You Don’t Have to Be a Star to Be an Actor

I came across an article about an actor, Kenneth Tobey. Most people probably never heard of him, but he acted in nearly 90 films. His biggest role was probably the 1951 sci-fi movie, The Thing from Another World, where he portrayed a U.S. Air Force pilot. But most of his roles were smaller or bit parts.

Some people may not think a career in acting is possible, because their definition of success is only if you become rich and famous. But if you love acting, it’s possible to make a career by getting smaller parts like Kenneth Tobey. If you stick to it and keep trying to improve your skills, the more likely you will find work.

Actually, being famous may have negative aspects, because many famous people have a hard time having a ‘normal’ life. Sometimes they cannot even go out in public, because they may be recognized.

Being rich and famous is possible, but if you love acting, the more important thing it so get consistent work, like Kenneth Tobey, who had nearly 90 film credits spanning a 54 year career.

Walt Disney Valued His Janitor’s Ideas

Walt Disney was holding a meeting with his artists and Imagineers, planning new attractions for Disneyland. The door to the room was open, and he pointed down the hall and said, “See that janitor? He has as many ideas as any of us!” Walt valued feedback from anyone, even the studio janitor.

The moral to the story is that ‘normal’ people can have as much imagination and as many dreams as the ‘creative’, ‘successful’ and ‘visionary’ people. The trick is to (1) Realize the value of your imagination, and (2) Somehow figure out how to make your ideas into reality. Not always easy, but possible. Actually, probably most of the time not easy, but still possible.

Dr. Seuss’ Mother Wanted Him to Be a Doctor

Dr. Seuss was the artist and writer of many favorite children’s books like the Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who, Green Eggs and Ham, the Lorax and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Dr. Seuss was not his real name. He was born Theodore Geisel in 1904 in the small town of Springfield, Massachusetts. As a child, he loved to doodle and draw, but his mother, Henrietta Geisel, wanted him to become a doctor. Also, his college class voted him as least likely to succeed, because they said “A man can’t exactly doodle for a living”.

When he published his children’s books, Theodore Geisel paid homage to his mother by using an author’s pseudonym, using the Dr. title and his mother’s maiden name Seuss.

Theodore Geisel obviously went against his mother’s dream and didn’t let his college friends’ low opinion of him get him down, he went on to become one the most famous and successful children’s book illustrator and author.

I got this information from the How the Grinch Stole Christmas TV special DVD.

Popular Advice: Don’t Follow Your Passion

I’ve been hearing and reading some popular advice lately, ‘Don’t follow your passion‘. This advice is built upon the supposition that people will blindly follow their passion, only to learn that they don’t have what it takes to achieve it. An example is given of the TV show American Idol, where singer contestants strongly believe they have talent, but are merely fooling themselves, and are crushed when they are rejected by the judges.

If you read my other articles, my advice has always been to figure out what you love to do, AND what you are naturally good at, and try to combine those two somehow. If you only go by what you love to do, yes you may be disappointed, that’s why you have to figure out what you are naturally good at, and sometimes you may have to be harshly critical of yourself.

I thought I was good enough as an artist until an artist’s representative bluntly told me I wasn’t good enough for him to represent. That was my wake up call, and I resolved to improve my skills. But I didn’t give up. I also didn’t improve overnight, or become successful overnight. It took at least 10 years, and people who knew me probably didn’t see much promise or progress.

But after 10 years of trying to improve, and seeking opportunities, I eventually got the work I wanted with Disney. Then it took another 10 years to achieve a level of skill and success that I could be proud of.

So yes, passion isn’t everything. But it’s a good starting point that I believe most people don’t even consider or think is possible. Success is not guaranteed, but it is possible.

Your Dream Job May Not Necessarily Make You Rich

There’s a common belief that people who have their dream job are rich. My definition of a dream job is something you love to do, and it may not necessarily make you rich.

I ate at Pink’s Hot Dogs restaurant recently. Pink’s touts itself as a ‘Hollywood legend since 1939’, and they have a broad clientele including many past and present Hollywood celebrities. In 1939, Paul and Betty Pink bought a small pushcart to sell hot dogs for 10 cents and Cokes for 5 cents on a street corner in Hollywood. They started out selling 50 hot dogs a day, and now sell 1500 hot dogs a day. But the success didn’t come right away. Founder Paul Pink used to like to say, “After 40 years you start to make a few bucks.”

I read a story about Carl Barks, a famous Disney comics artist. Carl Barks wrote and drew Donald Duck comics in the 1940s and 1950s and created the character of Donald’s rich uncle, Scrooge McDuck. His Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comic adventures are considered among the best, and were even the inspiration for the Indiana Jones movies. Remember the rolling boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark? And the flooded mine shafts in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? From Uncle Scrooge comics. Carl Barks was pretty much anonymous as a Disney artist, until the neighborhood kids found out, and they used to line up outside to see the house where Donald Duck was drawn. He once remarked, “I wouldn’t mind the fame if the pay was better.”

As a freelance Disney artist working for 25 years, I’m not rich. I live comfortably, but not rich. The work comes and goes, and sometimes when I didn’t get work, I sold my old toys from the 1960s that my Mom kept, on Ebay. So my success as a Disney artist came slowly and after persistently surviving slow times. So your dream job may not necessarily make you rich. But regardless of the monetary riches, your dream job may have other benefits, including loving what you do.

What Makes a Child Prodigy?

I recently came across a young artist on Facebook, her name is See Foon. She creates watercolor paintings and sculptures of wild and whimsical creatures. I was amazed at her talent, creativity, and joyful expression in her art. I was so impressed that I would go so far as to call See Foon a child prodigy. I’ve seen extremely talented kids before, I remember seeing a young girl on TV who painted large paintings of flowers and sold them for thousands of dollars. I’ve always wondered how a child could become so talented at such an early age, so I contacted See Foon’s parents and asked them.

Her Father explained that See Foon got the message that her paintings were good because they always praised her. Her Mom would immediately hang her paintings up on the wall, so it built confidence in See Foon. See Foon was homeschooled. Her Father said that he believes that children follow the value of the people around them, and they taught her to value art and creativity. They felt See Foon’s talent wouldn’t be developed as much at conventional school which values achievement in math, English and science.

Her Mom also loves art, so she taught See Foon different art techniques. I saw a video of See Foon painting a creature (see below), and the thing that I noticed was that she just seemed to be having fun. She was very focused, but she was just kind of doodling and dabbling with the paint. It was almost like she was playing with the paint. It confirmed what I believed that artists should enjoy their work. This also applies to anyone looking for their dream job, if you love what you do, it will eventually show, and people will eventually notice.

In my own experience, I definitely wasn’t a child prodigy, I liked to draw Disney characters when I was little, and I eventually became a Disney artist, but I certainly didn’t create and sell professional work like See Foon. I think the difference was, when See Foon’s parents recognized her talent, they were generous with their praise, her Mom helped her with techniques, and they explored ways to be creative. If you have a talented child, encourage them to explore their talent. Even if they’re not a child prodigy, they might discover a job that they really love to do.

So what makes a child prodigy?
1. Talent
2. Creativity
3. (The secret ingredient) Lots of love and support from the parents

Here are See Foon’s internet links:

See Foon’s painting video:

Advice From Walter Knott of Knott’s Berry Farm

Walter Knott was the founder of Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park near Disneyland. He had ups and downs farming, but came across some abandoned berry plants that were a cross between a loganberry, blackberry and a raspberry. He cultivated the berries and made them famous, naming them boysenberry after their creator, Rudolph Boysen.

In 1928, Walter’s wife Cordelia opened a little tea room to help make ends meet. At first, they served sandwiches, rolls, jam and fresh berry pies. In 1934 Cordelia added fried chicken to the menu. In 1936 the average number of dinners served on the weekends was 620 a day. By 1937, they were serving 1,774 a day. In 1938 they served 265,000 dinners for the year. To amuse guests, who were sometimes waiting 3 1/2 hours, Walter started building an old west street that turned into Ghost Town, and eventually Knott’s Berry Farm theme park.

This was Walter’s thought about his success:
“The reason I think some people succeed and some don’t, is that some know what they want and others don’t. If you’re going to want a thing and expect to get it, you have to want it very badly, and you have to continue to want it. You can’t want it today, and a month from now have your mind off wanting something else.” Credit: Knott’s Preserved by Christopher Merritt. This book is sold at Knott’s Berry Farm.

When Walter said that some people know what they want, another way of saying this is that they were clear about what they were passionate about. The thing you are passionate about can’t be something that just sounds good or sounds cool. The thing you’re passionate about is something that you feel you’re meant to do and you love to do. If you’re not passionate about it, you will easily give up on it, and the next thing will draw your interest. If you don’t know what you are passionate about, think about what really sparked your interest when you were young, and go from there.

Bruce Lee’s Determination

Bruce Lee’s father was a Chinese actor, and Bruce himself acted in movies as a spunky kid, so he was familiar with movie making. When Bruce was young, he had to fight street gangs in Hong Kong, he even fought people with chains and knives.

Although raised in Hong Kong, Bruce was born as an American in San Francisco. Bruce thought that traditional martial arts could be improved, which angered established martial arts organizations which had practiced thousands of years of tradition.

He studied many different martial arts to come up with the most effective and efficient style of martial art for real life situations, not for just ‘show’. Traditional martial art was a practiced, choreographed set of movements to a certain rhythm, and Bruce realized that real life fighting was chaotic and unpredictable.

His martial arts philosophy, which he called Jeet Kune Do, was an American eclectic mix of styles, combining Chinese kung fu with boxing, judo and other styles. One fighter he admired was Muhammad Ali. Jeet Kune Do means ‘Way of the Intercepting Fist’, which described his style of meeting an opponent’s attack with your own attack.

Bruce had initial success getting the role of Kato in The Green Hornet TV series, but was unable to get TV executives interested in casting him in the Kung Fu TV series of the 1970s. Bruce married Linda Emery, whose mom was against the interracial marriage, they had two children. In pursuing his dream, he went through several periods not being able to get a job, and was at times living near poverty level. He knew he had what it took to be successful, an effective fighting technique, a strong martial arts philosophy, handsome looks and charismatic onscreen presence, but he still faced great obstacles in his career. But despite his struggles and economic circumstances, he didn’t give up.

When he was rejected by Hollywood, he decided to go to Hong Kong to make movies, his intent was to become a success in China and then come back to America to make movies. After making three successful movies in Hong Kong, Warner Brothers Studio offered him to make Enter the Dragon, which was the perfect showcase for his talents.

Can you imagine Bruce Lee, not able to achieve his dream and having to support a family , saying, “Ok, I’m not making it, I’m just going to get a job as a _________” (fill in the blank). He was talented and had everything to be successful, but in the end, what put him over the top was his persistence and determination not to give up. If he had given up, the world would have never known him as one of the greatest martial arts fighters of all time.

Bruce Lee Faced Many Challenges

Bruce Lee is widely regarded as a great legendary martial arts fighter. He was born in 1940 in San Francisco, but grew up in Hong Kong. He became interested in martial arts after he got beat up by Hong Kong gangs. His family sent him to live with relatives in Seattle, Washington. Not satisfied with being a waiter in the family’s restaurant, Bruce started a school to teach Chinese martial arts.

Bruce moves with his wife Linda to Oakland, California and opens another school and teaches students of all races and nationalities. His study leads him to openly criticize traditional Chinese Kung Fu, calling it “a classical mess, it looks good, but it doesn’t work”. The Chinese martial arts community is furious and sends a challenger, Wong Jack Man to disgrace him. Wong tells Bruce that he is not allowed to teach non-Chinese, and if Wong wins, then he must close his school, but if Bruce wins, he can continue to teach non-Chinese. Bruce wins, but realizes that his physical condition and technique needs to improve.

Bruce starts to develop his own martial arts style. He combined different fighting styles based on real life combat situations, challenging traditional martial arts. He criticizes current day karate tournaments, which were rehearsed and in which the opponents didn’t even make contact, calling them ‘glorified games of tag’.

Bruce wants to take his philosophy to the media, and was cast as Kato in the Green Hornet TV series, which lasted only one season. He wanted to pursue a movie career, but found racial prejudice in Hollywood, which was not interested in a Chinese leading man. He pitched an idea for what eventually became the series Kung Fu, but the studio decided not to cast him, instead casting caucasian David Carradine in the leading role.

Frustrated and living in near poverty with a family to support, Bruce decided to take his talents to Hong Kong, where he made three movies and became a big star. He was working on his fourth movie when Warner Brothers offered him to make the movie Enter the Dragon.

After completing Enter the Dragon, Bruce returned to Hong Kong to finish his last movie, Game of Death. One night after filming, he complained of a headache, and his female co-star gave him a prescription medicine. After taking the pill, he never woke up and died at the age of 32 of cerebral edema, or brain swelling. Bruce passed away three weeks before the debut of Enter the Dragon in 1973.

How Do You ‘Not’ Give Up?

A lot of people who have achieved their dreams would give the advice “Never give up”. But the fact is, many people have to give up for one reason or another. But how can you stay on track and not give up? Probably the number one reason a person has to give up on their dream is because of their financial situation. So this is my advice:

1. Be conservative in your spending. A friend once told me, “Spend less than what you make, it’s that easy”. Of course sometimes it’s not that easy, but it helps to mentally prepare yourself to not spend so much.

2. Be very careful with investments. There are a lot of investments out there in the world that look attractive and easy. But I’ve found there are no ‘get rich schemes’, or they are very rare. I would advise not to make money investments, but rather invest time and effort to make your dream come true. If your dream requires some financial investment, try to do it in a way that will not cause you to give up your dream if it fails. ¬†For example, try to start out small and grow slowly, don’t bet on the whole business at once.

I was listening to the story of Herbert Kalmus, inventor of the Technicolor color movie process. It took many years, investment and many tries to create a viable color movie film, but Kalmus was able to keep going because he created other inventions at the same time, that gave him additional sources of income. Other companies developing color film went bankrupt, but Kalmus had the foresight to diversify his business and thus diversify his income sources.

So my third piece of advice is: Try to develop other ways to make money while you’re working on your dream job. Some people take extra jobs, but don’t have time to work on their dream job. It may not be easy, but try to figure out how to make it work.

Personally, I wasn’t good at saving money, I spent many years not making much money, and I lived in an apartment til I got married and bought a house at age 41. I consider myself a late bloomer, but somehow, because I didn’t give up, I was able to get my dream job as a Disney artist.