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About Us

Sam Spiegel - The Producer

Spiegel was born Samuel P. Spiegel in the city of Jaroslaw in the Galicia region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (in what is today Poland) to a rabbinic Zionist family. He was educated at the University of Vienna, moved to Palestine, and became a pioneer in the Work and Defense Battalion (Gdud Ha’avoda). Spiegel married and started a family in Jerusalem, leaving the country after his divorce in 1927.

In the early 1930s, Spiegel headed Universal Studies in Berlin, where he specialized in marketing and distributing the studios’ films. He was close with the German-Jewish producers Billy Wilder and Otto Preminger. In 1933, with the Nazis’ rise to power, he left Germany and embarked on a career as an independent producer, first in Vienna, Prague, and Paris, and – beginning in 1935 – in the U.S. From 1935 to 1954, he billed himself as S. P. Eagle; only later did he begin to use his real name.

Spiegel is considered one of the greatest and boldest producers in the history of American film. He won three Academy Awards: for On the Waterfront (1954), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), and Lawrence of Arabia (1962). He also received the prestigious Irving Thalberg Memorial Award for his life’s work.

Spiegel is well-known for his business and artistic partnerships with director John Huston (African Queen, 1951) and his long-standing partnership with English director Sir David Lean (The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia). He worked with prominent directors, scriptwriters, and actors in Hollywood, including Orson Welles, Elia Kazan, Marlon Brando, Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Harold Pinter, Budd Schulberg, Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, Robert De Niro, Peter O’Toole, Arthur Penn, and Jeanne Moreau.

Spiegel is considered a storytelling producer, one who chose complex plots that served a charismatic hero struggling against the world. He was also known as an opinionated and controlling producer who cast the movie’s stars alongside the director – at times even disagreeing with the director. He worked directly with screenwriters at various stages in production and took great risks with producing both in terms of the size of the production and its physical distance from Los Angeles.

He counted among his close friends Prince Rainier III of Monaco and his wife Grace Kelly. When he passed away, his good friend Billy Wilder said: “Hollywood without Spiegel is like Tahiti was without Gaugin.”

Speigel maintained contact with Israel throughout, particularly with people like Golda Meir, Ariel Sharon, Jerusalem Foundation president Ruth Cheshin, and his close friend Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek. He gave generously to a number of Zionist causes.

In his later years, Spiegel returned to his Jewish and Zionist roots. He met with a rabbi on a weekly basis and bequeathed a sizeable portion of his wealth to the city of Jerusalem in his will. His heirs and the managers of his estate – his son Adam Spiegel, his daughter Alisa Freedman, his niece Judge Raya Dreben, and his lawyer David Bottoms – chose to transfer his impressive art collection to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Since 1996, they have donated each year, through the Jerusalem Foundation, to the film school in Jerusalem which has borne his name since – the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School. This cumulative donation is the largest ever given to Israeli film.

In 2005, fifteen years after the founding of the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School, Jerusalem’s municipality – at the request of Renen Schorr – named the pathway on which the school sits in Talpiot Mavo Sam Spiegel, Sam Spiegel Way. The street sign reads “Sam Spiegel – Oscar-winning Jewish-American Film Producer, Pioneer, Lover of Zion”

We owe a debt of gratitude to the managers of Sam Spiegel’s estate: Judge Raya Dreben, David Bottoms, Adam Spiegel, and Michael Freedman.

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