#3. Baseball Great Honus Wagner Was Discovered Throwing Rocks
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Honus Wagner is considered by many to be one of the best baseball players who ever lived. He was one of the first to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (he received the same number of votes as Babe Ruth, to give you an idea), he holds eight batting titles (which is second only to Ty Cobb in the entire history of the sport), and mint-condition copies of his baseball card have sold for over $2 million.
AP Photo/Goldin Auctions
With the original cigarettes, it sells for $2,000,009.37.
The thing was, Wagner had no intention of ever becoming an athlete. His brother Albert was the baseball star of the family -- Honus had dropped out of high school and gone to work in a coal mine, where he more or less intended to stay for the rest of his life. He would spend his down time on the job pitching rocks at a fence, which is about as close as most of us ever get to a career as a professional athlete.
However, in the late 1890s, a minor league team owner named Edward Barrow came to town to scout the local talent, including Wagner's brother, but Albert had already signed with another team and Barrow was thoroughly unimpressed with everyone else he saw. Dejected, presumably chewing on a cigar in between harrumphs as he trudged back to his old-timey hand-crank-mobile or whatever it was people drove back then, Barrow happened to spot Wagner whipping rocks at a fence with some of his co-workers. Barrow was so impressed with Wagner's rock-flinging ability that he came over to talk to him, at which point Wagner, believing Barrow to be a security guard coming to complain about the fence, ran like hell.
Barrow was good, the professor was the real enemy, and that's how Harry joined his Quidditch team.
Barrow managed to catch up with him and offered to sign him up for a tryout, but Wagner, for some baffling reason, wasn't really interested. He apparently felt that life in a Pennsylvania coal mine was just too good to simply walk away from. Barrow was finally able to convince him, and Wagner's tryout led to a brief stint in the minors followed by a 20-year career as one of the greatest players ever in major league baseball. The man was able to crank out over 3,000 hits, which is something only a handful of players have ever accomplished (as demonstrated in the 2004 docudrama Mr. 3000), and probably took hardly any steroids. He had more talent than 99 percent of the players from the past 100 years, and yet he had to literally be chased down and browbeaten by a team owner before he would even agree to attend a tryout.
#2. Lana Turner Had No Acting or Performing Aspirations, Got Discovered Anyway
You may not know her name now, but Lana Turner is one of the most iconic movie stars ever, achieving worldwide fame in the 1940s and 1950s after appearing in dozens of films and earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. She is a literal Hollywood screen legend, complete with a star on the walk of fame and the "dark side of fame" private life involving gangsters, substance abuse, and murder that we've come to expect from old-timey celebrities.
Celebs turned so much duller when we converted the world to color.
But she never took an acting class, posed for pictures as a model, or tried to gain a reputation as a singer -- she just happened to get noticed by a Hollywood insider while skipping school at a soda shop. Turner essentially became famous while doing her absolute best not to get noticed. She had come to the same conclusion as Jerry Rice -- that school was for squares and eggheads. So she bailed and went down to the Top Hat Malt Shop instead, because there just wasn't much else for teenagers to do back then besides hang out at the prequel to Johnny Rockets and drink root beer floats all day long.
While she was there, she caught the eye of Hollywood Reporter publisher William R. Wilkerson, which is the type of hilarious Tinseltown bigwig name they retired in the 1940s. Wilkerson was so captivated by Turner that he immediately asked if she wanted to be in the movies, which is in no way creepy when you consider that she was 16 years old at the time.
They say the milkshake adds 10 years.
He referred her to his agent, who happened to be Zeppo Marx. Despite being the most boring and unpopular of the Marx brothers, Zeppo apparently still had some clout in the industry. Turner had to get permission from her mother before going to talk to him (because once again, she was 16), but when she did, Zeppo signed her to a contract on the spot and immediately got her cast in They Won't Forget, one of the most popular movies of the 1930s.
It'd be like Ferris Bueller getting noticed by a Hollywood executive while doing his parade float fancy dance rendition of "Twist and Shout," getting offered the lead role in Top Gun, and then going on to become the biggest movie star of the next 20 years (so, pretty much the exact opposite of what happened to Matthew Broderick after Ferris Bueller's Day Off ). That's more unrealistic than anything that happens in that movie, and it's the one thing that actually occurred to a person skipping school in real life.
#1. "Grandma Moses" Took Up Painting at 80, Became a Superstar
Anna Mary Robertson Moses was one of the most celebrated and successful members of the modern art movement in the mid-20th century. Throughout the 1950s, exhibitions of her work sold out around the world, and paintings of hers have sold for more than $1 million. The thing is, she didn't even start painting until she was in her 70s, and only then because she couldn't continue with her first choice of artistic expression -- knitting, which is about as far from modern art as you can get.
We saw one modern art installation use knitting needles. We'd rather not elaborate.
Grandma Moses was born in 1860, which you history buffs might recognize as being a year before the start of the Civil goddamned War. She spent most of her life on a farm in northern New York, baking, doing rustic chores, and working on her knitting and embroidery. She was essentially living in a Cracker Barrel fantasy camp.
That is, until she was diagnosed with neuritis, which is a nerve disorder that can cause pain and paralysis in affected areas of the body. In Moses' case, it was in her hands and fingers, which made it impossible for her to even wield her knitting needles, much less stitch full embroideries. At the suggestion of one of her friends, she took up painting, because it was much easier on her afflicted hands. No big deal -- she'd give out her pictures as gifts to her friends, or sell them for a couple of bucks (and we're not being reductive -- she literally sold them for $2 to $3 apiece). And she continued on like that, slinging her future masterpieces around town in relative obscurity, until 1938, when an art collector named Louis J. Caldor got lost on a drive through upstate New York and happened to see her paintings on display in a drugstore window.
"Wow, this place must really dilute their Xanax."
After releasing an explosive cloud of blubbering "eurekas" and "by joves" that nearly sent him careening off into a ditch (probably), Caldor bought every single Grandma Moses painting at the store, then drove to her home to throw even more money at her in a more personal setting. Some of the paintings were displayed in an exhibition in New York City the following year, and Grandma Moses' popularity as a mainstream modern artist took off (please keep in mind she was 80 fucking years old at this time). She managed to stay in the spotlight for 20 more years until her death in 1961 at age 101.
Evan V. Symon is a moderator in the Cracked Workshop. When he isn't trying to figure out if penguins have knees, he can be found on Facebook, and be sure to bookshelf and vote for his new book, The End of the Line.
Related Reading: Think this was impressive? Here's a list of celebrities who got famous without even existing. Some real celebrities have been hiding the BEST parts of themselves, which is why you didn't know Kei$ha is a huge math and history nerd. And did you know Matthew "Ferris Bueller" Broderick once killed two people while driving in the wrong lane? You do now.