Thomas Jefferson High School Historical Preservation Society

Jefferson and Hollywood -- A Long Running Show | by Ken Rodriguez '77

Thu, February 23, 2012 10:00 PM | Deleted user

Peter Michael Curry (Class of ‘34) once upset and upstaged director Steven Spielberg during a film shoot in San Antonio.

In 1974, a young Spielberg (age 26) cast Curry to play himself -- a judge -- during a courtroom scene in,
The Sugarland Express, which starred Goldie Hawn. When Curry complained about the script, Spielberg allowed him to rewrite a scene. When Curry complained about the actors’ performance, Spielberg told him to direct the scene himself and stormed off.

According to the San Antonio Express-News, “Curry directed the scene. Months later, when the movie was released, the judge said he didn't care for it. It was ‘silly,’ he said. The best thing about the movie, he added, was the courtroom scene.”

In his big screen debut, Spielberg yielded the director’s chair to a Jefferson alumnus with no film experience.

That’s one snapshot of Jefferson’s influence on Hollywood. There are others, and they show alumni producing films with Oscar-nominated actors and sweeping up Emmy Awards for television movies and game shows.

Roll the video:

Marcia Nasatir (‘43) produced one film, The Big Chill (1983), which received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. She produced Ironweed (1987), which received Oscar nominations for Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep. She produced other acclaimed gems such as Hamburger Hill (1987), which the New York Times called a “well made Vietnam War film. …”

Today, almost 70 years after working for
The Declaration at Jefferson, Nasatir has several scripts in development.

She began her career as a literary agent. Nasatir represented Robert Towne, who won an Academy Award for best original screenplay for
Chinatown, and sold the movie rights to The Exorcist and All The President’s Men.

She later served as vice president at United Artists (the first woman in Hollywood to hold such a position), which produced Oscar-winning films
Rocky, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Coming Home. In the early 80s, she became President of Johnny Carson Productions. In a career that spans more than 40s years, one film stands out.
“I received the most satisfaction from
The Big Chill,” Nasatir says, “because 26 years later, it continues to resonate with original and new audiences.”

Glenn Jordan (‘54) made his mark as an A-list director of television movies, winning four Emmy Awards and receiving numerous Emmy nominations. A graduate of Yale Drama School, Jordan also directed three motion pictures, the most notable being Mass Appeal (1984).

According to the Encyclopedia of Television Film Directors, Jordan won three Emmy Awards for outstanding production/drama/program and a fourth Emmy for outstanding director.

The New York Times offers the following: “Jordan's shining hour was the 1991 Hallmark Hall of Fame offering
Sarah Plain and Tall, a winner of nine Emmy Awards; earlier, Jordan had personally picked up two Emmies for producing and directing the memorable James Garner/James Woods TV movie Promise (1986). He has also won the Directors Guild of America award for his work on the late-1970s TV series Family, as well as several Peabody awards for other projects.”

Allen Ludden attended Jefferson but graduated from Corpus Christi High School in 1934. He hosted many game shows, including the GE College Bowl, but is best known as the emcee of Password, which ran in various forms from 1961 until 1980. His work on Password earned Ludden a Daytime Emmy Award for outstanding game show host. Ludden met actress Betty White on Password and they married. The marriage lasted until Ludden succumbed to stomach cancer in 1981. He later was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame next to White. Twenty years after his death, TV Guide named Ludden the greatest game show host in history.

Robert Easton Burke (‘48) possesses an extraordinary list of radio, television and film credits, dating to 1945 when he appeared on the popular radio show, Quiz Kids. He has appeared in numerous films, among them: Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea (1961), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), and The Beverly Hillbillies (1993). TV credits include Rawhide, Alias Smith and Jones, The Andy Griffith Show, The Lucy Show and a guest appearance on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.

In Hollywood, he carries the name “Robert Easton,” and is known as “The Man of A Thousand Voices” for his mastery of the English dialect. He has served as a dialogue and dialect coach on dozens of films, including
Scarface, Good Will Hunting and God and Generals.

From the New York Times: “... he has been acknowledged and celebrated as Hollywood's leading dialectician and vocal coach. Stars ranging from Gregory Peck to Sir Laurence Olivier have sought out Easton's services to instruct them in the intricacies of specific regional and ethnic dialects.”

Michael Zinberg (‘61) may be best known as the executive producer of the Bob Newhart Show from 1972-78 on CBS. He directed dozens of episodes of such well-known TV shows as Everybody Loves Raymond, L.A. Law, Law & Order, Lou Grant, WKRP in Cincinnati, 9-5, Midnight Caller, The Practice, Caroline In The City, and The White Shadow. He also wrote for television series and produced two television movies, Accidental Meeting (1994) and For The Very First Time (1991).

Truett Pratt (‘67) co-wrote the theme song to Happy Days, the iconic 1970s show that featured Ron Howard and Henry Winkler and a cast of characters enrolled at -- believe it or not -- fictional Jefferson High School. In 1976, the song, co-written by Jerry McClain, peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. “I was very proud to have received a first class, high quality, college bound education from a public high school,” Pratt said in 2009. The record sold millions of copies.

Jefferson’s connection with the television and film industry began in 1940. Twentieth Century Fox came to campus that year to film
High School, starring Jane Withers. The motion picture included members of the Lasso drill team. Decades later, parts of Johnny Be Good (1988) also were filmed at Jefferson.

In the summer of 1974, young Hollywood royalty arrived on campus. A striking blonde with large sunglasses emerged from a shiny Cadillac convertible, parked on Club Drive, and crossed over  to the tennis courts. Accompanied by two men in their 20s, one with long, shaggy hair, the blonde approached a teenage couple, relaxing with a German Shepherd.

The woman, dressed in a one-piece, yellow terrycloth outfit, petted the dog and smiled. “We’re looking for a doubles partner,” she began. “Wanna play?”

Darrell Sanders (‘74) jumped. He had competed on the Jefferson tennis team and recognized the blonde immediately. “I’m Goldie Hawn,” the woman said, extending a hand. “And these are my partners, Michael and Steven.”

A year or two later, Darrell saw
Sugarland Express and recognized Michael as Hawn’s co-star, “Michael Sacks.” And Steven? The third guy in the doubles match, the one with the long, shaggy hair, did not appear in the film. He was off camera, directing.

It wouldn’t be accurate to say Spielberg got his start at Jefferson, since no part of
Sugarland Express was filmed on campus. But you could say he came under the school’s spell. The Oscar-winning director not only cast an alumnus in the film, he allowed the late Judge Curry to rewrite and direct. And then, while driving through the historic neighborhood, Spielberg just had to stop and see Jefferson for himself.

About Ken Rodriguez: An Alamo City native and graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School, Ken Rodriguez is a former sports and Metro columnist at the San Antonio Express-News. In 1999, Ken was a member of a Miami Herald team that won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. In 2006, the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors awarded him first place in the state for general column writing. He has worked as a marketer at Our Lady of the Lake University since 2009. Ken also writes freelance stories for a number of magazines and Web sites.

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