Tim Anderson is a freelance writer/researcher with articles published in The Saturday Evening Post, Playboy magazine, TV Guide, and others.
1. Jamie Foxx
We know him as Jamie Foxx. But when he was born in 1967 in Terrell, Texas his birth name was Eric Marlon Bishop.
Shortly after his birth, young Eric was given up for adoption and raised by his mother's own adoptive parents who were strict Baptists. Eric learned to play the piano, occasionally performing in the local Baptist church. He also had another talent: he could be really funny and his sense of humor was evident to all. So even though as a teenager he showed great promise in sports, particularly basketball and football, he chose to pursue a career as a comedian, taking on the stage name of Jamie Foxx. The surname was a nod to his favorite comedian Redd Foxx.
Foxx's success as a comedian opened the doors to some big-screen acting opportunities, and in the early 1990s, he began appearing in motion pictures like Toys, The Truth About Cats & Dogs, and The Great White Hope. However, his greatest exposure came from playing Various on the TV sitcom In Living Color with the Wayans brothers and Jim Carrey.
Foxx went on to win an Academy Award for Best Actor for 2004's Ray, and also be nominated that year for Best Supporting Actor for Collateral. If you're a fan, some other Jamie Foxx movies are 2014's The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained.
Today Jamie Foxx is one of the most respected black actors in Hollywood, and this famous orphan is the first African-American to be nominated for two different Academy Awards in the same year (2004).
2. Frances McDormand
Frances McDormand was given up for adoption when she was just 18 months old. Born in Chicago in 1957, her adoptive parents were Canadian immigrants to the U.S. Her new father Vernon was a pastor for the Disciples of Christ Church, and Frances' biological mother is believed to have been one of Vernon's parishioners. The young lass was one of three children adopted by the McDormands who had no biological children of their own.
Growing up, Frances and her two siblings lived in a number of small towns in Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia and Illinois as their father was busy restoring the various congregations. However, after graduating from high school in Monessen, Pennsylvania, Frances left her family to study theater at West Virginia's Bethany College. She then moved on to the Yale School of Drama where she earned a Master of Fine Arts. As fate would have it, during her time in New Haven she was a roommate of actress Holly Hunter and the two would become close friends, later acting together in the movies Blood Simple and Raising Arizona.
After the pair graduated from Yale, they headed west where they briefly shared an apartment with Ethan and Joel Coen, and Sam Raimi. All went on to enjoy successful careers in entertainment. Frances married Joel in 1984 and the two have collaborated on numerous films ever since.
Today famous orphan Frances McDormand is one of only 16 actresses to win what's called the Triple Crown of Acting: an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Tony. Some other memorable Frances McDormand movies include Fargo, Mississippi Burning, Short Cuts, Almost Famous, and Wonder Boys. In 2018 she received critical acclaim for her performance in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and took home the 2018 Best Actress Oscar at the Academy Awards.
Following the example set by Frances' adoptive parents, Frances and Joel adopted a Paraguayan child in 1994, Pedro McDormand Coen.
3. Ingrid Bergman
Ingrid Bergman is ranked as the fourth-greatest female screen legend of classic American cinema by the American Film Institute.
During her storied acting career, this famous orphan won three Academy Awards for acting, two Emmys, four Golden Globes, and a Best Actress Tony.
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Bergman was born in 1915 in Stockholm, Sweden and was named after Sweden's Princess Ingrid. Her mother passed away while the child was two years old, and her father died when she was 13. Young Ingrid went to live with her aunt who tragically died just six months later, and the girl ended up living with and being raised by her Aunt Hulda and Uncle Otto who already had five children.
After pursuing an acting career and achieving some success in various German and Swedish films, Ingrid burst onto the American big screen in 1939's Intermezzo. Soon the growing list of Ingrid Bergman movies would include Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Gaslight, The Bells of St. Mary's, Spellbound and Notorious.
Still, the film that made her a cinematic legend was 1942's Casablanca, where she starred opposite Humphrey Bogart as his ill-fated lover Ilsa Lund during World War II. Casablanca has been called one of the greatest films in Hollywood history and typically ranks in the top five choices of film critics.
Bergman died on her birthday in 1982 in London. She was cremated and her ashes were taken back to Sweden where they were scattered at sea.
4. Marilyn Monroe
Undoubtedly the most famous orphan in Hollywood history, Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jean Mortensen in Los Angeles in 1926. Her mother Gladys had become pregnant after an affair during her separation from her second husband, Martin Edward Mortensen, so she gave her infant daughter Mortensen's surname. And Gladys decided to call her Norma in honor of her favorite silent film actress Norma Talmadge.
Gladys was not emotionally or mentally stable enough to raise young Norma Jean, and the lass would spend the next 15 years in various foster homes and orphanages and be named a "ward of the state." She later confessed that while in one foster home she was raped at age eleven. Finally, in 1942 after turning 16, Norma Jean married a neighbor boy named James Dougherty in order to escape her miserable existence. The marriage lasted only four years, but by now Norma Jean had begun a successful modeling career and changed her name to Marilyn Monroe.
By the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe was the hottest actress in Tinseltown, and the unquestioned #1 sex symbol on the big screen. She starred in movies like How to Marry a Millionaire, The River of No Return, The Prince and the Showgirl, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Niagara and The Seven Year Itch.
But fame had a terrible price, and the unhappy, used-to-be-orphan began to spiral downward into a miserable world of alcohol and substance abuse.
On August 5, 1962 her body was found in her Brentwood, California home and the coroner later declared her death to be from a prescription drug overdose and probable suicide.
He was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1958 to Solomon and Alice Marrow. The Marrows decided to name their son Tracy Lauren, but we know him today as Ice-T.
When young Tracy was just eight his mother died suddenly from a heart attack, leaving Solomon to raise his son as a single father. He had a little help from a housekeeper, but Tracy spent a lot of time alone while his father worked and struggled to provide for his family. The stress was too much, and after Tracy turned twelve his father also suffered a fatal heart attack, leaving the child without parents. The boy ended up moving to South Los Angeles where he was raised by an aunt and her husband.
Once in Los Angeles, Tracy attended Palms Junior High School, and later Crenshaw High where he began to develop a taste for rock and heavy metal music. Although his high school had active gangs like the Bloods and Crips, and even though he hung out with friends who were Crips, Tracy avoided becoming a full-fledged member. He wouldn't smoke cigarettes, use drugs or drink alcohol and in his spare time enjoyed reading novels by Iceberg Slim. Eventually, his friends who called him "T" teased him about reading so much "Ice." It morphed into "Ice-T" and when Tracy began performing with a band called The Precious Few of Crenshaw High School, he started using his new name.
Success eventually came to the young musician and singer and he began doing more hip-hop and later rap. In 1987, after a stint in the Army, he signed with Sire Records, and a year later founded Rhyme $yndicate Records. In 1992 he released "Cop Killer" which appeared to encourage killing police officers and it became a controversial point in his career.
So it was ironic that in 2000 he was signed by NBC to play Odafin Tutuola, an NYPD detective on the police drama, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Co-starring Mariska Hargitay, daughter of Jayne Mansfield, Ice-T has played the detective for nearly two decades and is near to setting a longevity record for any actor in a TV series.
This famous orphan who once sang about killing cops is now one of the most popular police detectives on television.
6. Barbara Stanwyck
In 1944, actress Barbara Stanwcyk was the highest-paid woman in the United States, having earned $400,000 for her film roles. The actress had just completed shooting the film Double Indemnity when she got the news. In the Billy Wilder-directed film, Stanwyck played an unhappy wife who tricks an insurance salesman played by Fred MacMurray into murdering her husband.
In real life, she was also in an unhappy marriage to fellow actor Robert Taylor and both were having affairs. The marriage -- her second -- ended in divorce in 1950 and she never remarried.
Stanwyck's life had been challenging from her early years. Her birth name was Ruby Catherine Stevens and she was only four when her mother died in a tragic accident. Mama Stevens was killed while riding a trolley car after a drunken man accidentally knocked her off the moving vehicle. Two weeks after her mother's funeral, Ruby's father left town seeking work on the Panama Canal in Central America and was never heard from again. Little Ruby and brother Malcolm were raised by an older sister named Laura. Laura did her best to look after her younger siblings, but Ruby and Malcolm ended up being shuttled around various foster homes and by the age of fourteen, Ruby had had enough and escaped from her foster home and joined up with sister Laura who was working as a showgirl.
After working various jobs to pay her bills, in 1926 she changed her name to Barbara Stanwyck. She had been working with the Ziegfeld Follies and at nightclubs owned by female entrepreneur, Texas Guinan, who operated a speakeasy for gays and lesbians in New York City. Eventually, Hollywood noticed and beckoned her west, and after a couple of appearances in silent films, Barbara broke into big-screen talkies. It wasn't long before she was starring in films like Stella Dallas, Ball of Fire, Sorry, Wrong Number, and given serious consideration for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in 1939's Gone With The Wind.
Toward the end of her career, Stanwyck starred with Elvis Presley in Roustabout, and the TV series The Big Valley, The Colbys, and in 1983 starred as the rich Australian cougar who lusted after Catholic priest Ralph de Bricassart played by Richard Chamberlain in the ABC miniseries The Thornbirds.
In 1987, the American Film Institute named her the 11th great female star of classic American cinema.
7. Melissa Gilbert
Melissa Gilbert is fondly remembered by millions of fans for playing Laura Ingalls Wilder in the popular TV series Little House on the Prairie. Her onscreen TV father was actor Michael Landon and the two shared a close bond both onscreen and off.
Melissa's life got off to a slightly rocky start. Born in 1964 to an unmarried couple, she was placed for adoption shortly after her birth. She was quickly adopted by Paul Gilbert and his wife Barbara Crane, both actors and entertainers in the showbiz industry. But when she was eight, Melissa's adoptive parents divorced. Barbara remarried and she and her new husband Harold Abeles had custody of Melissa. Paul Gilbert, suffering from pain and depression, took his life three years later.
By now Melissa had established herself as a rising child star. She landed the role of Laura Ingles Wilder in 1974 and would play the part for the next ten years. Ironically, one of her first television appearances was in an Alpo dog food commercial with Lorne Greene, who played Michael Landon's father on Bonanza.
When she was in her 20s, Gilbert had a serious relationship with actor Rob Lowe and once married actor Bruce Boxleitner. Today she is married to her third husband, Timothy Busfield.
8. George Lopez
George Lopez was named by Time magazine as one of America's "Top 25 Hispanics" in 2005. That's a pretty lofty position for someone who had every reason to fail in life.
Lopez was born in Los Angeles in 1961, however just two months after his birth his father left home never to be seen again. His mother struggled to raise her young son, but when he turned 10 she too abandoned her son. George ended up being raised by his grandparents, Benita and Refugio Gutierrez. He pretty much stayed out of trouble, attended local schools, and graduated from San Fernando High School in 1979.
It wasn't too long before George began finding comedy gigs and occasional film and TV work. In 1990 he got his first small film role in the comedy Ski Patrol. He followed that up three years later with a larger role in another comedy, Fatal Instinct. He was offered a part in 1995's Desperado, but turned it down saying he didn't want to be in a movie he felt negatively portrayed Latinos. By 2002 he had his own TV series, George Lopez, and it would have a successful five-year run and establish him as one of the top Latino entertainers in Hollywood.
It was during this period that Lopez learned he had a genetic condition that caused kidney deterioration. After wrapping the fourth season of George Lopez in 2005, he underwent a kidney transplant, a gift from his wife Ann. The transplant was a success, but the marriage was failing and the couple divorced in 2011.
He was awarded the 2003 Imagen Vision Award and the 2003 Latino Spirit Award for Excellence in Television. Lopez is just the fourth Latino to headline a TV sitcom, the other three being Desi Arnaz, Freddie Prinze, and Paul Rodriquez.
Today this famous orphan continues working as a stand-up comedian, his routines often poking fun at Mexican culture and race relations, and also working as an activist for the Latino community.
© 2018 Tim Anderson
celina on April 13, 2020:
i love those stories u write they really bring interest in me.
Leen on March 24, 2019:
Patty Russell on March 05, 2018:
Good stuff once again and very interesting!
Tim Anderson (author) from Utah on January 16, 2018:
Thank you Angel! One of my favorite Marilyn Monroe movies is River of No Return.
Angel Guzman from Joliet, Illinois on January 16, 2018:
Great read! Wow you named some top talents!! Jaime Foxx and George Lopez I enjoy them and I need to watch some Marilyn Monroe.