CLOSE
Original image
Getty Images

10 Proven Ways to Become a Movie Star

Original image
Getty Images

All the struggling actors around Hollywood working as waiters and auditioning for any roles they can find might be annoyed to learn that 12-year-old Carole Lombard was simply playing baseball in her backyard, applying no diligence or even showing any interest in being a movie star, when she was spotted by a director from 20th Century-Fox. He signed her up for a movie because she looked right. If only it was always that easy to become a star. Obviously it isn’t—but here are some proven short cuts from the past 100 years of movie stardom.

1. Get a job on the inside

It’s the usual suggestion in most professions: Get into the industry first, and then go for the job you actually want. You don’t even need to get an acting job. Gary Cooper was a stuntman. Telly Savalas was a top executive at ABC Television and stepped into a role when nobody more suitable could be found. Boris Karloff told children’s stories on BBC Radio before he became famous for killing children in movies like Frankenstein. John Wayne was a studio props man, who was so good-looking that when he walked past Marlene Dietrich’s restaurant table she said, “Daddy, buy me that,” and Wayne was cast in her next movie. 

2. Cash in a debt with the studio

In 1922, Richard Arlen was a humble backstage hand at Paramount Pictures. While working at Paramount, he was struck by a company car and hospitalized with a broken leg. Studio executives decided to make it up to him by offering him a movie contract.

3. Enter a beauty contest

It helps to try this one if you’re conventionally attractive. Clara Bow won a national beauty competition in 1921 and one of the prizes was a role in a film. Within a few years, she was Hollywood’s most popular star. Ann Sheridan, a top star of the 1940s, was entered secretly into a contest by her sister and ended up winning a five-week movie contract.

4. Wait for the right role

Lew Ayres was a medical school dropout who took up acting and eventually became the first actor to play Dr. Kildare, hero of several medical dramas. Director Federico Fellini cast Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita because the young architect had a face “with no personality in it.” This is unusual for a star, but it proves that if you find a visionary director, being bland might work for you (though it probably helps if, beneath all the blandness, you still look like Marcello Mastroianni).

5. Get on the cover of a magazine

Sometimes a magazine cover photo can lead to a Hollywood contract. It worked with models such as Lauren Bacall, Brigitte Bardot, Raquel Welch, and Ali MacGraw. Happily, at least one of those four could also act.

6. Take on any role you are offered

Obviously, this isn't always a good idea if you’re an up-and-coming star who is already being noticed. The wrong role or the wrong film could destroy everything you’ve fought so hard to get.

But if nobody has heard of you, that’s different. If the film is a flop, nobody will notice that you were in it, but if it’s a success, you might suddenly get some attention. Carole Landis had small speaking roles in at least 25 movies before she suddenly became a star in One Million BC (1940), a movie in which she played a cave-girl who didn’t have a single line of dialogue. The film itself wasn’t much good—and nor were most of her later films—but it made her a B-movie star. Even if you're a B-movie star, you're still a star.

7. Wait in the wings for your big break

You know the old story about the leading lady who breaks her ankle so that the chorus girl has to come out of nowhere to replace her and becomes a star? The story became famous in 42nd Street (1933), with Bebe Daniels playing the injured actress and Ruby Keeler as the new star.

Just as it worked for Ruby Keeler (even if only in a movie), it also worked for Shirley MacLaine, who was understudy for theater star Carol Haney in the Broadway production of The Pajama Game. When Haney fell ill, MacLaine took to the stage and the rest is history.

A few years earlier, when Betty Hutton fell ill making the Broadway show Panama Hattie, she was replaced by her understudy June Allyson. Both Hutton and Allyson were eventually spotted by talent scouts at the show and were sent to Hollywood. The advice for aspirants is easy: star in Panama Hattie on Broadway. 

8. Don’t be afraid of stalkers

Normally, you should be very careful with stalkers—but if you are desperate to be a star, you never know your luck. One day, film director Mario Costa spotted a young art student named Gina Lollobrigida on the streets of Rome and chased her for his new film. She decided he was just getting fresh and told him to go away, but he kept following her. Eventually he convinced her that he really was a film director. She signed up soon afterwards—and went on to be one of Italy’s most popular stars.

9. Be an elite sportsman

It has worked in the past, with superstars like swimmers Johnny Weissmuller (later of the 1930s Tarzan films) and Buster Crabbe (who played Flash Gordon around the same time), ice-skater Sonja Henie (whose figure-skating numbers made her a popular musical star), and of course, bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger. If you’re an elite athlete, then you’re already famous. You probably already have a hero’s physique and your previous career may have been fairly short-lived, meaning that you want something else to do. Still, becoming a movie star is not so easy.

Sprinter Carl Lewis won nine Olympic gold medals and was one of America’s favorite sports heroes of the 1980s. He still took intensive acting lessons when he decided to go into the movies and used the same focus and hard work that made him a top athlete. So what was the highlight of his film career? An awful TV movie called Alien Attack. However big of a sports star you are, you still need to be very lucky to make it in Hollywood.

10. Be a pop idol

Even the most original and innovative musical performers have their heroes. Frank Sinatra was a Bing Crosby fan. Bob Dylan worshipped Woody Guthrie. And Elvis Presley’s idols were movie stars James Dean and Tony Curtis, neither of whom were known for their musical prowess. Though he was the king of rock ’n’ roll, Elvis’s ambition was to become a great actor. He starred in 33 films, most of which were highly popular, even if they weren’t taken seriously. They were mostly silly comedies with musical bits—exactly the sort of films that his fans wanted. According to critics, his best performance was in a non-musical, Flaming Star, which wasn’t a big box-office success. Fans didn’t want to see Elvis as a great dramatic actor, and non-fans didn’t particularly want to see Elvis doing anything. Still, other rock stars—from Cher to Mark Wahlberg—have been more career-minded in their choice of roles. If you want to be a movie star, it might not hurt to be a pop star first.

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.

Original image
Getty Images
arrow
History
13 Vintage Photos of People Watching Solar Eclipses
Original image
Getty Images
Ahead of the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017, take a peek at these old photos of Earthlings with their eyes glued to the skies.
Original image
Scott Gries/Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
17 Electric Facts About MTV Unplugged
Original image
Michael Stipe of R.E.M. goes Unplugged.
Scott Gries/Getty Images

Making its debut in 1989, MTV Unplugged—in which famous musicians perform stripped-down arrangements of their biggest hits—was a hit for both the cable network and the music industry, particularly in the early- to mid-'90s. Though it lost its regular time slot in 1999, in the near-20 years since, a handful of artists have popped in for brief revivals. But now it looks as if Unplugged is ready for a reboot; MTV has announced that the series will be back beginning on September 8, 2017, with Shawn Mendes as its first guest. In the meantime, here's a look behind the scenes of the music series that became a phenomenon.

1. OPINIONS VARY ON WHO CAME UP WITH THE IDEA.

Singer/songwriter Jules Shear has said that he came up with the concept for MTV Unplugged to promote his acoustic album, The Third Party. In 1992, The New York Times wrote that Shear was inspired by Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora's two-song acoustic set at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards.

That's all well and good, but producers Jim Burns and Bob Small claim they got the idea for MTV Unplugged after Bruce Springsteen treated the two—and the thousands of other fans at one of his concerts—to a final encore featuring just himself and his acoustic guitar. (Springsteen would find his way onto Unplugged in 1992.)

Executive producer Joel Gallen has referred to Unplugged as his "baby" as well and, like Shear, was inspired by Bon Jovi and Sambora's VMA set, which he called a "jumping off point." In I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, Small said: “Please do not credit Bon Jovi for creating Unplugged. Jon Bon Jovi thinks he was the inspiration for it. He wouldn’t even do the f***ing show until almost 20 years later.”

2. BOTH HBO AND PBS SAID NO.

HBO passed on Unplugged when Shear proposed the concept to the pay channel. Burns and Small pitched the series to PBS after MTV initially said no. PBS simply echoed MTV and HBO. It was only when Burns and Small ally Judy McGrath got a promotion at MTV that a pilot got a greenlight.

3. IT WAS A CHEAP PILOT TO SHOOT.

Bob Small said he had just four hours to set up for the Unplugged pilot, with another four hours to film it—and all on a budget of $18,000. "I couldn't get money to hire a director," Small said. "They said, 'You direct it.'"

4. THERE WAS A HOST FOR THE FIRST 13 EPISODES.

None other than Jules Shear was the undisputed master of ceremonies for the first season. He also joined in on some songs.

5. THE FIRST GUESTS DIDN'T QUITE GRASP THE CONCEPT OF UNPLUGGED.

Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford from Squeeze were the stars of the first episode, which aired on November 26, 1989. But they were unprepared. "Chris and Glenn showed up for rehearsal with electric guitars," Alex Coletti, who would end up producing the show through 2001, recalled. "I said: 'Very funny, guys. Where are the acoustics? It’s Unplugged.' They looked at each other and went, 'Riiight… Make a phone call, quick!'"

6. PRODUCERS SCRAMBLED TO GIVE JOE WALSH ACTUAL FRIENDS.

"The fifth episode was billed as Joe Walsh and Friends, and Joe showed up with only one friend—Ricky, his bass player," Coletti remembered. "We thought it meant his famous friends, but apparently that got lost in translation." Walsh had been a member of The Eagles, who had an infamous falling-out, but Walsh's claim of buddies gave MTV employees false hope. Producer Bruce Leddy found Dr. John recording at a neighboring studio and convinced him to come on and be Walsh's "friend."

7. DON HENLEY WAS NOT HAPPY THAT WALSH PLAYED "DESPERADO."

Walsh's former Eagles bandmate wrote "Desperado," as well as a three-page fax explaining to MTV that he didn't want Walsh to play it and he was refusing permission to air the performance. It was after the fax that the network invited Henley to come on the show himself to perform it. Henley was the first artist to get an entire half-hour on his own as the only artist, which quickly became the status quo for Unplugged. In 1994, when The Eagles reunited, they appeared on an MTV Unplugged special.

8. LL COOL J HAD NEVER WORKED WITH A LIVE BAND BEFORE.

The first Unplugged featuring rap artists took place in 1991. Pop's Cool Love backed LL Cool J, MC Lyte, De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest. “[It’s like] you drink milk for 10 years and then [you have to] drink fruit punch,” Quest's Q-Tip said about performing with the band. “It’s not that the fruit is bad, but you have to get used to it.”

But LL seemed able to adapt. "We rehearsed the night before and LL Cool J had never worked with a live band," Coletti said. "Before long, he was calling the shots like he'd been doing it his whole life."

9. LL COOL J KNOWS YOU SAW HIS DEODORANT.

"People have teased me about the deodorant for years, but I love it," he said. "It was raw! It was nasty! At least you know I wasn’t stinking.”

10. PAUL MCCARTNEY WAS THE FIRST ARTIST TO OFFICIALLY RELEASE HIS UNPLUGGED SET.

Before Paul McCartney, no other Unplugged artist body had thought to release their acoustic set as an album. But after he performed in 1991, the former Beatle was worried about it getting out to the masses illegally. “I figured that as Unplugged would be screened around the world there was every chance that some bright spark would tape the show and turn it into a bootleg, so we decided to bootleg the show ourselves," he admitted. "We heard the tapes in the car driving back. By the time we got home, we’d decided we’d got an album—albeit one of the fastest I’ve ever made.” He even titled the live performance collection Unplugged (The Official Bootleg).

11. ERIC CLAPTON WAS HESITANT TO RELEASE HIS SHOW AS AN ALBUM.

"Slowhand" performed to acclaim in 1992, but he initially didn't think it was good enough to be released officially as a CD. So naturally, his live album Unplugged won the Grammy for Album of the Year. His "Tears in Heaven" performance in particular won Song and Record of the Year. Two years later, Tony Bennett followed suit, winning the 1994 Album of the Year prize for his time on the show.

12. NEIL YOUNG WALKED OUT ON HIMSELF.

Neil Young's Unplugged was supposed to have been taped at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York on December 12, 1992. Instead, on that night—at that venue—the audience saw something they would probably never forget: Neil Young walking out the door after numerous mistakes. The "stunned" crew members managed to get him to come back to try again that night. Young opted to junk the performance entirely, and tried again two months later—this time with a band, and with much more success.

13. TORI AMOS WALKED OUT, TOO.

Amos was thrown off and "couldn't harness the energy." But unlike Young, she was able to walk back onstage, perform, and not have to try again with another set on a different night. As the singer/songwriter remembered it, she and her manager paced "beneath the MTV thing" backstage thinking about the problem. "Then my [lighting director] came down and said, 'Something just doesn't feel right. I can’t put my finger on it,'" Amos told Worstgig.com. "For 700 shows over the five years (prior to that), I'd played with the lights down. So all the lights were up to catch the audience and I felt like somebody was watching me take a shower. So they dimmed the lights, I felt better. By that point because I'd made the choice to stop it and make some changes, I felt like I began again. And I turned the whole show around."

14. ALEX COLETTI FOUGHT TO CUT "THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD" FROM NIRVANA'S EPISODE.

"Maybe I shouldn't give this secret away, but I built a fake box out in front of the amp to make it look like a monitor wedge," Coletti admitted to Guitar World in 1995. "It's an acoustic guitar, but he's obviously going through an amp," he added, talking about the now iconic David Bowie cover. "I actually fought pretty hard to leave that song out [of the final edit of the show], because I felt it wasn't as genuine as the rest of the songs. But I'm a huge Bowie fan, so I couldn't fight too hard against the song."

15. DAVE GROHL WAS ALMOST UNINVITED TO NIRVANA'S SHOW.

The Nirvana drummer remembered that it was a minor miracle that the band's Unplugged performance went so well. “That show was supposed to be a disaster,” Grohl said. “We hadn’t rehearsed. We weren’t used to playing acoustic. We did a few rehearsals and they were terrible. Everyone thought it was horrible. Even the people from MTV thought it was horrible. Then we sat down and the cameras started rolling and something clicked. It became one of the band’s most memorable performances.”

As Coletti told it, Kurt Cobain was thinking of just replacing Grohl behind the kit, or maybe not using a drummer at all. “What I didn’t know was up until the day [of the Unplugged performance], there was talk of Dave [Grohl] not playing at all in the show,” the producer revealed in 2014. “Kurt wasn’t happy with the way rehearsals were going; he didn’t like the way Dave sounded playing drums with sticks."

But Grohl turned up the day of filming, and Coletti gifted him some brushes and sizzle sticks to give his drumming a softer sound. "I was afraid Dave would just roll his eyes, like, 'Oh great, the a**hole from MTV is trying to be my friend,'" the producer remembered thinking. "But instead he opened the package and said, 'Cool, I've never had brushes before. I've never even tried using them.'" The album Unplugged in New York won the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album in 1996. It was the band's lone Grammy win.

16. YES, THEY TRIED TO GET ROBERT PLANT AND JIMMY PAGE TO PLAY "STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN."

The Led Zeppelin bandmates reunited in 1994 for the Unplugged special: No Quarter: Robert Plant and Jimmy Page Unledded, which at the time was the highest-rated episode of the series ever. MTV suggested they film it in Queens, New York. Plant suggested Morocco and Wales because it was where he wrote "Kashmir" and "Down by the Seaside," respectively. Network executives explicitly requested "Stairway" but were shot down. "I think we're in a disposable world and 'Stairway to Heaven' is one of the things that hasn't quite been thrown away yet," Plant said in 1994. "I think radio stations should be asked not to play it for 10 years, just to leave it alone for a bit so we can tell whether it's any good or not."

17. LIAM GALLAGHER HECKLED HIS BROTHER.

Oasis lead vocalist Liam Gallagher backed out of the Royal Festival Hall gig in London at the last minute due to a "sore throat," so songwriter/guitarist/brother Noel took over the vocal duties. Noel would later disclose that Liam in fact appeared an hour before showtime "sh*tfaced," and when he tried to sing it sounded "f**king dreadful." Liam watched the performance from the balcony and at times jeered the band. Noel told him to shut up. Coletti thought it was all for the best. "There's something when the songwriter himself sings it. Maybe he's a little more connected to the song."

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios