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The Greatest

Morgan Freeman has earned his stellar reputation with some of the most compelling movie roles of the last 25 years.
From the Print Edition:
Morgan Freeman, Mar/Apr 2005

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He recalls the support he received from his family and the community during his childhood. "[I remember] my mother giving me the impression I was special when I was growing up. And then my teachers gave me the impression I was special. And then the townsfolk gave me the feeling I was special. And I get out here into the world and think, 'I'm special.'

"Yeah...right!" he says, laughing. "But if you keep plugging away, things can bear out. It wasn't like I was a big fish in a dry pond—it gave me the encouragement to do what I had to in this business. [My mother] made me feel like I was a star growing up, and I remember the first time I was in Los Angeles in the late '50s, standing on Sunset Boulevard, thinking I was gonna prove her right. It took a while, though.

"

In his quiet assessment of the struggles he went through, Freeman can't help but address the issue of racism. But it's not a topic he dwells on.

"Sure, I dealt with that getting started. New York was a better place than Los Angeles, but not much better," Freeman says, recalling the prejudices that prevailed in his early working days. "I had those viciously sad and discouraging—distraught—moments when I thought, 'There's no place in this world for me. How am I gonna get along?' But I tried to always think about the next step in the evolution, because that's the cheap out. You can fall back on that one. You gotta want it, and you gotta keep at it."

 

 

Freeman's journey began in Memphis, Tennessee, on June 1, 1937. His parents, who were hospital workers, struggled to raise a family of six, and finally, in hopes of finding steady, more lucrative work, moved to Chicago. But Freeman stayed behind, moving in with his grandparents in Charleston, Mississippi. It was there he began his acting career in junior high school, where, according to published interviews, he won an acting competition.

His love of acting continued throughout his high school career. During the summers, he would travel to Chicago to visit his parents, and there, he has recalled, he would collect bottles for deposit refunds, using the money to hit the movie houses. His favorites were almost always war movies, and he was particularly drawn to the airplanes. In the end, that seemed like a better avenue to pursue a life, so he joined the Air Force at 18. But he never realized his dream of becoming a fighter pilot, and finally, after more than three years, he resigned from the military and moved to Los Angeles. He worked days at City College, which gave him access to acting and dancing classes for free.

Late blooming, or long suffering, probably understates the long years of Freeman's wait for a big break. He arrived in New York in the late 1950s from Los Angeles and began doing odd jobs around the Big Apple. "I moved to New York because I was running away from here, Los Angeles," Freeman says, laughing. "I met a woman, got in trouble, and I had to get out of here. It was a great theater scene in New York. Ivan Dixon was there, Lou Gossett was there, and of course, Sidney Poitier was the biggest thing going. New York was just more hospitable to black actors then. Hell, it was more hospitable to any kind of actor.


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