Chris Gardner: The Inspiration for the Movie “The Pursuit of Happyness”

Updated on January 10, 2018
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Readmikenow enjoys writing about unique and interesting people. He likes to learn about individuals who live or have lived unusual lives.

Chris Gardner
Chris Gardner

Chris Gardner was a homeless father in San Francisco during the 1980s. He was involved in a low-paid trainee program at a stock brokerage firm. During this time, Gardner didn't have enough money to pay for a deposit on an apartment. He slept wherever he was able to sleep. This included a church shelter, toilet at a railway station as well as parks. He even slept under his desk when his fellow workers had left the office and gone home. The little bit of money he earned was used to pay for his son’s childcare so he could work. Gardner persevered, and the brokerage made him a full employee when he completed their training program. He was very successful and eventually opened his own investment firm in 1987.


Childhood

Christopher Paul Gardner was born on February 9, 1954, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was brought into a difficult family situation. When he was growing up, his father lived in Louisiana, and his stepfather physically abused him, his mother and siblings. When Gardner was young, his mother was incarcerated for welfare fraud on a false charge by his stepfather. This resulted in Gardner being placed in foster care. He and his siblings were taken out of foster care for a short time but soon returned. His mother was convicted of trying to kill his stepfather by setting a house on fire while his stepfather was in it. Gardner often speaks about how his mother was a source of emotional strength as well as inspiration. She told him he had to learn to depend on himself because there was no cavalry that would come and save him.


Early Adult Life

Gardner enlisted in the U.S. Navy and worked as a medical corpsman. During this time, he developed a friendship with Dr. Robert Ellis who was a cardiac surgeon from San Francisco. After being honorably discharged from the Navy in 1974, Gardner moved to San Francisco to work for Dr. Ellis in various hospitals. He was made responsible for a laboratory and worked with Dr. Ellis to write articles that were published in different medical journals.

Marriage And Difficulties

Chris Gardner married Sherry Dyson on June 18, 1977. Their relationship almost immediately had problems. Gardner had an affair with a dental student, and she became pregnant with his son. He left his wife Sherry Dyson and moved in with the dental student as a way to get ready to be a father. Gardner’s son Christopher Jarrett was born on January 28, 1981. He worked as a research lab assistant at the time but left that position to get a job as a medical salesman. His son kept asking about Gardner's father, his grandfather. Gardner saved money and went to Monroe, Louisiana with is son. He had the first meeting in his life with his father.


Life Changing Moment

Gardner went back to San Francisco after meeting with his father. He saw a well dressed man sitting in a stunning red Ferrari. Gardner was impressed with the car and asked the man sitting in the driver's seat about his profession. The driver told Gardner he was a stockbroker. At that moment, Gardner decided that would be his career path. The stockbroker met with Gardner and explained to him about the world of finance. He then set up meetings between branch managers of large stock brokerage firms and Gardner. This next two months Gardner spent meeting with people from places like Paine Webber, Dean Witter, and others. He was eventually accepted into a training program by E.F. Hutton.


Legal Problems

In the same week, he went to the offices of E.F. Hutton only to find out the manager who hired him had recently been fired. When he was at his home, his son's mother attempted to take his son. He tried to stop her. The police witnessed the altercation between him and his son's mother. She ended up in some garden bushes. Gardner was not apprehended for this but was detained for non-payment of parking fines. This caused him to be ordered to spend ten days in jail because he couldn't afford to pay the parking tickets. His son was taken to the east coast to live with his mother. When he got out of jail, Gardner's apartment was empty. He was still able to obtain a training position with Dean Witter Reynolds, but it provided no pay. Gardner was at a point where he could not meet his living expenses and joined the ranks of the homeless.

Chris Gardner with his son when he was homeless
Chris Gardner with his son when he was homeless

A Father And Homeless

A few months after the incident, his son's mother brought back their son and left him with Gardner. At this time, Gardner was working hard to become the top trainee at Dean Witter Reynolds. He eagerly made hundreds of calls each day. Gardner eventually passed the test for a Series 7 license and could legally trade stocks. He was then made a full employee of the firm. Gardner was living in a cheap place that did not permit children. He left there and struggled to save enough money to get an apartment. It was a time when Gardner spent his money for childcare, slept where he could find a place and stood in lines at soup kitchens. He was very good at hiding this from his fellow workers. None of them knew he and his son were homeless. Gardner eventually found a home. He got back together with his son's mother, and they had a daughter. They agreed to not enter into a relationship. She committed to watching both children as he spent long days at his new job.


Finance Career

After being very successful at Dean Witter Reynolds, Gardner opened his own brokerage firm. It was called Gardner Rich & Co. It was structured to be an institutional brokerage firm. His company specialized in derivative product transactions as well as the execution of equity and debt. The brokerage's eventual customers were some of the largest unions, institutions as well as public pension plans and more. It was started with $10,000 in a small office that had only one piece of furniture. The business was a huge success. Gardner sold his stake in the company for a deal worth millions. He then founded Gardner International Holdings. This company eventually had offices in San Francisco, New York as well as Chicago.


Movie Poster
Movie Poster

Book And Movie

Christopher Gardner believed the story of his success had the potential to interest Hollywood. He published his autobiography, “The Pursuit of Happyness,” on May 23, 2006. The unusual spelling originated from a sign Gardner saw when he was living as a homeless person. Gardner was approached about doing a movie based on his book. He became an associate producer of the movie. It was directed by Gabriele Muccino and starred Will Smith and Thandie Newson. Will Smith's son Jaden Smith played Gardner's young son. The movie opened on December 15, 2006, and was a success. The movie earned over $300 million worldwide. It also resulted in Will Smith being nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor.


Chris Gardner and grown son at speaking engagement
Chris Gardner and grown son at speaking engagement

Today

Chris Gardner now spends several months a year traveling to countries around the world speaking to audiences anxious to hear what he has to say. He tells them how we are not products of our childhood. Gardner tells audiences how he made some positive choices in his life. He thanks to the love of his mother as well as encouragement and support of many individuals helped guide him.


Questions & Answers

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      • Readmikenow profile image
        Author

        Readmikenow 2 months ago

        Ms. Weithers thanks, Yes, it is such an inspirational story.

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

        What a story! The movie is great, but I love being introduced to the real Chris Gardener. Thanks.

      • Readmikenow profile image
        Author

        Readmikenow 4 months ago

        Larry, thanks. I agree. It's a good movie.

      • Larry Rankin profile image

        Larry Rankin 4 months ago from Oklahoma

        Very inspirational!

      • Readmikenow profile image
        Author

        Readmikenow 4 months ago

        Ryan, thanks for your comment. Yes, I agree, it is an excellent movie. The fact it's based on a true story makes it even more special.

      • Ryan Cornelius profile image

        Ryan Jarvis Cornelius 4 months ago from Hollywood Florida

        I love this movie. Watch it almost everyday

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