By Marilyn Beck and Erick Johnson
As he unfurls his campaign for governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger
is making much of his rags-to-riches background -- the young man from Graz, Austria, who came to the United States with little besides (cue violins) his dreams and his ability to work hard. He financed his bodybuilding career with his first business, Pumping Bricks, a bricklaying enterprise -- and went on to transform himself into a wealthy businessman as well as a top box-office movie star. He's hardly unique in Tinseltown, a fertile place for rags-to-riches stories.
Today, Danny DeVito's Jersey Films is one of Hollywood's top production entities, having features including "Erin Brockovich," "Pulp Fiction," "Get Shorty" and "Out of Sight" among its credits.
DeVito has earned an indelible place in both television ("Taxi") and features ("Twins.") But when he was struggling to get a first break, he was so broke he once found himself without enough money to pay for a room, and slept on a "hotel on wheels" -- a New York City transit cross-town bus.
Down to just change in his pocket, Danny used some to call his agent, and found he had a job offer -- the beginning of his upward rise.
As a matter of fact, there are many on entertainment?s A-List of today that have had to resort to vehicular residency at some point in their lives.
While a teen in his native Newmarket, Canada, Jim Carrey and his family lived in a VW camper. After his musician father was laid off from his accounting job, the entire family lived in the camper which was parked just beside the tire rim factory that employed them.
Carrey, who commands upwards of $25 million per picture, could actually be the poster boy for rags to riches success. Not only did he endure homelessness, the one-time straight A student dropped out of school at 16, because when his family?s financial situation declined so did his grades.
He worked as a janitor, a construction worker, a picture frame factory employee. He visualized holding a giant funnel with good things pouring into it to keep himself believing that better times would come. He would work an eight-hour day and then drive 100 miles round-trip to appear at a comedy club for free -- until his comedy started getting noticed. "It's lucky my career took off," said Jim, "because I was lousy at the other jobs."
And if Carrey is the rags to riches poster boy, Jewel would have to be his female counterpart.
The singer/actress has certainly found herself at the top of many art forms, having sold millions of albums and volumes of poetry.
The ever-expanding artist, Jewel is currently developing the indie feature "Wave," in which she?ll star through her Gravitas Entertainment company alongside Goldie Hawn?s Clearlight Prods.
Jewel and her manager/mother Lenedra Carroll have come a long way from living in their 1979 Volkswagen van.
As a matter of fact, Jewel and her mother were so impoverished, that at one time she coped with kidney infections because, "I couldn't afford a $60 bottle of antibiotics."
She is said to have a desperate fear of returning to poverty, which inspires her to keep working full-bore.
R & B superstar Mary J. Blige rose above life in a Bronx, New York City Public Housing project to be crowned the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, the Aretha Franklin of her generation. The high school dropout, actually worked as a directory assistance operator before her debut CD, "What?s the 411?" went multi-platinum, hence the title.
Speaking of Aretha, a young, broke Oprah Winfrey once approached the singer as she was getting out of a limousine and convinced her she had been abandoned. Franklin gave Oprah $100, which she used to get a hotel room. Today, of course, Oprah is a one-woman conglomerate who lands at the top of Forbes' list of wealthiest entertainers year after year.
Richard Pryor grew up in a brothel and knew what it was to live a hand to-mouth existence, just as did Shania Twain, who grew up so poor her family, in chilly Canada, regularly went without heat.
Shania admits she went hungry often, having to hide the fact she had no lunch at school.
But just because Twain has achieved the kind of mega-stardom that has allowed her to settle down in a chateau in Switzerland with her music producer husband Matt Lange and their toddler son doesn?t mean she?s forgotten what it was like to be poor.
Twain is very active with Second Harvest, a charity that helps feed hungry children which makes her rags to riches story all the more inspiring.