Stevens's acceptance speech included a memorable recollection of his childhood experience going to Grauman's Chinese Theatre for the 16th Academy Awards, where his father lost Best Director to Michael Curtiz for "Casablanca."
"We was robbed!" exclaimed the young boy, but as noted on this special night, he was far from robbed now and was happy to look to a current moviemaking community with new films that will stand the test of time thanks to "filmmakers among us who will swim into the currents."
A lifelong admirer whose spectacular car chase in "Death Proof" (2007) was inspired by Needham's go-for-broke attitude, Tarantino praised the director's work with Burt Reynolds as well as his distinctive contributions to the 1975 western "Take a Hard Ride" from one of Tarantino's favorite directors, Antonio Margheriti.
Also on hand to salute Needham were 23-year-old Logan Holladay, the newest member of the Needham-founded Stunts Untied, and Albert S. Ruddy, Oscar-winning producer of "The Godfather" (1972), who shared a hilarious story about a spectacular mishap with a missile during production of the Needham-directed "Megaforce" (1982).
To the rambunctious rhythms of "East Bound & Down" from Needham's hit directorial debut, "Smokey and the Bandit," Needham accepted his award as "an innovator, mentor, and master technician who elevated his craft to an art and made the impossible look easy." He said he always regarded his career as great fun whether it involved falling off of horses, dodging explosions, or tearing along dirt roads at high speed, and his spectacular vehicular work can be seen in such films as "White Lightning" (1973) and "Gator" (1976) as well as his other directorial projects like "Hooper" (1978) and "The Cannonball Run" (1981).
Teary-eyed, Needham recalled a memorable inauguration into the business thanks to his first production working with Billy Wilder on "The Spirit of St. Louis" (1957) and touchingly exclaimed, "My mama's looking down with a big smile on her face."
The final award of the evening was the prestigious Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award given to Jeffrey Katzenberg, "who has led our community in enlightened philanthropy by his extraordinary example."
Involved in philanthropy since his adolescence, Katzenberg has continued to give back throughout his career including his roles as vice president of feature production at Paramount, chairman of film production at Walt Disney Studios, and co-founder of DreamWorks SKG and current CEO of Dreamworks Animation. Katzenberg's generosity has never flagged through the years, whether as Founding Chairman of the Motion Picture & Television Fund or co-founder of the Marilyn & Jeffrey Katzenberg Foundation with his wife.
Two famous actors who have worked on Katzenberg's live-action and animated productions over the years were on hand to welcome him to the microphone. First was Will Smith, star of such DreamWorks Productions as "Shark Tale" (2004) and "The Legend of Bagger Vance" (2000), who humorously demonstrated the difference between Katzenberg phone calls to talk about business or ask for a sizable charitable contribution.
Then, Oscar winner Tom Hanks, a Governor for the Academy's Actors Branch, explained how Katzenberg's fundraising prowess had served him well in the "raucous jungle" of both New York City and Los Angeles while his landmark charity event in the wake of 9/11 "set a standard for how America helps out Americans in times of need."
As the night's four honorees reunited for a group photo on the stage at the close of the evening, each man's words continued to resound and providing an inspiring example to future generations of filmmakers and benefactors to come.
The Governors Awards ceremony was produced by Don Mischer, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Charlie Haykel, and Julianne Hare, and highlights from the evening will also be presented when the recipients appear as part of the 85th Academy Awards on February 24, 2013.