Unemployed dad’s Weblog

November 10, 2008

10 famous firings

Once thought the exclusive domain of the lazy, incompetent and unsuccessful, unemployment has historically found its way into the ranks of the rich, famous and major talents of the world.  Here are the stories of 10 famous firings.

10.  Ignaz Semmelweiss – I know what you are thinking, Ignaz Semme-whositchacallit?  I thought this was about famous people.  Semmelweiss is called “the saviour of mothers” in the medical field, he introduced the controversial theory to maternity wards that hand washing before handling infants could lead to fewer incidents of fever.  His insistence that nurses wash their hands before handling infants was ridiculed and he was not only fired, but the medical community in Budapest, outraged by his audacity to suggest this solution, severely ostracized him and he was forced to leave.  The story has a happy ending, as his letters of protest to medical boards of the time became increasingly angry, he was committed to a mental institution and beaten to death by guards within two weeks.  Did I say happy ending?  I meant for the rest of us, his theories were vindicted after his death by Louis Pasteurs findings relating germs to disease and babies were exposed to less danger after birth.

9.  David Letterman – Breaking into TV on Indianapolis station WTWI, Letterman was allegedly fired for describing hailstones as “the size of canned hams”, possibly cited as a second behavioral abberation after congratulating a “tropical storm” on its upgrade to “hurricane”.  He apparently did not learn his lesson from an earlier sacking at Ball State’s campus radio station WBST, for treating classical music with irreverence.  Worse, to this today he refuses to take accountability for his actions that led to these dismissals, and take a long look in the mirror before making the changes necessary to fit in.  He continues to display irreverance throughout his 25 year career as a TV host.  Some people never learn.

8.  Rudyard Kipling – In 1889, Kipling, following a successful submission to the San Francisco Examiner, was refused any further work with the publication.  As explained by the editor, Kipling did not “know how to use the English language“, and that the paper “isn’t a kindergarten for amateur writers“.  Recoiling from the severity of the criticism, Kipling went on to write the classic “Jungle Book”, and many other famous works, though his heart wasn’t really in it.

7.  Crayola color “Forest Green” – Forest green began it’s career as a crayola color in 1958.  Truly it was a different career market in those days, it was almost implied that you would only work for one company within your lifetime and retire from it.  It came as a shock then, in 1990, when forest green was dumped from Crayola’s original box of 64 colors.  After 32 years with the same job, forest green had a difficult time transitioning back into the employment pool.  A series of poor financial choices and highly publicized divorces left the crayon broken. 

6.  Ray Romano – A notoriously poor audition actor, Romano thought he finally hit the big time in 1994 when it was announced that “NewsRadio”, for which he had secured the role of station electrician “Joe Garelli” at a whopping $8,000/episode, was greenlighted.  Unfortunately for Ray, writers felt his slow style of talking clashed with the pace of the show, and he was replaced by Joe Rogan.  “Nobody loves you and your slow style of talking” he was told by the creators of the program, which aired from 1995-1999.  Much like pal David Letterman, Romano was too stubborn to evaluate what was wrong with him and make the necessary changes.  This is often evidenced in his frequent appearances during a 9 year run on the show “Everybody Loves Raymond”, where he continued to inflict his slow style of speech on an approximate average of 16 million viewers weekly.  His Emmy awards and final season earnings of $1 million/episode only serve to further enable his refusal to make a positive change in his life.

5.  JK Rowling – Author of the moderately successful “Harry Potter Books”, Rowling was apparently fired from her job as a secretary for using company time to write her books.  According to her former boss “Rowlings use of company time and computers to pursue personal ambitions is tanatamount to stealing”, and added “We made the right decision to sack her, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her come crawling back here for her old job once this Harry Potter thing blows over.”

4.  Speedy Gonzalez – in 1999 Cartoon Network shelved episodes of the popular animated mouse, citing political correctness and hostile work environment.  Speedy, often seen wearing an oversized sombrero and speaking in a thick spanish accent, was deemed offensive to people of Mexican descent by reinforcing negative stereotypes.  Further, it was implied that Speedy was promiscous with the other mice, as workplace surveillance camera’s caught the following exchange among his coworkers: “He (Speedy) goes steady with my sister” – “Speedy goes steady with everybodies sister!”.  Those closest to Speedy rebuffed the vicious characterization of their friend.  They argued that Speedy was highly altruistic, often helping and in some cases rescuing complete strangers, abstained from alchohol though many of his friends drank, is very intelligent and kind to everyone.  Fortunately, responding to public pressure in 2002 the network hired him back on.  During the three year hiatus Speedy completed a degree in liberal arts at the University of Phoenix online, ironically majoring in womens studies.

3.  Michael Bloomberg – the mayor of New York was fired from Solomon Brothers, albeit with a $10 million severance package, in 1981 and here is how he responded: “if they’d said, “We have another job for you”–say, running the Afghanistan office–I’d have done it in a second. Was I sad on the drive home? You bet. But, as usual, I was much too macho to show it. And I did have $10 million in cash and convertible bonds as compensation for my hurt feelings.

I ordered a sable jacket for my wife, Sue. While I was never embarrassed to say that I’d been fired and was now running a small start-up business, I’m tougher than many others (or, perhaps as a psychological defense mechanism, I have convinced myself not to care what others think). But I was worried that Sue might be ashamed of my new, less visible status and concerned I couldn’t support the family.  A sable jacket seemed to say, “No sweat. We can still eat. We’re still players.”

On my last day of work, September 30, 1981, I picked up the jacket. Sue was delighted. Next morning, I started Bloomberg, the company. The rest is work in progress.”

Today Michael Bloomberg’s personal worth is estimated by Forbes at $5.5 billion dollars, and he holds a civil servants job, just in case.

2.  The Planet Pluto – In 1930, after 90 years of speculation on the possibility of a ninth planet in our solar system, “Planet X” was formally coronated as “Pluto”.  Unfortunately, Pluto’s employment status was short lived as 74 years later the International Astronomical Union (IAU) reclassified planet status that excluded Pluto from the ranks it shared with his coworkers, including Jupiter and Uranus, and was demoted to “dwarf planet”.  Many argue that the dismissal was unfair, that Pluto was meeting performance expectations.  Unfortunately, the American branch of the IAU is located in Washington, whose “at will” employment standards left Pluto little recourse in litigation for wrongful dismissal.  “I know it sounds harsh” one noted astronomer reasoned “but Pluto could have easily quit us at any time just as quickly as we fired him.”

1.  Steven Jobs – After founding Apple computers in the 1970’s out of his garage and revolutionizing the personal computer industry, Jobs found the managing of a larger company required expertise beyond his time and ability.  As such, he lured then Pepsi employee John Sculley to Apple as CEO.  After a power struggle with the board of directors in 1985, Sculley fired Jobs.  This move made a ton of sense.  The person who created the personal computer and the culture of innovation at the company was apparently not a culture fit for the company anymore.  After a series of product flops, Sculley was himself replaced and his replacements replacement brought Jobs back in 1996.  People have occassionally noticed Apple product from time to time in the streets and on store shelves since the return of Steven Jobs.


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