As an industry, Hollywood thrives on stars. Even today, while they aren’t quite as prominent as they once were, these larger-than-life personalities still have the power to draw people to the theater. And, as more and more nostalgic films become available for home consumption via streaming, the celebrities who appeared in the movies have become ever more appealing to those who fondly remember their earlier successes, leading many to look at the fascinating facts about their lives and careers.
While some stars find success due to family connections, some very famous actors have more fascinating tales of discovery. In fact, a surprising number of Hollywood’s greatest success stories burst onto the scene with little to no acting experience. Be sure to vote on which stories you found most surprising.
- Photo: The Devil's Advocate / Warner Bros
Throughout her career, Charlize Theron has demonstrated strong acting skills, earning recognition as one of the most talented stars of her generation. She has appeared in a variety of genres, ranging from horror to romantic drama to science fiction to comedy.
Born and raised in South Africa, Theron moved to Los Angeles in 1994 with just $400 to her name, which she later described as “just plain, simple, young, stupid naiveté” in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. She was discovered while yelling at a bank teller who had refused to cash one of her last checks from modeling.
Fortunately, fate was smiling at her, because the man who volunteered to help her get the check cashed was none other than talent agent John Crosby, who would later become her manager. After a few small roles, Theron eventually landed the one that would catapult her into stardom: Mary Ann Lomax in The Devil’s Advocate (1997). In the wake of that success, she appeared in a number of major roles, including Candy Kendall in The Cider House Rules (1999), Stella Bridger in The Italian Job (2003), Aileen Wuornos in Monster (2003), and Meredith Vickers in Prometheus (2012).
- Photo: Home Improvement / ABC
In his several decades in Hollywood, Tim Allen has shown himself to be one of his generation’s most popular comedic actors. He has also proven remarkably versatile, having appeared in TV series (including Home Improvement and Last Man Standing) as well as in films (including The Santa Clause, Joe Somebody, and the Toy Story series.)
Allen's career trajectory all started with a dare, when a friend urged him to get up on stage at a Detroit comedy club. This experience was successful enough for Allen to move to Los Angeles, where he perfected his comedy routine, which focused largely on the foibles of masculinity. In fact, he was successful enough as a stand-up that he felt confident enough to decline an offer from none other than Jeffrey Katzenberg to start his own TV show.
Ultimately, of course, Allen relented, though he insisted on creating the show from the ground up. The result, Home Improvement, would become a national hit, thanks in part to Allen’s comedic talents. In the years since the series concluded, he has continued to act almost exclusively in comedies. He has, however, expressed some dissatisfaction at being typecast as the lovable and goofy dad figure.
- Photo: The Outsiders / Warner Bros.
Rob Lowe has had an enormously varied career, appearing in successful movies as well as TV series. His most recent high-profile roles include Chris Traeger on the sitcom Parks and Recreation and Ethan Willis on Code Black. Throughout his career, he has shown a consistent ability to make the most out of every opportunity, whether it’s moving from teen idol to mature older actor, or transitioning from film into TV.
This go-getter attitude was obvious even in Lowe's early days. In fact, he earned his first stage roles through a simple process: calling local theaters to see if they had any parts for kids. He landed a role in a production of Sherlock Holmes at Wright State University in Fairborn, OH.
This paved the way for his eventual move to Malibu, CA, to pursue commercial work. From there, he was cast at age 17 in Francis Ford Coppola’s film The Outsiders, which would catapult him into further fame. The 1980s saw Lowe emerge as a bona fide film star, with roles in movies like St. Elmo’s Fire (1985), About Last Night (1986), and Square Dance (1987).
- Photo: 20th Century Fox
With his rich, mellifluous baritone, Tim Curry has one of the most recognizable voices in Hollywood. Although his later career has been marked by voicework for various animation studios, he got his big break in 1975's The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which would go on to become one of the most famous and long-running cult classics. Before the British actor appeared in the film version, he originated the role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter in the stage version.
As is so often the case, it was a chance encounter that reshaped his career. Although Curry had already met playwright Richard O’Brien - who wrote Rocky Horror - as a result of Curry being cast in Hair, only when he ran into O'Brien at a gym did he realize what the latter was working on. He immediately saw the potential in the play, and the role of the Transylvanian transvestite doctor would go on to dominate his star persona.
In the years since, however, Curry has tried to distance himself from Rocky Horror, before returning to play The Criminologist in the 2016 TV remake. In addition to his animated voice work, he held starring or supporting roles in many movies over the decades, including Legend (Lord of Darkness), Clue (Wadsworth), Muppet Treasure Island (Long John Silver), Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (Mr. Hector), and Addams Family Reunion (Gomez Addams). He has even recorded three music albums.
- Video: YouTube
To many people, Sarah Michelle Gellar is most famous for portraying the title character in the hit series Buffy The Vampire Slayer. However, long before she appeared as one of the most famous heroines in popular television, she had already established a long acting resume.
In fact, Gellar was discovered at just 4 years old by a talent scout who saw her eating with her family at a Manhattan restaurant. This launched her successful career, and she appeared in a number of commercials (including one for Burger King that led to a lawsuit from McDonald's), before landing her first major role in the TV movie An Invasion of Privacy.
She subsequently acted in a number of notable series, including All My Children. She left the soap opera to join the cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which helped make her a household name once it became enduringly popular. Gellar would also star in a number of successful films, including I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) and Scooby-Doo (2002).
- Photo: All About Eve / 20th Century Fox
Marilyn Monroe is one of those stars who looms large in the public imagination. She has come to epitomize so many aspects of mid-century life: the glamor of Hollywood, the tragedy of fame, the exquisite beauty of female stardom. However, like so many other celebrities of her generation, she had more humble origins.
Norma Jeane Mortenson - her real name - was discovered while working in a WWII munitions factory, where she was photographed putting together a drone. Her beauty and charisma were already much in evidence, and she soon came to the attention of other photographers and modeling agencies, which in turn led her to Hollywood.
Once there, she appeared in bit parts in such films as All About Eve before hitting it big with a string of three major successes: the film noir Niagara and the comedies Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry A Millionaire. Before her early passing in 1962, she was regarded as one of the most reliably popular stars in Hollywood. The last film in which she appeared was The Misfits, alongside Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift (the latter of whom would have a similarly tragic life trajectory).