The Top Nine People Who Turned Away Greatness

March 15, 2010

No one can predict the future. Anyone who claims they can is either a lying tool, trying to get on television, or both. So it's hard to fault some people for being a bit shortsighted and passing on things with a hint of success. These people, however, passed on things that were epicly huge.

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By Danny Gallagher


9. Grand Ole Opry Manager Jim Denny

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Elvis Presley's larger-than-life career has inspired all sorts of strange stories. From his epic hunger for anything fried in fat and shoved on a stick to the never-ending wave of post-mortem sightings in truck stops, cornfields, and ether frolics, we've pretty much heard it all about the King.

Even the man's struggle to reach the throne of music royalty has forever tarnished the lives of men who might have influenced one of music's most enduring legends. When a young and pre-bingeing Elvis tried out for the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville in 1954, the show's longtime manager turned down an opportunity to induct him and told him he should put down the guitar and stick with truck driving. Both went on to have wildly successful music careers, but Denny's would forever reek of the stink of shortsightedness for passing on perhaps the most famous musician in the last century that no amount of Febreze could extinguish.


8. Drummer Bobby Graham

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Many people have had the unholy distinction of being named as the "lost" Beatle, that unholiest of musical business card titles (behind John Tesh backup singer and Nickelback band member).

Bobby Graham, who passed away last year at the age of 69, has the rare distinction of being one of the few people in history who turned away the Beatles. When the band's manager Brian Epstein fired drummer Pete Best, he offered Graham, a very competent and versatile drummer who later worked with the likes of Tom Jones, Dusty Springfield, and Van Morrison, the drummer's seat. Legend has it that Graham turned him down because he didn't want to join a band that "no one outside of Liverpool has ever heard of." The seat then went to Ringo Starr, whose drumming was good but whose singing voice is one that everyone wished they had never heard of.

7. The Xerox Board of Directors

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When it comes to economic shortsightedness, no one does it better than the corporate elite. Goldfish have better long-term memory for financials and economic development than most of the fat-cats that occupy the cushy seats of America's most expensive boardrooms.

Xerox wanted to be known for more than developing office technology that allowed people to photocopy their ass, and they formed a special development team to come up with the next big thing. So in the 1970s, they formed their legendary Palo Alto Research Center (or PARC, for short) and came up with what can probably be labeled as the Alto, the first modern computer complete with a graphical interface, a printer, and a mouse. Unfortunately, the brass didn't see any real use for the thing and labeled it as an "absurd" idea for mass marketing and consumption. Instead, they let a young Steve Jobs look at their hard work. Jobs harnessed it, repackaged it, and turned it into the first Apple Macintosh.

Despite this historic blooper, Xerox still remains the world leader in ass-copying technology.


6. Decca Records Executive Dick Rowe

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Very few moments in life come down to an epic flip of the coin where one path leads to riches, fame, and undying devotion to your cause and the other leads to complete ruin, destruction, and epic disaster.

Rowe faced that exact moment when he had to choose between signing one of two rock bands in 1962. Both had given great auditions and worked seamlessly together as musical groups, but marketing got in the way of his thinking and so he chose to sign Brian Poole and the Tremeloes over a then-little known rock group called The Beatles because "guitar groups are on the way out," he told their manager Brian Epstein.

He thought the guitar, the most basic and groundbreaking musical instrument since two cavemen discovered that beating rocks together produces sound, is on the way out? What kind of musical instrument did he think would replace it? The electric accordion? The skin flute? The air guitar?

5. DEC Chief Ken Olsen

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It's easy to understand why someone might choose a person, a band, or a product over something else because of marketing strategies or shortsighted thinking. Turning your mind away from an entirely new field of opportunity and a way of life, however, is more unforgivable than a Citizen Kane remake starring Jack Black.

Olsen, the founder and chief executive officer of the Digital Equipment Corporation, famously said in 1977, "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home." It's one thing to say this when you aren't able to witness the rise of a new trend or way of life, but Olsen said this as Apple unleashed their Apple II on the tech hungry marketplace. Olsen was later ousted from his job, his company, and quite possibly his family tree.


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4. Surgeon and Professor Pierre Pachet

Science, scientists, and scientific minds should be unexcused from ridicule for passing on ideas and theories that now shape the most basic realms of human thought. Sure, the world once thought that the entire Earth was being held up by a giant space tortoise, but science allows us to get past such abnormal ways of thinking and usher in a new age of enlightenment.

Still, absolutely no thought went into surgeon and physiology professor Pachet's exclamation that "Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction." Not only was Pachet proven wrong and we have Pasteur to thank for saving countless lives from needless deaths due to bacteria and infection, but millions of germ-fearing mysophobes have him to thank for giving them something to do with their empty lives, such as washing their hands until they strike bone and striving for levels of cleanliness that even God can't achieve.

3. Boston Red Sox Owner Harry Frazee

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Frazee wore several caps in his time. He was a consummate theatrical agent and producer, a groundbreaking ball club owner, and even a fierce fighter for his team and various causes. History, however, has slapped a big red "L" on his forehead as the guy who sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees.

Despite the legend that Frazee sold the Bambino to front one of his musicals, the truth goes much deeper than that. Frazee was being jerked around on all sides by commissioner and professional a-hole Ban Johnson (a tradition that still continues in baseball to this day), who Frazee attempted to thwart and fall out of line with despite the power he held over other owners. Also, Ruth himself kept making outrageous demands for salaries and other perks (a tradition that still continues in baseball to this day). So Frazee got fed up and the Yankees used their vast wealth to buy Ruth for $100,000, a ridiculously high amount for a ballplayer (a tradition that still continues in baseball to this day).

Ruth became, as they say, a legend. Frazee also become a legend but for the wrong reasons. If anyone else was in Frazee's shoes, Frazee would have been known as the first man who ever tried to strangle Ruth with his bare hands.


2. Universal Pictures Executive Ned Tanen

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To be fair, without the open and inventive mind of this movie executive, the world would never have seen the films of such notables as John Hughes, Robert Zemeckis, and even Steven Spielberg. However, if Tanen was overseer of all of movie land, we would never have gotten to see a then little-known film called Star Wars.

George Lucas brought his long epic space vision to life in the early 1970s and since he was on a hot streak with American Graffiti (another film that almost didn't see the light of day under Universal), he brought Star Wars to their attention. Tanen insisted he turned down the project because the company couldn't understand it through the treatment. Nevertheless, 20th Century Fox picked up Lucas' script and turned it into a worldwide financial and marketing success that has lasted for over 30 years and earned more than $22 billion in revenue.


1. Publisher Alfred A. Knopf

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The man whose name graces the publishing firm he founded has brought a great deal of enlightenment to the world. His book factory gave the world stories and tales by some of the world's most thought-provoking and sharpest minds. He also turned away just as many.

Knopf's publishing house not only rejected authors who went on to produce cult classics and required reading for every drooling high school senior in the country such as George Orwell's Animal Farm and Jack Kerouac's On the Road, but he and his wife Blanche also personally read and rejected some of the biggest books of all time such as The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank that was dubbed "too dull."

Too dull?!? He called the story of a young girl's emotional and physical journey through the reign of terror of the Third Reich...dull?!? Did it not have enough pictures? Did the story need more reanimated dinosaurs? It's a shame he didn't have a chance to drive a stake through the heart of the The Da Vinci Code, a book so dry you can smooth wood with it.


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