Oliver Stone was born in New York City on 15th September, 1946. He attended Yale University but dropped out and taught English at the Free Pacific Institute before working briefly as a merchant marine. Stone returned to university but dropped out for a second time.
Stone now joined the United States Army and served in Vietnam from April 1967 to November 1968 as a member of the 25th Infantry Regiment. He was wounded twice in action and was awarded the Bronze Star for "extraordinary acts of courage under fire."
In 1971 he directed a short film entitled, Last Year in Vietnam. Three years later he wrote and directed a horror film, Seizure. His breakthrough film was Midnight Express (1978) where he won an oscar for the best adapted screenplay.
Stone wrote and directed The Hand (1981). This was followed by Salvador (1986), Platoon (1986), Wall Street (1987), Talk Radio (1988), Born on the Fourth of July (1989) and The Doors (1991). Stone won two Academy Awards for directing Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July.
In 1991 Oliver Stone, decided to make a movie on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The script for JFK, written by Stone and Zachary Sklar, is based on two different books, On the Trail of the Assassins by Jim Garrison and Crossfire: The Plot that Killed Kennedy by Jim Marrs. Stone took the view that Kennedy was killed because of his attempts to bring an end to the Cold War.
The movie was both a financial and artistic success earning over $205 million worldwide and being nominated for eight Academy Awards. However, the film was attacked by those journalists who had since 1963 had steadfastly defended the lone-gunman theory. Tom Wicker attacked Stone’s portrayal of Jim Garrison as a hero-figure and complained that he had ignored the claims that he was a corrupt political figure. He added that the film treats “matters that are highly speculative as fact and truth, in effect rewriting history”.
Bernard Weinraub argued in the New York Times that the studio should withdraw the movie: "At what point does a studio exercise its leverage and blunt the highly charged message of a film maker like Oliver Stone?" When veteran film critic, Pat Dowell, provided a good review for The Washingtonian, the editor, John Limpert, rejected it on the grounds that he did not want the magazine to be associated with this "preposterous" viewpoint. As a result Dowell resigned as the magazine’s film critic.
Jack Valenti, who at that time was president and chief executive of the Motion Picture Association of America, but in the months following the assassination, was President Lyndon Johnson’s special advisor, denounced Stone's film in a seven-page statement. He wrote, "In much the same way, young German boys and girls in 1941 were mesmerized by Leni Reifenstahl's Triumph of the Will, in which Adolf Hitler was depicted as a newborn God. Both JFK and Triumph of the Will are equally a propaganda masterpiece and equally a hoax. Mr. Stone and Leni Reifenstahl have another genetic linkage: neither of them carried a disclaimer on their film that its contents were mostly pure fiction".
Oliver Stone appeared on the Larry King Show on 20th December 1991. King asked Stone: “Why do you think the Wickers, the Rathers, the Gerald Fords in an op-ed piece in a newspaper – in the Washington Post – why do you think they’re so mad?” Stone replied: “Well, they’re the official priesthood. They have a stake in their version of reality. Here I am – a film-maker, an artist – coming into their territory and I think that they resent that…. I think they blew it (the coverage of the Kennedy assassination) from day one.”
Oliver Stone hit back at his critics in a speech made at the National Press Club on 15th January, 1992. “When in the last twenty years, have we seen serious research from Tom Wicker, Dan Rather, Anthony Lewis?” Stone said they objected to “this settled version of history… lest one call down the venom of leading journalists from around the country.” He pointed out that the criticism of the film mainly came from “older journalists on the right and left” who had in 1963 supported the lone-gunman theory and claimed that their “objectivity is in question here.”
Dan Rather, another long-time lone-gunman advocate, hosted a CBS program on the JFK movie. Rather pointed out that he had reported the Kennedy assassination at the time. He went on to argue: “Long after Oliver Stone has gone onto his next movie and long after a lot of people who have been writing about this now have stopped, I’m going to keep coming on this one.” Rather suggested that a journalist was much more reliable than a film director for interpreting the past: “We do know a lot and there is much to support the Warren Commission’s conclusions, but unanswered questions also abound. Not all of the conspiracy theories are ridiculous… They explain the inexplicable, neatly tie up the loose ends, but a reporter should not, cannot find refuge there. Facts, hard evidence are the journalist’s guide.”
In the interview that Dan Rather carried out for the CBS documentary, he asked Stone: “I don’t understand why you include the press as either conspirators or accomplices to the conspiracy”. Stone replied: “Dan, when the House Report came out implying that there was a probable conspiracy in the murder of both Kennedy and King, why weren’t you running around trying to dig into the case again? I didn’t see you, you know, rush out there and look at some of these three dozen discrepancies that we present in our movie.” Stone added that “whether you accept my conclusion is not the point, we want people to examine this… subject”.
In the first few months after JFK was released, over 50 million people watched the movie. Robert Groden, who had worked as an advisor on the film, predicted that: “The movie will raise public consciousness. People who can’t take the time to read books will be able to see the movie, and in three hours they’ll be able to see what the issues are.”
Tom Wicker was well aware of the danger this film posed: “This movie… claims truth for itself. And among the many Americans likely to see it, particularly those who never accepted the Warren Commission’s theory of a single assassin, even more particularly those too young to remember November 22, 1963, JFK is all too likely to be taken as the final, unquestioned explanation.” This was confirmed by a NBC poll that indicated that 51% of the American public believed, as the movie had suggested, that the CIA was responsible for Kennedy’s death and that only 6% believed the Warren Commission’s lone gunman theory.
Oliver Stone called for the remaining CIA and FBI documents pertaining to the assassination of Kennedy to be released. Clifford Krauss, reported in the New York Times that members of the Kennedy family supported this move. The historian, Stephen Ambrose, argued that “the crime of the century is too important to be allowed to remain unsolved and too complex to be left in the hands of Hollywood movie makers.” Louis Stokes, who had chaired the House Select Committee on Assassinations, also called for the files to be unclassified.
The President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, or the JFK Records Act, was passed by the United States Congress, and became effective on 26th October, 1992. The Act requires that each assassination record be publicly disclosed in full, and be available in the collection no later than the date that is 25 years after the date of enactment of the Act (October 26, 2017), unless the President of the United States certifies that: (1) continued postponement is made necessary by an identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or conduct of foreign relations; and (2) the identifiable harm is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure. There are currently over 50,000 pages of government documents relating to the assassination that have not been released.
Stone upset leading figures in the Republican Party with his film Nixon (1995). This film provided a critical portrait of Richard Nixon during the Watergate Scandal. Stone has also made two sympathetic documentaries about Fidel Castro: Comandante (2003) and Looking for Fidel (2004).
Other films by Stone include Heaven and Earth (1993), Natural Born Killers (1994), U-Turn (1997), Any Given Sunday (1999), Alexander (2004), World Trade Center (2006), W. (2008), South of the Border (2009) and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010).