Who Is Morgan Freeman?
Morgan Freeman was born June 1, 1937, in Memphis, Tennessee. Although he loved acting, Freeman joined the Air Force after high school to become a fighter pilot. He later realized it wasn’t what he’d wanted and thus, began his acting career. After years of small parts and limited success, he began to land big roles and win critical and popular acclaim. He’s now one of Hollywood’s most respected stars.
Early Passion for Acting
Actor, director and narrator Morgan Freeman was born on June 1, 1937, in Memphis, Tennessee. The youngest of five children born to barber Morgan Porterfield Freeman, Sr. and schoolteacher Mayme Edna, Freeman was raised in Chicago and Mississippi in a low-income home. Not long after he was born, Morgan’s parents, like so many other African-Americans struggling under the pressures of the Jim Crow South, relocated to Chicago to find work. While his parents looked for jobs, Freeman remained with his maternal grandmother in Charleston, Mississippi.
At the age of six, Freeman’s grandmother died and he moved north to be with his mother, who had already separated from her alcoholic husband. They later moved to Tennessee and eventually back to Mississippi, where Mayme Edna settled her family in Greenwood.
As a kid, Freeman spent a good portion of his time scraping together enough money to see movies, where he formed an early admiration for actors like Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy and Sidney Poitier. It was by chance that Freeman himself got into acting. He was in junior high school and, as punishment for pulling out a chair from underneath a girl he had a crush on, Freeman was ordered to participate in the school’s drama competition. To his surprise, and probably school administrators, the 12-year-old proved to be an immediate natural on the stage, taking top honors in the program.
But while Freeman loved to act, flying—in particular the idea of being a fighter pilot—was in his heart of hearts. And so, upon graduating high school in 1955, Morgan turned down a partial drama scholarship and joined the U.S. Air Force. The military, though, proved to be much different than what he’d expected. Instead of darting around the skies, Freeman was relegated to on-the-ground activity as a mechanic and radar technician. He also realized that he didn’t want to be shooting down other people.
“I had this very clear epiphany,” he told AARP Magazine. “You are not in love with this; you are in love with the idea of this.” In 1959, Freeman left the Air Force and tried his fortunes out West, moving to Hollywood to see if he could make it as an actor. It wasn’t an easy life. He took acting classes and struggled to find work. In the early 1960s, he moved again, this time to New York City, where more petty day jobs and nighttime auditions followed.
In 1967, the same year he married Jeanette Adair Bradshaw, Freeman’s big career break came when he landed a part in an all African-American Broadway production of Hello, Dolly! starring Pearl Bailey. Around that time, Freeman also performed in an off-Broadway production of The Nigger Lovers.
Some national exposure followed in 1971, when he started appearing regularly on The Electric Company, a public television-produced children’s TV show that focused on teaching kids how to read. On a show that included such current and future stars as Rita Moreno, Joan Rivers, and Gene Wilder, Freeman had some of the show’s more memorable characters, like “Easy Reader,” “Mel Mounds” and “Count Dracula.”