The Quick 10: How 10 Celebrities Were Discovered

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You always hear those amazing stories about how celebrities were discovered - they're just standing in line at the bank or sipping a milkshake at the drugstore, and next thing you know, they're making millions at the box office and living in the lap of luxury. Here are a few of those nobody-to-supernova stories.

1. Charlize Theron. This is our "standing in line at the bank" story. Charlize was trying to cash a check from her mother, who was in South Africa, but the L.A. bank refused to honor the international check. Charlize pitched a fit of epic proportions, really letting the bank teller have it. As luck would have it, an agent was in line behind her and was impressed by her passionate "performance." Although she later fired him because he kept sending her scripts for films like Showgirls, it was the break she needed.

2. Janet Leigh. Janet's parents worked at a ski resort in Northern California. Norma Shearer was staying at the resort, stopped into Mr. Morrison's office and spotted the picture of young Jeanette on her proud father's desk. She took the photo to agent Lew Wasserman. She later explained, "That smile made it the most fascinating face I had seen in years. I felt I had to show that face to somebody at the studio."

3. Tippi Hedren. Speaking of Hitchcock girls, Tippi Hedren went from diet soda to Bodega Bay thanks to Hitch. He spotted her in an ad for a diet drink called Sego and made the conscious decision that he wanted to make her into the next Grace Kelly. Prior to that, though, she was "discovered" getting out of a cab in Minneapolis by a woman scouting for modeling agencies, which led to a few small ads and commercials like the Sego ad.

4. Luther Vandross was already in the business when he was discovered by David Bowie. Luther had been making a modest living singing jingles and doing backup vocals for Chaka Khan, Bette Midler and Robert Flack. He was working on one of those latter jobs and was messing around with some arrangements in a recording studio in Philly when Bowie overheard him and invited him to work on his Young Americans album. It was his first big recording break.

5. Pamela Anderson. She was merely enjoying herself at a British Columbia Lions football game when her Labatt beer t-shirt-clad self was broadcast on the Jumbotron. People loved her and her photographer boyfriend produced a bunch of posters with her likeness on it. Labatt's ended up buying 1,000 of the posters to keep up with consumer demand. Anderson appeared in her first Playboy the same year and the rest is history.

6. Natalie Portman was just an 11-year-old girl enjoying some pizza in Long Island when a Revlon talent scout spotted her with marinara sauce smeared on her face. OK, I made that part up - as far as I know, Natalie's face was perfectly clean. But she was at a pizzeria, and the scout signed her to a modeling contract. After a couple of years of modeling, Natalie thought she would try branching out into acting just to try something different. She landed her first role in The Professional when she was just 13.

7. John Wayne was once just Marion Morrison, a guy loading props into a truck on the backlot of a film studio. Actor Tom Mix had gotten young Marion the summer job in exchange for USC football tickets - Morrison played there under coach Howard Jones. When director Raoul Walsh saw Morrison hard at work, he decided to cast him in a bit part in one of his films. The bit parts grew, and now John Wayne is one of the most iconic actors to ever grace the silver screen.

8. Peter Mayhew. That's Chewbacca to those of us who aren't huge Star Wars fans. Sometimes just having a distinctive build is enough to get noticed - Mayhew, an orderly, was featured in a silly newspaper article about men with gigantic feet. Not only did he have huge feet, at 7'3", he towered over the other man in the picture. The producer of the movie Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger saw the picture and just happened to need an extremely tall man to play the minotaur in his movie and cast him.

9. Lana Turner. Maybe this isn't a lesson you want to pass on to your kids, but sometimes skipping class pays off. Fifteen-year-old Judy (really Julia Jean, but she went by Judy) skipped her typing class at Hollywood High School and went to hang out at the Top Hat Cafe. She was spotted there by the publisher of The Hollywood Reporter, who referred her to actor and agent Zeppo Marx. Marx signed her and she had her first film role in 1937.
10. Will Smith. Maybe he's working on an album, but I'd say the Fresh Prince is more of an actor than a rapper these days. He had already made his name alongside DJ Jazzy Jeff and stopped a car in the Universal Studios parking lot to get directions to a nearby arena. The guy he stopped happened to be Benny Medina, who knew of Smith and thought his story would make a great sitcom. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air - and Smith's acting career - was born.

Do you know of any other in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time success stories?

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May 25, 2010 - 1:25pm
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