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Q: Career Changes ( Answered,   8 Comments )
Subject: Career Changes
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Celebrities
Asked by: rich29-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 15 May 2006 22:01 PDT
Expires: 14 Jun 2006 22:01 PDT
Question ID: 729232
I would like some names of people (highly recognizable to high school
students) who underwent a radical change in career.  For example,
Perry Como went from barber to famous singer.  Especially helpful
would be examples of changes which happened by accident or unusual
circumstances.  People could be entertainers, athletes, leaders, etc.
with high name recognition.
Subject: Re: Career Changes
Answered By: djbaker-ga on 16 May 2006 00:12 PDT
This was a fun question to answer.  Here is the list that I put together for you...


Harrison Ford

Carpenter --> Major Actor

Ford did a little acting and managed to get supporting part in
American Graffiti which was directed by George Lucas.  However, he
became unhappy with the bit parts being offered to him so he taught
himself carpentry.  It was through that work which landed him the
breakthrough role in Star Wars.

As the story goes, Lucas had been auditioning various members of the
cast and was unhappy with the Solos that had tried out.  He was
testing the ensemble chemistry and had Ford, who was working on
building cabinets for Lucas at the time fill in and read the lines of
Han until they found someone.  After that they realized he was perfect
for the role (reportedly pointed out by Speielberg who was a friend of


Jesse Ventura 

Actor/Professional Wrestler --> Governor of Minnesota

"Jesse "The Body" Ventura (born July 15, 1951, as James George Janos)
was elected the 38th Governor of Minnesota on November 3, 1998, after
a career as Navy SEAL, professional wrestler, actor, mayor, and radio
talk show host. He ran as a candidate for the Reform Party of
Minnesota (but joined the Independence Party of Minnesota when it
broke from its association with the Reform Party of the United States
of America) and "shocked the world," as he phrased it, when he
narrowly, but unexpectedly beat the major-party candidates: St. Paul
mayor Norm Coleman (Republican) and Minnesota Attorney General Hubert
H. "Skip" Humphrey III (Democratic-Farmer-Labor)."


Arnold Schwarzenegger

Actor --> Governor of California

No list of radical career changes would be complete without The
Terminator himself on the list.


Ronald Reagan

Actor --> Governor of California and President of the United States

I would be surprised if most high school students these days knew that
Reagan was a major actor before his turn to politics.

"In 1937, when in California to cover spring training for the Chicago
Cubs as a Headline radio announcer, Reagan took a screen test that led
to a seven-year contract with the Warner Brothers studio. Reagan's
clear voice, easy-going manner, and athletic physique made him popular
with audiences; the majority of his screen roles were as the leading
man in B movies. His first screen credit was the starring role in the
1937 movie Love Is On the Air. By the end of 1939, he had appeared in
19 films. Before Santa Fe Trail in 1940, he played the role of George
"The Gipper" Gipp in the film Knute Rockne, All American. From this
role he acquired the nickname the Gipper, which he retained the rest
of his life. Reagan considered his best acting work to have been in
Kings Row (1942). He played the part of a young man whose legs were
amputated. He used a line he spoke in this film, "Where's the rest of
me?", as the title for his autobiography. Other notable Reagan films
include Tennessee's Partner, Hellcats of the Navy, This Is the Army,
and Bedtime for Bonzo. Reagan was kidded widely about the last named
film because his co-star was a chimpanzee. He has a star on the
Hollywood Walk of Fame"


Jason Lee

Professional Skateboarder --> Actor

"Intrigued by a few minor acting roles, including the Spike
Jonze-directed Sonic Youth music video for "100%" in 1992 and a small
part in Allison Anders' 1993 film Mi Vida Loca, Lee decided to leave
professional skating for a full-time acting career, surprising the
skateboarding world. His first major movie role was in Kevin Smith's
Mallrats which became a cult hit. He remained a close friend of Smith
and has appeared in most of the director's works, including Chasing
Amy, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and Jersey Girl. Most
consider Lee's acting career to have truly launched with his
Independent Spirit Award-winning role in Chasing Amy as Banky Edwards,
the homophobic comic book artist and best friend for life to Ben
Affleck's character."


Clint Eastwood 

Soldier --> Actor

"Eastwood was drafted into the Army, apparently in 1951, during the
Korean War. He was sent to Fort Ord on the Monterey Bay, California
for basic training. He was supposed to be sent to the war in Korea,
but on a trip home to Seattle to visit his parents and girlfriend,
Eastwood caught a ride aboard a Navy plane at Moffett Field. On the
ride back aboard a Navy torpedo bomber, the plane developed engine
trouble and was forced to make a water landing off San Francisco. He
was forced to swim over a mile through the tide to shore. Because of
this, instead of being sent to Korea, he was assigned a job as a
swimming instructor and remained at Ft. Ord. He worked nights and
weekends as a bouncer at the NCO club. It was while on duty at Ft. Ord
that Eastwood met fellow soldiers and actors Martin Milner ("Route
66"), David Janssen ("The Fugitive"), and Richard Long ("The Big
After his discharge in 1953, Eastwood moved to Southern California and
attended Los Angeles City College, studying drama and business
administration under the G.I. Bill."


Morgan Freeman

Transcript Clerk --> Actor

"Freeman moved to Los Angeles in the early 1960s, and worked as a
transcript clerk at the Los Angeles Community College. During this
time, he also lived in New York City, working as a dancer at the 1964
World's Fair, and in San Francisco, where he was a member of the Opera
Ring music group. Freeman made his acting debut in a touring company
version of The Royal Hunt of the Sun, and also appeared as an extra in
the 1965 film, The Pawnbroker. He made his off-Broadway debut in 1967,
opposite Viveca Lindfors in The Niggerlovers, before debuting on
Broadway in 1968's all-Black version of Hello, Dolly!, which also
starred Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway."


Billy Bob Thorton

Telemarketer --> Fast food management --> Actor

"Thornton had a difficult time succeeding as an actor while taking on
several odd jobs such as telemarketing, fast food management, and any
way to support himself while waiting for a big break. "


Albert Einstein

Patent Examiner --> World Class Physicist

"Upon graduation, Einstein could not find a teaching post, mostly
because his brashness as a young man had apparently irritated most of
his professors. The father of a classmate helped him obtain employment
as a technical assistant examiner at the Swiss Patent Office[6] in
1902. There, Einstein judged the worth of inventors' patent
applications for devices that required a knowledge of physics to
understand ? in particular he was chiefly charged to evaluate patents
relating to electromagnetic devices.[7] He also learned how to discern
the essence of applications despite sometimes poor descriptions, and
was taught by the director how "to express [him]self correctly". He
occasionally rectified their design errors while evaluating the
practicality of their work."

"That same year, in his spare time, he wrote four articles that
participated in the foundation of modern physics, without much
scientific literature to which he could refer or many scientific
colleagues with whom he could discuss the theories. Most physicists
agree that three of those papers (on Brownian motion, the
photoelectric effect, and special relativity) deserved Nobel Prizes.
Only the paper on the photoelectric effect would be mentioned by the
Nobel committee in the award. This is ironic, not only because
Einstein is far better-known for relativity, but also because the
photoelectric effect is a quantum phenomenon, and Einstein became
somewhat disenchanted with the path quantum theory would take."


Johnny Cash

Solider/Salesman --> Singer

"During his stretch in the Air Force, Cash founded his first band,
called the "Landsberg Barbarians", named for Air Force base in
Landsberg am Lech, Germany.

After his term of service ended, Cash married Vivian Liberto in 1954
and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he sold appliances (or tried
to) while studying to be a radio announcer. At night, he played with
guitarist Luther Perkins and bass player Marshall Grant (together
known as the Tennessee Two). Cash worked up the courage to visit the
Sun Records studio, hoping to garner a recording contract. Sun
producer Cowboy Jack Clement met with the young singer first, and
suggested that Cash return to meet producer Sam Phillips. After
auditioning for Phillips, singing mainly gospel tunes, Phillips told
him to "go home and sin, then come back with a song I can sell." Cash
eventually won over Phillips and Clement with new songs delivered in
his early frenetic style. His first recordings at Sun, "Hey Porter"
and "Cry Cry Cry," were released in 1955 and met with reasonable
success on the country hit parade."


David Letterman

Radio host / Weather Man --> Late night comedian

"Letterman began work as a radio talk show host and on Indianapolis
television station WTHR as a local anchor and weatherman. He received
recognition for his unpredictable on-air behavior, which included
erasing state borders from the weather map and predicting hail stones
"the size of canned hams." One night he reportedly upset his bosses
when he congratulated a tropical storm on being upgraded to a


I hope this answers your question.  If you need anything cleared up,
please request a clarification before rating the answer and I will be
happy to help!

Subject: Re: Career Changes
From: probonopublico-ga on 16 May 2006 01:47 PDT
Don't forget Paul Robeson.

The son of a runaway slave who became a preacher, Robeson excelled at
sports and became a lawyer. But then he turned to acting when white
folk wouldn't use him and black folk couldn't afford him.

Now, he's mostly remembered as a great singer and in particular for
his rendering of 'Ole Man River'.

OK so today's High School students will never have heard of him but
maybe they should have.
Subject: Re: Career Changes
From: frankcorrao-ga on 16 May 2006 09:59 PDT
I can think of any number of rappers who went from drug dealer -> rapper.
Subject: Re: Career Changes
From: djbaker-ga on 16 May 2006 11:21 PDT
I believe you are right about the rappers.  It seemed clear that this
information was going to be used in a high school type class though,
so I did not think that info would help very much.
Subject: Re: Career Changes
From: thursdaylast23-ga on 16 May 2006 12:14 PDT
Dennis Farina was an 18-year veteran of the Chicago police force when
he was hired as a local consultant for the film Thief (1981). He ended
up playing a bit part in the movie, and eventually went on to have a
career in TV series, movies, and feature films, including notable ones
like Saving Private Ryan and the Guy Ritchie cult favorite, Snatch.
Subject: Re: Career Changes
From: thursdaylast23-ga on 16 May 2006 12:28 PDT
Hmmm. No women. And I'm just as neglectful, since my first comment
provided another male figure.

How about Linda McCartney, who went from being the wife of one of the
Beatles to become a significant photographer/artist in her own right?

Or Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, who originally trained as
a teacher. She started her company to make a living for herself and
her two daughters while her husband was trekking across America. The
Body Shop now has almost 2000 stores, and is known for its
environmentalism. Roddick has nine honorary degrees, and carries the
title of "Dame," in recognition of having been knighted by Queen
Elizabeth II. (This info from
Subject: Re: Career Changes
From: steph53-ga on 16 May 2006 16:18 PDT

Linda McCartney, AKA Linda Eastman, came from a family of
photographers and film makers ( Kodak/Eastman ).

From my recollection, she met Paul McCartney while doing a photo shoot
of the Beatles....

So she was already a photographer before she ever met and married Paul.

Subject: Re: Career Changes
From: thursdaylast23-ga on 16 May 2006 22:12 PDT

You're absolutely right about her photography career taking off before
she met Paul. The timeline in my head was unacceptably fuzzy, and
based on my memory of seeing an exhibit of her work several years ago.
Thanks for the correction.

However, although she developed an interest in photography during
college, she was self-taught, and was not related to the Eastman
(Kodak) family. Her father was a lawyer who changed his name from
Leopold Epstein to Lee Vail Eastman at some point before her birth.
Her mother's family owned department stores.

Also, before she became a freelance photographer, she was a single
mother working as a receptionist for Town and Country magazine in New
York. Her break came about accidentally and because of a pretty brazen
move on her part. According to Newsmakers (1998), "stealing an
invitation out of the [office] mail to a press reception on a yacht
for the rock group the Rolling Stones, she managed to get the lucky
break of being the only photographer allowed on board. These exclusive
pictures established her as a new talent and would set the course for
her life." (That matches the story I heard on the video run during the
exhibit I mentioned above.) In her own words, "I seized the moment and
began shooting. I was very green as a photographer and really only
knew how to click and how to focus. When it came to the light setting,
I would just guess, which is why most of the color film I took didn't
come out ? I had forgotten to adjust the ASS setting after changing
from black and white."

I suppose you could argue that the real "career change" came when Paul
taught her how to play keyboards and she started touring with him to
play and sing back-up vocals. Apparently, she even wrote several
songs, one of which was released as a single in 1977, although this
was obviously not her most successful career.

Later, as an outgrowth of her work as an animal rights activist,
McCartney also published three popular vegetarian cookbooks, as well
as creating and successfully marketing a line of frozen, meatless
entrees that at one point (around 1991) accounted for about 25% of the
vegetarian frozen meals sold in Britain.

So overall, she actually had several, quite different, careers.

[Most of this information comes from the Biography Resource Center, a
subscription database. The Linda McCartney quote comes from a museum
Subject: Re: Career Changes
From: probonopublico-ga on 30 May 2006 06:45 PDT
Hi Steph

Thought you'd like to know that Linda McCartney was not a descendant
of the Eastman Kodaks!

According to

Occasionally hinted that she was related to the Eastmans of
Eastman-Kodak fame, but her photography career was coincidental. Her
father Lee Eastman and brother John Eastman were New York
show-business attorneys... and her father changed the family name from
its original Epstein. (This wasn't lost for a moment on John Lennon or
Allen Klein, who marvelled at the exchange of the late Brian Epstein
for another would-be manager of the same name.)

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