3The Author of the Book Behind Apocalypse Now Was a Sailor, Drifter and Part-Time Criminal Until Age 37
Now it's true that a lot of writers don't publish their big novel until after a lot of years of trying. In the days before everybody had a blog, you'd maybe you get your English degree and then write some short stories that get published in some magazine, or take work writing greeting cards -- whatever pays the bills.
"I don't know what this is. It just makes me look unattainable and interesting."
But others, well, they take a more roundabout approach.
The Rock Bottom Moment:
In 1878, Jozef Teodor Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowski, a young Polish sailor working for the French marine service, tried to commit suicide by shooting himself in the chest. The reason? Pick one: His family was exiled from his country, he was orphaned by age 11, he was involved in a gun smuggling plot, he had just gone through a disastrous love affair that apparently ended in a duel and his gambling had left him riddled by debt.
So he tried to shoot himself. The bullet didn't seem to hit anything important, though, so Jozef shrugged it off and kept working. In the same year, he joined the British Merchant Marines, even though he was already in his 20s and didn't know a word of English. Over the following decade, Jozef slowly picked up on the language during his many voyages around the world -- which, by the way, he barely survived.
English is a notoriously dangerous language.
A trip to Congo in 1890, for example, left him physically and psychologically drained. During his tour of Africa, Jozef witnessed enough horror and evil to shatter anyone's faith in humanity. It was almost like in Apocalypse Now.
No, wait, it was exactly like Apocalypse Now -- he wrote it. All that shit Martin Sheen's character goes through in the movie is based on Jozef's own experiences as a merchant sailor in the Congo, which Francis Ford Coppola updated to the Vietnam War for the film.
The book's surfing scene was left unchanged.
You see, after 20 years of being a full-time sailor, one day Jozef decided to switch careers and become a novelist. He published his first novel in 1894, at age 37, under a name you are slightly more likely to recognize: "Joseph Conrad." This didn't exactly come out of nowhere: His father had tried to instill in him a love of literature before, you know, dying, and Conrad's life going to shit for the next 30 years gave him some material to work with.
In 1899, Conrad began publishing Heart of Darkness, the novel that Apocalypse Now is based on, and by the early 20th century he was recognized as one of the most important writers in the English language -- a language he didn't even speak until adulthood and that, perhaps most impressively, he apparently taught himself while listening to sailors.
Which explains why Marlon Brando's character is pretty much incomprehensible.
2An Unemployed Nurse Became an Emmy Award Winning Actress at 56
In 1995, Kathryn Joosten moved in with a family member in Los Angeles because she wanted to make it in Hollywood. Like most girls following the same hopeless dream, she had no agent, no contacts and close to nothing on her resume. Seems like a pretty typical story.
The Rock Bottom Moment:
Unlike most girls, however, Joosten was 56. The family member was her son.
"I expect you to do your share of chores and be in bed by 11 ... um, Mom."
In the '60s and '70s, Joosten had a promising career as a nurse in Chicago, but she gave it up after getting married. Her husband was a psychiatrist and did pretty well -- he was also, however, a deadbeat alcoholic. Ten years later, they divorced. Joosten found herself a 40-something single mother with two kids and three jobs, struggling to make ends meet. So, she did the sensible thing and decided to drop everything to become an actress.
Now, here's where our story gets inspirational, right? Hell, no! Joosten started auditioning for parts and ... nothing happened. And then, more nothing. For several years. In the meantime, she supported her family by hanging wallpaper and painting houses, among other gigs. In 1992, she was finally cast by Disney in her first important role: "Streetmosphere" performer in the Orlando theme park.
Where dreams go to be processed and sold for twice the price.
She stayed in that city for three years -- the job lasted for one. By 1995, she had decided to try her luck in L.A., even if it meant moving in with her son.
And then Urkel changed everything. A spot in Family Matters saying two lines with Jaleel White landed Joosten an agent who evidently marketed the shit out of her sassy older woman image. Soon she got herself guest parts in pretty much every sitcom made in the following decade, from Seinfeld to Frasier to Will & Grace to Scrubs. If you watch TV at all, you've probably seen her face at least a couple dozen times. She was the president's secretary in The West Wing:
And the little old lady in Desperate Housewives:
Aka the one we'd be most scared of asking for our ball back.
Kathryn Joosten has won two Emmys for that Desperate Housewives role, and it's all because of her uncanny perseverance. And Urkel.