5 Characters You Won't Believe Are Based on Real People

#2. The Simpsons' Mr. Burns Is a Cross Between the CEO of Fox and a Praying Mantis

20th Century Fox

The Simpsons is full of so many in-jokes and references that watching an episode feels like being stuck in a car with a group of your friend's friends while they speak to each other entirely in quotes from movies you have never seen. So you might not be too surprised to learn that Charles Montgomery Burns, the cold-hearted industrial tycoon who serves as the show's perennial supervillain, is based on a real person. What may surprise you is how insane and oddly personal that character basis is.

The Real-Life Inspiration:

While Mr. Burns' personality is the amalgamation of several corporate moguls like Rupert Murdoch, William Randolph Hearst, and Howard Hughes, his physical appearance is based on former Fox Chairman Barry Diller.

Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images, 20th Century Fox
They were kept just different enough to keep Diller from releasing the hounds on Matt Groening.

As chairman and CEO of Fox, Inc. from 1984 to 1992, Diller was actually the person responsible for putting The Simpsons on the air in the first place, which in normal scenarios would result in a small amount of polite gratitude before never being mentioned ever again (Diller was responsible for putting many shows on the air; he undoubtedly loses track of them at some point). You might be able to write off his portrayal on the show as a vampiric billionaire sociopath as a friendly in-joke if it wasn't for the fact that The Simpsons goes out of its way to take a big shit on the Fox Network whenever it possibly can.

20th Century Fox
But they hide it so well.

Harry Shearer, who voices Mr. Burns, once even called the network "indisputably a force for evil." So, seeing Diller's animated doppelganger spend an episode making ammunition for the Nazis when the real-life Diller is Jewish is obviously less of a good-natured jab and more of a birthday card filled with diarrhea and spiders. What crosses this over into the realm of the utterly surreal is the fact that Mr. Burns' mannerisms were based on a praying mantis, which accounts for his bulging eyes, skeletal frame, and perpetually tented fingers.

Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
Exxxcccellent.

So to summarize, The Simpsons has spent decades telling literally billions of people that Barry Diller is a fiendish insectile robber baron who can always be counted on to make the most evil decision possible. That has to have made for some awkward conference calls.

#1. X-Men Villains Are Based on Several Famous Actors

Marvel Comics

The Hellfire Club is a group of flashy mutants that serves as one of the primary antagonists of the X-Men. You may remember the Hellfire Club from X-Men: First Class, where it was led by a magnificently sideburned Kevin Bacon and the curious acting style of January Jones.

Marvel Comics
Apparently supervillainy is virtually indistinguishable from the VIP room at a Vegas strip club.

With immense superpowers and a stylish, old-timey approach to both fashion and world domination, it's hard not to view the Hellfire Club as one of the most original adversaries the X-Men have ever faced.

The Real-Life Inspiration:

Historically, "The Hellfire Club" was a nickname for 18th century "gentlemen's" establishments where rich white men would go to get drunk and naked, though not always in that order. The idea to use such an establishment as a hive of subversive superpowered villainy came from an episode of a completely Iron Man-free British TV show called The Avengers.

ITV/ABC/Thames
What his suit lacks in iron, it makes up for in cane-based swagger.

The show followed dashing superspy John Steed, who, together with his lovely assistant du jour, Emma Peel, regularly saved the world from various science fiction and paranormal threats. It was sort of like a mashup of James Bond and Doctor Who, until it was made into the most embarrassing movie of all time in 1998, at which point it became a mashup of terrible puns and shame.

In the episode "A Touch of Brimstone," the Hellfire Club kidnaps Emma Peel, drugs her, and forces her to become the "Queen of Sin," which involves wearing minimal clothing and a spiked leather choker. The writers of X-Men thought that was a pretty good idea, so they introduced a new gang of villains called the Hellfire Club and had them do pretty much the exact same thing to Jean Grey.

ITV/ABC/Thames, Marvel Comics
Marvel apparently also decided that "The Avengers" was a pretty catchy title.

They even borrowed the name "Emma Peel" when they created Emma Frost, aka the White Queen, whose Eskimo bikini corset in both the comics and the movie was obviously suggested by the Queen of Sin's fetish getup.

ITV/ABC/Thames, 20th Century Fox
The fur cape makes it classy.

Since they'd gone this far, the X-Men writers decided to base the remaining members of the Hellfire Club on famous actors, because it's way easier to just copy things when you're facing a deadline. The Club's leader, Sebastian Shaw, is pretty much a drawing of actor Robert Shaw, whom you probably recognize as Quint from Jaws (if you do not, close your browser immediately and go to your room).

Robert Shaw via Wikipedia, Marvel Comics
The character also served as a constant reminder to Shaw that he should grow those kickass sideburns back out.

Another Hellfire mutant, Jason Wyngarde, is a blatant copy of the titular character from the Jason King TV series (played by Peter Wyngarde -- noticing a pattern here?), right down to the outrageous facial hair that seems like it would make every meal a challenge.

ITV/ABC/Thames, Marvel Comics
Outrageous enough that the bright fuchsia formal top coat is the thing you notice second.

The Club's pet cyborg, Donald Pierce, was modeled after Donald Sutherland and named for the character he played in M*A*S*H, Hawkeye Pierce. And finally, Harry Leland, the fat bearded member of the Hellfire Club, was based on Orson Welles, the fat bearded member of the Hollywood elite. Leland has the mutant ability to increase his mass.

Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images, Marvel Comics
Ha ha ha ... Run.

That's right -- Marvel based a character on Orson Welles and made obesity his superpower. And that's how you build a billion-dollar entertainment empire, kids!



For more fascinating characters you have to read to believe, please pick up Jacopo's debut novel, The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy, available everywhere August 5!

Related Reading: In case you aren't convinced creators find inspiration in the weirdest places, then find out who Kramer is based on. Or discover which violent movie's scenes were inspired by Justin Bieber. And learn which song finally got John Lennon back in the studio.

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