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9 Famous College Dropouts

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Conventional wisdom tells us that a college degree will get you much further than only a high school diploma. But what about those who choose to cut out while pursuing their higher educations and go it alone, free from the constraints of academia? Do they ever prosper? Here are some individuals who succeeded, and how.

1. Steven Spielberg

Unlike Martin Scorsese, George Lucas and other film school-trained directors, Steven Spielberg was thrice denied entry into USC's elite directing program due to his C-average. He was eventually admitted into the film program at California State University, Long Beach, but dropped out in 1968 to make a 22-minute film entitled Amblin. It was that film that landed him a television-directing contract with Universal, making Spielberg the youngest director ever to be signed for a long-term deal with a major Hollywood studio. In 2002, Spielberg completed his degree with Long Beach State via independent projects. He also received an honorary degree earlier this year from BU.

Candid video of Spielberg receiving his degree from BU:

2. Harry Truman

harry-truman-pictureThe 33rd President of the United States is also the only one post 1897 who didn't earn a college degree. Truman dreamt of attending college at West Point, but family financial difficulties forced him to work instead. Among Truman's early odd jobs were railroad timekeeper, bank clerk and mailroom attendant for the Kansas City Star. Truman did study law for a couple of years at the Kansas City Law School (now the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law), but eventually dropped out due to time constraints. At the age of 60, the college honored the former President by inviting him to become a member of their Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, which Truman accepted. Today there are two colleges named after Truman. Northeast Missouri State University was renamed Truman State University in 1996 to honor the only Missourian to become President, and in Chicago, Illinois there's Harry S. Truman College.

Harry Truman on education: "When you get an education, that is something nobody can take from you—money is only temporary—but what you have in your head, if you have the right kind of head, stays with you."

3. Ellen DeGeneres

ellen_degeneresBorn and raised in Metairie, Louisiana, it makes sense that Ellen attended the University of New Orleans. What doesn't make sense is that this smart cookie only lasted one semester before taking a job as a clerk at her cousin's law firm. From there she held a series of David Sedaris-esque jobs: working as a bartender, waitressing at TGIF's, shucking oysters, painting houses, and even selling clothes at the local Merry-Go-Round at the Lakeside Shopping Center in New Orleans.

Here's a hilarious soundbite of Ellen giving a commencement speech at Tulane earlier this year (my personal fav quote: "I'm not saying you wasted your time or money, but look at me, I'm a huge celebrity.")

4. Bill Gates

Bill_GatesBill Gates may have had the SAT scores to get into Harvard, (he scored a 1590 which corresponds to an IQ of 170) but he certainly didn't have the stamina to stay in school. Gates spent most of his time using the school's computers, and eventually left the renowned Ivy League institution his sophomore year to start Microsoft (then called Micro-Soft). Not all of Gate's time at Harvard was for naught, however. In fact, it was at Harvard that he met Steve Ballmer, who later became the CEO of Microsoft. Gates returned to his alma mater 33 years later in June of 2007, where he received an honorary doctorate.

Gates speaking after receiving his honorary doctorate:

5. Ted Turner

ted_turner-afThe founder of CNN was also a bit of a tomcat as an undergrad. Turner's father was a wealthy billboard magnate and was able to give his son the best education money could buy. Ted attended Brown University, where he majored in classics, a choice that horrified his father. Ted ultimately switched his major to economics, but was expelled for having a female student in his dorm room. Turner was never an outstanding student but managed to apply what little knowledge he learned form those boring economics courses into his father's business. He took over his father's company at the age of 24 and turned it into the global enterprise it is today.

Turner on studying Classics at Brown: "I would have not been as successful if it had not been for my classical background... it made me a better businessman."

6. John Glenn

glenn300The first American to orbit the Earth also studied chemistry at Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio. It was there that he received his pilots license in 1941. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Glenn dropped out of college and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He flew 59 combat missions over the South Pacific during World War II, and continued flying military aircraft well into the Korean War. His wingman on a few of those Korean missions was none other than future baseball hall-of-famer, Ted Williams. Glenn never finished college, but it was his expertise as a fighter pilot that impressed NASA enough to pick him as one of the original astronauts for their Mercury Project.

John Glenn on his alma mater: "I've always believed that New Concord and Muskingum College are the center of the universe, because if you get your start here, you can go anywhere."

7. Jack Kerouac

jackToday he's known for his spontaneous prose, best represented in 1957's On the Road, but early in his life, Jack Kerouac was just another jock on a football scholarship. Kerouac, who received an athletic scholarship to attend Columbia University in New York, argued constantly with his coach and was benched through most of his freshman season. His football career ended after he cracked his tibia, and he subsequently dropped out. Although his time there was brief, Kerouac would meet Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady at Columbia. These early relationships would forge the foundation for what would become The Beat Generation.

8. James Dean

james-dean-729587Shortly after graduating from Fairmount High School in Indiana, James Dean moved to California and enrolled in Santa Monica College. At SMC, Dean begrudgingly majored in pre-law to satisfy a controlling father, but eventually changed his major to drama and transferred to UCLA. His father disapproved, of course, and the two were estranged for the rest of Dean's life. While at UCLA, Dean beat out hundreds of actors for the role of Malcolm in Macbeth. In January, 1951, he dropped out of UCLA to pursue a full-time acting career. His first professional gig was for this Pepsi commercial.

9. Woody Allen

woody_allenWoody Allen always wanted to make movies and after high school, enrolled in the film program at New York University. But Woody could never stay focused and spent most of his time writing jokes for local newspaper columnists. He was eventually expelled from NYU after failing a film course and briefly attended City College of New York, but dropped out. He may not have been a committed student, but making $75 a week, the 19-year-old had good reason to drop out, as he was making far more than his parents writing comedy bits for the radio personality Herb Shriner.

Woody Allen (stand-up) on his college experience: "I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam; I looked into the soul of the boy next to me."

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Pop Culture
Suspicious Minds: The Bizarre, 40-Year History of Elvis Presley Sightings
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On August 16, 1977, something momentous happened in Memphis, Tennessee. It was either the death of Elvis Presley at the age of 42, as more than 80 percent of Americans believe, or the start of the most spectacular disappearing act in the history of mankind.

This week, as fans mark the 40th anniversary of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s (alleged) passing, those who believe that Presley is still alive will have a golden opportunity to make their case. Or, rather, cases. “Elvis is alive” theories are as varied as they are plentiful, and they’ve been circulating since just after his death. He’s left the realm of popular entertainers and joined the ranks of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and to some, Jesus. What follows is a brief history of why some people refuse to let this American icon rest in peace.

THE FIRST SIGHTING

On the afternoon of August 16, 1977, a man bearing a striking resemblance to Elvis is said to have purchased a one-way ticket from Memphis International Airport to Buenos Aires. He supposedly gave the name Jon Burrows, a pseudonym Elvis used when checking into hotels. Patrick Lacy, author of the book Elvis Decoded, claims to have debunked this popular and wholly unsubstantiated story by interviewing airport officials and determining that international flights weren’t available from Memphis in 1977. There’s also the question of why the most famous man on the planet would risk going into a public place in his hometown in order to book airfare for the purpose of faking his own death. Maybe Elvis figured his acting skills would help him avoid suspicion.

THE FUNERAL

Ollie Atkins, Chief White House Photographer. The National Archives, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

A great deal of “Elvis is alive” intrigue centers on August 18, 1977, the day of Presley's funeral. Footage of the service shows pallbearers struggling to lift a 900-pound copper coffin. The King had packed on a few pounds in his later years, but there’s no way he was pushing a half-ton. One explanation: The casket was outfitted with a cooling system—the kind you’d use to keep a wax dummy of a beloved celebrity from melting on a hot summer day. Sound crazy? Presley’s cousin Gene Smith thought the body looked a little strange. “His nose looked kinda puggy-looking, and his right sideburn was sticking straight out—it looked about an inch,” Smith said in the 1991 special The Elvis Files. “And his hairline looked like a hairpiece or something was glued on.” Smith was also troubled by the smoothness of Presley’s typically calloused hands and the sweat on his brow.

Attentive fans were further spooked when they saw the King’s headstone. The inscription reads “Elvis Aaron Presley,” even though he’d been given the middle name “Aron,” possibly in memory of his stillborn twin brother, Jesse Garon. The theory here is that Elvis used the incorrect spelling to signal fans that he was still alive. Another one of Elvis’s cousins, Billy Smith, claimed the singer simply preferred the more common double-A spelling, as legal documents bearing Presley’s signature attest.

THE DEATH ITSELF

Traditionally, you can’t have a funeral without a death, and what killed the King is another major source of controversy. The medical examiner’s official cause of death was “hypertensive heart disease associated with atherosclerotic heart disease.” Elvis weighed at least 250 pounds in his final days, and one Baptist Memorial Hospital staffer told Rolling Stone, he had “the arteries of an 80-year-old man.” So a massive heart attack isn’t exactly far-fetched. But toxicologists found more than 10 drugs in Presley’s system, fueling speculation that “polypharmacy” played a role in his death.

The general confusion surrounding these and other jargony cause-of-death explanations has undoubtedly helped to foster conspiracy theories. So have issues concerning official paperwork. Elvis’s death certificate will remain under wraps until 2027, 50 years after his passing. While this may seem like further proof of a cover-up, it’s actually a matter of Tennessee law. As for Presley’s autopsy report: It’s a private family document unlikely to ever see the light of day.

THE POOL HOUSE PHOTO

The second major Elvis sighting came in the form of a photo snapped on December 31, 1977. While visiting Graceland with his family, a man named Mike Joseph took some random pictures of Presley’s pool house. A few years later, while studying them with a magnifying glass, Joseph spotted a shadowy Elvis-like figure sitting in the doorway. Experts at Kodak verified that nothing had been doctored, so it seems someone was peering out the window. In an interview with Larry King, Elvis’s good buddy Joe Esposito suggested it was another Presley associate, Al Strada, in the photo. That explanation was good enough for Joseph, but not everyone is satisfied.

A similar case of mistaken identity led to some excitement a few years later, when sports agent Larry Kolb was captured looking uncannily Elvis-like alongside his client (and Elvis’s pal) Muhammad Ali and Jesse Jackson in a 1984 newspaper photo. Kolb came forward with an original color version of the image proving that it was him—not Elvis—in the shot, but that’s hardly laid the matter to rest. Asked in an interview to identify the man in the background, Ali reportedly said, “That’s my friend Elvis.”

THE KING OF KALAMAZOO

In the late ‘80s, the epicenter of the “Elvis lives” universe shifted to Kalamazoo, Michigan, a city Elvis played four months before his death. In 1988, a woman named Louise Welling from nearby Vicksburg claimed she had seen Presley standing in line at the local Felpausch supermarket. He was rocking a white jumpsuit, naturally, and purchasing an electrical fuse. Welling’s daughter later spied him scarfing Whoppers at Burger King. "What gives this account eerie credibility,” expert David Adler told the Los Angeles Times in an interview promoting his Presley-themed cookbook, “is that Burger King was by far Elvis's favorite fast food chain.”

BACK ON THE BIG SCREEN?

The Kalamazoo hullabaloo spawned a rash of late-’80s Elvis sightings, many of which involved the King doing un-regal things, like pumping gas or buying junk food. These were consistent with the notion that he’d faked his own death to escape the public eye (or the mafia, as one theory holds) and return to his humble roots. But Elvis loved movies—he starred in 31—and Christmas, so it almost makes sense that he would risk blowing his cover by appearing in the 1990 holiday comedy Home Alone.

Believers of this bizarre theory contend that a 55-year-old Presley turned up in the background of the scene where Catherine O’Hara’s character is stuck at the Scranton airport while trying to get home to her son. There’s a bearded guy behind her who looks a little like Elvis in Charro! (1969) and cocks his head in a manner that conspiracy theorists swear is identical to Presley’s onstage mannerisms. Curiously, director Chris Columbus went into Home Alone having just made Heartbreak Hotel, a 1988 flop about some kids who try to kidnap Elvis. Columbus and Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin laugh about the theory in the DVD commentary, but the identity of the extra remains unknown. Even if the real bearded man were to come forward, it probably wouldn’t kill the story.

GROUNDSKEEPER PRESLEY

In the summer of 2016, video of a Graceland groundskeeper purported to be Elvis got the internet all shook up. In the clip, a gray-haired dude in a baseball cap and Elvis Week T-shirt fusses with some wire and holds up two fingers—apparently some type of numerological clue—as he walks past the camera.

The video has been viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube—far more than the one where a clever Elvis fan debunks the whole thing by chatting with the actual Graceland employee, an affable gentleman named Bill Barmer. “I’m not really 81,” says Barmer, who then compares himself to a Pokémon Go character.

THE FUTURE

“Elvis is alive” theories can’t go on forever. The man would now be 82, and the oldest person on record only lived to 122. That means we've got maybe another 40 years of stories about the King chilling in Argentina or sipping coffee at Tim Hortons or doing whatever you do as an elderly man who’s been in hiding since the Carter Administration. Unless it turns out Elvis is immortal.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In an interview accompanying The Beatles Anthology DVD, George Harrison likens a brief 1972 encounter with Elvis at Madison Square Garden to “meeting Vishnu or Krishna or something.” His hair was black, his skin was tan, and his aura left the Beatle feeling like “a snooty little nobody.” Harrison may have been hinting at something Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper said rather deftly with their 1987 single “Elvis Is Everywhere.” Alive or dead, Presley is one pop culture deity we’ll never stop worshipping.

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15 of Robert Mitchum's Wittiest Quotes

Though his legacy is as one of Hollywood’s most iconic tough guys, Robert Mitchum was much more than that. In addition to his acting work, the Oscar nominee also dabbled in directing, writing, singing, composing, and poetry—and maintained a wicked sense of humor through it all. On what would be the legendary star’s 100th birthday, here are 15 of his most memorable quotes.

ON EARLY GOALS

"I started out to be a sex fiend, but I couldn't pass the physical." 

ON THE JOB OF AN ACTOR

"This is not a tough job. You read a script. If you like the part and the money is OK, you do it. Then you remember your lines. You show up on time. You do what the director tells you to do. When you finish, you rest and then go on to the next part. That's it."

ON LOVE

"Maybe love is like luck. You have to go all the way to find it."

ON REMAINING TRUE TO ONESELF

"I've still got the same attitude I had when I started. I haven't changed anything but my underwear."

ON BEING A PEOPLE-PLEASER

"There just isn't any pleasing some people. The trick is to stop trying."

ON BEING TYPECAST

"I kept the same suit for six years and the same dialogue. They just changed the title of the picture and the leading lady."

ON WATCHING HIS OWN MOVIES

"Movies bore me; especially my own." 

ON HIS ICONIC WALK

"People think I have an interesting walk. Hell, I'm just trying to hold my gut in."

ON TAKING A BREAK FROM HOLLYWOOD

"Every two or three years, I knock off for a while. That way I’m always the new girl in the whorehouse."

ON HIS ACTING METHOD

"I have two acting styles: with and without a horse."

ON HIS TOUGH GUY PERSONA

"The only difference between me and my fellow actors is that I've spent more time in jail."

ON PHYSICAL FITNESS

"How do I keep fit? I lay down a lot." 

ON THE MYTH OF GREAT ACTING

"I never will believe there is such a thing as a great actor."

ON THE CREATIVITY OF CRITICS

"I never take any notice of reviews-unless a critic has thought up some new way of describing me. That old one about my lizard eyes and anteater nose and the way I sleep my way through pictures is so hackneyed now." 

ON HIS ONSCREEN PRESENCE

"Listen. I got three expressions: looking left, looking right and looking straight ahead."

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