It is an old story but, in all of its guises, a perennially appealing one. A poor boy makes good. A secretary marries her boss, thereby launching herself from the steno pool to the penthouse. A lowborn young man with a burning ambition and an idea that everyone tells him is crazy becomes a successful entrepreneur. A fresh-off-the-boat immigrant seizes the promise of the new world and reinvents himself as a dyed-in-the-wool American tycoon. These classic — if clichéd — success stories were already deeply etched in the popular consciousness by the time Hollywood put its stamp on them. Scores of self-help manuals, popular novels, religious tracts, and biographies have played their part in the ritual re-enactment of one of our most enduring cultural doctrines: that trading rags for riches is not only possible but is part of our national entitlement. The movies’ particular contribution to the American idea of success has been to codify, perpetuate, amplify, and sometimes challenge that idea in notably complex ways.
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