Lena Nozizwe, who went from being born in a tiny African village to becoming an award-winning television personality broadcasting to millions, mixes her personal experiences with observations about Hollywood's brightest celebrities to reveal how you, too, can reach deep down for that inner radiance and go for the gusto.
Reconnect with your true motivation
Plot a script for the life you want
Create happy endings, no matter what plot twists you may encounter
Understand how your co-stars, supporting players,
and villains affect who you are
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Starring in Your Own LifeReveal Your Hidden Star Quality and Make Your Life a Blockbuster Hit
By Lena Nozizwe
FiresideCopyright © 2001 Lena Nozizwe
All right reserved.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
how I wonder what you are.
-- Ann Taylor
The sunglasses were Versace. The outfit: Donna Karan. My attitude: exultant as I made my way from the first-class cabin to the exit gate at Los Angeles International Airport where the limousine driver was waiting.
The attention was not expected, but I have to admit that getting the Hollywood star treatment was great fun. Such sharp contrast to all the times I've landed at an airport and struggled to claim my luggage only to stand in long car rental lines. But to be honest the limo was not necessary. I probably could have floated to my hotel.
I had flown in from Washington, D.C., to meet with movie and television star Henry Winkler. The man I had grown up watching as "the Fonz" has added "successful producer" to his list of credits. He'd offered me a job as correspondent on a television show he was producing. My visit was arranged so I could meet with him and his staff.
The next morning Henry's partner and producer were the first to arrive to a breakfast meeting at my Sunset Boulevard hotel. Then came the Fonz himself Even though the meeting was taking place in casual California, Henry was wearing a sports jacket and what looked to be a Hermes tie. The star of Happy Days had seen videotapes of my workon the Fox network, and he praised me for my ability to get people to open up. My ego was soaring. He could not have been more complimentary.
When we finished, I would leave for Paramount, where the show was produced. Henry was on his way to tape the Larry Sanders Show. But before we took off, our waiter stopped and asked, "May I have an autograph?" Henry graciously agreed. Then the unexpected occurred. The waiter turned and asked for mine!
There couldn't have been a better scenario. A glamorous location. A famous, generous costar and an ego-enhancing plotline that had me being recognized and courted for a job by someone I had always admired. It was a Sally Field moment. He liked me; he really, really liked me. I was glowing. In fact, I was shining like a Star. Who would have ever thought that a Hollywood scene like this would ever play out in my life?
It's the kind of scene I had been dreaming of and working for from the moment I aspired to Star in my own life -- although I must admit that it would have taken a pretty inventive casting agent to place me in the role I have taken on for this lifetime. I had so many things going against me.
An Aspiring Star Is Born
For starters, my debut came about on a very humble stage. I was born in a tiny village in Malawi, East Africa. The most sophisticated birthing equipment in the small room where I came into the world was a wooden chair with a hole in the middle of it. That's where my mother sat as she awaited my arrival.
Even in utero, I had a flair for the dramatic. My entrance kept my mother and the midwife on the edges of their seats. You see, my umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck, not once but twice. What had once been my lifeline almost became my noose. Adding to the dramatic tension was the fact that I was silent for the first moments of my life. Not one wail until I was doused in very warm and then cold water. My birth was just one of the daunting odds I would overcome in a land where mothers have as many as twenty children because so many babies die.
My first big break came when I emigrated with my family from my beautiful homeland to America, the land of opportunity. We came out of Africa thanks to a network television, program called This Is Your Life. Every week the program would feature someone of note, mainly from the world of show business. It highlighted the principal guest's life by surprising him or her with real-life costars and supporting players from that person's past. When my mother, Dr. Alice Princess Msumba Siwundhla, was chosen to be on the program it was the first time This Is Your Life had reached outside America for its star subject.
My umame (an African word for mother) had been born into privilege and nobility. Her father, grandfather, and greatgrandfather (and so on) were African chiefs. After a blissful childhood growing up in Johannesburg, South Africa, tragedy struck. The happy young girl watched both her parents die from natural illnesses. To compound the heartache, villagers robbed umame, her sister Tillie, and brother Cameron of their inheritance. They even stole the blanket that covered the body of my grandfather. My mother could have given up at this crisis point, but she knew there was something more out there for her. At a time when women were discouraged from going to school, she was at the very top of the class. In fact, she was the top student of the entire nation. An impressive feat any way you look at it, but especially impressive for a woman, in those days, in those cultures.
My mother's academic achievements and the fact that she survived and thrived in spite of personal tragedy attracted the attention of missionary Josephine Curmington Edwards. She in turn alerted This Is Your Life producer and host Ralph Edwards. As a result of my mother's star turn, I made my television debut in her arms. She effectively set the stage for me to follow my own aspirations.
Princesses and Prostitutes,
Prime Ministers, and Pushers
Almost from birth I was an observer, and a quiet one at that. An introverted child who always had her nose in a book. I now realize that in silence I was starting to develop a rich plotline. I was weaving a demanding role that would ultimately take me around the world. A part that would allow me to traverse the worlds of Princesses, presidents, prime ministers, prostitutes, pushers, and prisoners. But it was a role I would have to fight for, not unlike Hollywood stars who have to convince uncertain producers that they are perfect for a particular part.
To look at me, I was hardly star material. My looks and personality were a sharp contrast to my mother whose beauty was so legendary many of the girls and women from her village would ask her what her magic or chitumwa was. My two brothers were considered the good-looking ones in the family. In fact, "friends" of my mother would offer their sympathy, saying it was a shame my two siblings had inherited all the looks.
By thirteen, I was almost six feet tall and I struggled to gracefully grow into my new height. Other kids would taunt me for being too tall, too dark, or just plain ugly. Some of my older brother's friends would call me "Miss America 199-Never." Peers made fun of the way I looked and the way I dressed. My clothes were mostly homemade or hand-me-downs, unlike the stylish outfits worn by the "in" group. Of course it would make it all the sweeter, years later, when photographers from such publications as The Washington Post, Newsweek, and Vanity Fair would stop me on the street or at parties to ask permission to take my picture. It was sweeter still when strangers everywhere from the Midwest to Monte Carlo would ask if I was a star -- a model, actress, or singer.
All of that would come much later though. As a child, the torment and ridicule were unrelenting. I now realize those experiences were just part of my character development. In the plot I was developing deep inside my mind, I knew that fantastic adventures would be ahead. All the pain I was experiencing would just make me a nobler heroine. That's what kept me going.
Sure, I cried. But all the name-calling prompted me to start digging deep to find the life I that wanted to live. So how far could a curious, tall, dark-skinned woman go? My conclusion after investigating the matter: just as far as she wanted.
Finding a Star Vehicle
I began concocting a rough draft of the life I wanted to live, what I now call my "life script." I researched my role in newspapers, magazines, television, and movies. TV Guide gave me as much direction as any career counselor. Black-and-white Perry Mason reruns inspired me to spend time at the San Diego city attorney's office. Though I must say, I never once saw a witness break down in the courtroom and admit guilt. The fuzziness of the justice system quickly caused my attention to wane.
CUT TO: The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The clothes were nice. Ditto the coworkers, although I kind of wished that Mary would stand up for herself a bit more. I wanted her to chase the big story on occasion, instead of spending so much time stammering, "Mr. Grant." Overall I liked her though. She was a professional woman in a glamorous career. She used her brain and maintained her femininity, so I with the click of the remote control a career in broadcast journalism was born.
Journalism would become the perfect home for my insatiable curiosity; it would become my passport to exotic realms. The ideal setup for an action-adventure role that would lead to real chases and scares and showdowns with villains around the world.
In a world where people judge you by your cover, I also began working diligently on my outward appearance. Reading beauty books. Studying people I admired. I became a self-Svengali, unlike blond bombshell starlets I have observed who never make a move without someone whispering stage directions into their ears.
Instead my aim was to pull my own strings and to take ownership of my stardom. Seeking a role no one could give me meant no one could it take away. By going for my role I could avoid "producers" telling me that I was too fat, too thin, too pretty, too ugly, too light, too dark, too young, or too old. I would take control. Like Shakespeare said, all the world's a stage. It did not matter if my biggest audience was in my classroom, church, or playground.
On the Air
It would take years and many rejections before getting my first lob in television. Development of my life script meant going to school first. After taking classes at community college, I majored in journalism at San Diego State University. Thanks to a recommendation from a professor I got an internship at a KFMB radio station during my senior year. My work schedule was from four to nine in the morning. One semester I juggled those hours along with twenty units of class work. Needless to say I was not much of a party girl. In the same building as KFMB was a television station. Almost from the beginning I tried to worm myself into that side of the building. The weekend newscast director, let me come in during his shift so I could do mock newscasts on the set, and one of the cameramen agreed to shoot stories featuring me doing on-camera stand-ups. In return all I had to do was tarry his tripod.
I can't even remember how many people told me that I could never get on a television station in a city as big as San Diego without starting somewhere else first. I did not listen. After applying to stations around the country and getting multiple rejections I eventually reached my goal of getting a job in television news at my first choice, KFMB-TV. After a couple of years I even began winning awards, including an Emmy.
When I started wondering what to do next, critics told me that I could never go to a network after working in a city as small as San Diego. (Now San Diego was suddenly small.) Nevertheless Fox's America's Most Wanted and even people from ABC's Good Morning America came calling. My first choice was the morning show because I thought it would be the best stage for my abilities. Crime stories had always been my least favorite. Too often they made me cry. But after Fox made a firm offer, my agent went back to ABC executives and asked them what was up. They said they were still deciding. Instead of waiting for who knows how long, I made the decision to go to Bart Simpson's network.
By the late nineties I felt I needed to stretch my role again. I was seeking reinvention. I always thrilled to the challenge of writing my television scripts, so I began working on this very book. It was a challenge to write instead of sleep between television assignments. Some of the paragraphs you are reading were written in places as far-flung as Portland (Oregon) and Paris. But as determined as I was to have a book published not everyone was convinced that I should add to my role by writing. I would hear things like, "You'll never get it published," and "How can you go from being on television to writing a book?" One critic even asked me to my face, "Why are you writing a book about Starring in Your Own Life when you're not a big star?"
Expect similar doubts and questions when you reach for your star. It's those times when I take cues from the movie Mahogany. There is one scene when the title character, a model-wannabe-designer played by Diana Ross, is scheduled to appear at a charity fashion show. Mahogany plots to wear one of her own creations in the show instead of the fashions provided. Mockery and derision greet her as she vamps on the ramp, but she keeps walking, holding her head up high, throwing lots of attitude. There have been times when I have paused uncertainly on that runway of life, taunted by the occasional catcall as I pursued my dreams. But the trick has always been to just keep walking. And if you can muster the strength, strut down that runway.
Your Star Trek
Getting back to that question about me not being a big star. Many of us make the mistake of defining stardom by only the externals. Supermodel looks. Worldwide fame. Millions of dollars in the bank. But when the looks diminish, the wealth wanes, and the fame vanishes, the person who put s all her stock in all those things is left with nothing. If you want a visual aid for what I am saying just look at any E! True Hollywood Story.
The kind of stardom I am talking about takes cues from the enduring radiance of stars in the heavens as well as from the glamour of Hollywood stars. It's all about radiance. It's sparkle from within, when we know that everything is right from our motivation to our mittens. It's when everything works. It's a good hair day a hundred times over.
Living in the entertainment capital of the world, it's not unusual to see Sigourney Weaver heading to Starbucks during my morning commute or Tom Cruise going to dinner on my way home. After my close-up view of the very best the world has to offer, I have come to the conclusion that there is no one I would trade places with except the best version of me. Being a star is being the best version of you. It's a life spent polishing every ray.
I got to know many stars long before I ever set foot in Hollywood, stars like my home economics teachers, Mrs. Reynolds and Mrs. Roberson, who added glamour and grace to whipping eggs and basting hems years BMS (Before Martha Stewart). I also had daily exposure to the enduring radiance of my mother. She had written her own version of a family adventure role by leaving Africa, coming to America, earning her Ph.D., and lovingly raising three demanding children.
Your starring role is uniquely yours, Your parents or best friends don't select it. You do! Even though I am calling it a role of a lifetime, there is nothing artificial about it. When you take it on, it will fit you as perfectly as a couture gown. It won't fit your best friend any better than a role designed for Mae West would have fit Lena Horne or Audrey Hepburn.
Your Map to the Stars
Starring in Your Own Life will help you achieve and sustain your unique brand of radiance.
This book takes a multifaceted approach. Sparkling throughout you will find star points (*), which are easy-to-digest, bite-size tips along with five-star exercises designed to make you shine.
You can begin sprinkling stardust along your path immediately. Think of this book as a magician's bag of tricks. Reach into it every time you want to shine. If you want to get things jumpstarted turn to chapter 5 and learn how you can bring star quality to your every morning, starting today. If at any point you feel the compulsion to get your groove on, as I constantly do, let me direct you to the suggested soundtrack included in chapter 9. If you need to take a break at this very moment, go to chapter 10 where you'll find tips on taking five.
Having said that I should be clear that taking on a starring role is not lust about instant gratification. The most fulfilling roles are the most demanding ones. There really is no such thing as overnight success. How many times have you watched a television show or movie for the second time, a few years down the road, and seen a newly familiar face -- someone who is a big star now, playing a bit part then? I had to rub my eyes when I saw the movie Coming to America recently. There was an actor onscreen for only a few seconds, playing a robber, who looked very familiar. I didn't notice him years earlier the first time I saw the film. But it was none other than Samuel L. Jackson. The point is that it took years of toiling before he became Shaft.
Starring in Your Own Life offers guidance on making changes as fundamental to your life as going from bit player to featured star. Perhaps you feel that the role you are currently playing is too small, too constraining. Or maybe you are still in search of the role that makes you shine -- your star vehicle.
Only you can make that leap to your starring role. I can't do it for you. What I can do throughout this book is be your fan and your coach. As your fan I will thrill to your doing your very best. That's one of the best parts of doing this. As your coach I want to share with you stage directions that work.
You've been waiting on the sidelines long enough. Raise the curtain today. It's time to write, direct, produce, and star in the role of your lifetime.
Copyright © 2001 by 2001 by Lena Nozizwe
Excerpted from Starring in Your Own Life by Lena Nozizwe Copyright © 2001 by Lena Nozizwe. Excerpted by permission.
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