Marie Antoinette changed my life

 “Let life touch you,” is what Jim Rohn advised people who want to live an exceptional life and to build a depth of character. A portion of his instruction involve absorbing our human experiences, through the people you meet, through the study of history, or perhaps a theatrical performance among many things.

If you follow Jim Rohn, you would know about his story about watching “Dr. Zhivago on the big screen” and how he captured an important meaning from it whereas he missed the point when he was younger. Yes, a good movie can wring out the emotions in you. I know. I’ve been wrung.


When I graduated from my junior year in high school in June 1979, I was pretty sure I was going to attend the local junior college, after graduation in 1980, for a dual major in auto mechanics and drafting. I had a passion for working on cars and was a pretty good at technical drawing.

Even then I was helping my father’s businesses to earn money, working on roofs and fixing electric cars.
I was into hot cars, cruising, platform shoes and disco at the time, and history was one of my least favorite subjects in school.

The junior year I had just finished was the quintessential party year for us “dazed and confused” teenagers at Palo Alto High School in 1979.



One day during my summer break, June 30th to be exact, my sister, who is an avid classic movie fan, asked me to record a movie on late-night television.

Back then we had to edit out all the commercials to record long movie so that it could fit on a 2.5 hour Beta Video tape. Remember those times?

Not really knowing much about the subject of the movie, Marie Antoinette (1938), I thought, “Wasn’t she the one who said “let them eat cake“?” I decided to help my sister anyway.

So at 11:30 at night, sitting in the dark living room, I started recording her movie, ready to edit out all the commercials. I thought it was going to be a yawner staying up until 2:30 am.

You see, I grew up with TV, by most accounts, I probably watched too much. My childhood was filled with what my Dad called the idiot box. Up until that point in time, I’d seen so many comedies, adventure, monster, westerns, and war movies, TV shows and cartoons, over and over and over.

The rerun and TV listing in the “pink section” of the San Francisco Examiner was one of my favorite things to read. I’d had even seen the first Star Wars when it came out in the theaters in 1977.

But nothing I had seen up until that night would prepare me for what was going to happen.

I was totally captivated… Totally and absolutely captivated.


Sitting here writing about it now for this blog, I realize that I have never wrote in depth about how and why watching the movie Marie Antoinette (Black and white, 1938) caused in me what I would describe as, the closest thing to a born again experience I have ever had in my life. Odd?

It was a combination of many factors, some would be considered obvious: a powerfully dramatic story of a young beautiful Austrian princess who becomes the tragic Queen of France, having to become a strong-willed woman and courageous mother to compensate for her weak-willed husband, Louis the XVI. A dashing and daring Swedish Count becomes the Queens loyal to death lover.

Their entire world crumbles under the tidal wave of the Revolution.

Not only was the story so epic, but the cast was simply excellent. Norma Shearer will always be my favorite actress.


There’s a key principle here when it comes to personal development. You can play a message all you want, but the listener has to be open to receive the message. My being open was not anything I was conscious of beforehand.

Because I associate that experience with a conversion experiences, I believe one of the key influences was that of sacrificial love.

In the movie and in real life, Count Axel von Ferson, tried everything he could to help the Royal Family escape, but because of one incredible unexpected snafu after another, the plan falls apart within hundreds of yards of their freedom.

Another aspect of the movie is Shearer’s dramatic portrayal of the Queen. One of the most powerful scenes is when the family is in prison and the guards take her son away. Really remarkably powerful acting.

In real history, one of Marie Antoinette’s most powerful moments, was her plea for compassion directed to the mass of common women sitting in the court’s gallery as she attacked the court’s use of false testimony from her child-son (who was brainwashed by his jailers to accuse her of incest). She made a connection with the common women who perceived Marie Antoinette’s sincerity, all being mothers who understood the love she spoke about for her children.

I am here to confirm, Marie Antoinette never said, “Let them eat cake.” That was propaganda published by the tabloids.

source: Marie Antoinette played by Norma Shearer (1938)

source: Marie Antoinette played by Norma Shearer (1938)

As a result of watching Marie Antoinette (1938) my life changed. I became passionate about fine art and classical music. I still liked cars, but I cleaned up my room to make room to do oil painting and portrait drawing.

My Mom was impressed. She told one of my older brothers I cleaned up my room and was listening to classical music, to which my brother quipped, “… and must be strung out on LSD” (Thanks, bro’).

I began immersing myself in study of the French Revolution, which ultimately led me to British Naval History.

To the surprise of most everyone, about a half year later, in the middle of my senior year, I enlisted in the Navy in a delayed start program, so certain was I that service in the military was a patriotic and noble duty.


For your consideration:

How important is the study of history and human suffering to your personal development?

How important is the knowledge of history for people in your leadership organization?

Is it a “balanced” view of history as Jim Rohn recommends?

The Spanish philosopher Jorge Santayana said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Given the universal characteristic of human nature, the study of history is not only indispensible in the establishment of government leaders, but it is valuable learning from the mistakes of others. Life is short, why would you want to recreate the wheel or perhaps, tempt a revolution?

You never know when the next movie might change your life.

The next cubically oppressed person liberated just might become a wise and powerful political leader. Who knows?

If you received some value or have an insight to share, please comment. THANKS.


I’ll see you… on the next page.

Challen Yee






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