According to legend, a teenage Lana Turner was discovered at Schwab’s Pharmacy in Los Angeles. For years, Schwab’s was the place where actors got together to chat and exchange gossip. According to a website devoted to the pharmacy’s history:
“In the ’30s and ’40s you could spot Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Orson Welles, Ida Lupino, the Marx and Ritz Brothers, Marilyn Monroe, and Ronald Reagan rubbing shoulders with the rabble here.”
The article goes on to say that besides Turner, Ava Gardner was also discovered working behind the pharmacy’s lunch counter.
Fast forward to today. As the new story goes, 12-year old Justin Bieber logged on to YouTube and posted homemade videos of himself. Hip-hop impresario Usher (himself discovered on the show Star Search at 13 -years old) happened across Bieber’s videos and signed him to Island Def Jam Recordings. Little Bieber gave up his dreams of being a hockey player to become the next pop sensation. And the legend of coincidental discovery continued.
The legend is so pervasive that Kevin Costner (sorry, I don’t know how Costner was discovered) mouthed a line in the movie Field of Dreams that’s become part of the modern lexicon: “If you build it (they) will come.” Sure, Costner’s character was talking about a baseball diamond, but he was really talking about a dream.
The 24/7 news cycle loves these stories – the guy who maxs out all his credit cards to finance his movie and wins the Academy Award. The inventor who sacrifices his marriage, his kids’ childhoods, and his other relationships for commercial success. The woman who leaves everything behind, travels across the country, and changes her life. The legend is so pervasive that John Mayer’s new album, Born and Raised, includes a song called Walt Grace’s Submarine Test about a hen-pecked dreamer who builds a one-man sub in his garage and winds up in Japan.
But are these stories representative or are they apocryphal? How many farm-fresh Iowa schoolgirls saved up their allowance for a Greyhound bus ticket to Los Angeles only to find that the Lana Turner legend wasn’t their future? How many aspiring filmmakers discovered that maxing out their credit cards or refinancing their homes didn’t end up with a hit movie but rather with their home being sold on the courthouse steps? How many dreamy-eyed entrepreneurs didn’t find Instagram’s instasuccess but instead saw their hopes and family savings squandered in pursuit of a pipe dream?
The media doesn’t care about these everyday stories of failure, focusing instead on the one-in-a-million anomalies like Turner and Bieber. And while these tales of happenstance and rewards are interesting and inspiring, they’re neither representative nor realistic.
When was the last time you saw a great story about the person who worked hard, nose to the grindstone, to meet their daily responsibilities? When was the last time you heard THAT legend. I’m guessing it hasn’t ever happened. But there is at least one Hollywood story that celebrates this everyday hero.
A Bronx Tale is a movie about Cologero, a neighborhood kid nicknamed “C.” Cologero falls under the spell of Sonny, the local tough guy played by Chazz Palminteri, who teaches the kid how to get girls, steal money, and bust heads. But it’s Lorenzo, Cologero’s bus driver father, a good man played by Robert DeNiro, who teaches C what life’s really about.
Cologero: “Sonny was right. The working man is a sucker.”
Lorenzo: “Pulling a trigger doesn’t take strength. Get up every day and work for a living. Let’s see him try that.
We’ll see who’s really tough. The workingman is tough. Your father’s the tough guy.”
Cologero: “Everybody loves him, just like everybody loves you on the bus.”
Lorenzo: “No, it’s not the same. People don’t love him. They fear him. There’s a difference.”
Cologero: “I’m sorry. I don’t understand, Dad.”
Lorenzo: “You will, C. You will when you get older.”
Popular culture, motivational speakers, and reality shows are all telling us to “go for it, take a shot, risk it all.” And even though it’s become almost cliché, if you visit the studios of many advertising agencies you’ll see the poster, “Good is the enemy of great” extolling the agency’s employees to keep pushing the envelope and never be satisfied.
But regardless what we’ve heard about Lana Turner, Justin Bieber or Instagram, often DeNiro’s hardworking bus driver, Lorenzo, is right. In real life, great is often the enemy of good.