The Unexpected Job Morgan Freeman Took At The 1964 World's Fair

The theme of the 1964-65 World's Fair in New York City was "Peace Through Understanding," but in many respects it seemed to echo the "World of Tomorrow" theme of 1939. Exhibits on display anticipated videoconferencing, touch-tone phones, and multiculturalism. Walt Disney debuted some of Disneyland's most famous attractions. And the world got its first look at the talents of Morgan Freeman.

Not that the fair was his big break. He was almost a decade away from gaining widespread public recognition through television and another few years out from full-blown movie stardom. Nor was the world's fair Freeman's first brush with performing. Per Kathleen Tracy's "Morgan Freeman: A Biography," Freeman got assigned to a school play after playing a schoolboy prank on a girl he had a crush on — and he enjoyed it so much that he kept at it through high school. But when he had a chance to study drama in college on a scholarship, Freeman chose to enlist in the Air Force instead.

The racism he encountered there convinced him to go back to his early performing dreams, and he moved out to Los Angeles and began acting studies in earnest. It was there he showed an aptitude for dance that led one teacher to encourage him to pursue it full-time, which led to a job with the Cabaret Union — a job for the World's Fair.

The World's Fair was Morgan Freeman's first professional performance

Dancing for the Cabaret Union at the 1964 World's Fair was Morgan Freeman's first professional work in the entertainment industry. Before then, he had managed a very lean living through odd jobs in Los Angeles before moving to New York — fleeing, he said, woman trouble. When asked to name his three best life choices, Freeman later said (via "Morgan Freeman: A Biography"): "Being born, leaving the Air Force to go to Hollywood, and leaving Hollywood to go to New York."

Per USA Today, Freeman was working as an audit clerk before the World's Fair opportunity came along. As soon as he got the offer, he quit the clerk job. "It was great," Freeman said of his first gig. But the pay from a one-time dance performance doesn't last very long, and he was soon back to working the counter at restaurants and serving as an office temp. A year after the World's Fair, a frustrated Freeman told the unemployment office, "You're ruining my life forcing me to be an office worker when I'm an actor." They gave him six months to go find work in his chosen profession.

He doesn't think he was a proper dancer

Morgan Freeman's dance background helped him get more work after the 1964 World's Fair. Per "Morgan Freeman: A Biography," his dancing feet landed him a nearly yearlong gig in an all-Black production of "Hello Dolly!" in 1967. But Freeman's real passion had always been acting, and film acting specifically. According to Jeff C. Young's "Amazing African American Actors," a lucky break while working as an understudy for the touring production of "The Royal Hunt of the Sun" kickstarted his acting career — and ended any temptation from life as a full-time dancer.

Even if "Royal Hunt of the Sun" hadn't come along, Freeman doesn't think dance was for him. "I was an actor who could move well," he told USA Today. "I looked good doing it, but, no, I could never really dance." But the training he'd undergone for dance did prove a boon to his acting career. Dance helped improve his walk, and per the Los Angeles Times, he's used elegance of movement to help define his characters.