5 Unexpected Jobs Famous Folks Had Pre-fame

Image credit: Reagan.utexas.edu
Often it is an easy task to track the trajectory one has travelled toward their station in life (though it is more difficult to do so with such lovely alliteration, if I do say so myself). One can look back at the steps that, say, President Obama took, working backward from serving at the federal congressional level, to the state level, to the local level, with the law background, and so on. Or one can look at actors such as Drew Barrymore, who have been on the silver screen since they were children.
Other times, the folks we celebrate as celebrities or admire for their political, humanitarian, or business success – or, for that matter, those that we loathe for the harm they have done – end up in their notable positions after time spent on markedly different life paths. Chalk it up to it a mix of serendipity, diligence, and the arbitrary nature of this damn thing we call life…

5 President Harry Truman

President Harry Truman, before OKing the only ever hostile usage of nuclear weapons, was at one point in debt up to his eyeballs after his clothing business failed. In fact, Truman’s business failed so colossally, he was paying off the failure for almost a decade and a half. His business life did manage to vault him into political life, though, and we assume that by the time he had his finger on The Button, any creditors still awaiting payment decided to fall silent.

4 Elvis Costello works as a clerk!?

On a lighter note, musical Renaissance man Elvis Costello worked a number of office jobs, including at a bank and as a clerk for the cosmetics firm Vanity Fair. Costello took the step of reliving his first “career” through his second, singing about the experiences he had a frustrated young man in the song titled (ironically, of course) “I’m Not Angry.” If you listen to the lyrics, you will start to think “Hey, y’know what? He WAS angry.”

3 Bashar al-Assad

Bashar al-Assad is today known as a murderous thug responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Syrians, the very countryman he should be serving and protecting as their (no longer legitimate) president. But instead of studying at Ruthless Despot Academy, Assad studied to be… an optometrist. When one’s father has ruled a country as a de facto dictator for 29 years, and when you have an older brother groomed for office, I suppose that’s what you do, you study ocular medicine. But with Assad’s brother killed in a car accident, when Assad senior kicked the bucket, little Bashar assumed power, and he has kept it for over a decade now thanks to what are laughably called elections. Except that you don’t laugh openly about these things if you are in Syria these days, what with the death and horror.

2 Pee-wee Herman, before he was Pee Wee

Image credit: Wikipedia

Pee-wee Herman, before he was Pee Wee and was still just Paul Reubens, worked in various restaurants (in the kitchens, scrubbing and such, to be clear) and then as a salesman for the Fuller Brush Company, a company that, as you might have guessed, sells various brushes. Just picture Pee-wee showing up at your door in character… would that help sales or hurt? I’m going to guess the latter. This is an example of a stopgap career, though, as he was working on his acting and comedy the whole time. Now our next guy, on the other hand…

1 “Dunkin Donuts has waitresses?”

We open with a woman whose other “career” was brief, but it’s just so hilariously improbable, that I’m going with it: Madonna worked briefly as a waitress at a Dunkin Donuts in NYC. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Dunkin Donuts has waitresses?” Well, apparently some do – I have cross-referenced this fact and it is true, the Material Girl was, at one point in the late 70s, decidedly more glaze than glitter.

Honorable mention

So take heart, dear readers: you may not be stuck as the CEO of a successful Fortune 500-ranked business or as a prolific poet forever – you, too, could go on to have a celebrated second career! Or you could invest in soy beans and hope the market goes haywire — I don’t know — you’ll figure something out!

Steven John is a published novelist and competitive pole vault champion. (The latter is not true.) His writing runs the gamut from speculative fiction to essays fueled by a mix of mirth and derision. He has never been to Lisbon but, statistically speaking, is probably taller than you.

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