The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Talent will out

There is a saying in Britain: "Talent will out". This means that those who are talented will eventually succeed - but is this true? One doesn't have to be very observant, in life, to come across many people who are evidently talented, but not very successful. Clearly, all is not as it seems.

My contention, supported by a lifetime of experience and observation, is that talent, in itself, is not enough to guarantee success in any field. There are simply too many other factors at work, as well. Often, it is not the most talented person who succeeds - but the best connected. This is an example of the "who you know, not what you know" phenomenon.

Acting is a case in point. What is the background of the actors who "make it" in public life? Well, very often, in fact, too, too often, they come from families who are already connected to showbusiness. This explains something I was often confronted with, when I was an actor: the best actors did not necessarily get the jobs - and the ones who did get the jobs, weren't always that good as actors. They had something else going for them: they knew the people involved in the projects. This happened a lot.

I met many good actors in those days. I met many actors who seemed to have much more talent than their famous colleagues - and yet, they were relatively unknown. They had talent but they didn't have the opportunities provided by good connections in the business - and so, ultimately, they failed to succeed.

I use acting as an example, but this phenomenon will apply, in varying degrees, to almost all areas of life: knowing the right people really helps - in fact a lot more than actually being the right person (in the sense of having the talent).

Let us just check out the backgrounds of a couple of famous actors as examples. Ewan MacGregor - of Star Wars fame. Now, those who know him well, won't be surprised, but others, who don't, might be surprised to learn that he had a relative in the original Star Wars film. No doubt that connection helped put him in touch with George Lucas, at the right time. Furthermore he is related by blood or the marriage of his relatives, to three established figures in British showbusiness: Denis Lawson, Shelia Gish (very respected) and Lou Gish. With such a base of connections to start out with in the showbusiness world, it would have been a lot easier for the young Ewan MacGregor to establish himself than his unconnected contemporary competitors.

Another example is Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame. He started out his career as one of the most connected individuals you could imagine. Both of his parents work, in some way or other, in showbusiness. His mother is actually a casting director. That is the person whose job it is to select people for roles on behalf of production companies: they are the people who cast actors. Clearly, she would know, personally, many key players in the business, many people able to give her son a job. The same could be said for his father. He is a literary agent - which is more relevant that it seems. A literary agent is connected to the film and tv worlds through the sale of books to them. So, his father, too, would have good showbusiness connections. It is impossible to run Daniel Radcliffe's life again, without his parents connections, but undoubtedly he would have had a hard time of it - and may, in fact, never have succeeded at all, without them. That is what I would expect, anyway, from what I have seen in other talented but unconnected individuals.

There are many talented people in this world who never really get the chance to shine. I met many on my way in England. None of them made it. Yet, many of them "had it" - in the sense of talent. It is a pity really. I have often thought how much better films and theatre would be if the person who was cast was actually the best person for the role - rather than just the best connected person (as it usually is). I rather feel that the quality of that particular art would be so much higher if it were so.

No doubt this observation applies to many other areas of life, too. Everything would be so much better if it was genuinely the best, most suited person doing it. Indeed, it would be good, indeed, if the saying: "Talent will out", was true - but it isn't.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and four months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and nine months, and Tiarnan, twenty-six months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 6:43 PM 


Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

By the way, my source of information on Daniel Radcliffe's mother was an article in the British newspaper The Sunday Times, in a "Day in the Life of..." type section in the Sunday magazine. It discussed her work as a Casting Director, at the time of the first Harry Potter film.

After reading the article, I understood her to have been the Casting Director on the first Harry Potter film, as well as other projects.

10:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you may want to check out this blog - written by halimahton yusof, the mother of child prodigy, sufiah yusof who make it into the papers once again recently.

very interesting read.

11:45 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for the tip. It seems she is an example of what I am arguing, that talent will not necessarily bring the expected success - there are other factors too.

Kind regards

6:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's another tip - check out her credits on imdb (Marcia Gresham). Nowhere is HP cited. Yes, she is a casting director, but she was not the casting director on HP. In fact, the HP folks approached the Radcliffes early on because they had seen Dan in David Copperfield and wanted him to audition. She and her husband turned down the offer because the movies were going to be made in the US originally and they didn't want their family uprooted. It was only later, after Heyman (the producer) ran into them at a theatre, and explained that plans had changed (i.e. the movies would be made in the UK) that they agreed to let the boy audition. It's called a lucky break - he may have parents in the business, but it's a break that gets you in.

Those are the facts and they are easy to check.

Not sure why you are not posting my comments, but okay. It's your site.

6:21 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your tip. I can only conclude that the article I read was misleading, in the way it was written. I went away, after reading it, with the idea that she had cast HP.

However, as you agree, she is a casting director - and that is the best possible background for a parent of a child who wants to get into showbiz. Daniel's father is a literary agent and they tend to have contacts in the film and tv worlds, too, since they sell books to them. All round he is a very lucky boy to have such a good background to support his ambition.

I didn't post your prior post because the use of CAPS came across as shouting at me and I didn't feel like being shouted at. It could have been put more gently.

I always aim to use the best information that I have to hand: I thought the article was good information - however it seems to have given an incorrect impression.

You know a lot about the surrounding events to the casting: the kind of detail that journalists are not normally privy to: are you connected to the Radcliffe's themselves?

Just wondering.

Thanks for the extra information.

Kind regards

9:32 AM  

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