#2. John Wayne's Sidekick, Yakima Canutt
Yakima Canutt was a real-deal cowboy, the kind who grew up on a ranch and busted broncos for fun. He was also a major hit on the rodeo circuit, a war veteran and an expert horse rider. But it wasn't until he began wintering in Hollywood between rodeo seasons that he found his true calling: as a best boy. Just kidding -- Yakima was a really good stunt man. By the time talkies rolled around, Yakima had logged onscreen time in 48 movies and was staging scenes as much as he was acting in them.
His butt-chin was the stuff of legends.
In 1932, he met a little-known actor named John Wayne. A cowboy bromance was formed. Canutt not only doubled for Wayne on his trickiest stunts but he also taught him how to fall off a horse without dying and how to twirl a gun real fancy-like, and together they developed realistic punching techniques for the camera. But more importantly, John Wayne pretty much tailored his on-screen persona after Yakima. Everything that we remember about John Wayne -- his walk, his slow, long drawl and stilted speech, even the way he stood -- were all ripped right off of Yak Canutt.
Yak Canutt, seen here diving into horses.
This isn't some kind of conspiracy theory. The Duke was the first to admit it:
"I spent weeks studying the way Yakima Canutt walked and talked. He was a real cowhand. I noticed that the angrier he got, the lower his voice, the slower his tempo. I try to say my lines low and strong and slow, the way Yak did."
So Canutt not only taught Wayne the skills he needed to be a believable cowboy, but he was the real-life John Wayne. He invented all of the mannerisms that John Wayne would use in every freaking role he played. Wayne became one of the most famous actors of all time; Canutt was forgotten.
Seriously, spend more than 10 minutes on your book cover, guy.
#1. George Washington's Sidekick, Baron von Steuben
The hilariously long-named Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand von Steuben was a Prussian-born soldier who actually could have doubled for his future boss, George Washington:
Seriously, those two could have pulled off some Parent Trap-level shenanigans:
Except that von Steuben didn't speak a word of English, so that would have been pretty hard to do. And it's also probably why you've never heard of him.
In 1777, after over 30 years in military service and eight years of fooling people into thinking he was a baron, von Steuben was introduced to American legend Benjamin Franklin, who in turn recommended him to Gen. Washington. And when Franklin made that introduction, he made sure to let Washington know that the fake baron was also a lieutenant general (which he was not). The record is unclear, but we're pretty sure von Steuben also bragged about his score of 2400 on the SATs and how MIT was totally offering him a full ride. Washington was duly impressed.
At this point, you'd think that this non-English-speaking George Washington look-a-like fraud was probably knee-deep in shit he was ill-prepared to handle, but you'd be wrong. Within months of arriving in America, he rose from drillmaster to inspector general of the Continental Army, wrote the army's drill manual and taught soldiers how to not defecate all over their own campsites, how to actually use a bayonet for something other than a shish kebab skewer and how to march, stand, use their muskets correctly and pretty much how to be an army that could defeat the most powerful military force in the world. Two more things: 1) He did all this for free, and 2) He was probably gay.
... and now the Steuben Monument makes sense.
So what happens to a foreigner who saves America? Untold riches? The adoration of millions? All the Cristal you could shake a stick at?
Not quite. Congress gave him land (there was plenty to go around after stealing so much from Indians and former royalists) but refused to pay the money he had been promised when first volunteering. It took the intervention of Washington and Franklin to persuade Congress to provide the Baron with a bankruptcy-saving pension. And even then, the guy still died in debt and pretty much forgotten.
It wasn't until America's involvement in World War I, when everyone got in a tizzy over the German Hun, that some German-Americans resurrected Steuben's memory as proof of their American patriotism. And also to set up some sweet future parades for truant egomaniacs:
"It was all worth it!"
And see what other important individuals we're bring into the public eye in our new book.
For more figures time forgot, check out 5 Famous Inventors (Who Stole Their Big Idea) and The 6 Greatest War Heroes Who Got Screwed Out of History.
And stop by Linkstorm because the Internet is ready to preach you the gospel.
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