Producer, Camera operator, News production coordinator, Production assistant, Video editor
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Certainly one of the most powerful women in contemporary Hollywood, producer and former Amblin Entertainment president Kathleen Kennedy was associated with a startling percentage of the top 20 highest-grossing American films, some of which were Oscar-nominated Best Picture nominees. After impressing director Steven Spielberg as a production assistant on "1941" (1979) and meeting future husband and producing partner Frank Marshall on "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981), Kennedy co-founded Amblin Entertainment with Marshall and Spielberg, one of the most successful production companies in the history of the industry. As president, producer and occasionally executive producer, Kennedy oversaw an impressive array of motion pictures, from "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" (1982), "Back to the Future" (1985) and "The Color Purple" (1985) to "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" (1988), "Jurassic Park" (1993) and "Schindler's List" (1993). In 1992, Kennedy and Marshall branched off on their own to form The Kennedy/Marshall Company, where they continued their success with "The Sixth Sense" (1999), "Signs" (2003), "Seabiscuit" (2003) and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (2008). Of course, Kennedy maintained her working partnership with Spielberg on such critical and commercial hits as "Munich" (2005), "War of the Worlds" (2005), and "War Horse" (2011). When George Lucas picked her as his successor in 2012 to run Lucasfilm, it only added to Kennedy's legend as one of Hollywood's most powerful and successful producers.
Born circa 1954 in Berkeley, CA, Kennedy was raised in Weaverville and Redding, CA by her father, Donald, an attorney and later a judge, and her mother, Dione, a former theater actress. Kennedy first became interested in filmmaking while attending Shasta High School in Redding, where she took a class in 8mm film and videotape production. She went on to study communications at San Diego State University, and while still a student, worked at local television station, KCST-TV, where she was a camera operator, video editor, floor director and news production coordinator. After graduation in 1975, Kennedy went on to produce a local talk show for the station entitled "You're On" for four years before moving to Los Angeles. Kennedy got her first film job working with John Milius, whose A-Team Productions was making Spielberg's misbegotten comedy "1941" (1979). Though her credit on the film was production assistant, Kennedy managed to impress the director enough that he made her an associate producer on "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981), a fateful production that marked her first meeting with future husband and business partner Frank Marshall.
In 1981, Kennedy co-founded the successful production company, Amblin Entertainment, with Spielberg and Marshall. With only its second film, "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" (1982), Amblin scored massive box-office success that paved the way it to become one of the most successful production companies of all time. Meanwhile, Kennedy went on to co-produce Spielberg's lavish production of Tobe Hooper's horror outing "Poltergeist" (1982) and was a full producer on "Twilight Zone: The Movie" (1983) and "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" (1984). With Amblin, Kennedy had her hand in most of the company's films and served as its president until 1992. During her reign, she collaborated with an impressive and diverse group of filmmakers including Martin Scorsese, Robert Zemeckis, Barry Levinson and Clint Eastwood, and served as a producer on some of the decade's biggest box office hits and even a few Academy Award nominees. She earned her first executive producer credit on the popular Joe Dante-directed black comedy "Gremlins" (1984) and followed that with another giant hit, "Back to the Future" (1985), which sparked one of the more successful franchises for Amblin.
Having already earned a Best Picture Oscar nomination for "E.T.," Kennedy repeated the feat with Spielberg's first serious drama, "The Color Purple" (1985), which depicted the struggles of three African-American women battling racism, poverty and abuse in the South during the early 1900s. After producing Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun" (1987), she and Amblin had another monster success with the partially animated "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" (1988), only to falter with the romance "Always" (1989), a financial and critical flop directed by Spielberg that was a remake of his favorite film, "A Guy Named Joe" (1943). But all was well with the releases of "Back to the Future Part II" (1989) and "Back to the Future Part III" (1990), though the failures of "Joe vs. the Volcano" (1990) and "Gremlins 2: The New Batch" (1990) were minor speed bumps in the road. Though critics despised Spielberg's "Hook" (1991), audiences flocked to the theaters in droves and turned what could have been a big-budget misfire into a hit. That same year, Kennedy oversaw Martin Scorsese's remake of "Cape Fear" (1991), which starred Nick Nolte as a lawyer whose family is terrorized by a deceptive ex-con (Robert De Niro).
Of course, Amblin was not limited to feature films, as Kennedy steered the company toward producing shows like "Amazing Stories" (NBC, 1985-87), "Harry and the Hendersons" (syndicated, 1991-93), "Back to the Future: The Animated Series" (CBS, 1991-92) and "Fievel's American Tails" (CBS, 1992). But movies were always Amblin's bread and butter, and Kennedy moved massive hits like "Jurassic Park" (1993) and critically acclaimed dramas like "Schindler's List" (1993) into production. Though the latter did win the Best Picture Oscar, Kennedy's status as executive producer left her off the list of producers who could claim the award. Meanwhile, Kennedy and Marshall decided to strike off on their own in 1992 and formed The Kennedy/Marshall Company, striking a three-year deal with Paramount Pictures. The first film produced under the new banner was the inspirational survival saga "Alive" (1993), directed by Marshall, which was followed by the underperforming romantic comedy "Milk Money" (1994) and the rather disappointing adventure drama, "Congo" (1995), which elicited hoots and hollers from critics despite becoming a mild box-office success.
For the remainder of the decade, Kennedy enjoyed success as producer or executive producer on several commercial hits, including "Twister" (1996) and the Spielberg-directed sequel "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" (1997). While their two literary adaptations, "A Map of the World" (1999) and "Snow Falling on Cedars" (1999), were ignored by Academy voters, Kennedy and Marshall had their first giant success away from Spielberg with "The Sixth Sense" (1999), a twisting, psychological thriller from new director M. Night Shyamalan that earned almost $700 million worldwide and gave Kennedy her first Best Picture nod since "The Color Purple." By this point, the couple oscillated their efforts between Spielberg's projects and their own, producing "Jurassic Park III" (2001), "Artificial Intelligence: A.I." (2001) and "Munich" (2005), as well as "Signs" (2002), "The Young Black Stallion" (2003) and the Oscar-nominated "Seabiscuit" (2003). After serving as the producer on Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" (2005), Kennedy took time to find more intimate projects like the animated French-American film "Persepolis" (2007), which won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. She continued to mix prestige with commercial success with "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (2008), "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (2008) and the Clint Eastwood-directed "Hereafter" (2010). Teaming with Spielberg yet again, she produced "The Adventures of Tintin" (2011) and Spielberg's "War Horse" (2011), the latter earning Kennedy her seventh Best Picture nomination. In June 2012, George Lucas named Kennedy his co-chair and successor at Lucasfilm, the iconic film studio he founded in the late 1970s, shortly after announcing his retirement plans.
By Shawn Dwyer