We know where George Lucas was in ’62 – finishing up his education at Thomas Downey High School, in Modesto, California, the town where he was born. And almost writing a premature finale to it all in a massive car accident on June 12, 1962, two days before graduation.
How George Lucas saw himself back in the day is recorded in the DVD for the Collector’s Edition of the movie: “Growing up, I worked in a foreign car service. I wanted to be a race driver and I was a mechanic through most of high school. To me, cars were my life, that’s what I thought I was going to end up doing, and I wanted cars, as well as the relationship that people have with them, to be central to the story of American Graffiti.”
George Lucas was born in Modesto, California on May 14, 1944 and lived first on Ramona Street in Modesto, then on a 13-acre walnut ranch outside of town. He has three sisters – Wendy, two years younger, Katherine (Kate) and Ann, both older. In addition to operating the ranch, father George Senior and mother Dorothy, owned L. M. Morris, Inc, a stationery and office supply store located in the Black Building (which now houses Dewz Restaurant), with two entrances, one on I St., the other on 11th Street. Attached to it was Lucas Business Machines, a company that continues to exist today at another location, although no longer connected to the George Lucas family.
From an early age, George was a huge fan of adventure comics, particularly “Buck Rogers” and “Flash Gordon.” He began attending Thomas Downey High School in 1958, where he “majored” in fast cars, and worked as a mechanic. Just days before graduation ceremonies in 1962, he miraculously survived a horrendous accident on Claribel Road in which his Fiat Biancina was hit by another student from Downey High and slammed into a tree. It took extreme emergency measures to save George’s life.
George Lucas believes this near-death disaster changed him. He has said, “You can’t have that kind of experience and not feel that there must be a reason why you’re here. I realized I should be spending my time trying to figure out what that reason is and trying to fulfill it.” He enrolled in Modesto Junior College and soon gained admittance to UCS’s top-notch film school. His student efforts reflected his love of racing and pop culture: one entitled 1:42:08 was described as a “racing mini-epic,” and The Emperor Hudson was about a DJ.
Lucas graduated from USC in 1966 and was hired as a teaching assistant. Although his job was to train cameramen for the US military, he found time to film THX 1138:4EB, a sci-fi short film which won major student awards.
In 1967, Lucas enrolled in the graduate program at USC and won a scholarship to become a production apprentice at Warner Brothers. While there, he met a young UCLA grad student named Francis Ford Coppola, and a life-long friendship began. Coppola hired Lucas as a paid assistant on The Rain People and Finian’s Rainbow, with a promise that he would promote making THX into a feature-length movie.
In 1969, Coppola and Lucas opened their independent American Zoetrope studio in San Francisco, and THX 1138 was released in 1971. That year, Coppola started work on The Godfather, and Lucas went on to form LucasFilm Ltd.
In 1973, with Francis Coppola as producer, American Graffiti was co-written and directed by Lucas. It won the Golden Globe, awards from the both the New York Film Critics and the National Film Critics, and five Academy Award nominations. Filming took a grand total of 28 nights and one day, costing $750,000—and bringing the best return for any film to that time.
Using these new resources, in 1975 Lucas wrote and directed the block-buster Star Wars, breaking box office records and earning seven Academy Awards – and spawning 30 years of record-breaking installments. George also built his Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, designed to house the creative, technical and administrative needs of his various enterprises. He has more recently shifted some of his technical operations to a facility in the Presidio, San Francisco.
During the 1980s, Lucas collaborated with Steven Spielberg on Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. George created the character of Indiana Jones, plus co-wrote and executive produced the fabled series.
He was executive producer of Willow, directed by Ron Howard, and Tucker: The Man and his Dream, directed by Coppola. Wearing his many hats, Lucas has been involved in dozens of movies as an actor, director, executive producer, screenwriter, and cinematographer.
Lucas’ enterprises have evolved into Lucas Digital Ltd, the parent of Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound; LucasArts Entertainment Company, a leader in developing and publishing entertainment software; and LucasFilm Ltd, which oversees the business activities of licensing of his feature films and television productions, as well as the THX Group, a division dedicated to maintaining the highest quality standards for both public and home theater systems.
He is also chairman of the board of The George Lucas Educational Foundation, a charitable organization created to promote technology in education (for its “Edutopia” magazine, visit www.glef.org).
George Lucas has received numerous awards, including in 1992 the Irving G. Thalberg Award by the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In late 2004, the American Film Institute announced that Mr. Lucas was receiving its prestigious Life Achievement Award, which has been given to such luminaries as Orson Welles and Jimmy Stewart.
Certainly, there will be more movies, more awards. And, we are proud to say, it all started in Modesto, California!