Contemplations and Consumptions: Vol 12


This post focuses on luck’s role and its impact on career success.  I illustrate with a Hollywood story. 

On September 30, 1955, James (Jimmy) Dean crashed his brand-new Porsche 550 Spyder and died. He was 24 and had just finished his third film (Giant). Two of his three films would be released after his death and he would be nominated for two best actor Oscar awards posthumously (1956 & 1957). He is the only actor to achieve this accolade. If James Dean had lived he would have been a mega superstar. 

James Dean had two upcoming projects; he was contracted to do before he died.  The first was called The Battler which was an hour-long live TV play. One of his co-actors would have been a relatively unknown 30-year-old Paul Newman who was meant to play a supporting character.  Dean’s death meant an acting reshuffle and he was replaced by Newman who played the lead character when the TV play aired on 18 October 1955. 

Newman would reflect on James Dean’s demise and his luck in his memoir, The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man.

I know there are some people who attribute my career breakthroughs to Jimmy’s death. Yes, there were elements of luck—and a lot of my success has indeed involved what I call Newman’s luck. Newman’s luck began in 1925 when I was born white in America. Appearance is the second luck. Cognitive skills in inventing is the third luck. And I had the luck to overcome the fact that people always said about me “Isn’t he darling!” or “Isn’t he so cute!” by having enough drive to see I wasn’t ever going to survive just on that. I’d been in contact with indifference and stupidity and my own lack of perception. But I’d never really come in contact with true adversity. Luck recognized me. If Jimmy hadn’t been killed, half of me says, “You could have done it anyway. It would have been a hair slower, but it would have happened.”

The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man.

Newman is probably right that he would have had a decent film career if Dean hadn’t died. Would he have become the superstar he became without Jimmy’s death? Hmmm, that’s doubtful.

Newman’s early career from 1949 – 1955 had just one movie credit to his name (The Sliver Chalice – 1954). This was a terrible film even according to him. All his other showbiz appearances in this period had been a handful of appearances in TV shows. He was also 30 years old which meant his window of opportunity was fast closing in Hollywood. 

If Dean had lived, then many of the roles that cemented Newman’s status as a movie star post-1955 would have first been offered to the much younger and talented Dean. Dean’s rejects would then be offered to lower-tiered actors like Newman down the food chain that is if Newman had risen high enough to be a contender. 

James Dean’s second and final contracted role also went to Paul Newman. His success as Dean’s replacement in The Battler made him an ideal candidate. This was a film role, not a TV role and it would go on to set Newman on the road to movie superstardom. The film was called Somebody Up There Likes Me. There is no doubt that somebody up there liked Paul Newman in 1955. 


📺 (TV Show)

The Vince Staples Show I must confess that although I am aware of Vince Staples; I am not overly familiar with his music or previous acting roles. I decided to give his new Netflix show a shot and was pleasantly surprised. There are only five episodes with some of them as short as 19 mins. You can binge the entire show within 75 minutes. 

Each episode packs a punch as you follow a semi-fictionalised version of Vince Staples encountering surreal situations. Staples in an interview with Variety describes it as “absurd normality.”

He plays a fairly successful rapper but without the trappings of a successful rapper.  Some of the crazy things he endures in the series include: ending up in jail for making a U-turn, having an ex-childhood classmate try to kill him over an unmentioned beef, and getting attacked by angry amusement park animal mascots. Yeah, crazy stuff happens to this fictional Vince Staples. The show is littered with funny scenes like Staples being at a bank when it gets robbed by folks he knows and the mac and cheese drama at a family reunion instigated by Staples’ mother. 

If you love Donald Glover’s Atlanta then you will enjoy The Vince Staples Show. Both shows share similar themes of Black violence, trauma, ambition, racism, and thwarted dreams. Glover and Staples in their unique ways deal with such matters seriously but also attempt to find the comedic elements in them. 

Though the show is billed as a limited series; I hope Netflix and Staples reconsider this decision. I’m keen to see what direction Staples would take the show in a second outing.

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