The 6 Most Famous People Ever Discovered While Hiding
Maybe the most destructive fantasy people have is that if they just stay at home and do nothing, they will be "discovered" by some agent or producer who'll sign them to a huge deal based on little or no effort. Let's face it: Almost all prominent people got where they are thanks to years or decades of grinding work.
Almost all. Those "amazing talent discovered at random" stories do happen, and sometimes to people who actively didn't want it to. It's like their world-altering ability was the result of some latent mutant power they were either completely unaware of or terrified to embrace, lest it should threaten to destroy the entire planet like Jean Grey in X-Men 3.
Jerry Rice's Speed Was Noticed While He Was Running from the School Principal
Jerry Rice is possibly the greatest football player of all time. He is a Hall of Famer from the San Francisco 49ers and is essentially what you would get if a bunch of scientists joined forces in a government super lab to create the ultimate wide receiver. He is the all-time leader in receptions, touchdowns, and yards, won three Super Bowls, and holds almost every single record related to his position in the NFL. And the only reason he ever joined a football team was to get out of serving detention in high school.
Or, as he tells his young fans, "I followed the rules so I could get an education."
One day while attending B.L. Moor High School back in 1978, Rice decided that going to class could eat a fart, so he elected to loiter in the halls instead. He was spotted by his assistant principal, because that's what happens when you cut class to wander aimlessly around the school instead of going to the roller rink or something, and when the principal called out to him, Rice took off.
A frantic sprint carried him past the office of the football coach, who noticed that Rice was embracing truancy with the incredible foot speed of a cheetah made of pure lightning. The principal eventually caught up with Rice and was ready to dole out some hellacious detention when the football coach convinced him to make Rice an offer -- either play football for the school, or lose an entire afternoon to detention, possibly even a whole Saturday. Wait, isn't that how Harry Potter got discovered for his Quidditch team?
Unlike football, we understand Quidditch.
Anyway, despite the fact that his parents had forbidden him from playing (his mother was afraid he would get hurt), Rice accepted the football option and quickly became the greatest player the school, and the world, had ever seen. He went on to college at Mississippi Valley State University, set 18 division records, and was drafted in the first round by San Francisco, where he would become arguably the greatest pro athlete in history.
Meanwhile, we're wondering why that assistant principal never got any NFL Combine invitations for managing to run down Jerry fucking Rice.
Martha Stewart Was Discovered Hosting a Random Party for Her Husband
First of all, allow us to blow your minds by pointing out that Martha Stewart is 72, which makes her older than Christopher Walken and the same age as Nick Nolte.
One of these is a gin-blossomed longshoreman and the other is a Time Lord.
In her seven decades of life on Earth (not counting her time spent in the Highlander realm walking among the other immortals), Stewart has had successful careers as a model, a stock broker, a home restorer, and a caterer, all before she published her first book and launched one of the biggest and most successful media empires in the history of the world. And she stumbled ass-backward into that totally by chance.
See, Stewart had pretty much retired. After working as a model in her teens for companies like Chanel, she married a lawyer and worked as a stockbroker in New York, possibly because her college degree was in architectural history and it is very difficult to parlay that into a career unless you are a fictional character who plunders mummy tombs.
"We've identified the prettiest building. Now to wait for unspeakable wealth."
She followed that up with a brief foray into home restoration before she and her husband moved to Connecticut, where she started up a small catering business, serving friends and small local organizations trays of trout almondine or whatever the hell it is she makes on her show. And that was pretty much supposed to be it for Stewart -- she'd settled into a nice, low-stress job organizing parties for people around town while her husband worked as the president of a New York publishing company and made the real money.
Then Stewart organized a party for her husband to congratulate him for having published a series of successful children's books, inviting his friends and colleagues to experience one of her patented Martha Stewart electric taste bud raves. Her catering stylez so impressed Alan Mirken, the head of a rival publishing company, that he hired her to write a series of cookbooks. The cookbooks steamrolled into magazine articles, television appearances on shows like Larry King Live and The Oprah Winfrey Show, and eventually her own magazine/TV show titled Martha Stewart Living, which became the cornerstone of the market-saturating media juggernaut that is Martha Stewart. Today she's worth a little over half a billion dollars, and that's after going to prison for insider trading.
Normally, of course, convicted businesspeople wind up impoverished.
What's even more crazy about Stewart's success as a famous homemaker is that it took a relative stranger working for another publishing company to approach her about writing a cookbook when her husband was a freaking publishing executive. Nice job paying attention to your wife's hobbies, dude.
A NASCAR Driver Got His Start as an Extra in Days of Thunder
Even if you don't know anything about NASCAR, you have to assume it's like every other sport -- you grind it out in the bush leagues and eventually work your way up to the Daytona 500. Or in Bobby Hamilton's case, you blow NASCAR officials away by driving a race car in the background of a Tom Cruise movie.
Not Eyes Wide Shut; blowing away there would have launched a different career.
1990's Days of Thunder, the Tom Cruise movie in question, was essentially Top Gun if all the jets were cars and nobody gave a shit. Or Talladega Nights if it was insufferably melodramatic (John C. Reilly actually appears in both films). Anyway, because Days of Thunder is about NASCAR, the filmmakers needed some way of gathering footage from actual NASCAR races that they could use for the various racing sequences in the movie. The only way to do it was to take "movie" cars (cars painted up to look like the ones the characters in the movie were supposed to be driving) and enter them into actual races. Renting out a bunch of real Winston Cup cars complete with professional drivers would've cost way too much money, and this was back in 1989, before the phrase "way too much money" was outlawed from Hollywood filmmaking.
The movie cars needed drivers, and three-time NASCAR champion Darrell Waltrip recommended his friend Bobby Hamilton to the production team. Hamilton was a driver but had never set foot in a Winston Cup car (the standard NASCAR racer you see in the movies). We repeat, he had never driven that type of car before, but he happily climbed behind the wheel of one for the Days of Thunder production team.
Hey, you drive one car, you've driven them all, right? Right?!
Hamilton was only supposed to drive the car around the track, surrounded by other cars, so they could get the type of dramatic footage they needed. What he did instead was drive the absolute shit out of that movie car and finish the race in fifth place. That's right -- Bobby Hamilton, who had never driven a Winston Cup car before and was given a barely qualifying hunk of metal to putter around the track and look good for the cameras, performed better than 95 percent of the real, professional drivers who were actually competing in the race.
Hamilton was actually winning the fucking thing until NASCAR and Paramount (the movie studio behind Days of Thunder) wisely decided to tell him to throttle back and let the professional racers win to avoid pissing in everyone's faces. NASCAR took notice of his ridiculously improbable performance, however, and he quickly became a full time Winston Cup driver for Tri-Star Motorsports. Hamilton wound up with four career Sprint Cup victories and more than $15 million in winnings over 15 years of racing. So, despite its best efforts, Days of Thunder wound up being a positive point in at least one person's career.
Baseball Great Honus Wagner Was Discovered Throwing Rocks
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.
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.
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.
"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.