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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Jim Carrey's Journey from Homeless Teenager to $150 Million Superstar

Jim Carrey's crazy, no-holds barred performance in the live-action version of "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas", made him an indelible part of the holiday pop culture landscape.  There are families who have made watching the film a necessary part of their holiday preparations.  From the moment Jim Carrey truly burst onto the scene in the early 90s with his wild performances on the sketch comedy "In Living Color", through his work in such popular films as "Ace Ventura", "Dumb and Dumber", "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events", and "Yes Man", he has always pushed the character envelope for big laughs.  His fearlessness earned him big paychecks, too, and he now has a net worth $150 million.  However, his early years were anything but funny, and his drive to succeed was partially fueled by a strong desire to never have to relive his childhood experiences.  As Abraham Lincoln said, "I laugh because I must not cry…".  In Jim Carrey's case, that was very true.

Jim Carrey, also known as James Eugene Carrey, was born in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada on January 17, 1962.  He was the youngest of four, and grew up with a stay-at-home Mom and a musician father.  His father knew that supporting four children as a musician was going to be difficult, so he found a "real job".  However, he later lost the job, and everything in the Carrey family's life quickly spiraled out of control.  Money had always been tight, but without his father's salary, they lost their apartment.  The family moved into their van.  Then, in order to help support the family, Jim Carrey left school, and began working as a janitor.  He was 15.  He was filled with so much rage that he used to carry a baseball bat around on janitor cart because he "wanted to beat the heck out of something".  The family eventually relocated to Scarborough, Ontario, Canada, where he was able to enroll in school again briefly.  However, he eventually had to drop out again in order to continue supporting his family.  His mother also suffered from a chronic illness that required constant care, and he split his energy between working full-time and caring for her.

During all of this, he attempted to launch a stand-up comedy career.  His father drove him to his first professional gig at Toronto's "Yuk Yuk's" comedy club.  He received a dismal reception, and between his family's financial issues and his lack of success, he put his performance aspirations on hold.  However, in the late 70s his family was able to get back on track financially.  He decided to give comedy another try.  This time, he was much more successful.  The critical raves started rolling in.  His career took a distinct upswing when Rodney Dangerfield invited the young comedian to open for him on tour.  From there, he went on to perform in Las Vegas, and then made the move to Hollywood.  By the early 80s, he was a popular regular at The Comedy Store, and appeared on "The Tonight Show" in 1982.  His stand-up routine, which featured his amazing facility with impressions, was packing houses each night, but he knew he wanted a career in television and film more.  Throughout the 80s, he slowly built up a resume of increasingly high-profile roles in such film and television projects as "Rubberface", "Copper Mountain", "The Duck Factory", "Once Bitten", "Peggy Sue Got Married", "The Dead Pool", and "Earth Girls Are Easy".  In 1990, he began working his friend and "Earth Girls…" cast mate, Damon Wayans, on a show called, "In Living Color".  The sketch comedy, which had been created by Damon's brother Keenen, made household names of all of the cast members.  In 1994, Jim Carrey took his career to the next level, starring in the comedy, "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective".  The film was a massive hit worldwide, and catapulted him into the spotlight.

He has since gone on to release an astounding number of very popular features.  At the height of his popularity, he was earning $20 million per feature.  While not all of his films have been critical darlings, he has managed to connect with audiences around the world.  His films have made incredible amounts of money for the producing studios, and are regularly included on "best of", "greatest" and "favorite lists".  Some of his projects include "The Mask", "Dumb and Dumber", "Batman Forever", "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls", "Liar, Liar", "The Truman Show", "Man on the Moon", "Me, Myself, & Irene", "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", "Bruce Almighty", "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", "Fun with Dick and Jane", "Yes Man", "I Love You Phillip Morris", and "Kick-Ass 2″.  He has won two Golden Globe Awards, and been nominated for multiple Golden Globe, SAG, BAFTA, and Saturn Awards, among many other honors.  He also recently made a foray into writing, and penned his first children's book, "How Roland Rolls".  The story was a 2013 Gelett Burgess Children's Book Honoree.
When Jim Carrey was working as a teenage janitor to support his homeless family and his ill mother, he probably never imagined how far he would come.  The dream was there, but it must have looked very nearly impossible to achieve.  However, he stuck to his goals, and now, thirty-five years later, he has accomplished what he set out to do, and more.  He chose to laugh rather than cry.  More importantly, he chose to make those around him laugh, as well.  That decision spawned one of the most successful and prolific comic careers in Hollywood history.

David Geffen's Journey

David Geffen's Journey from College Dropout to $5.5 Billion Hollywood Mogul
We hear stories every day about people who excelled at school, and excelled at sports, or excelled at, well, everything, going on to greater and greater things as adults. We also hear stories every day about people who became extremely succesful thanks to a well-connected parent or inheritence. Those stories are fine, but rarely do we read or hear about a very ordinary person with no headstarts at all, going on to have a massive impact on multiple industries.  David Geffen is one of Hollywood's most powerful executives, and with a net worth of $5.5 billion, he is also one of the wealthiest.  Unlike many major executives, however, he built his empire from absolutely nothing.  He had no road map and no clear idea of what he was trying to achieve.  There were no family members to show him the way, and no doting mentors to steer him down the right path.  Instead, David Geffen was an ordinary young man… who went on to have an extraordinary impact on entertainment around the world.

David Geffen – Billionaire Mogul
David Geffen was born in February 21, 1943 in Brooklyn, New York.  His parents were Jewish immigrants who had met in Palestine.  His father was a pattern maker and his mother made and sold undergarments in her own shop called, Chic Corsets by Geffen.  He went to public school and hung out with other kids from the neighborhood.  He discovered an interest in theater and music after reading "Hollywood Rajah", the story of Louis B. Mayer.  He began to appear in theater productions at school.  His father passed away when he was 16, and he got a job working in the mailroom at CBS.  After graduating from New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn, he headed West.  He spent one semester at the University of Texas at Austin, but flunked out due to low grades.  He then headed to Santa Monica College, but his education there did not last either.  He headed back to the East Coast, where he held a series of odd jobs, while making another attempt at college, this time enrolling at Brooklyn College.  His third try was not the charm either, unfortunately, and he dropped out.
Around this time, he secured a job as an usher at CBS-TV.  In his eyes, it was the perfect job.  He was able to watch stars like Judy Garland and Red Skelton rehearse, and to see how each program came together from the inside out.  He recognized that he didn't have the innate talent of performers like Judy Garland, but he knew he wanted to be involved in production in a more direct way.  He began to climb the ladder at CBS, moving from being usher to serving as the receptionist for the series, "The Reporters".  He was almost immediately fired, however, when he began making script suggestions to producers.  A casting director on the program suggested he might make a better agent with his attitude, and David Geffen decided to listen to him.  Unsure of where to begin, he simply opened the phone book and looked for the biggest agent advertisement he could find.  That advertisement belonged to the William Morris Talent Agency.  He snagged a spot in the mailroom at William Morris, and began working his way up the ladder again.  He wanted to become a talent agent, but he had to prove that he was a college graduate.  He told his bosses at William Morris that he had graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles.  Then, when the letter arrived stating that he had not actually attended the school, he grabbed it out of the mail (he worked in the mail room after all), altered it, and sent it on its way.  He was soon made a junior agent.

Young David Geffen
Always gregarious and fun, he had begun to make friends in the music community, and ultimately decided to focus on being a personal manager.  His first major clients included Laura Nyro, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Jackson Browne, all relative unknowns when they began working with him.  He was tenacious about building the careers of his artists, and he quickly became known as a fair, ambitious, and loyal manager.  Watching him attempt to secure a record deal for one of his artists, a record executive at Atlantic suggested he start his own label.  Recognizing good advice when he heard it, David Geffen launched Asylum Records.  He seemed to have an unerring eye for artists whose sound existed outside of the box, but who would come to revolutionize music.  He signed the Eagles, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Linda Ronstadt, and Judee Sill, to name just a few.  Warner Communications ending up buying Asylum, merging it with its record company, Elektra.  He ran Elektra/Asylum until 1975, when he was invited to take over Warner Brothers' film studios.  Though he had been able to figure out how to succeed in the agent and music worlds, his foray into running a film studio was not particularly successful.  He was also ill, and was subsequently diagnosed with terminal bladder cancer.  He retired and stepped away from the Hollywood lifestyle.  However, three years later, he was still alive and kicking, and it was revealed that he was actually cancer-free and had been misdiagnosed.  He dusted himself off and went back to Hollywood.

Geffen, Michael Jackson and Madonna
Now re-energized and focused, he returned to his first love, music, and launched Geffen Records.  The label's first year, 1980, was tumultuous.  He signed Donna Summer first, and released her album, "The Wanderer".  However, her former label retaliated, releasing multiple tracks from her 1979 album, "Bad Girls", and a greatest hits compilation.  Though "The Wanderer" spawned a hit single, it was buried in the influx of other Donna Summer material and the advent of the New Wave sound.  That same year, he released John Lennon's album, "Double Fantasy".  It was a coup for the new label, but it quickly turned bittersweet, when Lennon was assassinated that year.  The album became a massive bestseller, but Geffen was unable to celebrate its success with its artist.  From there, he went on to sign and work with a "who's who" of music heavy-hitters, including Olivia Newton-John, Elton John, Sonic Youth, Cher, Aerosmith, Peter Gabriel, Whitesnake, Blink-182, Nirvana, Guns N' Roses, Lifehouse, Pat Metheny, and Neil Young, among many others.  Along the way he sold Geffen Records in one of the largest music deals in music history, and launched another label called DGC Records, which was equally successful.

He also decided to try his hand at film production again, and launched the Geffen Film Company.  Like Asylum and Geffen Records, it was a success out of the gate.  The company's first project, "Risky Business", was box office gold and made a star out of then unknown, Tom Cruise.  He went on to produce the film version of "Little Shop of Horrors", "Beetlejuice", and "Interview with the Vampire", as well as the Broadway productions of "Dreamgirls" "Cats", "Miss Saigon", and "M. Butterfly".  In 1994, he teamed up with Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg to form Dreamworks SKG.  The movie studio has gone to release a steady stream of hit movies, including "Amistad", "Deep Impact", "Saving Private Ryan", "American Beauty", "Gladiator", "Chicken Run", "Almost Famous", "Meet the Parents", "Castaway", "Shrek", "A Beautiful Mind", "Minority Report", "Catch Me If You Can", "Old School", "War of the Worlds", "Red Eye", "Match Point", "Revolutionary Road", "The Lovely Bones", "Cowboys and Aliens", "Real Steel", and "Lincoln".
With his massive wealth and influence, David Geffen is walking proof that you can come from completely ordinary beginnings and arrive at greatness.  He was an average student with no contacts in the entertainment industry, but he still managed to become one of the most powerful executives in Hollywood.  Sometimes it's not about where you're from, it's about where you choose to go.  For David Geffen, he clearly chose to go all the way to the top.