(This article originally appeared in Entrepreneur)
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When considering Jack Black you might recall School of Rock, Nacho Libre, High Fidelity, Jumanji orhis band, Tenacious D. But there’s one thing you don’t think about: Helen Keller.
She was a deaf, dumb and blind girl who was rescued by her teacher, Anne Sullivan, and ultimately became an author, disability rights advocate and lecturer. Her story was embodied in the classic play and movie The Miracle Worker, which starred actress, Anne Bancroft, as Sullivan.
As for how we get this back to Black?
A life-changing connection
When Black was in high school, he played a supporting part in The Miracle Worker. Just by coincidence, one of Black’s classmates was Max Brooks, the son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft.
Even though Brooks wasn’t in the show, his mother, one of the most famous celebrities of her day — who was known for her role as the iconic Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate — attended and gave the cast a pep talk before the performance.
Black, in his words, thought he “knocked it out of the park,” and he wasn’t alone.
“When we got home there was a message on the answering machine, it was Anne Bancroft, and she said: ‘Jaaaaack, you were born to do it. Born. To. Do. It’,” he told Bob Odenkirk in a recent interview. “‘People thought your part was a thankless role, but I called the writer to tell him that I just saw that part played well.’”
A mentoring message
Black never forgot that call.
“I listened to it a hundred times, she gave me a boost of confidence that I needed at a really important juncture,” Black recalled. “It gave me some rocket boosters for later in life.”
Sometimes I get asked for advice by a student, sometimes I have the opportunity to speak at a high school or college. Sometimes I do this. Oftentimes, due to my schedule, I don’t.
That’s a shame, because when you hit a certain age you can really make an impact on a young person’s life by just taking a few moments to offer encouraging words. Even Anne Bancroft, a Tony and Oscar-winning icon, found the time to talk about Black to the show’s writer and then call him, herself, to offer praise.
After hearing Jack’s story, I resolved to do more of this as it may make a difference. It certainly did for him. Because without Anne Bancroft, Jack Black may never have voiced Po in Kung Fu Panda (and what a loss that would’ve been).