the evening will feature an introduction by writer-director Robin Swicord and an exhibition of items from the Stevens Family collection.
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