Jimmy Carter, Steven Spielberg, and UFOs
Spielberg and the Carter Administration
The movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind was the brainchild of director/ producer Steven Spielberg. The movie about the ultimate preliminary contact with extraterrestrials by the United States government, was released to the public in late 1977, only months after President Carter took office.
It was the first alien movie that took a benign view of human contact with the extraterrestrials. As opposed to the alien invasion movies of the fifties and sixties where evil creatures of all shapes and sizes were here to invade and take over the world, the Spielberg view was of small shy childlike spindly beings with large craniums and smiles. In making the movie Spielberg actually used six year old girls and shot them overexposed making them appear like they were not quite physical.
The movie received many bad reviews, such as William Flanagan for New York magazine, who wrote, "In my humble opinion, the picture will be a colossal flop." There was a flood of sell orders of Columbia shares in light of the negative reviews. The New York Exchange even suspended trading in the stock at one point. It was a film, whose huge budget might have shut down Columbia Studios had it not succeeded.
The film did succeed. In it’s first two weeks it grossed $72 million. It was even successful overseas. Spielberg and his wife were invited to London to screen the film for Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip. Philip had long expressed open interest in UFOs. He had been a long-time subscriber to Flying Saucer Review, the most popular UFO journal in Britain.
Spielberg’s was a Hollywood sensation whose success gave him access to many U.S. presidents. Carter was one of those presidents, but his Spielberg relationship was a secretive relationship. An example of this can be found in the files at the Carter presidential library.
On August 25, 1978, Carter sent Spielberg a picture with an inscription on it "To Steven Spielberg." It was signed "Jimmy Carter". Enclosed with the photo was an attached White House stationary note from Gretchen Poston, which read, "The President thought that you would enjoy receiving the enclosed photo."
The White House records at the Carter library have a photocopy of the photo, which raise a number of peculiar points. The White House note from Posten had been placed in such a way that it obscured Carter’s face in the photocopy. The envelope, addressed to Spielberg, partly covered Spielberg’s face. No explanation was ever provided as to why this was done.
A search, done with the help of an archivist at the Carter library, of White House photos taken during August 1978, turned up no record of the photo in question.
More unusual was the fact that, according to records held at the President Carter library, Spielberg was never in the White House. Records further showed that the two never met, corresponded, or talked on the phone. Yet the photocopied photo clearly shows that the two men met, and the letter and envelope showed at least one piece of correspondence.
The rumor in the UFO community was that Close Encounters of the Third Kind had been shown to President Carter in the White House. If Carter was afraid of making this fact public, it would explain the missing records and the unusual photocopy of letters copied over a photo.
Even Science magazine realized the problems with the President being publicly associated with the UFO film: " In the present climate," wrote Science, "then (and who knows when Close Encounters will be shown to the First Family), it may become more difficult to avoid another UFO study." With UFO letters pouring into the White House, and with the public admission of the President that he had experienced a sighting, media reports of his viewing the blockbuster UFO movie would increase the calls to start another UFO study. Another study was something that no federal agency wanted to be stuck with.
A check of the films viewed by Carter did not turn up any record President Carter had viewed Close Encounters of the Third Kind, this, despite the fact that Carter had viewed twice as many movies as President Reagan, who was famous for his movie watching.
There was evidence that President Carter did indeed view Close Encounters. On March 18, 1978, The Phoenix Gazette stated, "Jimmy Carter’s favorite movie is Close Encounters of the Third Kind. As a matter of fact, the President has seen the movie many times."
Spielberg’s appeal to U.S. presidents carried on after Carter. Spielberg, and his wife Amy, would in later years dine with President Reagan and his wife prior to screening his movie E.T. for the President and his guests. Bill Clinton stayed at Spielberg’s place in 1993, and Hillary Clinton jogged on the beach during California visits with Spielberg’s second wife, Kate. Spielberg had a relationship with a number of presidents, even though he considered himself non-political. He had described himself as "a Democrat with a Republican lining – liberal about a lot of things – bullish about America."
Spielberg had a fascination with UFOs, even though he had never seen one. He liked to tell people that he was born in 1947, even though an investigation by the Los Angeles Times discovered he was actually born in December, 1946. Spielberg used the 1947 date, because, ashe used to tell people, it was the same year as the first major UFO sighting, and the same year as the famous Roswell crash of an alien ship.
Close Encounters was not his first feature UFO movie. When only 16 in 1963, he wrote and directed Firelight, a two-hour movie about a group of scientists investigating UFOs. The scientists, in the movie, provoke a group of aliens who end up invading earth, stealing a city, and reassembling the city on another planet.
After reading the 1961 abduction account of Betty and Barney Hill, Spielberg was so impressed with the events of the abduction that he wrote Encounters, a story about two teenage lovers who witness a UFO sighting.
Close Encounters, released in the first year of the Carter administration, was actually first called Watch the Skies, which were the "words of the final warning" in the 1951 movie The Thing from Another World – a story about a frustrated Air Force officer being forced to cover up flying saucer reports.
For the events in the Close Encounters movie, Spielberg had used ideas from J. Allen Hynek’s 1972 book, The UFO Experience. When Hynek, then Director of the Center for UFO Studies, questioned the unauthorized use of the material for the movie, he was given an advisor role on the movie, and a cameo role in the final dramatic UFO landing scene.
In addition to the photo from Carter, there was a second strange incident involving the Carter White House and Steven Spielberg. As will be described below, Carter approached NASA to possibly start a new investigation of the UFO phenomenon, and to help answer the mountains of UFO mail coming into the White House.
NASA declined the offer to reopen the UFO can of worms, and Carter’s Science Advisor was told this. Meanwhile, however, behind the scenes, NASA was busy. While they claimed having no role in investigating UFOs, at the same while time they were telling President Carter they wanted no part of the UFO scene, they had written a letter to Spielberg trying to talk him out of releasing the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Spielberg was receiving indications that the government itself didn’t want the movie released to the public. It was something that bolstered his faith that there was some truth to all the UFO stories, despite the fact that he had set up the movie as a work of fiction.
"I really found my faith," stated Spielberg, "when I heard that the government was opposed to the film. If NASA took the time to write me a twenty-page letter, then I knew there must be something happening."
While some of the people in Carter’s administration were trying to block the release of Close Encounters, the skeptical UFO buffs were also whining about the promotion of Close Encounters of the Third Kind as a cause of the increasing the number of UFO sightings..
Floundering Columbia Pictures had begun its most ambitious advertising campaign in its fifty-year history. Special two page ads, introducing the concept of UFOs and explaining the title of the movie, were placed in 27 US newspapers, including the New York Times and The Washington Post, a full six months before the intended release date.
In addition, the skeptics were upset about a 16-mm filmed lecture being released to planetariums by Columbia Pictures. It featured a UFO lecture by Dr. J. Allen Hynek, the technical advisor to the film. This, argued the skeptics, would also help increase the number of sightings.
Philip Klass predicted that once the movie was released in late 1977, the number of UFO sightings would skyrocket. However, no such increase occurred.