EVEN HIS MOTHER WILL TELL YOU THAT HE WAS more bashful than bodacious at Dallas's South Oak Cliff High School. Taunted by his peers and nicknamed Worm (he was barely 5' and weighed 90 lbs. at age 15), the below-average student suffered not only from shyness and low self-esteem but also from eczema so severe that his hair fell out by the handful. "He was high-strung and sensitive," recalls his mom, Shirley. "He didn't have any friends. Until he was 18, he didn't have a date." While others played team sports or socialized after school, Worm often rushed home to play video games alone in his bedroom. "He was a real quiet guy," recalls classmate Keith Leroy Caraway, now 35 and a Dallas security guard. "He was, like, just there."
Arrested development? You bet. After graduation he shot up to 6'8" and, along the way, discovered a knack for snaring rebounds. Today, numerous tattoos, several dye jobs and at least one pink feather boa later, Worm—now known the world over as Chicago Bull Dennis Rodman—has undergone a transformation not even Prof. Henry Higgins could have imagined. And the hoops star isn't the only one. Judging from our roundup of celebrity yearbook photos that follows, being dweeby way back when was almost a prerequisite to fame. "All the guys who were cool in high school blossomed at 17 and kind of stopped developing," says Marilyn Kagan, a Los Angeles psychotherapist who treats several Hollywood actors. "Geeks rule the world because they took the time to learn skills. They developed confidence and learned how to deal with people."
Not that it made their days in study hall any easier. At St. Paul (Minn.) Open School, Caroline in the City's Lea Thompson (class of '78) was a standout only in her ballet shoes (which, on one occasion, were stolen from her locker and flushed down the toilet). "My friends and I were the outcasts," she says, "the Not-Ready-for-Cheerleading group." Nor did popularity always stave off insecurity. Pretty, well-liked and Harvard-bound in 1985 as a senior at the Dwight-Englewood School in Englewood, N.J., Mira Sorvino still had a monumental hangup—about her height. "I felt like a giraffe," says the 5'9" actress. "I was up above people's heads and wished I could blend in." As for Baywatch's Pamela Lee, a brown-haired tomboy devoid of vavoom at Highland Secondary School in Co-mox, B.C., she blended in a little too well. "She was kind of average," says high school chum Debra Leith, now a lingerie-shop owner in Halifax, N.S. "She usually wore sweatpants and sweatshirts." Indeed, the self-effacing Lee once recoiled in horror simply because a friend tried to apply a little eye shadow and lipstick. "It felt so gross that I took it off," she says. "I never wore makeup."
Yet high school wasn't all wall-to-wall woe for the future stars. It was there, after all, that Nicolas Cage, Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis
discovered acting (see page 72), overweight swan-to-be Jennifer Aniston
perfected her comic timing ("I wasn't beautiful, so I had to be funny," she told INSTYLE), and Calvin Broadus—known even then as Snoop Doggy Dogg—fine-tuned his rap routines. Recalls Joe Perruccio, one of Snoop's teachers at Long Beach (Calif.) Polytechnic High School: "One day I told students to present a history report in any way they wanted. He did his in a rhyming manner." Then there was George Clooney
, who kept any self-doubts he might have harbored very much to himself. Even then, the athlete—basketball and baseball—had an attitude. "With every assignment," his Augusta (Ky.) High School typing teacher Bill Case recalls, "he'd say, 'Mr. Case, keep that paper because one day I'll be famous—and you'll have my autograph.' "
JANICE MIN with bureau reports