We have all heard stories of models and actors who were just minding their own business at the mall, when they were suddenly “discovered.” They just happened to be at the right place at the right time for the right person to notice their good looks, and the rest, as they say, is history. For some people, it’s easy. But for the majority of celebrities, their big break didn’t come until they put in a lot of hard work, and suffered a lot of rejection. We have all had setbacks in our career journeys, but imagine being an aspiring actress and being told you will never be cast in a movie because of something as arbitrary, and seemingly unimportant as the size of your nose? That’s exactly what happened to Glee star, Lea Michele.
Some of the biggest writers, artists, musicians, and actors were told they would never make it in the business, and they should just quit. But lucky for us, they didn’t listen. For all the almost famous people out there who chose to give up because of a little criticism, here are 10 stories of celebrities whose perseverance paid off, big time.
10. Jim Lee – Comic Book Artist
Jim Lee was on his way to becoming a doctor when he decided to put med school on hold and give himself one year to pursue his dream of drawing for comic books. He got right to work, sending samples of his art to multiple publishers, but only received rejection in return.
After taking a friend’s advice and attending a New York comics convention, Lee was able to show his portfolio to some editors in person. There he met editor, Archie Goodwin, who invited him to Marvel Comics. Lee was invited to pencil a mid-list series called Alpha Fight. He went on to fill in for the regular illustrator of the Uncanny X-Men, and eventually ended up launching his own X-Men series, called X-Men Volume 2. The first issue is still the bestselling comic book of all time, at over 8.1 million copies sold. He has also worked on various Batman, and Superman titles, and he has been the co-publisher of DC Comics since 2010. Guess he made the right move not going to med school.
9. Andy Warhol – Painter
Pop art icon, Andy Warhol’s work was not always in high demand. There is now a museum in Pittsburgh dedicated solely to his work, but there was a time when established museums weren’t interested in displaying his art.
In 1956, Warhol tried to give a drawing called “Shoe” to the Museum of Modern Art as a gift. But the drawing was returned because they felt “it was not fair to accept as a gift a work that may be shown only infrequently.” They blamed the rejection on their limited gallery and storage space. Now the Museum of Modern Art owns 168 of Warhol’s works, including a few shoe drawings, and an original Warhol piece is capable of demanding up to $50 million at auction.
8. Steven Spielberg – Director/Producer
Steven Spielberg is a three-time Academy Award winning director, who became a household name after directing Jaws, E.T, and the Jurassic Park series. But it wasn’t easy for him to get into film school. He was rejected twice by the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. Instead of getting discouraged, he went on to do an unpaid internship at Universal Studios, and land some work directing episodes for various TV shows. Ironically, after he became a huge success, USC awarded him with an honorary degree (regretting their previous decision, maybe?) and he is also a trustee of the University. Proof you don’t need film school to make blockbuster movies.
7. Kurt Vonnegut – Author
The man who brought us one of the best American novels of the 20th century, was not always considered a brilliant writer. Before his first novel, Player Piano (1952), and then his most popular work, Slaughterhouse Five, became bestsellers, Vonnegut had a few articles he submitted to The Atlantic Monthly, rejected.
The editor was very apologetic, saying the pieces were just not “well adapted for our purpose” and were not “quite compelling enough for final acceptance.” But writing is one of those professions that inevitably comes with a lot of rejection letters, and Vonnegut was not a quitter. He was known for his social commentary mixed with science fiction themes that were highly original and engaging.
6. U2 – Rockstars
Bono-fronted superband, U2 were just teenagers when they formed in 1976. They had signed with Island Records by 1980, and went on to become a worldwide sensation with their albums Joshua Tree, and Achtung Baby. But there was at least one record company that wasn’t interested in them before they hit it big.
RSO Records passed on U2 after listening to a tape they submitted for consideration, saying it was “not suitable” for them at the time. U2 has since won 22 Grammy Awards, headlined their U2 360 Tour (which is currently the highest attended, highest grossing tour in history), and been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Wonder if RSO ever regretted their decision.
5. Walt Disney – Cartoonist
Although there aren’t any actual letter for proof, it is widely known that Walt Disney, cartoonist, and the reason Disney movies exist, faced a lot of rejection at the beginning, and throughout his career. He was told that Mickey Mouse would never work as a character because “a giant mouse on the screen would terrify women”. Before he even took a chance in Hollywood, Disney was fired from his job at the Kansas City Star because according to his editor, he” lacked imagination, and had no good ideas”. Obviously, he didn’t let those comments get him down. He co-founded Walt Disney Productions, which is now one of the best-known motion picture production companies in the world. His company went on to win multiple Academy Awards, for classics like Fantasia, and Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs. Disney is still going strong almost 50 years after Walt Disney’s death.
4. Anna Wintour – Editor-in-Chief of American Vogue
The authority on all things fashionable, Anna Wintour, was not always praised for her cutting edge eye for fashion. She worked as a junior fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar for only 9 months, before she was fired because her shoots were too innovative. That didn’t discourage her though, and she went out and got herself a job as a fashion editor at Viva, where she was important enough to require her own personal assistant. Wintour has a reputation for being a demanding and difficult boss (The Devil Wear’s Prada is rumored to be based on her), but she worked hard to get where she is. Wintour is now one of the most influential and powerful people in fashion. She sets trends, and her opinion is widely considered the gold standard in the industry. She has held her current job as Editor-in-Chief of American Vogue since 1988, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.
3. Tim Burton – Director
The director of multiple cutting edge animated films, including The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Coraline, as well as a few live action films like Alice in Wonderland, and Big Fish, started out by sending a sample of his children’s book “The Giant Zlig” to Walt Disney Productions. He was only 18 when he made his first attempt, and this is the letter he got in return:
A pretty polite, and encouraging rejection, as far as rejections go. He ended up doing an animator’s apprenticeship at Walt Disney Studios, before going on to work on his own projects. The Museum of Modern Art held an exhibition in 2006 displaying art work from Tim Burton’s own personal collection, proving that his talent as an artist was all he needed to succeed in the film industry.
2. Stephen King – Novelist
The king of horror has never been afraid to admit that he was rejected, a lot, before his first novel, Carrie, was finally published in 1973. He actually threw the manuscript in the trash in frustration at one point, but his wife dug it out and encouraged him to finish. King tells in his memoir and writing advice book, On Writing, about the stack of rejection letters he used to save as motivation to keep trying. One letter even said “we are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” Now Stephen King is probably the most well known horror author in the world, and has had multiple stories adapted into TV and film.
1. Madonna – International Popstar
Who ever would have thought the Queen of Pop, Madonna, had ever been rejected? But there was a time when even she wasn’t ready for the spotlight yet. Even though music executives believed she had potential, she had to go through a period of rejection too.
Since signing with Sire Records in 1982, Madonna has become the best-selling female artist of all time (according to the Guinness Book of World Records). Probably one of her biggest strengths is her ability to reinvent herself, and never back down from a challenge, which is inevitably what helped her continue to work for her career in music despite the rejection she faced.