The Internet, especially the youth-centric side of it, loves to praise young people who have found success at a young age. These fresh-faced “30 under 30” individuals are usually lifted up for their amazing achievements. However, some of our culture’s most powerful and long-lasting women did not follow this time.
The following are six ladies who were extremely successful late in their careers, some not hitting their peak until they were 40 years old or older.
- Vera Wang
Did you know that Vera Wang was a competitive figure skater before she became a famous fashion designer that is seen at Sex and the City? It’s true! In 1968 and 1969, Vera and her skating partner won U.S. National Championships. (She was even inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2009.) By the time Vera graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with a degree in art history, she had decided to focus on fashion. She started working for Vogue not long after graduation and became a senior fashion editor at 23 years old. Vera stayed in that role for 15 years until eventually becoming accessories design director at Ralph Lauren.
It wasn’t until 1989, when Vera was already 40 years old and in the midst of wedding planning, that she thought about opening her own bridal boutique. When she found herself unable to find a design option she liked for her gown, Vera sketched and designed her own instead. In total, the dress cost $10,000 to make.
After securing funding from her father in 1990, Vera opened the doors to her first bridal boutique located in New York City’s Carlyle Hotel. 15 years later, you can now find boutiques bearing her name all over the world – including South Korea and Australia – with a team of 200 employees working under Vera.
- Julia Child
Did you know that Julia Child didn’t even learn to cook until she was 36?
Writing novels was always her dream, and so she would often write plays and submit them to magazines like The New Yorker. Unfortunately, none of her work was ever published. Julia later moved to New York City after graduating from Smith College where she worked in advertising for a home furnishings company only to be fired due to “gross insubordination.”
Julia volunteered at a government intelligence agency during World War II. Part of her job included traveling to countries such as China and Sri Lanka in order to transport top-secret documents between U.S. government officials and intelligence officers.
Julia enrolled in a six-month French cooking course at Le Cordon Bleu Paris after her husband was stationed at the U.S. embassy there. At this school, she met Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle; the three then formed their own cooking school called L’Ecole de Trois Gourmandes. In 1961, the trinity later sold the two-volume cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking for $750. The book would then go on to be a best seller for the next five years.
Julia would not achieve solo fame until the next year when her cooking show, The French Chef, aired on WGBH. Not long after airing, The French Chef was syndicated to 96 stations throughout America.
Julia was 40 years old.
- Nina Zagat
Zagat, the (famed/well-known) restaurant critics didn’t have any experience in the restaurant industry when they started.
Nina and Tim were both corporate lawyers who met at Yale Law School. In 1979, they decided to relocate to Paris for work reasons. Nina went to Le Cordon Bleu for cooking classes while she was employed at Shearman & Sterling. Tim considered himself a foodie long before the term became popularized.
The couple began by making brief summaries of restaurants in Paris before moving back to New York. Once home, they started asking friends for their thoughts on eateries around the city. By the time the 1980s rolled around, they had transformed their idea into a business and published their first guidebook in 1982.
After three years, Zagat Guide sales reportedly surpassed the New York Times restaurant guide. This success was amplified by a cover story in New York magazine, which caused annual sales to increase from 40,000 to 75,000. The Zagats then expanded their business to other cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago where they saw even more success.
In 1987, Tim decided to dedicate his time to the business full-time and quit law. In 1990, Nina did the same at 48 years old.
Zagat was acquired by Google in 2011 for $125 million.
- Viola Davis
It’s no surprise that Viola Davis had a natural talent for the stage.
After she graduated with a degree in theater, she studied at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City. In 1996, only 31 years old, she made her Broadway debut as a star of Seven Guitars. And in 2001, received her first Tony Award for acting in King Hedley II.
After appearing on television, such as in small roles in City of Angels and Law & Order, she started taking very small feature film parts. One of her most notable silent roles was in Antwone Fisher, for which she received an Independent Spirit Award nomination.
Her career began to really take off when she acted opposite Meryl Steep in the film Doubt. Viola received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress because of her performance. When this happened, she was 43 years old.
Viola Davis now plays the main character, Annalise Keating, in ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder.
- Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison was not only a Nobel and Pulitzer-winning author, but she was also an editor who helped make other people’s books the best they could be.
Toni is an experienced and well-educated editor, raising two boys as a single mother in the 1960s. Prior to her work at Random House, she taught English courses at Texas Southern University and Howard University (which is where she graduated with an emphasis in classics). She also happens to hold a master’s degree from Cornell University; her thesis was on Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner.
The Bluest Eye, Toni’s first novel, was published when she was just 39 years old. Although critics praised the book, it wasn’t a huge seller. Her next novel, Sula, was nominated for an American Book Award. Toni didn’t gain national attention until the publication of her third book though, Song of Solomon. (This piece also won the National Books Critics Award and was featured in the now-defunct Book-of-the-Month Club; it was the first time a black writer had been chosen since 1940.)
She was 46 years old.
- Lucille Ball
The comedienne was once asked to leave drama school for her lack of acting ability.
When Lucy was 15, her mother enrolled her in a drama school in New York City on a shoestring budget; she was a single parent. But the entire experience was frightening and intimidating for Lucy, which is primarily because the school’s star student was Bette Davis (and that’s quite understandable). The school reportedly wrote to her mother, “Lucy’s wasting her time and ours. She’s too shy and reticent to put her best foot forward.”
Lucy left school to pursue modeling full-time and took on the name Diane Belmont while she worked in New York City. In the early 1930s, Lucy dyed her hair blond and moved to Hollywood in hopes of finding acting work — which she did. Over the course of her career, Lucy appeared in more than 70 films. This included a variety of roles, from extras to starring parts in B-movies. By the 1940s however, she still had not landed any of the leading roles that she desired. Desi Arnaz encouraged his wife to try radio in an effort to change her career path, and she landed the starring role in the comedy My Favorite Husband. CBS was interested in turning the show into a television series.
After a lot of negotiating, Lucy became the first woman to run her own television production company: Desilu. She and her husband, Desi, created this business so they could have more control over their popular show, I Love Lucy.
The first season of I Love Lucy premiered in 1951 when the main character, Lucille Ball, was 40 years old.
This article was first published in Daily Worth.