Steven called him Mike.
Of course, he could get away with that but I couldn’t. Steven’s last name was Spielberg, mine wasn’t. I was somebody smaller swimming around in these show business (shark infested) waters. I was the little minnow who somehow was now keeping company with some very big fish – just treading water at times, and trying not to sink.
We were at a kickoff luncheon for Disney’s top secret “Project M” – a film that was supposed to be in development based on “Peter Pan.” Steven Spielberg sat to my right in his private dining room at Amblin Entertainment, and directly across from me was somebody I tried (without success) to look at as just another collaborator and human being. But his dark eyes, beautiful face, his gentle ways, and his illuminating smile made that impossible.
I was in awe of him. I still am. And he’ll always be Michael to me.
Today I’m thinking about him – celebrating him as a collaborator, and artist. I don’t want to remember the events of three years ago, so I’m pushing them to the back of my mind. Burying them away, and trying to forget. I can do that because I’m just a regular person. But when you’re a celebrity, it’s a lot more complicated.
When you become a celebrity your life becomes public property. You try to reclaim it with bodyguards, security systems, handlers, spin makers, and money (lots of it) to help you hide. But the moment your life hits a sharp curve, and you lose control, the world will know about it, and your life is over.
Think about that.
We all have times in life when we make mistakes (some of them big mistakes) that we’d rather forget. Usually we do forget. We push those mistakes to the farthest (and deepest) places in our mind. We make ourselves forget, and unless we’re in the safety of a therapist’s office, or a priest’s confessional, no will ever know. But if you’re a celebrity, everyone will know.
Michael never had a chance to be a regular person. It’s tough enough when you become a celebrity as an adult. But when it’s thrust upon you when you’re a child, and you really have no power over it, it can end up being destructive and terribly sad.
But that’s not the Michael I want to remember.
I spent this morning listening to Michael’s voice, trying to remember the Michael I once knew – the one I was lucky enough to work with on “Peter Pan.” I listened to the tapes he asked me to record at the story meetings the two of us had. And what I heard on those tapes is the Michael that I once knew: His excitement. His sensitivity. His love for Peter Pan. His commitment to the creative life. And his passion.
Also, his giggles. Michael loved to giggle. And that’s what I choose to remember about him today.
Giggling made him sound just like a regular person.
(Michael as Peter Pan artwork by Mikl Olivier)