He had just gotten his first movie review book assignment, and he was only 17, a high school senior.
Two years later, he finished the first edition of a series that unbeknownst to him at the time would be wildly successful.
It would kickstart his almost 60-year-long career as a film critic and film historian.
He is Leonard Maltin.
And he is the namesake of the most prestigious award one can receive at the Coronado Island Film Festival: the Leonard Maltin Tribute Award.
He also will be back in Coronado on Nov. 11 to host the Leonard Maltin Industry Tribute Awards Gala.
And that book series?
It was the “Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide” and it lasted for the next 45 years, updated almost every year since he started it.
Maltin and the film festival
Maltin in talking with The Coronado News says he attributes his success during the past six decades to being lucky, but with the understanding that when opportunities knock, he has to be ready to answer it – which is exactly how he got involved with the film festival.
I’ve been blessed. I’ve been lucky in several junctures in my life, things that I could not have planned happened to me that have changed my life.Leonard Maltin
“Well, I’m a big believer in fate and also a big believer in serendipity. Things happen sometimes for a reason,” Maltin says. “I’ve been blessed. I’ve been lucky in several junctures in my life, things that I could not have planned happened to me that have changed my life.”
Opportunity, in the form of the founder of the Coronado Island Film Festival, Doug St. Denis, knocking on Maltin’s door and inviting him to a festival fundraiser in 2016.
He went, and clearly made an impact because the rest is history.
Aside from having the award named after him, the gala to end the festival was named after him as well.
“My estimation is that the festival was a hit from day one because of the community support…We liked the feeling we got from the locals,” Maltin said in a video interview from early October.
Being the man of film history that he is, Maltin has had more than his fair share of the film world and he said he recognized that Coronado and the people were special.
“That’s been my yardstick for measuring a festival’s success. The people get involved and in Coronado, they do. They come, they show up,” Maltin says.
When opportunity knocks
In a similar way, Maltin has shown up consistently in his own life.
He knew he wanted to be writing about film when he studied journalism at New York University, but even after writing three books by the time he graduated college, he says he didn’t think he would be able to make a living doing that for the rest of his life.
He said he really wanted to be a teacher and thought that he would maybe teach film, but he didn’t have a master’s degree.
But, once again in his early career, opportunity knocked and he showed up and answered.
Maltin was on the Today Show promoting one of his books when “somebody 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles at Paramount Studios saw the interview, and recommended me to the new producer of a young show on his first season called Entertainment Tonight.”
He and his wife moved from New York to California, which he says was never in the plan, but he never missed an opportunity.
Maltin became the film reviewer for Entertainment Tonight for the next 30 years.
You know the expression, ‘man plans and God laughs’. We’ve followed whatever path lay open.”-Leonard Maltin.
“You know the expression, ‘man plans and God laughs’. We’ve followed whatever path lay open,” Maltin says.
No imposter syndrome here
However, for being so young and never intending to be on TV as a film critic, he says he never felt the imposter syndrome – that he shouldn’t be doing what he was doing, or saying what he was saying.
I marvel at what I had the nerve to do.”Leonard Maltin
“I amaze myself sometimes, my younger self,” Maltin says with a big laugh. “I marvel at what I had the nerve to do.”
He does credit this to the fact that he was never really put in a situation with subjects he was not well versed in.
“Had I been asked to write lengthy essays about European or Asian cinema, I would have been out of my depth. Maybe I could have if I set my mind to it, but I never was put to that test,” Maltin says.
“For which I am grateful,” he adds with a small smile.
60 years of variety
And Maltin is very content in the fields and subjects he worked in during his career.
He says he’s fortunate he was able to do something he loved and has been able to make a living off of it. And, he was able to do it by transitioning from writing books to being on TV.
Being on TV as a movie reviewer was not anything he expected to do, even if he had been on TV for his book reviews.
Yet, doing movie reviews live was very different, he said.
“There was the excitement and the immediacy of it being a daily television show. I spent a year and a half to two years writing books, hoping to get some response,” Maltin says. “And now, I would work on researching and shooting and editing a story, and the next day it would be on the air. The next morning I could call a friend in New York who would say, ‘Oh, I liked that story last night.’”
And that’s not the only variety he’s had in his life.
He finally became a teacher, something he only dreamed about doing after he graduated college.
That began 25 years ago, when he became a professor in performing arts at the University of Southern California.
“It’s genuinely rewarding, and I get more out of it than I put into it, actually. Talking to 300 20-somethings keeps you on your toes,” Maltin says.
He continues to teach every Thursday night.
Not done inventing himself
And he’s not done inventing himself.
Maltin transitioned into podcasting about a decade ago with his daughter, Jessie, which he says is fun as he gets to work with her every day and see how she’s grown into being an interviewer herself.
As for the rest of his life?
Well, for the near future, Maltin will be at the Coronado Island Film Festival gala on Nov. 11 at the Leonard Maltin Tribute Gala.
And past that, Maltin says he’s looking forward to watching more good movies.
“I despair for the lack of good movies,” Maltin says, the film critic in him coming through the Zoom screen.
“Is that asking too much?” he quips.