Stephen Pouliot has had a remarkable career since graduating with the class of 1963. As a writer, producer and director he has received numerous awards and entertained millions.
You've probably enjoyed many of the shows he's written. Like the tip of an iceberg, here are just a few: 16 years of the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Miss America pageants, reunion shows of Happy Days, Dallas, and Knots Landing, 18 Ford's Theatre specials, three Elizabeth Taylor specials, and a long list of Perry Como specials.
After high school, Stephen earned a journalism degree at Marquette University in Wisconsin. Pursuing his interest in film criticism, he wrote theatre and film critiques for the Milwaukee Journal. His aspirations took him to the University of Southern California (USC), where he was awarded an Arthur Knight scholarship to pursue a masters degree. Stephen's future was looking bright. While taking criticism courses, though, he started dabbling in making short films and writing scripts. "So I got into a different boat," says Stephen, "and graduated with a master's degree in script writing."
Developing motion pictures fascinated him during his years at USC. He interned on a film with Jim Bridges, director of such films as Baby Maker, China Syndrome and Urban Cowboy. After getting noticed for a Los Angeles Times article he wrote, Stephen was hired by Peter Guber, vice-president of Columbia Pictures. There he worked on the film The Way We Were and others, yet after a while became restless. Making movies took forever. And according to Stephen, "My personality likes to see a beginning, middle and end - in my lifetime." Instead he was seeing a significant number of scripts shelved for any number of reasons, which was troubling to the writer in him.
An opportunity arose to direct a documentary in Newport, RI, on the "new" Navy. "That assignment changed my life," says Stephen, and he shifted his energies to directing. As part of his master's program, he also started another documentary, The Dream That Remains, a film portrait of Harry Partch, a pioneering microtonal composer (1901-1974).
Bob Banner, a leading television and variety show producer, saw the film when it aired on PBS and hired Stephen. "That really solidified my path," said Stephen. Charged with developing shows, Stephen began producing and writing television specials. Through the years he established himself as one of the most distinguished and respected writers in television, theatre and film. While his accomplishments have touched us all, most viewers remain unaware, unless they watch the end credits.
The stars know who he is, and he has some fabulous stories to tell. Stephen recounts a favorite moment from early in his career working on a salute to American imagination in which Paul Newman interviews astronaut Neil Armstrong, followed seamlessly by a ballet called Lost in the Stars. "I have to say, it was one of the great moments," says Stephen, who to this day remembers the awe of spending an afternoon with not only Paul Newman but also the first man to walk on the moon. He also loved working with Elizabeth Taylor and had the privilege of doing three specials with her. When visiting her home he was delighted as a gorgeous collie bounded down the hill to greet him, just like in Lassie, a film she starred in as a child.
"It has been quite a ride and I never could have imagined it," says Stephen of his career as he reflects on Minnetonka High School 50 years ago. "Looking back, there was really not a flaw. It was a terrific public education on all fronts." Stephen particularly appreciates how the arts are always respected at Minnetonka High School. He's grateful to Bob Schmidt, the drama teacher who encouraged him to explore his interest in theatre.
"The dedication of the teachers was amazing," says Stephen. Specifically he recalls a Latin teacher who, instead of rigorous memorization, had the students create a newspaper of an era. Also, how the theatre did Night of January 16, a play by Ayn Rand and the English department tied in her work, The Fountainhead, in class. According to Stephen, though, William Chisholm was the iconic teacher of his day. "He always addressed us as Mr. Pouliot and Miss so and so. He treated us on a very adult level and really got into poets and literature like crazy. He was a terrific influence."