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The author is successful business, real estate, and media entrepreneur Dick Kazan.
Published on August 6th, 2013

Besedka Johnson: Who at age 85 became an actress

Most people assume that someone 85 has accomplished all they ever will. But life is filled with surprises.

85 year old Besedka was swimming at a Hollywood Y.M.C.A. and unbeknownst to her the movie “Starlet” was being cast.

Movie executive Shih-Ching Tsou spotted Besedka and as she later told the New York Times, “When I saw her [Besedka] at the gym, I was stunned. I thought, ‘This lady is who we are looking for.’ “

She took a photo of Besedka and texted it to the movie’s director, Sean Baker, who texted back he was interested. Ms. Tsou informed Besedka what was happening.

Besedka was stunned and pleased, for in her youth she had dreamed of becoming an actress, yet never did. But afterward, she had serious concerns and she discussed those concerns with her son Jim, who is in the film industry.

Who are these people and what is the film about? And why at age 85 are they interested in her, a person who has never acted?

Jim looked into the movie and the production company and encouraged his mother to pursue it. He later told The New York Times, “I said; ‘Mom, do you know how many waiters and waitresses have slaved throughout their lives for the chance to get to do what you’re doing? Do it!’ “

With her son’s encouragement Besedka pursued it. She learned her lines, auditioned and landed the role. “She was already convincing, and I knew she would get more convincing,” Sean Baker the director told The New York Times. “She came prepared.”

The movie was filmed over 25 days in the San Fernando Valley summer heat. When Besedka complained to her son about the heat, “I laughed at her,” he told The New York Times. “I said, ‘Mom, you’re in your first movie and you’re already a prima donna.’ “.

Besedka Johnson
Besedka Johnson

Born Beatrice Vivian Divic on October 5th, 1925 in Detroit, Besedka moved to California in her teens, and was briefly a model. She changed her name to “Besedka” during the 1960’s to match the name of a dress shop she owned in the San Fernando Valley.

The name Johnson came from her first husband whom she divorced in the 1950’s and a second marriage ended in divorce as well.

But in 2012 when the movie was released, 86 year old Besedka became a star, starring opposite Dree Hemingway, daughter of actress Mariel Hemingway.

Besedka played “Sadie,” a tough, lonely elderly woman with no family. Sadie is befriended by 21 year old Dree Hemingway’s character “Jane” in a heartwarming cross-generational story, in which both women’s difficult lives are uplifted by the presence of the other.

“Starlet” is such a fine film, that in 2013 it won the Robert Altman Award at the Film Independent Spirit Awards, and last year, Besedka received special recognition for her performance at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas.

But on April 4th, 2013 87 year old Besedka passed away from a bacterial infection in Glendale, Calif. She is survived by Jim and two other sons, Marc and Lloyd and by two grandchildren.

However, in addition to the joy of her family, the last year of her life became something special. “My inner voice is like: ‘Come on, I’m 86 years old. Who the hell wants somebody at this period [in life] …,’ “ said Besedka last year about becoming an actress. “But I loved being Sadie.”

Success Tip of the Week: If you think it is too late for you to attain your dream, think of Besedka and keep on dreaming.

Editor’s Note: To see a 2 minute “Starlet” film trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyxiNhsG-Mc To learn more about Besedka’s role in the movie, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starlet_(film) To read her New York Times obit http://www.nytimes.com/besedka-johnson

In the next KazanToday: A 19th century woman becomes a doctor against seemingly impossible odds.

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Many of these short, inspirational success stories are about people from all walks of life who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve remarkable results. These stories contain practical advice and a recipe for success for each of these renowned individuals. Some of their stories may help you to avoid some of the costly and time consuming mistakes that many of us make in life and at work. Learn from some of history's greatest winners on how to become a winner yourself, no matter what the obstacle, and no matter how daunting the task before you may seem. Good luck!
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