Inspired! Mesmerized! This is how I felt after putting down Steve Martin’s autobiography Born Standing Up.
I knew it was going to be a good book because Martin is a fantastic writer. Every creative medium he’s ever touched has turned into a golden product. Stand-up, acting, banjo-playing…you name it!
One of my top five favorite books of all time is Martin’s Shopgirl, which for me, perfectly summed up my experiences in Los Angeles. Martin’s uncanny ability to voice the thoughts, feelings and actions of a twenty-something living in LA astounded me. He’s good. Very good.
Born Standing Up is about Martin’s first 30 years on this planet as an adolescent, then as a struggling comedian. He details the painstaking energy and determination it took to break into the scene. He acted at Knott’s Berry Farm, performed stand up at small folks clubs in Southern California and elsewhere, wrote for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and even appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson several times before hitting it big. As Martin details in the book, none of these prior achievements amounted to much career-wise and he was ready to give up on comedy if he didn’t hit it big by the age of 30.
It was shortly after 30 that Martin really broke onto the scene with his comedy album Let’s Get Small. It was then that the roller coaster began.
Martin’s book is an inspiring read for any creative who is ready to give up on their craft. As Martin explains in the book, and though I disagree, he wasn’t particularly exceptional at any one thing, but enough drive and ambition finally paid off. It might not come at 20, 30 or even 40, but it often pays off for those who hang in there.
Below are some of my favorite late-in-life success stories:
A struggling actor and writer for many years, Billy Bob Thornton didn’t catch the attention of critics until the release of One False Move at the age of 37. Thornton’s big break didn’t occur until the age of 41 with the Oscar-winning indie film Sling Blade, which Thornton wrote and starred in.
Having acted for stage and film for over a decade, Kevin Spacey had some notable credits with lead parts in Glengarry Glen Ross and The Ref, but his breakout year was in 1995 with roles in Seven and The Usual Suspects. The actor was 36 in 1995.
Bryan Cranston has been a working actor since the early 80s, but his first full-time television gig, Malcolm in the Middle, didn’t happen until the age of 44. Though the actor was nominated for several awards during his stint on Malcolm in the Middle, Cranston didn’t reach complete television domination until starring in Breaking Bad at the age of 52. Since Breaking Bad, Cranston has won several Emmys and starred in several Hollywood films.
As many David Sedaris fans know, for years the author was a bumbling, hapless drug addict and loser who couldn’t keep a job and moved frequently. It wasn’t until radio personality Ira Glass heard him speak in a Chicago club that Sedaris got his big break. The writer was 36 years old when he premiered on NPR and was 38 when his first book was published.
Amy Sedaris also didn’t see fame until her late 30s. Though Sedaris was part of a short-lived Comedy Central show in 1995 at the age of 34, her show, Strangers with Candy, is what really catapulted her onto the scene. She was 38 when the show premiered.
Marc Maron has been a working comedian since the early 80s. Though he achieved moderate success on the road and on stage, Maron’s big break didn’t happen until the success of his podcast WTF with Marc Maron. At that point, the comedian was 43 (recommended by @rruiva).
The author Jennifer Egan didn’t become a household name until the release of her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Visit From the Good Squad. The writer was 48.
J.K Rowling finished her first manuscript of Harry Potter in 1995 at the age of 30. The book was published in 1997, but didn’t achieve global success until 1998 when Rowling was 33.
Designer Vivienne Westwood had her first catwalk show at the age of 40 (recommended by @runningonheavy).
Nick Offerman had several small parts on various TV shows and film leading up to his big break on Parks and Recreation at the age of 39 (recommended by @trevoray).
Actor Steve Carrell got his start on The Dana Carvey Show in 1996 at the age of 34. In 1999, at the age of 37, he was cast as a correspondent on The Daily Show. It wasn’t until the year 2005 that Carrell got his big break with the film 40 Year-Old-Virgin, and in 2006, the television series The Office. Carrell was 44 in 2006.
Tell me your favorite late-in-life success story!
So what you’re saying is it takes awhile for many folks to develop their talent?
Yes, I believe so. Or at least know where their talents lie.
I think a lot depends upon just how much risk one is prepared to take and how much self-confidence they have… or in some cases it’s pure dumb luck and we have seen where that’s led some folks.
Makes me feel better, 30 was always a big looming number for me to achieve something on my big to do list, I’ll make it 40 now.
I think 40 really is the new 30 now.
I found Born Standing Up very inspiring as well. It elevated Martin to near George Carlin status for me. Which is basically a God. I think the clincher was when he would walk off the stage and convince everyone in the club to follow him out into the street like the pied piper, and then just get in a cab and wave goodbye and leave them all there. Hahaha.
I know! Quite incredible. I love how he talked about his own surprise at his success. How suddenly he became a Pied Piper!
Needed to read this today.
Oh yay! I try to remind myself these stories every day!
Joe Pesci was 37 when “Raging Bull,” his breakout film, came out.
Robert De Niro’s first real role was in “Mean Streets” in 1973, when he was 30, and he was 33 when “Taxi Driver” came out. Again, like Pesci, he was 37 when “Raging Bull” was released.
Leonard Cohen’s first album, “Songs of Leonard Cohen” didn’t come out until he was 33 in 1967.
Bram Stoker was 50 when he released “Dracula” in 1897.
This list makes me so happy. This means that there is still hope for me to be a go-go dancing superstar, well maybe not, but I do enjoy writing a hell of a lot, and we all know how glamorous that is!
Very inspirational and much needed in these trying times.
This gives me so much hope. I kind of thought it might be too late for me to make it as a writer, but I admire Steve Martin so much having read Shopgirl and Object of Beauty that I feel it’s possible. Thank you for this!
Maria Corazon Aquino.
Ms. Aquino went from being a stay-at-home mother of 5 to becoming the President of the Philippines at age 53.
When speaking about “late bloomers,” we mustn’t forget about the many people who actually choose to have late careers; namely the stay-at-home mothers.
I’m 35 and I remember reading about and being inspired by late blooming artists when I was about to turn 30. I have since started making my own art and made my first record of my own music. I’m not blowing anybody’s minds with any of it yet but it feels good to know it’s never too late to start trying things.
Many famous authors started late too: Dick King-Smith wrote the book that became the movie “Babe” at age 61, Bram Stoker wrote Dracula at age 50, Ian Felming wrote Casino Royale at 44, Jules Verne didn’t start until 35… (I’ve been collecting them on my blog).
Thanks for this intro to several late-blooming creatives I didn’t know about!
These stories are my favorites… they give hope not only for people with artistic/entertainment ambitions, but to people who just generally think, “Is this all there is?” I’ve never really been great at anything, but I keep exploring and I’m always learning new things about what I can and can’t do.
Anyway, my favorite late success story, funny enough, is Colonel Sanders of KFC. He was a struggling gas station owner who served chicken. When his gas station went out of business after the opening of a new interstate highway, he decided to open the first KFC (his town didn’t have the need for another gas station). I believe he was already in his ’60s at that point… possibly older.
I didn’t know the story of the ol’ Colonel! Thanks for sharing!
This is inspiring. I do wish there were more women visibly emerging in their careers late in life. Plenty do, but they’re behind the scenes or not so much in the public eye as a lot of the men on this list.
I’m really enjoying this book so far. I was especially excited to see a mention of Lindsey and Stevie towards the end of the book, when he talks about the first club he headlined in and they were opening for him under Buckingham Nicks. Nothing more than a mention of them, and it made me smile. 🙂
I realize this went off on a tangent compared to the point of the post, but I just thought that as a fellow Fleetwood Mac fan, you’d probably appreciate it as well. 🙂
[…] read this story I wrote about late bloomers. If knowing that Bryan Cranston didn’t achieve fame until the age of 44 doesn’t make […]
I’m making videos about people who are late bloomers and I’m asking permission to use text from the book/article listed below. I’m going to post these videos on my facebook page where I’m under the name “Willie Cuthbert” if you care to look. Please go to youtube and type in “76militarylife” to see an example of the video. I can send to you a detailed explanation upon request. There will not be any money made on this project. Thanks. I’m asking permission to use some of the late bloomer stories on Hipstercrite. Do you have any that are more in depth than what’s posted?