Stanley Kubrick – The Early Years


Stanley Kubrick was born on July 26, 1928, in the Bronx, New York, the first of two children of Jacques (Jacob) Leonard Kubrick (1901–85) and his wife Sadie Gertrude (née Perveler; 1903–85), both of whom were Jewish. His sister, Barbara Mary Kubrick, was born in 1934. Jacques Kubrick, whose parents and paternal grandparents were of Polish, Austrian, and Romanian origin, was a doctor. At Stanley’s birth, the Kubricks lived in an apartment at 2160 Clinton Avenue in The Bronx. Kubrick biographer Geoffrey Cocks writes that Kubrick’s family was not religious, although his parents had been married in a Jewish ceremony. When, in 1980, Michel Ciment asked Kubrick whether he had a religious upbringing, he replied “No, not at all.”

Kubrik3A friend of Kubrick’s family notes that although his father was a prominent doctor, “Stanley and his mom were such regular people. They had no airs about them.” As a boy, he was considered “bookish” and generally uninterested in activities in his Bronx neighborhood. According to a friend, “When we were teenagers hanging around the Bronx, he was just another bright, neurotic, talented guy—just another guy trying to get into a game with my softball club and mess around with girls.” Many of his friends from his “close-knit neighborhood” would become involved with his early films, including writing music scores and scripts.

When he was twelve, Kubrick’s father taught him chess. The game remained a lifelong obsession and appeared in many scenes in his films. Kubrick explained the value of playing chess to his career thus:

If chess has any relationship to filmmaking, it would be in the way it helps you develop patience and discipline in choosing between alternatives at a time when an impulsive decision seems very attractive.

kubrick2When he was thirteen, Kubrick’s father bought him a Graflex camera, triggering a fascination with still photography. As a teenager, Kubrick was interested in jazz, and briefly attempted a career as a drummer. His father was disappointed in his failure to achieve excellence in school, which he felt Stanley was capable of. He encouraged him to read from his library at home while at the same time permitting him to take up photography as a serious hobby.

Kubrick attended William Howard Taft High School from 1941 to 45. He was a poor student, with a meager 67 grade average. According to his English teacher, “the idea of literature and the reading of literature, from a non-academic, from a more human point of view, clearly was what interested him. He was a literary guy even as a young man …” Kubrick had a poor attendance record, and often skipped school to take in double-feature films. He graduated in 1945, but his poor grades, combined with the demand for college admissions from soldiers returning from the Second World War, eliminated hope of higher education. Later in life, Kubrick spoke disdainfully of his education and of education in general, maintaining that nothing about school interested him. His parents sent him to live with relatives for a year in Los Angeles in the hopes that it would help his academic growth.

While still in high school, he was chosen as an official school photographer for a year. In 1946, since he was not able to gain admission to day session classes at colleges, he briefly attended evening classes at the City College of New York. Eventually, he sought jobs as a freelance photographer, and by graduation, he had sold a photographic series to Look magazine. Kubrick supplemented his income by playing chess “for quarters” in Washington Square Park and various Manhattan chess clubs.

In 1946, he became an apprentice photographer for Look and later a full-time staff photographer. (Many early [1945–50] photographs by Kubrick have been published in the book Drama and Shadows and also appear as a special feature on the 2007 Special Edition DVD of 2001: A Space Odyssey.) In 2011, many of his photos for Look, previously available only for viewing in museum archives or books, were hand selected from thousands by curators at the Museum of the City of New York, and made available as limited edition prints.

Kubrick-family-smDuring his Look magazine years, Kubrick married his high-school sweetheart Toba Metz in May 1948. They lived together in Greenwich Village. During this time, Kubrick began frequenting film screenings at the Museum of Modern Art and the cinemas of New York City. He was inspired by the complex, fluid camerawork of the director Max Ophüls, whose films influenced Kubrick’s later visual style, and by the director Elia Kazan, whom he described as America’s “best director” at that time, with his ability of “performing miracles” with his actors. Via Stanley Kubrick

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