Milwaukee native Joe McBride is a film historian, biographer, screenwriter, author and educator.
He’s written books on Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, Steven Spielberg and more.
How did he get into the business?
WTMJ’s Libby Collins recently sat down with McBride as part of WTMJ Conversations. Listen in the player above.
A portion of the conversation was transcribed below, courtesy of eCourt Reporters, Inc.
LIBBY COLLINS: First, how you became interested in the movies?
JOE MCBRIDE: I grew up in Wauwatosa, and I was a big film fan. When I was a kid, I used to watch Foreman, Tom’s Jamboree on TV, and a western every day, and then on the weekends I’d go to movies at the Tosa theater, which is now the Rosebud, I love that name. And I would go downtown, my dad had passes for the big theaters downtown through the Journal, and I would, on the bus, go on Saturdays and see the brand-new films. I was a big, big film fan, but I wasn’t planning to make a life out of it until I got to Madison. I went to UW-Madison and I ran a film society there, but what happened was I saw Citizen Kane when I was, oh, I guess 19, in a class, and that changed my whole life. Because I thought, you know, I was going to be a reporter and a novelist, and then I thought, well, I’ll be a journalist and a film writer and a film director.
And so, I started really getting heavily immersed in films in Madison, I ran a film society, and I was watching films all day long. The campus let me watch all the films that came in for all the different courses, which was very kind of them, and I was on the film committee. And I was writing my first book — well, I did a book of articles called Persistence of Vision that I and other people wrote for the Wisconsin Film Society. And then I did — my first critical study was on Orson Wells, who I’ve written three books on.
LIBBY COLLINS: And that’s who —
JOE MCBRIDE: He’s a Wisconsin guy, you know.
LIBBY COLLINS: Yes, he was born in Kenosha.
I want to ask about that, because you said that first time you saw the movie Citizen Kane, it changed your life. In what way?
JOE MCBRIDE: Yeah, September 22, 1966, you know, it meant so much, I remember the day. I was in Richard Burns film class and I thought, wow. I mean, first of all, I was really impressed that he was 24 years old, and he made this groundbreaking film that had everything in it, and it was so, you know, amazing. And I liked the fact that he was from Wisconsin, that meant a lot to me. But the fact that he was so young and it just — I thought, okay, I’m going to be a film person. And I started watching his other films, they were having a festival at the student union, just by chance, lucky chance.
And then I looked around for a book on him and couldn’t find a good one in English that I liked, there were only a couple. And I thought I’ll write one, and I’d already written a book on baseball before that when I was a kid in Milwaukee, it’s called High and Inside: An A-to-Z Guide to the Language of Baseball, about baseball slang. I was a huge baseball fan. At County Stadium — I was a vendor at County Stadium, and I was a fanatic on baseball, and I taught myself how to write a book, and then I — so I knew how to do it. And then I spent four years writing a book on Wells, got it published, and I published — and then I wrote a book on John Ford while I was in Madison.