A lot of success stories can be attributed to hard work, luck and timing. Sometimes people have come up with a groundbreaking idea only to find someone else beat them to the punch, thereby missing the fame and accolades due to them. Every once in a while, a person who produced something incredible ends up living in obscurity and gets “discovered” later in life.
However, for every George Michael, there's an Andrew Ridgely. Yes, I'm talking about people who came that close to becoming a household name, but didn't quite get there. There certainly are a lot of people who didn't get recognition or the fame that they so richly deserved.
In the words of Maxwell Smart from TV's Get Smart, “Missed it by that much!”
1Claudette Colvin: The woman who refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus nine months before Rosa Parks
In 1955, an African American woman in Montgomery, Alabama refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white person. She challenged the law and got arrested, but was left with her dignity intact by resisting racial segregation. This lead to a court case that eventually overturned bus segregation laws in both the city of Montgomery and the state of Alabama. The woman became a bold catalyst for the Civil Rights movement. Sound familiar?
If you think the person we're talking about is Rosa Parks, you might be right, but a full nine months before Ms. Parks defiantly refused to move out of her seat on a segregated bus, Claudette Colvin did the exact same thing.
Why did Parks get the glory of becoming a symbol of the emerging Civil Rights movement while Colvin's accomplishment was all but ignored? She thinks it was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) who, after briefly considering using Colvin's case to challenge the segregation laws, decided against her because of her age. Parks was an adult in 1955 while Colvin was a 15 year-old teenager saying, “they (the NAACP) didn't think teenagers were reliable.” Colvin thought Parks' “skin texture was the kind that people associate with the middle class.” She also got pregnant around the time of her arrest, which didn't help her image as a role model for the NAACP.
Thanks to the book Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, she is finally getting recognition. You have to love a woman who said to Newsweek, "I felt like Sojourner Truth was pushing down on one shoulder and Harriet Tubman was pushing down on the other — saying, 'Sit down girl!' I was glued to my seat!”
2Pete Best: The Beatle left behind
Pete Best's account of being fired by The Beatles just before their incredible rise to fame is so well known that he is somewhat famous because of it!
Best first met John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison when they played a show at the venue his mother ran in their home, The Casbah Club. He joined The Beatles right before their first trip to Hamburg. Best was certainly well liked by fans in the band's hometown of Liverpool and was known as being "mean, moody, and magnificent.” It is said that he was the most popular Beatle with the Liverpudlian birds. However, he never quite fit in with the rest of the band. He didn't share the same sense of humor, style or musicianship as the other Fab three.
In early 1962, The Beatles auditioned for George Martin and EMI Records. Martin decided that while the group was likeable, Best's drumming was substandard. The Beatles fired Pete and hired Ringo Starr and the rest is history.
Since then, Best has been in other bands, but none were met with much success. He still plays regularly on the club circuit and is known to make appearances at Beatles conventions.
In 1995, he was finally rewarded for his time in The Beatles, when several recordings with Best on drums were used for the The Beatles Anthology. He earned £4 million in royalties.
Check out this 1964 clip of Best on I've Got A Secret:
3Thomas Edison: Let there be light! (Just no spotlight on Woodward & Evans)
Thomas Edison is generally regarded as the man who invented the light bulb, right? Well, kind of. The invention of the light bulb is actually a long and winding road of trial and error by many different people, which started almost 70 years before Thomas Edison's patent.
In 1806, Englishman Humphrey Davey introduced an electric lamp that created illumination by a spark between two charcoal rods. This lamp was too bright for homes and drained too much energy from its power source.
Scientists then attempted an “incandescent” light bulb – that is, having materials pass through electricity and when heated up, a light is produced. However, this posed many problems because the material would burst into flame or melt.
Many inventors improved and patented versions of bulbs. None, however, proved practical for everyday use. Thomas Edison then entered the race to perfect the practical, everyday use of the light bulb.
In 1874, Canadians Henry Woodward & Mathew Evans filed a patent for an electrical bulb that was comprised of a glass tube with a large piece of carbon connected to two wires. They filled the tube with inert nitrogen to get a longer burn life. It looked promising, but they had one little problem – they were broke and sold the patent to Thomas Edison. Edison took credit for this design and assembled the necessary components to make the first practical electric light bulb that we all know, love and use today.
While Edison created the light bulb along with an electrical system to support, it is very probable that he wouldn't have done so without the work of Woodward, Evans, Davey and several other inventors before him.
4Karl Dane: The silent movie star who sold hotdogs outside of a movie studio he once worked for
Karl Dane was a Danish-American silent film star whose life and career is probably the epitome of the tragic Hollywood story.
Hailing from Copenhagen, Dane was transformed from a machinist to a silent film star. He appeared in movies with silent film greats Rudolph Valentino, Lillian Gish and John Gilbert. Dane made more than 40 films and made $1500 a week at the peak of his career.
Unfortunately, silent films gave way to talkies and in 1930 MGM terminated his contract, claiming audiences couldn't understand what the actor was saying due to his accent. Dane later admitted the studio dropped him because he had a nervous breakdown.
Things became dire for the former film star. In 1933, he purchased a stake in a hot dog stand and sold hot dogs in front of the film studio that he used to be employed by. The business failed after his former friends shunned it.
Karl Dane committed suicide the following year, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Nobody came forward to claim his body.
But hey, don't fret! Karl Dane isn't totally forgotten. In 2008, the Danish Film Institute held a “Karl Dane Retrospective” in Copenhagen, Denmark to celebrate the tragic actor's career.
Dane made a few talkies, including The Whispering Shadow
with Bela Lugosi. Decide for yourself if it was his accent that indeed did him in.
5Philo Farnsworth: The boy who invented television
Have you ever thought about the origin of your television set? Most people in the world own one. Billions watch every day. Chances are you have one on right now. Yet if you ask anyone the name of its creator, you would probably get nothing more than a blank stare. Well, the person who invented TV was none other than Philo Farnsworth.
A self-taught physicist, there's no doubt Farnsworth had brains. At the age of 12, he built a motor and produced the first electric washing machine his family had ever owned. At the age of 14, he figured out a way to transmit images electronically. In 1921, young Philo first described and diagrammed television in a school science paper.
In 1926, Farnsworth built his first television camera and receiving apparatus. A year later, he made the first electronic transmission of television, using a carbon arc projector to send a single line to a receiver in the next room of his apartment.
Unfortunately for Farnsworth, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) owned a patent for television by a competing inventor. As a result, Farnsworth spent years of his life embroiled in lawsuits, defending himself from infringement claims and seeking to guard his own patent rights. In 1939, RCA finally licensed Farnsworth's patents and paid the inventor $1 million.
What did he the think of his best-known invention? Farnsworth ideally envisioned it as a means to educate, but felt, "there's nothing on it worthwhile, and we're not going to watch it in this household, and I don't want it in your intellectual diet."
Farnsworth only appeared on TV once on the game show I've Got A Secret, in which a panel tries to guess his identity. Needless to say, they were unsuccessful.
6Frank Willis: The security guard who discovered a break-in at the Watergate Hotel
Ask anyone what the biggest scandal in U.S. political history is and that person will probably say Watergate.
Without the actions of one lone security guard, Frank Wills, there might not have been the discovery of a break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters, setting off a chain of events that became the Watergate scandal. These events included the discovery that the participants involved were members of Nixon's administration. Nixon and cronies tried to cover the incident up, but were found out. This led to hearings and possible impeachment proceedings for the president. Before that could happen, Nixon resigned in 1974.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. While doing his rounds at the Watergate Hotel, Wills noticed a strip of duct tape preventing a door latch from closing all the way. He removed the tape and continued on his way. When he passed the door again 30 minutes later, he noticed someone reaffixed the tape to the latch. Willis smelled a rat and called the cops. Five men were found breaking into the Democratic National Convention offices and arrested.
Wills was immediately hailed as hero and quit his security guard job. He had a bit of fame and made several talk show appearances. However, his fame was fleeting. Willis began a seemingly endless search for employment, but was repeatedly unsuccessful. Even Howard University said that they wouldn't hire him because they didn't want the government to withhold their funds in retribution.
Sadly in 1983, the Watergate whistleblower was caught shoplifting a pair of $12 shoes, which resulted in his going to prison for a year.
In 2000, Wills died broke and in obscurity.
7Gavan O'Herlihy: Richie and Joanie Cunningham's older brother disappeared after one season on Happy Days
If you ever watched the first season of Happy Days, one of TV's all-time greatest sitcoms, you would notice some strange things going on. First of all, the Fonz's role is smaller and he's not even wearing his famous leather jacket. Second, Richie Cunningham and his younger sister, Joanie, had an older brother, Chuck!
After the end of season one, Chuck was never seen or heard from again. His absence was explained by the jock going off to college.
And that was that. Or was it? Last year, the man who played Chuck granted onmilwaukee.com a rare interview. Turns out, the eldest brother on this all-American show wasn't even American! Irish actor Gavan O'Herlihy played the part.
After feeling his role wasn't “his cup of tea,” O'Herlihy asked to be let go from his contract. Since then, he has appeared in many films including Death Wish 3, Never Say Never Again, Superman III, Tales From The Crypt and the U.K. TV show We'll Meet Again.
The former Cunningham currently lives in England with his family, far away from the showbiz world.
8William Henry Harrison: The forgotten president who only served a month in office
Sure, there are plenty of presidents in history who seem less-known these days than even the male Kardashians, but even the biggest historians would be hard pressed to name William Henry Harrison's accomplishments as the ninth president of the United States other than he served the shortest term.
Harrison only served as president for one month- from March 4, 1841 to April 4, 1841. He died of pneumonia, most likely contracted while giving his inaugural speech.
9Big Mixx: The “wtf” cereal mascot that was a huge flop
Getting denied the spotlight extends beyond humans. Even breakfast cereal mascots can get the shaft.
What American kid doesn't know Tony the Tiger, Snap, Crackle & Pop, the Trix Rabbit, Cap'n Crunch, Sugar Bear and so many others? All of the biggest cereal companies including Kellogg's, Post and General Mills had their own successful mascots that have delighted generations of kids (and stoners), but even the biggest cereal companies can have a flop. Ever hear of Big Mixx?
Part chicken, moose, pig and who-knows-what-the-hell-else dutifully represented Kellogg's Big Mixx cereal. Big Mixx was first introduced on supermarket shelves in 1990. The product itself was simply a mix of various existing Kellogg's cereals. The mascot looked like a genetic experiment gone wrong, much like Jeff Goldblum in the 1986 film The Fly.
Big Mixx was on the shelves for one year before being discontinued.