The Partnership of John Williams and Steven Spielberg Started With a Blind Date

Remembering the awkward beginning of one of the greatest director-composer alliances on Williams's 90th birthday

John Williams and Steven Spielberg at the American Film Institute's 44th Life Achievement Award Gala on June 9, 2016. On the occasion of Williams’s 90th birthday, we remember the time the composer met Spielberg in the 1970s.
John Williams and Steven Spielberg, pictured here in 2016, first met on a blind lunch date in the ‘70s.
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty for Turner

Happy birthday, John Williams. Without the longtime composer, who turned 90 on Tuesday, we wouldn’t have some of the most recognizable and renowned film scores in movie history, from Star Wars to Harry Potter to Home Alone. But his most fruitful partnership with a director — one that has so far resulted in more than two dozen movies including Jaws, E.T., Schindler’s List and the Indiana Jones series — has been with Steven Spielberg. 

As their professional partnership started decades ago in 1974, it’s easy to take for granted the pairing of Spielberg’s directorial vision and Williams’s musical accompaniment. However, the circumstances of the first meeting between the two legends isn’t quite the stuff of legend. In fact, as Williams has explained in various interviews over the years, it sounds just as awkward as any regular blind date.

Yes, John Williams and Steven Spielberg met on a blind lunch date back in the early ‘70s when the budding director was beginning to work on The Sugarland Express, his first major motion picture. He was in his 20s while Williams was in his 40s, and Spielberg was so smitten with the composer’s work on the 1969 movie The Reivers that he had a Universal executive set up “a blind lunch date” so the director could try and rope him into working together, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“Steven took me to a very fancy restaurant in Beverly Hills for lunch, in the days of these martini lunches,” Williams told the LA Times in a 2012 interview. “It was like going with a teenager who had never ordered wine before and didn’t quite know what to do with the silver. He was so young, a little older than my children but not a whole lot. And seemed to know more about my music than I did.”

Indeed, while the first impression was rather unexpected — as Williams once said, “the maitre d’ took me over to the table. And here was this skinny kid that looked about 17. And I thought, ‘My, this is the director that they sent me to see?’” — a mutual respect bubbled up almost immediately.

“It was very cute — you had the feeling Steven had never been in a restaurant like that before,” Williams recalled in a 2020 interview with The New Yorker. “It was like having lunch with a teen-age kid, but a brilliant one.”

The rest, as we all know, is history. After The Sugarland Express, the next Spielberg-Williams project was Jaws.

But the history is not all written just yet. As Variety reported on Monday, Williams is set to provide the score for Spielberg’s next film, The Fablemans, which is slated for release in November, putting them on the cusp of a 50-year collaboration.

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