New movie captures complexity of Steve Jobs, colleague says | News | Palo Alto Online |


New movie captures complexity of Steve Jobs, colleague says

Computer legend 'took the impossible and made it possible'

"Steve Jobs," the movie that was written by Aaron Sorkin and opened in Palo Alto last week, artfully captures the character of the computer legend, said Jobs' onetime publicist, who is among those portrayed in the movie.

Palo Alto resident Andrea "Andy" Cunningham, who was Jobs' young publicity handler during the 1984 launch of the Macintosh and worked with him off and on through 1987, said that while many of the movie sequences are compressed or fictionalized and some characters are composites, the film accurately portrays the complexity of the man.

Actress Sarah Snook plays Cunningham in the movie.

The movie "captures the range of everything Steve was — he could be a very tender, loving, kind person, and he could also be a raging maniac, and everything in between," said Cunningham, now head of the San Francisco marketing communications firm Cunningham Collective.

"I know some people look at the movie and say, 'What a monster — how could you work with him?' But, number one, I don't think he's portrayed as a monster in the movie and, second, it was worth it. It was so inspiring, life-altering and stretching of my own abilities to work with him," Cunningham said.

Jobs "took the impossible and asked you to do it, and made it possible because he believed you could do it," she said.

She cited two such instances in the movie: Jobs' insistence, minutes before the January 1984 launch of the Macintosh at Flint Center in Cupertino, that software engineer Andy Hertzfeld make the computer talk even though Hertzfeld said he wouldn't be able to do it; and Jobs' insistence that Cunningham achieve absolute darkness in the auditorium by extinguishing the legally required "exit" lights.

"I actually don't remember whether that really happened," Cunningham said. "The reason it didn't stand out in my memory is because he asked me to do hundreds of things like that."

Cunningham said she was "hired and fired four or five times" by Jobs during the 1980s, when she worked with him during the formation of NeXT and as he acquired an increasing stake in the animation company Pixar. The last time he called to hire her, she said, she had to decline because she was working for a competitor.

"I didn't talk to him again for years," she said.

Working for Jobs, Cunningham said, meant creating for people an emotional connection with the products and ensuring that everything to do with Apple and Jobs were consistently portrayed in a certain way.

"He was very picky about the environment because he wanted to make sure the impression the journalists left with was exactly the right one," she said.

For example, he preferred giving interviews at the Carlyle Hotel in New York because "he respected the authenticity of it — real wood, real marble. When you walk into the Carlyle Hotel you feel this classic, authentic thing, and he wanted people to feel that way about the Macintosh also. It would never have done to have the event in a ballroom somewhere."

In Walter Isaacson's "Steve Jobs," a 2011 biography that Jobs authorized and upon which the "Steve Jobs" movie is based, Cunningham describes Jobs arriving at the Carlyle and insisting that his suite to be completely redone — the piano moved, the strawberries replaced — even though it was 10 p.m. and meetings were to begin the next day. He particularly did not like the flowers, sending Cunningham on a late-night quest in Manhattan for calla lilies.

"He believed that if you built an environment, you could affect the way people experience things, so everything he did was about the environment as much as about the thing he was trying to do at the time," she said.

Critics of the "Steve Jobs" movie — "many emanating from Apple — think it portrays Steve as too nasty," Cunningham said. "But all those people working at Apple today didn't work with Steve in the 1980s.

"He grew and matured and learned a lot of stuff in that time," she said. "Because I didn't work with him in the 2000s I cannot say he mellowed, but he did become a CEO, which he never was before. He became a leader, and in addition to being a visionary and a motivator he became a CEO."

But even as part of the youthful Macintosh team in the early 1980s, Cunningham said, "all of us had a feeling -- we definitely knew he was the real deal. He really did change the world we live in, and he was right here in Palo Alto."

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42 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 22, 2015 at 11:36 am

It's really fascinating this insistence on making Steve Jobs heroic and the
corporate business institution the background of such heroism. It kind
of turns my stomach when I look at the previous history of humanity and
what constituted a hero in real mythology.

This is a mythologizing of the corporate state, the corporate hierarchy
to justify a "might makes right" or being a jerk in the service of making
money for others is somehow good or overlooking this kind of behavior
on the part of our "executive class" who, let's face it, are just the folks
with a lot of money.

So, now, after Citizens United, not only is money speech, but in media
and in our heads money is trying to interpose itself as heroism and

Not interested in this movie at all.

27 people like this
Posted by perspective
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2015 at 12:18 pm

How apple accomplishments compare to the societal fall-out from say, the pill, plastics, electricity, agricultural enhancements from the last century and many other historic developments? Meh

11 people like this
Posted by a
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 22, 2015 at 12:29 pm

Oh, I don't know. I have never accomplished what Jobs did (has anyone), but the things I have accomplished that no one else was willing to lead on -- I feel a kinship with his sticklerism, and a kindship with being judged like that. You can't move people by being nicey nice all the time, especially when you (and even they) have a vision with many obstacles to hurdle. I relate to the drive and the persistence.

I feel like watching him is vindication for the rest of us who are willing to be the leaders/sticklers/inertia heavers. The majority of people out there find it easy to be armchair critics but not to take the heat to lead like that in an imperfect world. People fight over leadership roles once the trailblazers have done the hard work, but they fight the trailblazer at the beginning, when it's hardest. You can't be a doormat and get anything done then. (The Apple Watch has been wildly popular, but if it were me, and I suspect Jobs, I'd have been in there busting b@lls about how it just doesn't look good enough...)

52 people like this
Posted by Knew Him Long Timr
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2015 at 12:46 pm

While I love Apple, I also knew Steve to be rather manic, hypercritical, and often downright mean.

Before being fired by John Scully, employees were TERRIFIED of Steve. He would fire someone just for being in the elevator with him if he was in a bad mood.

However, I also knew Scully to be quite cruel with employees who had health or family issues.

Steve was a friend in school, but we parted ways after he became too manic too often.

35 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 22, 2015 at 12:59 pm

a - I agree with your that you cannot move people by being nice all
the time, but that is a kind of specious argument. When Jobs needed
to "move people" as you called it, he was the CEO, the decider, he
was more than "not nice", he was cruel, excessive and vindictive.

Your argument there, the poor misunderstood CEO, is precisely why I
was critical and made my comment. Many CEOs, and managers use
this as a cover for being real a-holes, and the net effect is to destroy
moral and lower productivity.

Some of the things Jobs humiliated people for were things like not
having the precise right shade of white in the first store. He did not
need to "move people" he just needed to give directions.

I think the issue is that when people get grumpy they have other
issues, sometimes as simple as having low blood sugar ... ie look
at the book Willpower by Baumeister.

Jobs clearly had personal issues, as everyone does, but his personal
issues have some severe and unfair negative impacts on some
people. You can say the products he oversaw balance that out,
but those products would have been every bit as good and maybe
better without his prima-donna despotic behavior.

36 people like this
Posted by Knew Him Long Time
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Plane Speaker: Yes, he was vindictive, cranky, threatening, etc.

There are probably good reasons why his eldest daughter dropped "Jobs" from her name once she left home for good.

Maybe we should just say he had an "artistic" temperament, but actually, Mark Markkula managed to be the only one to buff the rough edges ( proper hygiene, clothing, etc.)

The book the movie was made from is pretty accurate.

26 people like this
Posted by @Knew Him Long Time
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 22, 2015 at 2:38 pm

"The book the movie was made from is pretty accurate."

The Walter Isaacson book? My impression was that Isaacson went well out of his way to excuse Jobs' bad behavior by making the argument that "at least what he created justified his behavior."

In my opinion, it's a pretty weak argument to make.

11 people like this
Posted by One More Thing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2015 at 4:20 pm

[Post removed.]

25 people like this
Posted by Wondering
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2015 at 8:21 pm

I know Laurene Jobs doesn't like the book by Walter Isaacson OR the latest movie, because they make Steve Jobs look like an evil creep ( her words ).

But, there are many former employees of Steve Jobs' here in PA.....oh, boy, do they have STORIES to tell, few of them positive!

[Portion removed.]

24 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 23, 2015 at 7:37 am

I used to wait on him in restaurants in town. I can say this, he was not a nice man.

2 people like this
Posted by Dell_fan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 23, 2015 at 8:54 am

This movie on Michael Dell looks a lot more interesting.

Web Link

23 people like this
Posted by Wondering
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 23, 2015 at 10:02 am

I saw him a few times in restaurants around town that that had a lot of vegan options, like Calafia. Also saw him once at Greens in SF.

Amazingly rude to other diners as well as wait staff.

What I wondered about was why he was usually alone, sans family.

19 people like this
Posted by Former Neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 23, 2015 at 10:26 am

[Post removed.]

12 people like this
Posted by Objectivist
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 23, 2015 at 11:55 am

Like many shaping Palo Alto these days would you say he subscribed to the Ayn Rand view of the world? This philosophy seems to be destroying our community.

4 people like this
Posted by PC User
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 23, 2015 at 12:27 pm

Are we witnessing the first schism in The Church of Jobs?

8 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 23, 2015 at 12:33 pm

Thank God I never knew or worked with Steve Jobs, but his attitude
was far from unique in Silicon Valley, in fact, maybe because of people
like Jobs, the farther down the food chain you got the nastier and more
vindictive people would get, as if social status was proportional to greed,
rudenss and self-aggrandizement. In Silicon Valley, it may well be.

The point was that I don't think Jobs was a visionary at all, and neither
was Bill Gates. Gates was good at working out monopolistic business
models, and Jobs was good at keeping things proprietary that were
"sexy" and useful to the customer. But there was so much that Jobs
missed in the Apple interface that you can still see now. It worked
good enough to make money off of is about the best we can say. That
is no dismissable acheivement, but saying visionary, again, mythologizes
business in a way it simplty does not deserve.

A good example is the iPod. The iPod was not the first or the best
MP3 player. That round dial was always a big pain the neck, at least
to me. The menu hierarchy on the device was terrible until the end.
The interposing the iTunes between your music and the device was
a major pain that did not make impossible, just clumsy and difficult
to load your own music, forcing you to buy from Apple.

Compared to the early Archos devices that were also video, at the
time there was no comparison. The existence of the iPod and the
power behind it pretty much eclipsed much better devices. You
could be listening to something on the radio and then record it
to disk to save it or listen to it later.

And the iPhone, I recall many, many internet chat board discussions
on what the perfect device would be. The vision for the iPhone and
the market was created by the many people who would say, I want
it all in one package, camera, GPS, radio (one thing the iPod never
had), telephone. The iPod was not visionary in the least, but it did
leverage what Apple had very well, which was lots of money,
factory capacity, a software platform.

Jobs was like a guy who could creatively build a stereo system,
a sales integrator, a systems integrator, with his own company behind
him. Of course he did well, just about anyone who would have
that support infrastructure behind them would succeed at the
same level Jobs did. That is clearly enough, and I really do not mean
to bash him, except as a human being, gut the mythologizing of
Jobs, and the raising of the business world into the level of a
holy social institution is a very bad idea, an almost totalitarian
idea these days.

It was an excuse to run off and do these supposedly amazing
things, until now we turn around and find all of these devics
are spying on us and tracking us, and the business world has
turned in an undemocratic government with more power and
no responsibility, answerability or democracy.

I am not blaming Jobs for this, but he helped, and his dismissive
and even contemptuous attitude towards people is the norm now
in country that seems to not care to develop its own workers,
but instead to exploit the desperate people in other countries to
leverage ever more expanding control.

If there were nicer people, one might thing that something good
might come of all this.

2 people like this
Posted by a
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 23, 2015 at 12:47 pm

[Post removed.]

2 people like this
Posted by @a
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 23, 2015 at 1:16 pm

[Post removed.]

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