The United States celebrates Columbus Day today, Oct. 14, in order to mark Columbus’ arrival in the New World. But there’s another Columbus out there who’s also worth noting: the filmmaker Chris Columbus, who wrote Gremlins and The Goonies and directed movies like Adventures in Babysitting, Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire and the first two Harry Potter films.
One Columbus is controversial because he exemplifies the colonialism that followed his discovery; the other is controversial because some people didn’t like Bicentennial Man. We’ll mark the holiday with five facts about the latter.
Yes, he knows he has a famous name
Columbus’ production company is aptly called 1492 Pictures. The company’s credits include the Columbus-directed Harry Potter movies, I Love You, Beth Cooper and the upcoming Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, based on the novel by Anne Rice about Jesus’ childhood.
His name has gotten him in trouble before
According to a March, 1994, article in the Chicago Sun-Times about Columbus’ receiving a an award, Columbus’ future father-in-law was convinced he was lying about his name. After the director met Monica Devereux at a Halloween party (he was dressed as Springsteen, she as a flapper), she told her father about a man she was interested in and his response was that she should avoid him because he had given her a fake name. In 1993, he told the Toronto Star that the Spanish government once called him to ask whether he would dress up as the explorer during a tourism promotion.
His first screenplay was autobiographical
Columbus told the U.K.’s Telegraph in April that Reckless, the 1984 film that marked his screenwriting debut, was partly about his own life in a working-class industrial Ohio town—but that the director turned it into a “degrading” and “clumsy teen sex drama.” The discouragement of that experience led him to write Gremlins, the start of what turned into a working relationship with Steven Spielberg. (Columbus later wrote The Goonies.) He told the Los Angeles Times in 1991 that Only the Lonely, which he wrote and directed, was also based on aspects of his own experience.
He prevented Daniel Radcliffe from getting to know Michael Jackson
When Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone came out, Columbus said publicly that he had not let his young star take phone calls from the King of Pop—who was friends with another one of Columbus’ young stars, McCauley Culkin (who later denied claims that Jackson had molested him). Columbus subsequently clarified that he was trying to keep Radcliffe from getting caught up in celebrity culture, not from meeting any specific other celebrity.
He’s not just a movie guy
Along with co-author Ned Vizzini, Columbus wrote the novel House of Secrets, a tween fantasy book that came out in March—and was, naturally, blurbed by J.K. Rowling. The second book in the series comes out next year.