Some characters are so bizarre, improbable, or flat-out impossible that you have to wonder how their creators ever came up with them. In a surprising amount of cases, the answer is that they didn't: They just copied a real person and called it a day. Like ...
Cosmo Kramer was the most far-fetched character in a show that included a woman who died after licking too many wedding invitations and a guy who talked like Jerry Seinfeld and had sex with a different woman every week. For the entire duration of the series, Kramer never had a real job and was always trying to make money from his ridiculous schemes -- like that time he rented a bus and charged people $37.50 to take them on a "reality tour" of his life. Who the hell would do that?
The Real-Life Inspiration: Kenny Kramer
Meet Kenny Kramer, the real-life former neighbor of Seinfeld co-creator Larry David who does exactly what we just described, right down to the price of the tour. Like Cosmo, Kenny enjoys cigars, golf, and, more importantly, trying to make money in ridiculous ways. In his case, this actually worked: During the disco years, Kenny came up with electronic jewelry that sold like hotcakes, allowing him to live a life of leisure.
In a Season 5 episode, Cosmo wants to play himself on the show-within-the-show, but Jerry says no. That actually happened with Kenny and David, who didn't even let him play the guy who plays Kramer playing Kramer on Seinfeld.
This is getting rather Inception-y.
Eventually, Kenny figured out how to profit from his connection to the show anyway thanks to his reality tour, which apparently is going way better than Michael Richards' career.
Brian Solis/Polygram Filmed Entertainment
Did you know there's a whole movie made out of The Big Lebowski quotes? It's called The Big Lebowski, and it's about a laid-back slacker known as the Dude who finds himself involved in a complex kidnapping case but spends most of the movie bowling, drinking White Russians, and talking about his carpet. The Dude's relaxed attitude has inspired a philosophical movement called Dudeism and a yearly festival, Lebowski Fest.
The Real-Life Inspiration: Jeff Dowd
The Coen brothers have a habit of putting real people in their movies, then being hailed as geniuses for creating them. The Dude, for example, is inspired by their friend Jeff Dowd, and by "inspired" we mean "it's the same guy." The main difference is that Dowd actually has a job (he's a film producer), but the Dude's personality, drink of choice, nickname, and even biography (some parts, anyway) are all borrowed from Dowd. In the movie, the Dude mentions that he was a member of the Seattle Seven, a group of political activists who were arrested in 1970 -- in real life, that was Dowd.
He's the hippie with the curly hair.
Meanwhile, some of the Dude's misadventures were based on anecdotes told to the Coens by fellow screenwriter Peter Exline, who once had his car stolen and found a teenager's homework inside when it was recovered. Exline and a friend tracked down the teenager and interrogated him in his living room, where his sick father (a Hollywood veteran) lived in a hospital bed. That whole story appears pretty much verbatim in the film.
Polygram Filmed Entertainment
Perhaps Exline can finally explain to us what "find a stranger in the Alps" means.
According to Pixar's The Incredibles, Edna Mode is the woman who designed the costume for pretty much every superhero ever, meaning that despite being a self-described fashion expert, she never actually learned how underpants work. Edna was a quirky, no-nonsense character who ended up being of great use to our heroes -- she's the one who insists that no one in the family wear a cape, which is exactly what ended up causing the villain's gruesome death.
The Real-Life Inspiration: Edith Head
Mode is apparently a Pixar reboot of Edith Head, the legendary movie costume designer who, in the course of her career, was nominated for a whopping 35 Academy Awards, taking eight of them home.
"I let my kids use them as G.I. Joes."
Like Edna Mode, Head was incredibly prolific: She's listed as costume designer in 436 freaking movies, including Vertigo, Rear Window, The Birds, and eight other Hitchcock classics. Incredibles director Brad Bird (who also voiced Mode) has never confirmed that they based the character on Head ... but come on, just look at them. It's also been observed that Mode's behavior is basically an exaggeration of Head's real personality. Head once said, "I hate modesty," while Mode admitted that she was "the best of the best."
Popeye is the classic cartoon character who teaches children that they too can be strong and powerful if they get tattoos, smoke a lot, and get into fights. He's also quite possibly the ugliest face that has ever decorated a nursery -- Popeye's impossibly deformed mug suggests that his creator only decided halfway through that he was drawing a person, not a butt. How did his mouth get all the way up there, anyway?
The Real-Life Inspiration: Frank "Rocky" Fiegel
Popeye's creator, E.C. Segar, apparently based several of his characters on real people from his hometown of Chester, Illinois: Wimpy was supposedly inspired by his former boss, J. William Schuchert, Olive Oyl looked suspiciously like one Mrs. Dora Paskel ... and Popeye himself was a local tough guy called Frank "Rocky" Fiegel. Fiegel may not have been as supernaturally strong as his cartoon counterpart, but he made up for it by being twice as ugly. The Popeye cartoon they drew on his headstone is actually doing him a favor.
"A stone for me bones, heh-heh, a post for me ghost."
Fiegel was something of a local legend in Chester while Segar was growing up: He was known for always being prepared to dish out an ass whooping and taking on several opponents at the same time. He even acted exactly like Popeye -- locals claim that children would startle him while he napped and he would "jump out of his chair, arms flailing, ready for a fight." His official cause of death was "warships grew out of his biceps."
So he died doing what he loved.