Reading Course: Free sample – Fame after 40

This is a free sample lesson from the Reading Course. Sign up for the course to get 40 lessons like this one – they will help you improve your reading skills and increase your vocabulary!

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How to take the lesson:

  1. Read the article and learn the vocabulary. Note: The words in pink you will learn in the Discover New Words quiz in the worksheet
  2. Download the worksheet and do the exercises:
    • Comprehension questions
    • Discover new words quiz
    • Vocabulary exercise
  3. Try the writing task to practice your writing skills

Read the article and learn vocabulary

Some people moan about their 40th birthdays as if their best years were behind them. But there are a significant number of famous and successful people who didn’t really come into their own until their 40s, 50s, or even older.

If you’re turning 40 – or if you’ve already passed that milestone – don’t despair! You could be on the cusp of an exciting new chapter in life. Let’s learn about a few phenomenal achievements made by folks over 40.

come into their own = finally get recognition and success
milestone = a point or mark of significant progress on a journey or in a process
despair = become very sad and hopeless
on the cusp of = at a point in time that marks the beginning of
phenomenal = incredibly great
folks = people (informal)

Stan Lee

Everyone knows Spiderman and the X-Men – but how much do you know about the man who came up with these legendary characters? Stan Lee penned his first hit comic book when he was just shy of his 39th birthday. He had already been in the comics business for twenty years, and although he had a knack for writing, none of his comics had caught on.

penned = wrote
hit = successful (informal)
just shy of = just before
had a knack for = had natural skill in
caught on = become popular

At the time, he was thinking of quitting the business entirely, so he had nothing to lose – and he decided to experiment with a new approach, creating superheroes with complex personalities and flaws. This group of characters – the Fantastic Four – catapulted Lee to success and led to the creation of the entire Marvel Universe. Today, Lee is in his 90s and continues to make cameo appearances in films.

had nothing to lose = there were no negative consequences to taking a risk
catapulted Lee to success = made him successful very quickly
cameo appearances = a brief appearance in a very small part of a movie

Henry Ford

The car is a ubiquitous part of our daily life – and the man who invented it spent fifteen years on its development. Ford came from a family of farmers, but he despised farm work and became an engineer instead. With backing from investors, Ford successfully created a self-propelled vehicle – but this revolutionary invention was not popular right off the bat.

ubiquitous = appearing to be everywhere
backing = support
right off the bat = immediately

The landmark Model T was launched in 1908, when Ford was 45 years old. He fervently promoted the car in newspapers and through a network of independent dealers, and by 1918, half the cars in America were Model Ts.

fervently = intensely and passionately
dealers = people who sell something produced by others

Charles Darwin

Darwin is one of the most influential figures in scientific history. He was passionate about natural science and mostly kept to himself, devoting years to his research on wildlife and fossils. Mired in work and under pressure from his publisher to deliver, Darwin developed myriad health problems. Despite this, he was able to put the finishing touches on his theory of natural selection, and his landmark work, “On the Origin of Species,” was published when he was 50 years old.

kept to himself = was introverted; didn’t have much contact with other people
wildlife = animals in nature
fossils = skeletons of plants/animals that are preserved in rock
mired in work = having a LOT of work; too much to handle
myriad = many and various
put the finishing touches on = finally finish the last details
landmark = important in history

Julia Child

She is one of the most famous celebrity chefs, renowned for making the art of French cooking accessible to the American public. However, she wasn’t always a culinary virtuoso – her early career was spent in advertising, and she also did a stint in the military as a research assistant. Her husband introduced her to fine French cuisine, and she later studied cooking in Paris. Child’s 726-page masterpiece, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” was published in 1961, when she was 49 years old. She went on to star in multiple television programs and publish numerous books.

renowned = famous
virtuoso = expert
masterpiece = an excellent work

Harland David Sanders

Sanders had a fairly unremarkable career that included army service, manual labor, and a short-lived career as a lawyer that ended after a courtroom brawl with his own client. He was fired from several jobs and opened a few companies, most of which failed. Sanders eventually opened a restaurant serving chicken and other meals, but tourism dried up during World War II and the place had to close.

unremarkable = there was nothing special or notable about it
short-lived = lasted a short amount of time
brawl = physical fight

At the age of 62, Colonel Sanders began to license his fried chicken recipe to other restaurants. The first one experienced a boom in sales, 75% of which were thanks to Sanders’ crunchy, delicious chicken. Within ten years the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise had expanded to over 600 locations and Sanders sold the corporation for $2 million.

license = let other people use in exchange for payment
boom = great and sudden increase
crunchy = hard, makes sounds in your mouth as you chew it
franchise = network of stores or restaurants

Anna Mary Robertson Moses

“Grandma Moses” was a famous artist who began painting in earnest at the age of 78. In her youth, she was a live-in housekeeper for wealthy families, one of which noticed her interest in art and purchased chalk and wax crayons for her. Later, as a housewife, she enjoyed decorating her home with quilts and embroidery.

in earnest = with serious intent
housekeeper = someone who kept the house clean and took care of chores around the home
quilts = blankets made by putting together pieces of fabric
embroidery = decorative sewing

When she developed arthritis, her sister suggested that painting might be easier on her joints. This spurred the beginning of her painting career in her late 70s. She then produced over 1,500 canvasses – which initially sold for $5, then later for $10,000, and recently for 1.2 million. She painted scenes of rural life, which are described as simple and light-hearted.

arthritis = a disease that makes your joints painful
canvasses = paintings (the word “canvas” is the material on which the artist paints)
rural = outside the city, in areas with little population
light-hearted = amusing, optimistic, happy

Writing Task

Write about a famous person who you admire or look up to – it could be a celebrity, politician, artist, historical figure, etc. Tell me about this person and why you like him or her. Also, would you want to be famous yourself? Why or why not?