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10 Proven Ways to Become a Movie Star

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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.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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