20 Celebrity Discovery Stories Almost Too Good to Be True
by Jennifer Lafferty
While most celebrities struggle for years hoping to get a break, occasionally someone land in show business almost by accident and quickly become famous. These stories range from surprising to wacky, but they all make the concept of fate seem more realistic.
Another future celebrity whose beauty opened doors is Pamela Anderson, discovered at a British Columbia Lions football game in 1989, when her image was projected on the stadium screen. The event led to a contract with Labatt’s beer.
An enduring piece of Hollywood folklore is how film legend Lana Turner got discovered at a soda fountain in 1937. While skipping class, the gorgeous 16-year-old was spotted at the counter by Hollywood Reporter publisher Billy Wilkerson. The rest is history.
Danny Trejo likens his big break to “divine intervention.” He was an ex-con-turned drug counselor, helping a young man working on the set of Runaway Train, when someone offered Trejo a part as an extra in the movie.
Katherine Heigl’s career began at the age of nine when her aunt sent photos of Katherine to several modeling agencies. After signing with the prestigious Wilhelmina Models, she was soon appearing in commercials and films.
It’s not uncommon for celebrities to take an aspiring entertainer under their wing. Johnny Depp was a struggling musician-turned-pen salesman when his then-wife, a makeup artist, introduced him to Nicholas Cage, who sent Depp to his agent.
Another celebrity who owed their big break to an established star, was Janet Leigh (best known for Psycho) who was discovered by Norma Shearer, when the former MGM actress saw her photo at a ski resort where Leigh’s parents worked.
The Jonas Brothers started making music together early on but it was Nick who was the first to break into show business. He was discovered at six, singing in a salon where his mother was getting a haircut.
Marilyn Monroe was discovered doing something surprisingly non-glamorous, working on a radio plane assembly line in 1945. An army photographer was sent there by his commander, Ronald Reagan, to take pictures of women in war work.
Toni Braxton was studying to be a music teacher when she was discovered by songwriter Bill Pettaway, while singing to herself at a gas station. She and her sisters signed a deal with Arista Records in 1990.
The Big Trail director Raoul Walsh spotted John Wayne lugging furniture across a soundstage at Fox. Walsh decided to cast him in the film’s lead, explaining: “What I needed was a feeling of honesty, of sincerity, and Wayne had it.”
At the age of 11, Natalie Portman was discovered in a pizza parlor by a representative of Revlon cosmetics, who encouraged her to work as a model. Natalie became bored with modeling, and soon switched to acting.
Suave British heartthrob George Sanders, best known for his Oscar-winning role in All About Eve, was working at an advertising agency when another employee, coincidentally future-movie star Greer Garson, suggested he become an actor.
When Eva Mendes was in college, an agent stumbled on a picture of her in the photography portfolio of Mendes’ neighbor. She was used to being told she should model or act, but decided to listen this time.
Harrison Ford was a struggling actor/carpenter when George Lucas saw him building a doorway at a studio and asked him to read with some actors auditioning for Star Wars. Lucas soon realized he’d found his Han Solo.
Jack Nicholson noticed a young Mary Steenburgen in Paramount’s New York office and cast the unknown actress in her feature film debut, a 1978 comedy western he was directing and starring in called Goin’ South.
Already a successful rapper, Will Smith crossed over to acting because of a chance meeting with Benny Medina in the Universal Studios parking lot. Medina decided Smith’s life story would make a great sitcom, resulting in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Charlize Theron was discovered while throwing a tantrum in the bank. When a teller wouldn’t let Theron cash an international check from her mother in South Africa, an agent standing in line was impressed by her passion.
David Boreanaz was out walking his dog when a talent scout approached him, who thought that David would be perfect for the part of bad-boy vampire Angel on the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
In another fateful chance encounter, Jennifer Lawrence was discovered by an agent during her first visit to New York City, when she was just 14-years old. Lawrence later said: “I didn’t know that kind of thing was creepy.”
The numerous actors/restaurant servers should be encouraged by Chris Pratt, who was working as a waiter at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company when he impressed customer Rae Dawn Chong, who cast him in the 2000 film Cursed Part 3.