Michael Schultz, the legendary Tony-nominated and award-winning director of stage and screen, best known for his groundbreaking, coming-of-age film classic “Cooley High,” was recently in New York to pay homage to Ruby Dee and help publicize his latest film project, “Awake: The Life of Yogananda.” His phenomenal career, as one of the most sought-after Hollywood directors is now approaching 50 years. He has directed some of the biggest hits in film, including “Car Wash,” “Greased Lightning,” “Which Way Is Up?,” “Krush Groove,” “The Last Dragon” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Schultz sat down with me to discuss his remarkable career and the film he’s been working five years to present. He said he always wanted to tell human stories, “because we have so many stories that need to be told that are untold and need to be shared with the world.” Schultz thought directing films would allow him to tell these stories but couldn’t afford to go to film school. So he chose to study theater instead.
“If I make a reputation as a director in theater, someone will offer me a movie,” he recalled. It was the Negro Ensemble Company, where he became a founding member directing half of the season and won an Obie Award, that gave him his start.
An opportunity to direct the film version of Lorraine Hansberry’s “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” for PBS led to Schultz making his first Hollywood film, “Cooley High.” And like Preach, he was off to Hollywood, where he not only directed blockbuster films but also directed many of TV’s biggest hit series, including “The Rockford Files,” “Starsky and Hutch,” “Baretta,” “The Practice,” “Ally McBeal” and “Cold Case.”
He stills works in television and film. Shultz attributes his success and ability to cope and survive in Hollywood primarily to “the intense training that I received in theater school, where we were taught that the creation of powerful, effective and entertaining theater was dependent on collaboration, and acknowledging and valuing contribution. I also owe all of the major portions of my success to the brilliance and diligence of my life partner, my wife Gloria, who has worked with me in front of the camera and behind the scenes on many of my most successful films.”
So why would Schultz decide to work on a independent biopic at this time? It was a trip to the Middle East to shoot the film “Honey Baby, Honey Baby” that would lead to a spiritual awakening and plant the seeds for his latest film, “Awake: The Life of Yogananda.”
“There was so much anger, hatred and emotional turmoil between the Arabs and the Jews. But all of that is on top of a very deep spiritual vibration that you can feel in the land,” Schultz recalled.
At a suggestion of a friend and his wife, Schultz decided to check out a Spiritual Realization Fellowship. “It worked very well for us … It was everything that I needed to hear … And it saved my sanity in Hollywood.”
“Awake: The Life of Yogananda” is currently playing at Village East, on 189 Second Ave. and 10th Street, for a limited run through Oct. 28. “Inside New York” will broadcast our interview Nov. 8 at 8:30 p.m. and online at www.mnn.org. To get weekly program alerts, follow @ArtsinNewYork online.
Joan Allen is the associate publisher of the Daily Challenge, “America’s only Black daily,” and host of “Inside New York.”