Because it turns out celebrities exist even before we hear about them.
So many celebrities seem to build their entire lives around careers in entertainment.
Good for them. They knew what they wanted to do, and they were actually lucky and talented enough to be successful. But for a lot of these people, it's hard to imagine how they would function in the world without their celebrity status. That's why people freak out when they find out that Taylor Swift can cook. She not only eats people food, she actually knows how to prepare it! Do you think she even washes her own dishes?!
But there is another class of celebrity. People who had full, interesting, and often insane lives before anyone had ever heard of them. People like...
Christopher Walken: Lion Tamer
Christopher Walken is known for the intense, contained energy of his performances and... the unique... cadence... and emphasis of his speech. But long before he was a living, breathing caricature of himself, he had a very different approach to show business. His time as a cabaret dancer shouldn't surprise anyone who's seen the way he moves in the music video for Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice," but the fact that Walken was working as a lion tamer in a circus at the age of 16 is completely insane. Of course he downplays it, saying that Sheba the lion was "Very nice. She'd come and bump your leg. Like a house cat," but he was still bossing around a giant predatory cat as a teenager.
Julia Child: Inventor
You may know Julia Child for her famous cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, or for her long-running public television show The French Chef. At the very least, maybe you've seen her portrayed by Meryl Streep in 2009's Julie and Julia. She was an early icon of TV cooking, making it approachable and fun, and her recipes remain popular more than 15 years after her death. But before anyone knew her for her cooking, she was working for the Office of Strategic Services—a forerunner to the CIA—helping to fight Nazis by... inventing shark repellent.
The effort was sparked during World War II in response to sharks attacks on military personnel who were waiting for rescue after ships and planes went down. Child was a member of the team that developed pellets to be included in soldier's rescue kits, with an odor that would keep sharks at bay. There's no telling how many lives those pellets may have saved, but apparently they went on to be used with underwater explosives targeting German submarines—so sharks wouldn't accidentally set them off—and even in space equipment that NASA designed for ocean retrieval.
James Lipton: Pimp
James Lipton is not quite as famous as some of the people he's interviewed—basically every celebrity ever—but he hosted Inside the Actor's Studio for 22 years on Bravo, and had an amazing turn as Warden Stefan Gentles on Arrested Development. In his youth though, Lipton had a very different career in post-war Paris. At the time, there was little work available in France, and many women resorted to sex work to get by. Lipton was friends with one such woman, and when he was running out of money and told her that he had to return to the US, she offered him a job. Soon he was working in a bordello as a "mec," which he differentiates from the American conception of a pimp, "The French mecs didn't exploit women. They represented them, like agents. And they took a cut. That's how I lived." So... not easy, but necessary.
Jerry Springer: Mayor of Cincinnati
On the other side of the sex work equation was a young Jerry Springer. Long before he was exposing strangers' dirty laundry to the delight of a hooting studio audience, he was starring in his own personal scandal in Ohio politics. He had already served as an adviser to Robert Kennedy, and had a failed run for Congress before he was elected to Cincinnati's City Council in 1971. At just 27 years old, he may not have been ready for a life in politics, and a few years later he was forced to step down after being caught in a prostitution probe, paying for sex work with personal checks.
Surprisingly, Springer was able to come back from that scandal with a series of honest, apologetic ads that resulted in him resuming his seat on the city council and eventually serving a term as Mayor. He even ran for governor in 1982, before beginning a career as a local news anchor and coining his catchphrase "Take care of yourselves, and each other." At the time he was known for delivering thoughtful editorials, and became so popular that he was given a daytime TV show that slowly transformed, in its chase for ratings, to the pure trash that eventually made him famous.
Audrey Hepburn: Member of the Dutch Resistance
The original manic pixie dream girl of Breakfast at Tiffany's was always known for her frail beauty, but when she was a growing up in Nazi-occupied Holland, some of that frailty was probably the result of malnutrition. Despite this, she was a talented ballet dancer, and frequently performed in secretive events known as "black nights," raising money for Dutch resistance fighters. Hepburn was just 15 in 1944, but because she was fluent in English, she was also tasked with delivering food and messages to allied pilots who were shot down by the Nazis. She helped them reach safety, and her youth and apparent innocence kept her safe from Nazi suspicions.
Samuel L. Jackson: Militant Black Activist
Samuel L. Jackson is one of the biggest movie stars of all time. Collectively his films have grossed nearly six billion dollars—more than any other actor. But back in the late 1960s, his prospects didn't look so bright. As a young student at Morehouse College, Jackson joined the Black Power movement following the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Jackson has said that he was in a "radical faction" of the movement: "We were buying guns, getting ready for armed struggle." He found the experience empowering, although it led to his expulsion from college after he and other activists held the school's board of trustees hostage in a dispute over the schools' curriculum and the demographics of its governing board.
It was his mother's influence that eventually pushed Jackson in another direction. She put him on a plane to Los Angeles and told him not to come back. "The FBI had been to the house and told her that if I didn't get out of Atlanta, there was a good possibility I'd be dead within a year. She freaked out." Jackson spent a couple years doing social work in LA before eventually returning to Morehouse to study drama. "I decided that theater would now be my politics." It was a bold choice for someone who had struggled with a stutter, though by that point Jackson had discovered the therapeutic benefits of shouting "motherf*cker."
Jewel Kilcher grew up in a saddle barn in the remote town of Homer, Alaska. While she was a singer from a young age—performing with her father for lumberjacks in local bars—her early life was hardly glamorous. They had no running water, a coal stove for heat, and largely had to fend for themselves: "we mainly lived off of what we could kill or can. We picked berries and made jam. We caught fish to freeze and had gardens and cattle to live on. I rode horses every day in the summer beneath the Alaskan midnight sun." It may have been this childhood that prepared her to live out of her car at the age of 19 as she was launching her career in Southern California.
Christopher Lee: Secret Agent
You probably remember Christopher Lee for his portrayal of Saruman in the Lord of the Rings films, but did you know that he also played a crucial role advising Peter Jackson on the realism of a scene in The Return of the King. Specifically, Lee provided his firsthand knowledge of the sound a person makes when they've just been stabbed. Jackson was directing Lee's reaction in a scene in which Saruman is ambushed, prompting Lee to respond, "Have you any idea what kind of noise happens when somebody's stabbed in the back? Because I do."
Lee would most likely have gained that knowledge during World War II, when he was a member of the British Army's Long Range Desert Patrol, fighting Axis forces on the North African Front. He then went on to join the Special Operations Executive, an elite organization involved in espionage and assassination. Most of their work is still classified.
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