The Volunteer who became a nationally known film director and producer — Taylor Hackford (Bolivia)
Jeremiah Norris (Colombia 1963-65)
After graduating from the University of Southern California, Taylor Hackford served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bolivia from 1968 to 1969.
While in Bolivia, he started using a Super 8 movie camera in his spare time — a camera purchased for him by a fellow Volunteer. After his volunteer days, Taylor decided that he did not want to pursue a career in law as he had earlier considered, and instead found a mailroom job at KCET, a public TV station in Los Angeles, where, in 1970, he became an associate producer on the Leon Russell special “Homeword.” Then, In 1973, again at KCET, he produced a one-hour special “Bukowski” about the poet Charles Bukowski.
Although he had never gone to film school, Taylor went on to be director of 15 major films, producer of 13 others, and the executive producer of 7 more. He was director of The Idolmaker in which Ray Sharkey was awarded a Golden Globe for Best Actor for his portrayal of Vinne. Taylor said of this film: “I make films about working-class people; show business is one of those things through which people can get themselves out of the lower rung of society. To me, the compelling story in The Idolmaker is the guy with a wonderful talent and a fairly strong ego has to make it happen through puppets”.
In 1982, a film that went on to win the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing was An Officer and a Gentleman. In the film, Taylor kept Lou Gossett in a separate living quarters from other actors so he could intiminate them more during his scenes as a drill instructor. In a famous scene, Richard Gere originally balked at shooting its ending, which involves his character arriving at his lover’s factory wearing his Navy Dress Whites and carrying her off the factory floor. Gere thought the ending would not work because it was too sentimental. Taylor was initially inclined to agree with Gere until during rehearsal when extras playing the workers began to cheer and cry. But when Gere saw the scene later with music underneath at the right tempo, he said it sent chills up the back of his neck, and he was now convinced that Taylor made the right decision.
In 2004, Taylor, commenting on his film Ray, the story of the life and career of the legendary rhythm and blues musician Ray Charles, that “his proudest moments were in those ‘chitlin’ clubs. (Later in life Ray played in concert halls, where people would go in tuxedos and quietly listen to a genius perform.) In those clubs, he tried to get people up and dancing. What I tried to create was a little of that energy and exuberance. The great thing about music is when you can get people on their feet.” In 2004, for this film, Taylor was nominated for the Academy Award as Best Director and the Academy Award for Best Picture. Jamie Foxx, who played Ray, won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role .
In a 2005 interview, Taylor confirmed that he never watched his own films. He said: “when I finish a film, I put it away and never go back to it again. Occasionally, I do now because of DVDs and the commentary tracks. I usually put it aside and go onto the next one.. He also directed music videos, including ‘Say You, Say Me’ by Lionel Richie. In 1987, Taylor developed and produced La Bamba, the most successful Latin-themed feature film in history.
In 2009, Taylor was elected president of the Directors Guild of America (DGA). He was reelected to a second term as president in 2011 at the DGAs National Biennial Convention in Los Angeles.
In that time of his life since his days as a Volunteer in Bolivia where he began his highly acclaimed professional film career with his Super 8 camera, Taylor Hackford has used the enduring quality of film to entertain and inform millions of people around the world, meriting him a Profile in Citizenship.
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He’s also married to the amazing Helen Mirren.