6 Little-Known Facts About Steven Spielberg

steven spielberg

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It’s time we learn more about the man behind the movie magic.

When you think of famous directors, you probably think of Steven Spielberg almost immediately. The 75-year-old has directed some of America’s biggest blockbuster films, from E.T. to Jurassic Park, and has won three Academy Awards, two for best director. Spielberg has also directed a number of acclaimed biopics, including Lincoln, Catch Me If You Can, and Schindler’s List. This month, the famed director is turning the camera on himself, in a way, offering viewers a glimpse into his life with The Fabelmans, a semi-autobiographical story about his adolescence and early years as a director. The film stars Gabriel LaBelle as Sammy Fabelman, the character based on the director, and co-stars Michelle Williams and Paul Dano, who play his parents, and Seth Rogen, who plays a family friend. 

Spielberg told CBS, “Every one of my movies is a personal movie,” but this one, in particular, is near and dear to him — Seth Rogen told The Hollywood Reporter that he witnessed Spielberg cry a number of times during filming due to the personal nature of the movie. 

The Fabelmans is about a boy named Sammy, an aspiring filmmaker (just like Spielberg) growing up in post-World War II Arizona. He discovers his mother is having an affair with his father’s best friend, a real secret Spielberg himself found out at 16, although he never told his father. He learns to channel his emotions through film.

The Fabelmans hits theaters nationwide on Thanksgiving (it’s already in select theaters), but his family secret isn’t the only thing you didn’t know about Spielberg until now. Here are six interesting facts about the famous director.

Steven Spielberg dropped out of college — but finished his degree later in life

From a young age, Spielberg knew what he wanted to do with his life and was already making progress toward his goal of being a filmmaker. In 1963, at the age of 17, he wrote and directed his first independent film, a 140-minute science-fiction adventure called Firelight, which later went on to inspire Close Encounters of a Third Kind. No big deal! After taking an unpaid job as an editorial assistant at Universal Studios, Spielberg enrolled at California State University, Long Beach. (Another interesting tidbit: He enrolled at CSU because he was rejected from USC’s film school for subpar grades.) 

But he didn’t stay at CSU for long — in 1968, Universal Studios approached Spielberg to write and direct a short film that would be shown in theaters, Amblin’, which clocked in at 26 minutes. The studio’s VP was so impressed with the work that he offered Spielberg a 7-year directing contract — making him the youngest director signed to a long-term contract deal with a major Hollywood studio — and a year later, he dropped out of college to direct full-time.

It’s not exactly uncommon for super-successful people to drop out of undergrad — Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs famously left college before graduating. But Spielberg decided to go back to college in his 50s and earned his B.A. from his alma mater in 2002. The university let him enroll under a pseudonym so that his professors could critique his work without bias, and they waived the requirement that graduates submit a 12-minute film (they decided Schindler’s List more than met the criteria).

Steven Spielberg’s net worth was not impacted by Schindler’s List

Spielberg’s net worth is an estimated $4 billion, but there’s one famous movie that he didn’t earn a dime from: Schindler’s List. The movie, which stars Liam Neeson and tells the story of a German man who saved Polish Jews from the Holocaust by giving them work in his factories, won Best Picture at the 1994 Oscars. Despite getting some serious accolades from the film, he didn’t earn any money: Speilberg told our very own Katie Couric on The TODAY Show that he felt it wouldn’t be right to receive a profit from it. “I didn’t take a single dollar from the profits I received from Schindler’s List because I did consider it blood money,” he said. Instead, he donated the profits to The USC Shoah Foundation, which he started in 1994 to videotape and preserve interviews with Holocaust survivors and witnesses.

Steven Spielberg was diagnosed with dyslexia

Growing up, Spielberg had some learning difficulties. He dreaded being called on to read out loud in class, and he says it took him two years to learn how to read. Because of his difficulties, he was bullied by his peers and labeled as lazy by school administrators. It wasn’t until much later in life that he finally got answers: At age 60, Spielberg was diagnosed with dyslexia. Still, he told ABC, “I never felt like a victim” and instead befriended other students who didn’t quite fit in. And if he hadn’t had to overcome struggles, he may not have become the filmmaker he is today: “I think making movies was my great escape, it was how I could get away from all that,” he said.

Steven Spielberg is the godfather of two famous actresses

Spielberg actually had some pretty prominent parents — his mom, Leah Adler, was a concert pianist and his dad, Arnold Spielberg, was an electrical engineer whose work helped develop computers. But while you may not have recognized those names, you’ve probably heard of his goddaughters: Spielberg is Gwyneth Paltrow’s godfather, and was chosen for the role by Paltrow’s parents when she was born. They’ve maintained a good relationship over the years, and he even filmed her wedding.

Drew Barrymore, Steven Spielberg, & Gwyneth Paltrow
Steven Spielberg with his two god-daughters Drew Barrymore and Gwyneth Paltrow. (Getty Images)

He’s also the godfather to another star: Drew Barrymore, whom he met while filming E.T., when Barrymore was just seven years old. Barrymore says Spielberg became something of a mentor for her and he’s “always been there for me.” He took on the title of godfather when she was in her teens.

He owned the sled from Citizen Kane 

Technically a spoiler alert, but if you haven’t seen this 1941 classic yet, we think the statute of limitations on spoilers is long passed. In 1982, Spielberg found the iconic balsa wood sled emblazoned with the word “Rosebud” from Orson Welles’s movie in a storage auction and, ever the film buff, purchased it for his personal collection. However, he later decided to donate it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, explaining to the BBC, “it belongs in a museum.” 

He doesn’t drink coffee 

You’d think that someone who works so much would need a little kick to get going, but Spielberg not only doesn’t start the morning with a cup of joe, he’s never had the stuff. *Spits out our third cup of the day.*

But the man does have a hot beverage of choice: “I have at least a dozen cups of mint tea a day,” he once told Empire magazine. That said, mint tea is naturally caffeine-free, so given what he’s accomplished, he’s clearly superhuman.