“If at first you don’t succeed, you’re normal. Life is tough, but so are you. Keep dancing and dreaming.” Kid President
September 1983 – New York City: He had planned to go to the New York City taxi authority and try to get his license, but he got a call from his agent. He asked, “Is it another two-bit part?” The agent reassured him it wasn’t. Renowned actor and director Paul Newman was casting for a movie, Harry & Son, and wanted to see him. Morgan Freeman didn’t apply for a taxi license that day.
Freeman had dreamed of being an actor from the day he saw a King Kong movie at age six. He was the youngest of five children, and when his parents migrated to Chicago to find work, he was raised mainly by his grandmother in the Mississippi Delta. When he was 12, the teacher made him participate in the school’s drama competition as punishment for pulling the chair out from under a girl. To her surprise, he won and went on to win the state competition.
In 1955, after graduation from high school, a tour in the Air Force cooled Freeman’s ambition to become a fighter pilot and prompted him to pursue an acting career. With no money, no car, and no place to live, he carried his dream to Los Angeles. He took acting lessons at the Pasadena Playhouse and studied theater at Los Angeles City College,
During the Jim Crow era, there were few parts for a Black actor from Mississippi with no bona fide acting credentials. Freeman bounced from job to job in Hollywood, making just enough money to survive. He moved to New York City and in 1967 landed a part in an African American Broadway production of Hello Dolly. In 1971, he became a regular on the PBS series, The Electric Company, a show that taught children how to read. When the show was canceled five years later, tired of the grind of television, Freeman shifted his focus to movies.
For almost a decade there were enough small parts to satisfy his passion for acting, but there was little money left after paying the bills. He persisted through the discouraging times and resisted the urges to return to Mississippi. Then Paul Newman called. Harry & Son was released in March 1984 and there were more calls to his agent.
In 1987, 50-year-old Freeman finally appeared on the movie radar when he received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role in Street Smart. Two years later, he won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor and received his second Oscar nomination for his role as the chauffeur, Hoke Colburn, in Driving Miss Daisy.
In 1994, Freeman was nominated for a third Oscar for Best Actor in The Shawshank Redemption. Ten years and a handful of movies later, 67-year-old Freeman finally won an Oscar for his role in Clint Eastwood’s film Million Dollar Baby.
A reporter once asked Freeman, “What would you do if you had not made it as an actor?” He replied, “I have no idea. I was going to act somewhere because I would die if I didn’t. It is the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you. You never know what’s going to happen.”
The Golden Globes has presented Morgan Freeman with the Cecil B. DeMille Award for “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment.” His career has spanned more than five decades and includes more than 70 films. The 85-year-old Freeman is a director, producer and one of Hollywood’s most respected and versatile actors. He also is the first person on any director’s list when casting for a potential blockbuster movie.
“As everyone points out, I developed late, but I don’t think that was necessarily bad,” says Freeman. “There are always obstacles. When you struggle and put in your time, if you keep scrambling, and keep going, someone will always give you a hand. Always. But you got to keep dancing.”