It was just a movie set, but in a moment it showed Chris Gardner where he'd been and how far he'd come.
There with actor Will Smith who was playing Gardner, a former homeless man turned millionaire Gardner stood in what looked like the train station bathroom where he once slept a quarter century ago.
Suddenly he was overcome with memories of teaching his 2-year-old son to never, ever open the locked bathroom door, no matter how hard someone pounded on the other side. It didn't matter that he now had three homes one a condo in New York's Trump Tower or that he'd gone from selling his own blood to buying Michael Jordan's car.
"I had to get out of there," he said.
The story of how the 52-year-old Gardner did just that, climbed out of homelessness and became a millionaire stockbroker with his own 15-employee Chicago firm, is being turned into a motion picture, due out in December. It's also the subject of Gardner's own just-released book, "The Pursuit of Happyness." The unique spelling of "happiness."
Even in the realm of rags-to-riches tales, Gardner's story is unique. Take, for example, the events that led to his descent into homelessness.
A medical supplies salesman barely making enough money to support his girlfriend and baby, Gardner had one of those Hollywood moments in a San Francisco parking lot in 1981 when he spotted a man looking for a place to park his red Ferrari.
"I said to him, 'You can have my (parking) place but I've got to ask you two questions. What do you do and how do you do it?"' recalled Gardner.
The man was a stockbroker. Gardner didn't know a single stockbroker or even what one did. But the man said he made $80,000 a month $50,000 more than Gardner made a year.
Gardner found a brokerage firm willing to hire him and quit his job. But when he showed up for work he learned the guy who'd hired him had been fired. Gardner's job was gone.
Then, days before a scheduled interview with Dean Witter, a loud fight with his girlfriend brought the police to his door. The next thing Gardner knew they were asking him for $1,200 to clear up some unpaid parking tickets.
They may as well have asked for $12 million. Gardner spent 10 days in jail, reports AP.
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