This past December, the Kennedy Center Honors had just 4.2 million viewers.
When George Steven Jr produced his final show in December 2014, the number was 9.2 million. But when Stevens was forced out of the job he’d had for almost four decades, the show never recovered. It dropped to 7.5 million the following year without him, rebounded a little in 2017, and then collapsed.
Now Stevens, a winner of the Lifetime Achievement Oscar, is telling the saga of his life and his famous Hollywood family’s history in a memoir called called “My Place in the Sun,” coming next month from University of Kentucky Press. (Stevens’ brilliant father, George Sr., won the Oscar for directing “A Place in the Sun” after receiving a lifetime Oscar Jean Hersholt Humanitarian prize.)
I was in the audience in December 2014 when Stevens, who was beloved around the world and praised only the day before by Pres Obama, announced his ouster to the KCH audience. There was shock. The Kennedy Center had been taken over bit by bit by Carlyle group chairman David Rubenstein (profiled last year with great reverence.
In Stevens’s compelling book for anyone interested in Hollywood lore, the great producer recalls how just prior to Rubenstein lowering the boom on him in 2014 he was first offered his own Kennedy Center Honor, what I liken to getting a gold watch for years of service. The gracious Stevens turned him down, only to be told that Rubenstein was going to start looking around for new producers after 37 years.
Stevens recalls the meeting: “He then seemed to apologize, saying that this was his most difficult meeting since the time he fired George H. W. Bush and James A. Baker from his Carlyle enterprise.”
Stevens — who I didn’t know directed two classic episodes of “Alfred Hitchock Presents” — is nothing if not gracious to Rubenstein, who’s used Carlyle money over the years to take over things like the Washington Monument. The producer writes: “It’s too bad it ended the way it did, but the passage of time now allows me to look back on the somewhat indecorous circumstances of my departure with what Wordsworth called “emotion recollected in tranquility.”
Stevens calls his Kennedy Center career “the opportunity of a lifetime.” And PS He should still get a Kennedy Center honor for his amazing contributions to the arts and to television.