Forget the Ivy League.
In Hollywood in 1984, the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television is the alma mater to list on your re'sume'.
At the dedication today of the school's new $15.2 million complex, the ribbon-cutters included George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Old Hollywood was represented too -- by Ronald Reagan, offering pre-filmed congratulations to his constituents at USC.
The ceremony, with a crowd of several hundred, resembled a Hollywood Boulevard premiere instead of a sedate academic function. As the proverbial ribbon was sliced by the facility's most prominent donors, Susan Anton -- wearing a sequined outfit with bow tie -- sang the Pointer Sisters' "I'm So Excited" over the public address system, accompanied by the USC Trojan Band. Hundreds of balloons ascended into the search-lit skies, and dry ice scoured the stage.
The only essential element that was missing was Daily Variety's Army Archerd interviewing starlets as they walked into the big event. But that never would have been allowed here; the press was herded into a little pen to watch the ceremony and a line of black-clad young men prevented anyone from following the likes of Spielberg and Lucas as they left the stage following the ceremony.
A few moments later, as Spielberg and Lucas were ushered through back doors in a private tour of the complex, a few questions were allowed. Lucas was asked if the state-of-the-art equipment would make the film-making process too easy for the USC students. It had been acknowledged that some alumni were grumbling that these kids today had it too easy.
"Learning is never easy," responded Lucas. Then he challenged the reporter: "Would you rather write without your word processor?" High tech marches on.
Spielberg, for his part, confirmed that it was true that the USC film school had rejected his application. "I'm proud of that," he said. "It was worth being turned away by the best university in the country for young film talent." Then, as he and Lucas entered the back door of the new Harold Lloyd Motion Picture Sound Stage, the interview was ended and the press was forbidden from following.
The Harold Lloyd Sound Stage is only one element of the new campus. The other structures include the George Lucas Instructional Building, the Marcia Lucas Post-Production Building (named after George's ex-wife, who is also a USC alumnus and an Oscar-winning film editor), the Steven Spielberg Music Scoring Stage and the Johnny Carson Television Center.
The tone of the evening was euphoric, but veteran director Haskell Wexler offered a cautionary note in a conversation during the reception that followed the ribbon-cutting. "There's a big danger in this town," said Wexler. "Kids go to USC in order to get into the business, and they go into the business in order to do what the business has always done."
But he didn't want to throw a damper on the evening. After all, he was the one who wrote the letter of recommendation that helped George Lucas get into USC. And the fact that Lucas graduated from USC is enough to stoke the Hollywood dreams of thousands of high school seniors throughout America.