Honorary degree citation - William K. Everson*
By: Peter Rist, June 1993
Mr. Rector, I have the honour to present to you William K. Everson, one of the world's most distinguished film historians. Mr. Everson has dedicated his entire life to understanding, preserving, teaching and showcasing films.
Legend has it that at the age of three or four he changed the order of his given names, Keith William, because he was so impressed by William K. Howard's direction of Transatlantic. Tout enfant, dans une banlieue de Londres, Hayes, William K. Everson achetait des revues de cinéma avant même de savoir lire! Dès l'âge de douze ans, il était abonné à un grand nombre de revues spécialisées dans ce domaine et, à treize ans, il postulait un emploi au service de publicité d'une société cinématographique. Thinking he was sixteen, Renown Pictures hired him. In 1950, at the age of 21, he immigrated to the United States, whereupon he began work for an independent film distributor in New York City, and soon moved to Allied Artists as foreign publicity director. Throughout these formative years Everson regularly wrote about film and watched more films than would seem humanly possible - averaging 1000 films a year; that's three films screened per day!! Settling down somewhat in 1958, he began his academic career by teaching at Manhattan's School of the Visual Arts, and in 1972, he was hired by New York University's department of Cinema Studies, where he has been working as a full time professor ever since.
It is extremely unlikely that anyone working in the field of film scholarship has kept as busy as Professor Everson. He has written over fifteen books, including the definitive American Silent Film and The Hollywood Western. For over twenty years he has been running regular film series (as courses) at The New School in Manhattan. He presents films regularly at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, California, and at Harvard University's Carpenter Centre. He has lectured at the American Film Institute Theatre, the British National Film Theatre and at many other cinematheques, universities and cinemas. II se rend en Europe trois ou quatre fois par année pour y présenter des films d'archives en Grande-Bretagne, en Suisse, en Belgique, au Luxembourg et en Italie. Le Conservatoire d'art cinématographique de l'Université Concordia a eu l'honneur et le privilège de l'accueillir en février 1990 et il y a quelques jours à peine, alors qu'il venait présenter des films aux cinéphiles montréalais. For a number of years he was a director of both the Telluride and Santa Fe Film Festivals and is currently a member of the Library of Congress' National Film Registry committee and an archival and filin history consultant to the American Film Institute. He is also a principal participant/adviser to Cinefest, the annual convention of film collectors and historians in Syracuse, New York, and many other similar gatherings.
Almost all significant, recent books and audio visual works in English, on American film history of the Classical Hollywood period include some acknowledgement to William K. Everson. Most recently his name appeared prominently in the credits of the television documentary, D.W.Griffith Father of Film. He is the custodian of the largest private film collection in the world -- 10,000 titles -- and has done sterling work in film preservation. On a number of occasions, his own print of a film has been revealed to be the definitive version. He has seen just about every worthwhile extant film made before 1960, and most importantly, he remembers them. He has an extraordinary memory and is able to recall film plots and cast lists as befitting his super-"buff' status. But, he also has a profound understanding of film's social history and the stylistic attributes of not only directors but also studios, art directors and cinematographers. Indeed, without William K. Everson's championing of numerous lesser known figures such as director William A. Seiter, art director Anton Grot, and cinematographer John Alton, our understanding of film history would be truly impoverished.
Mr. Everson stands out for all of us working and learning in the field of film studies as a model film historian: incredibly dynamic, supremely knowledgeable, and a great teacher whose generosity with his time (and his film collection) have benefitted us immeasurably.
Mr. Rector, it is a great privilege and a real honour to present to you, on behalf of the Senate and by the authority of the Board of Governors, William K. Everson, so that you may confer on him the degree Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.