David_Paul_Kirkpatrick_Academy_ Membership_Certificate

This Letter was reprinted by the Hollywood Reporter with my permission:

Dear Academy  Board Of Governors,

I have been a member of the Executive Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences since 1984. Academy President Robert Wise signed my life long Academy membership certificate. Interestingly, there is no date on it – as if membership was a timeless commodity.

Robert Wise directed the motion pictures of my youth – West Side Story and The Sound of Music. He made entertainments which carried a social justice theme. His beautifully executed film-stories fought against prejudice, bigotry, and even genocide. That was a proud day for me –  receiving that certificate from a childhood hero. To this day, the framed certificate hangs in my library.

In my time in motion pictures, I held positions as President of Weintraub Entertainment Group, President of Production of Walt Disney Pictures and Touchstone Pictures, and President of the Motion Picture Group of Paramount Pictures. But, I have not made a film since 2002 which would mean I am no longer a voting Academy member under the new ­­ proposed rules of the Academy.

During much of my life in California, I lived on the same street as Gene Kelly. For those in the Board of Governors who may not know who Gene Kelly was, he was  a pathfinder in the American film  musical. He was an actor, dancer, director, choreographer and the star of such celebrated American movies as An American in Paris and Singing in the Rain. In 1952, he received an Honorary Academy Award “in appreciation of his versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer, and specifically for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film.”

When his house burned down in 1983 after a Christmas tree caught on fire, Gene Kelly built an exact replica of the house on the property “with some updates in the kitchen and bathrooms,” he told me. I asked him why he built the same house. Wasn’t he tired of it? “It’s foundations were good, and I liked the lay out” he replied. The original layout of the Academy of Motion Pictures of Arts and Sciences was to elevate film from being a business to an art form and “to improve the artistic quality of the film medium”.

In his last days, before he took to his bed, Gene, in his early 80s, and I   would take walks around the neighborhood with his two annoying schnauzers. We even attended a few garage sales together. He negotiated hard over every dime. At that time, the great motion picture star, known for his athletic choreography, walked with a cane.  His eyes were failing. He wore a  driver’s cap to hide his balding pate. “I am not exactly hirable as a dancer or a director these days. My legs are shot,” he said, with his legendary twinkle in his eye, “but I am still a voting member of the Academy.”

Many of us in the Academy  may have retired from working on motion pictures – age discrimination is a real factor in our industry – but we are devoted to choosing the best when it comes time to nominating films. Our legs may be shot, but we may know a thing or two about film language and its artistry.  We did  spend twenty, thirty, or forty years devoted to the form.

This year, the Academy has nominated Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu for best director and best picture with his effort, The Revenant. Last year Iñárritu won the Academy prize for his direction of Birdman. Is that not diverse?

Over the last decades I have seen wonderful and diverse actors win the actor Oscar, in lead role or supporting,  including Javier Bardem, Whoopee Goldberg, Penélope Cruz, Jean Dujardin, Jennifer Hudson, Jamie Foxx, Benico Del Toro, Cuba Gooding Jr., Hain S. Ngor, Lou Gosset Jr, Lupita Nyong’o, Octavia Spencer, Mo’Nique, Marlee Matlin, and Halle Berry, among others.

This year there were no “diverse” actors nominated, nor where there last year.  Suddenly, the media has turned the Academy into a illusionary burning house. We must be careful of the tyranny of the media. They are looking for eyeballs for their headlines. They love a good fight. They have declared this a crisis and they are pressuring the current President of the Academy, a woman of color, a good and noble person, as if she is responsible for this.

The Academy needs its updates as any house of long-standing does. By all means, the Academy needs to be more assertive and mindful in recruiting a young, diverse membership. We must be careful, however, of making hasty decisions driven by desperation. We don’t change the world by exchanging purported racism with ageism. We create an even larger crisis. We divide a house that was never burning in the first place – and by our own hands, erode the foundation and layout of the esteemed Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Thank you.


David Kirkpatrick



The web of existence is dense – filled with energy, memory and phantoms. For all its sorrows, the web in which we all are caught and can not fully explain or escape also contains the simple joy of being alive.

The Captain was born in Iona, Scotland and has been the Captain of the ship, the Iolaire all his life. We share the same name. By experience, the Captain knows the sea as both beautiful and violent. Neither in its loveliness nor its terror, does the ocean take prisoners. The arms of the sea brought short the lives of the Captain’s son at the age of twenty three and his four friends of the same age when the sea drowned them in a winter storm while the lads crossed the Iona Sound. He and I share the same name as his son.

David Kirkpatrick at the Cemetery in Iona

David Kirkpatrick at the Cemetery in Iona

Despite the sorrows, the Captain maintains a puckish exhilaration. He knelt in the long grass to allow me to discover a Puffin nest dug in the soil. He unfurled his pointer finger to introduce me to two new seal pups on the wet blue rocks. I realized the vastness of the web the day I met the Captain in his sorrows and joys. While I am not the Captain, I am him as sure as I am not the ghost of his son and as sure as I am. For as sure as we are the many, we are also the one.


The Charles Kirkpatricks and the Alec McCormicks in Iona, Scotland around 1920

The Charles Kirkpatricks and the Alec McCormicks in Iona, Scotland around 1920

Note: David Kirkpatrick, the author of this blog, is known  as David Paul Kirkpatrick. To avoid confusion with David Kirkpatrick, the author of The Facebook Effect, the two Davids agreed that  the one David would add “Paul” to his name.

The Thistle Flower in Iona, Scotland

The Thistle Flower in Iona, Scotland

From the French short film,  Le Ballon rouge, 1956
From the French short film, Le Ballon Rouge, 1956

“Follow your bliss.”

“Follow your bliss” is Joe Campbell’s motto and mantra. As defined in Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary,  (always an amusing, often provocative reference),  Bliss is “The highest degree of happiness; blessedness; felicity; used of felicity in general, when of an exalted kind, but appropriately, of heavenly joys.”

But what happens if you have lost your bliss? How can you rekindle it? Joseph Campbell, the  world-famous mythologist,  believes you can jump-start it in two  easy steps.

Here they are, in his own words –

1) Find a Sacred Place

The sacred place “is an absolute necessity for anybody today, You must have a room , or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is a place of creative incubation. At first, you might find that nothing happens there.  But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”

2) Read A Book Or Hear A Song You Loved

“Our life has become so economic and practical in its orientation that, as you get older,” Campbell says,”  the claims of the moment upon you are so great, you hardly know where the hell you are, or what it is you intended. You are always doing something that is required of you.”

“Where is your bliss station? You have to try and find it. Get a phonograph and put on the music that you really love, even if it’s corny music that nobody else respects. Or get the book you like to read. In your sacred place you get the “thou” feeling of life that these people  (the ancient hunters) had for the whole world  in which they lived.”

As for the challenges and psychic sufferings in life? “Find a place inside where there is joy, “Campbell writes, “and the joy will burn out the pain.”

Proof of Concept

I followed Campbell’s advice on rediscovering  bliss through books.  I went back and reread the two books that gave me “bliss” early in life. The first was The Agony and The Ecstasy a biographical novel of the life of Michelangelo by Irving Stone. I read the book when I was nine. The second was My Autobiography by Charlie Chaplin . I was twelve when I read it. Both were about artists.

When I look back on my life, there is no question those two books, (ordered through  my family’s subscription to the Book Of The Month Club – remember that club?) had everything to do with my  own journey in helping film-makers cultivate their voice and their art.

As for songs,  I took  Campbell’s suggestion,  veering toward  the “corny music that nobody else respects.” That was the work of The Carpenters.  For me, it was magic. There is such a captivating and haunting tone in Karen Carpenter’s voice.

I hope this spring, in a time of transition, you find the time to check out the literature and music that pointed you to the person you are today. It may open a lens to your inner self which has been obscured by the rigors of time.

Note: The quotes were taken from the book, The Power Of Myth, a redaction of the legendary conversations between Bill Moyers and Joe Campbell from the 1980s.