#4. Tintin (The Adventures of Tintin)
Casterman/AP via news.com.au
The Adventures of Tintin is one of the most popular comic book series in the world, having sold over 200 million copies despite the fact that the main character can't even grow metal claws and would suck in a fight against a killer robot. In fact, Tintin is just a kid who is somehow allowed to travel from country to country unsupervised, living through fantastic adventures and the occasional shocking display of racism.
What's a children's story without some good old-fashioned bigotry?
The Real-Life Inspiration: Palle Huld
Tintin debuted in a Belgian comic strip in 1929. As it happens, in 1928, another globe-trotting 15-year-old was causing a sensation all over Europe, except this one was real. Palle Huld, a boy scout from Denmark, had to circumnavigate the world in 44 days completely unaccompanied and without stepping on a plane as part of a competition organized by a Danish newspaper. Um, if that's what they made the kid do when he won the competition, we don't want to know what happened to the losers.
"... and this merit badge is for swimming, and this one is from when I circumnavigated the globe, and this one is for building a fire ..."
Huld's travels, which included war-torn Manchuria and just plain unfriendly Russia, made headlines all over Europe, so it seems likely that Tintin's creator in Belgium would have been among those following him. When Huld made it back home, he was greeted by a crowd of 20,000 people, not unlike the one that receives Tintin at the end of his first album.
Holger Damgaard via Politiken.dk
"Phineas Fogg ain't got shit on me."
Huld insisted until the end of his days that Tintin was him ... despite having never read the comic. Hell, he didn't have to, he already lived it.
#3. General Butt F**king Naked (The Book of Mormon)
Trey Parker and Matt Stone/Tom Freston via Vanity Fair
General Butt Fucking Naked is a character in the Trey Parker/Matt Stone Broadway musical The Book of Mormon (and not in the actual book, we don't think). Naked is the main antagonist of the story, a genocidal warlord who has a tendency to kill his enemies and drink their blood while completely in the nude. If you didn't already know that this musical was written by the guys who created South Park, that phrase right there should have tipped you off.
The only name in publicly drenching political topics in blue humor.
And of course, at the end of the musical, the general converts to Mormonism and becomes Elder Butt Fucking Naked.
The Real-Life Inspiration: General Butt Naked
General Butt Fucking Naked isn't just vaguely inspired by a real person -- he's pretty much the exact same guy. General Butt Naked was a Liberian warlord who was also a huge fan of genocide (he claims his squad killed 20,000 people), also pretty insane (he performed bizarre rituals and human sacrifices), and also fond of fighting in the nude, because he believed this granted him superpowers. Mr. Naked even had an army of child soldiers who were called the Butt Naked Brigade.
The Daily Mail
That's General Butt Naked, sir.
The only part the writers invented was the one where he repents and converts to Mormonism ... in real life, it was Christianity. Seriously. He now goes by Pastor Blahyi and is the president of End Time Train Evangelistic Ministries Inc. and, perhaps more dramatically, has started wearing pants.
#2. Betty Boop
Betty Boop is considered one of the earliest sex symbols in pop culture, because there was nothing more arousing for people in the '30s than the head of a baby surgically attached to the body of a woman. Betty was defined by her innocent sexiness, squeaky singing voice, and liberal use of made-up words ending in "oop." She was also considered a fairly progressive character for her era.
What with her boyfriend being a dog and all.
The Real-Life Inspiration: Helen Kane
Cartoons parody real celebrities all the time, but in Betty Boop's case, the parody became so popular that it completely overshadowed the real thing. To put it in perspective, imagine if people in the future believed that Family Guy invented Gary Coleman, or Star Wars, or the '80s in general.
Betty was created as a parody of Helen Kane, a popular actress and singer from the '20s who pretty much invented the whole "I'm a sexy baby" persona. She not only looked and sounded exactly like Betty, but her catchphrase was "Boop-oop-a-doop." In fact, one of Betty's early cartoons was a direct homage/ripoff of a Helen Kane movie.
Although Kane looks decidedly less like a bulldog than her counterpart.
The more audiences fell in love with Betty Boop, the less they seemed to care about Helen Kane. Kane wasn't happy with the trade-off: In 1932, she sued Betty's creator Max Fleischer and Paramount Pictures, but a judge ruled against her when it was proven that someone else had said "Boop-oop-a-doop" before. Kane died in relative obscurity while her silly parody version continued making millions for other people.
#1. Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert (Les Miserables)
In the recent film version of Les Miserables (pronounced "Les *barfing noises*"), Hugh Jackman plays Jean Valjean, a thief who is relentlessly pursued by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) for over 20 years for stealing some bread. Most of you probably know that the movie is based on a stage musical, which in turn is based on a novel by Victor Hugo ... which is based on a single dude.
The Real-Life Inspiration: Eugene Francois Vidocq
We've talked before about Eugene Francois Vidocq, the real-life equivalent of Sherlock Holmes and every other impossibly good fictional detective, from Hercule Poirot to Batman. What we didn't mention was that, in a Fight Club-esque twist, he was also both the protagonist and the antagonist of Les Miserables.
The first rule of Les Miserables is never admit that you don't like it.
Like Jean Valjean, Vidocq ended up in prison as a young man, but managed to escape and was on the run for years, posing as different people. He was a successful businessman and factory owner, but his past kept coming back to haunt him. A famous scene in the book is when Valjean saves a sailor by lifting a cart off of him -- it was Vidocq who actually did that.
Vidocq eventually reached an arrangement with the authorities that allowed him to use his experience as a criminal to catch other criminals, becoming a law enforcer ... and that leads us to Inspector Javert, who in the novel is also a reformed criminal who now chases after his former kind. Remember how Javert would use clever disguises in order to catch criminals? That was all Vidocq, too. So, basically:
"Sacrebleu! Le chauve-souris homme!"
For more fictional machinations that are actually real, check out 5 Badass Movie Characters You Didn't Know Were Real People and 6 Fictional Places You Didn't Know Actually Existed.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out Why the New 'Hunger Games' Movie Is Orange and Blue.
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn which columnist is a real-life Terminator.
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