From the beginning, Kathleen Kennedy wanted to work in films and since that beginning she had to make her own odds, then beat them.
A titan of industry in her own right, Kennedy has been at the forefront of modern film making. Starting off as a secretary for Steven Spielberg in the late 1970s and rising to her current position as the head of Lucasfilm; Kathleen Kennedy rose from her humble beginnings to become one of the most powerful people in Hollywood.
As we at Geek News Now continue to celebrate Woman’s History Month, let us take a moment to salute this groundbreaking leader.
A Normal Early Life
While most Hollywood executives have pedigrees that come from elite families and friends, Kathleen Kennedy wasn’t afforded this advantageous start. She was born in 1953 in Berkeley, California. While Berkeley is known today as a progressive hotbed and desirable place to live, in 1953 it was just a normal place for normal people.
Her Mother, Dede was a small time theater actress. Her Father Donald was an attorney who would later go on to be a judge. This childhood doesn’t sound like a struggle by any means. It just sounds normal. Normal is still a far cry from the stronghold that the elite Hollywood families such as the Danners, Penns, Barrymores and Hepburns had on the industry.
She didn’t go to a fancy Prep School. She didn’t even go to a mid-tier private school. Kathleen Kennedy is a proud alumni of Shasta High School, a public high school in Redding, California.
She didn’t attend Yale, Harvard, or even Berkely University where she would have had the opportunity to make valuable connections and rub elbows with future industry executives. Instead she went to San Diego State University. There she would major in telecommunications and film. From behind her desk in school, she would work tirelessly until she sat behind the big desk at Lucasfilm headquarters.
In her final year at San Diego State, Kennedy would land a job as a camera operator at a local TV station. Constantly proving her worth, Kennedy would move up to video editor. From there, she eventually would become a Floor Director. After four years, her career at local tv station KCST would reach its peak as she became a production coordinator.
KCST soon became a small pond for the ambitious young woman. For four years, Kennedy would produce a local Talk Show titled You’re On. After the show ran its course, Kennedy had a date with destiny when she was hired as an assistant to John Milius. At the time, Milius was the Executive Producer for the Steven Spielberg comedy 1941. The stars had aligned for the fresh faced, ambitious young woman. Kathleen Kennedy was about to skyrocket to the top of Hollywood’s food chain.
A Partnership For The Ages
While working under John Milius on the set of 1941, Kennedy actually got off on the wrong foot, but rebounded quickly. In an interview in 2015, Spielberg had this to say about the assertive Production Assistant: “She was horrible at taking notes… but what she did know how to do was interrupt somebody in midsentence. We’d be pitching ideas back and forth, and Kathy—who was supposed to be writing these ideas down—suddenly put her pencil down and would say something like, “And what if he didn’t get the girl, but instead he got the dog?”
While she didn’t make the best impression, Spielberg did see something special in her. She would soon become a secretary for the larger than life director. From there she would earn film credits as Spielberg’s associate producer of films such as Raiders of The Lost Ark and The Color Purple.
Production credits would be next. Her first credit as such would be in 1982 for the blockbuster film E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. Spielberg and Kennedy would prove to be inseparable, they would go on to work together for over thirty years.
Kennedy would make cinematic history yet again in 1982, when she along with Spielberg and future husband Frank Marshall founded Amblin Entertainment. Amblin was and still is a powerhouse. With Kennedy’s business sense, and Spielberg’s creative vision the company would have a hand in producing some of the most memorable films of the second half of the century. This includes Gremlins, Poltergeist, and the Back To The Future Trilogy.
After leaving Amblin amicably in 1992, Kennedy and Frank Marshall would go on to found another influential film company. The Kennedy/Marshall Company has been a major player in the game since its inception. The company currently has contracts with almost every major film studio. They have produced a vast number of critically acclaimed films including The Jason Bourne Series, Lincoln, and The Sixth Sense.
Kennedy still maintained her friendship and working relationship with Steven Spielberg. It is a relationship that remains strong even today. After she left Amblin, Kennedy would still go on to produce blockbusters with her mentor. Such films in her post Amblin career include: Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, War of the Worlds, and Munich.
Conquering Another Mountain
2012 would be another huge year for the unstoppable Kathleen Kennedy. She would step down from her position at the Kennedy/Marshall Company to join Lucasfilm as George Lucas’ co-chair. This position would be short lived as Lucas would go on to sell his company to Disney that October. This would lead to Kennedy’s promotion to President.
The scrappy outsider from Berkeley, California had climbed all the way to the top of George Lucas’ Empire and was now in charge of some of the most recognizable and profitable film properties in movie history. Under her supervision Lucasfilm has been a nonstop financial success for Disney. Those accolades include:
- Introducing Star Wars to streaming with hit shows such as Andor, The Mandalorian, and Kenobi.
- Achieving massive success with the Star Wars sequel trilogy, earning a combined $4.475 billion dollars at the box office
- Delivering a fifth and final film to the Indiana Jones series to properly close the franchise out.
Kennedy has also been honored in Great Britain. For her contribution to film production in the United Kingdom she has been recognized as an honorary commander of the Order of The British Empire. She has also been awarded with a BAFTA fellowship. While that Oscar win is elusive, she has worked on an impressive eight films that were nominated for Best Picture. For her contribution to film, The Academy did award her with the prestigious Irving J. Thalberg Award in 2019.
For much of its existence, Hollywood was very much a man’s world. Female writers and directors were a rarity. Female producers were all but unheard of and female executives didn’t exist. It took the hard work and dedication of a middle class Californian to break that glass ceiling. I’ve written about Kathleen Kennedy’s importance to the film industry before. It is something that deserves to be recognized and respected.
As the father of a three year old girl, I worry about the influence that pop culture will have on my child. We are in an era where tik-tok, and social media in general dominate screen time. This has led to the existence a lot of negative things to latch onto for impressionable minds. I am happy to have Kathleen Kennedy’s story to share.
We need to teach our daughters the right way to go about things. There is no better way to do that than providing them with a shining example of what hard work, dedication, and loyalty provide for you if you just do the work.
Thank You, Kathleen Kennedy, for the positive influence that you have on young girls everywhere.
Thank you for reading! When I am not writing, I enjoy spending my time with my wife Barbara, my three year old daughter Frances, and my loyal hound Marbles.
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