Famed movie director Steven Spielberg says the Boy Scouts kicked off his Hollywood career.
It all started when he earned the photography merit badge. The requirements called for “telling a story with still pictures.” But Spielberg asked to make a movie instead with a movie camera at home. He made a three-minute flick called Gunsmog.
Spielberg, who went on to amass a $3 billion fortune with a litany of hits from Jaws to Jurassic Park to Saving Private Ryan, is one of more than 2 million Boy Scouts who’ve earned the organization’s highest honor of Eagle Scout.
Scouting “helped me to develop the self-confidence to break into the movie business as a young man,” he says. Through scouting, Spielberg says he learned the important contributions he could one day make to his country and government.
There is a slew of billionaires who were once Boy Scouts. Among them: Stephen Bechtel Jr., J. Williard Marriott, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and one-time presidential candidate and Texas businessman Ross Perot.
The Boy Scouts of America is celebrating its centennial in 2010. Although more than 4 million young people between the ages of 7 and 20 have gone through the program since its inception, the number of Boy Scouts is declining. In 2000 there were 1,003,691 scouts. But by 2008 that number dropped nearly 10%. During that time the group faced pressure from action groups concerned about the association’s policies banning homosexuals.
However, during that same time frame, the number of scouts who’ve gone on to earn Eagle increased from 40,029 in 2000 to 52,025 in 2008. That’s even as the requirements to attain Eagle have gotten tougher.
All of the billionaires on Forbes list who’ve earned Eagle had to have at least 21 merit badges. Today’s Eagles must do all that plus conduct an extensive service project like Hewlett-Packard’s CTO Phil McKinney did. “I rebuilt three community parks that had been destroyed by youth gangs.”
“Once an Eagle, always an Eagle” goes the saying, and that spirit is alive and well in the most successful of Eagle Scouts. The scouting ingenuity that led Bill Marriott to pitch a pup tent to earn his camping badge in the big city is the same drive with which he built a hotel empire.
Other successful Eagles include Walter Cronkite, Kevin Rose of Digg and The Simpsons’ mastermind George Meyer. Also in the ranks are government officials like Robert McNamara, Robert Gates and Donald Rumsfeld. As the first human to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong is one of numerous Eagle Scouts who became astronauts.
As the organization handed out its two millionth Eagle Scout badge to a young man from Minnesota in recent months, the Boy Scouts of America also consummated its 100th anniversary by christening West Virginia as the permanent home of the National Scout Jamboree.
Fellow Eagle Scout Stephen Bechtel Jr. and his S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation donated a $50 million gift to jump-start the $300 million development of the 10,600-acre wild life preserve that will be used for the event.
“I wanted to give back to the Boy Scouts because of what they did for me, and more importantly for what they do for the young men of the country,” Bechtel says. “They’re a pretty distinguished bunch of people.”