Wig Cleaner? Acrobatic performer in a circus? Elevator Operator? These typical jobs would not make you immediately associate them with such classic stars as Groucho Marx, Burt Lancaster, Joan Crawford, but it is true. At one point, they were all regular people making a living with odd jobs on their way to stardom.
Many future female stars such as Barbara Stanwyck and Marilyn Monroe started as fashion models and moved onto acting afterwards, but Kim Novak and Tippi Hendren were discovered while they were pursuing a modeling career.
Kim Novak started modeling immediately after graduating high school. Between modeling jobs, Novak worked a number of other small jobs including elevator operator and dental assistant. After moving to Los Angeles to continue pursuing modeling, Novak was seen by a Hollywood agent and did a screen test. “. . .When I made my first screen test, the director explained to everyone: ‘Don’t listen to her, just look.’” They obviously liked what they saw because Novak was then signed to a six-month contract. Her career lasted almost forty years, co-starring alongside stars such as “William Holden” in “Picnic” (1955) and Jimmy Stewart in not one but two famous films – Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” (1958) and “Bell, Book and Candle” (1958).
Tippi Hedren’s successful modeling career led her to be discovered by Director Alfred Hitchcock after seeing Hedren in one of her commercials. Hitchcock, who had a reputation of casting beautiful blonde actresses, was looking for a new actress to play the lead role of “Melanie Daniels” in his upcoming film “The Birds”(1962). Hitchcock contacted Hedren and scheduled screen tests. Hedren was cast. Hedren made two films with Hitchcock – “The Birds” (1962) in the lead role of Melanie Daniels and “Marnie” (1964), replacing Grace Kelly in the title role of “Marnie Edgar.’ Hedren continues to make films, including making a cameo role in “The Birds II: Lands End” (1994) and most recently as “Mrs. Peabody” in “Return to Babylon” (2008).
Burt Lancaster worked as an acrobat in the circus soon after he graduated from high school. He formed an act with another circus performer, Nick Cravat. Their act was called “Lang and Cravat.” Later in Lancaster’s career, Cravat would team with Lancaster for a total of nine films. Lancaster was 32 years old when he played his first role as “Ole Anderson” in “The Killers” (1946). What did Lancaster have to say about the start of his career? “I woke up one day a star. It was terrifying. Then I worked hard toward becoming a good actor.”
Here are some artists you will recognize who played much smaller “roles” before becoming big stars:
Christopher Walken was once a lion tamer in a circus.
Al Pacino was once an usher at a movie theater.
Sylvester Stallone was once an usher at a movie theater.
Groucho Marx was once a wig cleaner.
Clark Gable was once a tie salesman.
Lucille Ball once sold ice cream.
James Dean was once a stunt tester for the “Beat The Clock ” television game show.
Elvis Presley once was a truck driver.
Carol Burnett once was a hatcheck girl.
Joan Crawford once was an elevator operator.
Greta Garbo was once a lather girl in a barbershop.
Dustin Hoffman was once a typist for the Yellow Pages.
Sydney Poitier once parked cars.
Marlon Brando was once a ditch digger.