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Jewish Journal

Hebrew Secret

by Naomi Pfefferman

July 5, 2001 | 8:00 pm

The discussion was con-fidential when Roger Richman, attorney for Hebrew University of Jerusalem, met with Bonnie Curtis, Steven Spielberg's producer on "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence." Spielberg needed the university's help on his top-secret film, about a robot child who longs to become a real boy.

Spielberg had written the screenplay based on a detailed treatment and storyboards commissioned by his friend, the late Stanley Kubrick. One of those sketches depicted Dr. Know, a hologram in an arcade game who provides key information to the hero. "It was very important to us to maintain Stanley's original vision of an Albert Einstein-like character [for Dr. Know]," Curtis told The Journal.

Enter Hebrew University, which has owned Einstein's image since 1955, when the scientist bequeathed his archive and likeness to the school.

Because the university is protective of Einstein, licensing expert Richman carefully studied pages of the script pertaining to Dr. Know (voiced in the movie by Robin Williams) and met with Curtis to scrutinize the character's design. During their closed-door session, Curtis opened her portfolio to reveal the whimsical Einstein caricature, complete with bristly mustache and fluffy white hair. Richman instantly approved.

Though studios usually pay hefty fees to use Einstein's image, Warner Bros. got it free for a 12-minute scene in "A.I."

That's because Spielberg's ties to the school date back to 1987, when he received the university's Scopus Award and endowed its Jewish film archive with contributions that have reached $1 million.

After meeting with university President Menachem Magidor to discuss "A.I." and other issues in December, Spielberg made another major gift to the archive, which bears his name. Spielberg will also receive a 2002 honorary doctorate from Hebrew U. "A.I." has brought him even closer to the university, an observer said.

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