Steven Spielberg has a cute bald spot--a silver-dollar-size patch of arid land on the otherwise fertile scalp that sheathes his even more fertile brain. When making movies he covers it with a studio-issue baseball cap, but certain formal occasions call for cagier camouflage. On Oscar night 1994, when Schindler's List won seven awards (including Best Picture and Best Director) and Jurassic Park took three others, a makeup artist sprayed Spielberg's bald spot with hair-colored paint. No problem, until half an hour into the post-Oscar party, by which time the star of the evening had absently patted his head a few times, then stroked his face. "My wife Kate rushed over," he recalls, "and said, 'You look like Al Jolson!' I was mortified. I was also relieved that I hadn't rubbed my head during the ceremony and, in front of God and a billion people, given my thanks in blackface."
The Oscar winner was 47 then. Now he is 50, and 50 is an age for realists. A man takes stock of his dwindling physical inventory and starts thinking not of empire building but of simple maintenance in health, family and career--the preservation, for just a few more years, dear God, of the suddenly precious status quo. Growth is measured in the spreading acreage around the waist, or in that weird cyst on your neck that makes you wonder if you've been infiltrated by aliens. The people you work with, who used to be older and as stuffy as your parents, are now younger, as mysterious as your kids, and taking over. Fifty is a time for holding on, for hoping that time and gravity will not pull you down...quite yet.
Spielberg, whose net worth Forbes recently estimated at $1 billion, may be immune to those temporal lead weights; the fellow who makes movies everyone wants to see is not like everyone else. "People like Steven don't come along every day," says his friend and frequent collaborator George Lucas, "and when they do, it's an amazing thing. It's like talking about Einstein or Babe Ruth or Tiger Woods. He's not in a group of filmmakers his age; he's far, far away."
Still, one can ask how a half-century of living and nearly a quarter-century's reign as the most successful moviemaker in history affect the man who took out a patent on perennial childhood. From the films he made as a 12-year-old, through such defining blockbusters as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, to the darker Empire of the Sun and the harsh, self-critical Hook--which behind the raucous derring-do sounds like a cry for help from a man afraid that his personal fountain of youth has run dry--Spielberg has analyzed kids' loneliness, tested their innocence and celebrated their resilience in what amounts to cliff-hanging chapters in the most sweetly confessional autobiography of any mainstream director. "I feel I'm all over my movies," he says. "I know my movies are all over me."