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Morgan Freeman’s early years

June 19, 2011
By KATHRYN SPIRA , For The Leader Herald

So dear readers have I shared with you my adoring devotion of Morgan Freeman as an actor? The first time I saw him was in a powerful film called "Shawshank Redemption," where he and a fellow inmate, played by Tim Robbins, forge a deep friendship while in prison together. I won't tell you any more about the movie in case you haven't seen it.

I have been a fan of Freeman's for many years since that film. You can imagine my delight when he was featured on the Biography channel. He had many stage credits but his breakthrough film was in 1987 in a movie named "Street Smart."

Freeman grew up in the south and was extremely close to his mother. As he has said, with a shrug and a simple wave of his hand, he views his father as simply a sperm donor.

At an early age, he was fascinated by fast planes so he joined the Air Force at age 20. While in the cockpit of a fighter plane, he realized that he didn't want to be a flying fighter pilot, but would rather portray one on film. So he packed his bags and left for Hollywood to begin his acting career. Once there, however, he found it difficult to get work as a black actor. He went to an open call at Paramount Studios and was hired, though not as an actor, but as an office worker. He heard that there might be a better opportunity on the east coast to find work on the stage, so once again he packed his bags and headed east.

As actor Peter Gallagher said in the commentary, the only thing that is your best friend at the time is your own profound ignorance, because you have no idea what's ahead.

Doors on Broadway seemed to be closed and it seemed like an endless rejection for Freeman. But a window opened through dance which, combined with singing and with acting, gave him an edge, a kind of triple threat.

This is what I was taught in college. Starting with an opera scholarship I became enmeshed in the theater department and took ballet, jazz and tap as well. One dance instructor I had, named Michael Sokoloff, was a strong influence, and a major proponent of the triple threat theory. With these three talents you are better set up to succeed, he would say.

In 1967, the same year he married Jeanette Adair Bradshaw, Freeman's big Broadway stage break came when he landed a part in an all African-American Broadway production of "Hello, Dolly!" starring Pearl Bailey.

He again moved to the west coast to work in San Francisco, where he performed in a range of shows and his work was singled out by critics. Then again back to New York to study dance and found work in a movie called "The Pawnbroker."

At age 28 he hit rock bottom. Poor and hungry, he had a choice to make. He could either get a job as a clerk or stay the course and try to find work as an actor.

Looking back, he said, there was really no choice - he had to either act or die trying.

And that, my friends, is a wrap on this week's column. Part two will be next week.

Thanks to my friend Alan for all of his typing and expertise following my thoughts.

Kathryn Spira, a native of Cleveland who pursued an acting career in New York City and Los Angeles, now pursues free lance writing from Caroga Lake in Fulton County. Previous columns and contact information may be accessed at her website at



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