6 People Who Had No Clue Their Faces Were World-Famous
Becoming accidentally famous must be an unpleasantly surreal experience. Rebecca Black is the most cited example of the phenomenon these days (as though she was just dancing down the street one day and accidentally passed through a terrible music video) but she's far from the most mind blowing example.
For instance, imagine driving through the streets of, say, Beijing, and suddenly seeing your face on a billboard for instant noodles. Imagine you then find out your face is the Chinese equivalent of the Gerber's Baby, and has been for decades, and you never had a clue. This apparently happens all the time.
We Can Do It! With Your Face!!!
You've almost certainly seen the famous World War II propaganda icon "Rosie the Riveter."
What started as a simple motivational poster for the millions of women working in factories while their husbands were away fighting became one of the most iconic symbols of feminism and equality in the workplace. It's one of the most well known American cultural images of all time, up there with the raising of the flag over Iwo Jima and the drawing of Uncle Sam.
In 1984, while flipping through a copy of Modern Maturity, 59-year-old Geraldine Doyle spotted an article about the inspiration behind the Rosie the Riveter character: a photo of a 17-year-old girl working in a factory in 1942. Her name? Geraldine Doyle.
"Geraldine the Metal Presser," doesn't roll off the tongue quite as well.
Doyle, incredibly, had no idea of her connection to Rosie the Riveter. In fact, she didn't even know about the original inspirational photo, which given her posture, lends an unsettling peeping-Tom vibe to the whole thing. At the time, she'd just graduated high school and, like many other women, had taken a job in a factory in order to support the war effort. American Broach & Machine Co. had her on a metal press in no time at all, probably after a vigorous and thorough safety-training program that only that decade could deliver.
"Wearing dresses around whirring, metal crushing machinery? Why, that's almost as dangerous as letting women wear pants!" - The 1940s
Fearing an injury that could impact her ability to play the cello, Doyle quit after only two weeks on the job. She endured the potential hand crushing long enough for a photographer to snap the picture without her noticing. Someone who did notice, however, was J. Howard Miller, an artist commissioned by the government to draw up some motivating pieces of art.
He kept Doyle's pretty face and red bandanna, but gave her slender build a shot of super-heroine sized muscles. Rosie, though not named as such right away, was born, and went on to inspire countless women.
Doyle told the Lansing (Michigan) State Journal, in the understatement of the century, "You're not supposed to have too much pride, but I can't help have some in that poster. It's just sad I didn't know it was me sooner."
"So, I'm as well known as Mickey Mouse? Yeah, that might have been good to know."
Taster's Unfair Choice
In 2002, Russell Christoff, a kindergarten teacher, coasted through the grocery store just like any regular shopper looking for Bloody Mary mix. Coffee wasn't on his list, but, to his astonishment, he noticed that he was on the coffee.
Yeah, that's Russell Christoff smelling up a bunch of sweet coffee heat, courtesy of Nestle. And he didn't know how it got there. Also, he didn't even like Taster's Choice. But his coffee clone seemed to love it deeply ...
Modern day Christoff appears much less likely to be whispering, "Oooooh coffee, it is going to be so fine when I make love to you."
Christoff had knowingly modeled for a Taster's Choice ad in Canada back in 1986 that, as far as he knew, never got used -- he had been paid $250 for the session and sent on his way. Not being good enough for Canada isn't the sort of thing you want to dwell on in a world with so many tall buildings with roof access, so Christoff pretty much forgot about it and went on with his life.
Unbeknownst to him, a Nestle employee, looking specifically for an image to embody Taster's Choice, ended up stumbling across the photo again. Naturally, Nestle called up Christoff and asked if they could use the photo in a new worldwide ad campaign. And of course, we're kidding. This was Nestle, a company famous for being somewhat unscrupulous.
"A phone call? To a customer? How quaint. Send him a cookie."
Over the years, Christoff's face would be plastered on coffee labels in about two dozen countries (including several Latin ones, for which they darkened his skin and added sideburns to the picture for some reason) and he had no idea. He sued and won $15.6 million, which he lost on appeal. He's back in court now, still fighting Nestle over the use of his face. Nestle, on the other hand, tried to settle things outside of court for the sum of $100,000. Christoff countered with the sum of $8.5 million. Nestle respectfully declined before chuckling softly into a handkerchief and leaving the bargaining table to add a new warning label to their jars.
"Warning: May contain images of people who can't keep their damn mouths shut!"
The Stolen Scream
No matter where you live, there is a pretty good chance that at some point in the last couple years you have seen this image. It's become the face of revolution in half a dozen countries, a Che-like icon.
The young man who apparently hates the sky can be found on T-shirts, in promotional materials for rock bands and as graffiti all over the world. And that was all before the guy in the photo had the slightest idea. It was just a picture of his face he had stuck on his Flickr account.
This Flickr account, if you want to see the originals. Try to restrain yourself from sticking them on a T-shirt.
That guy was Noam Galai, an Israeli living in New York City who took up photography as a hobby. One day he thought about how scary people look when they yawn and decided to take a self-portrait with his mouth wide open as if screaming. Then he promptly forgot about it.
A few years later, a co-worker noticed T-shirt sellers around the city doing a brisk business shilling Galai's face to tourists, and asked him why he hadn't told her he had sold the rights to his face, at which point Galai probably asked her which Pink Floyd song that was from because he hadn't sold the rights to anything.
By this point it wasn't just a local thing -- Galai searched for the image online and found more than 50 examples from places as far flung as Chile, Canada and Germany. Eventually he showed up on this magazine cover:
Not bad for the visual equivalent of "meh."
You might notice the headline says "The Face of Democracy." That's because the image of a random young man scream-yawning had become a rallying image for political movements in places like Honduras, Bhutan and China. Something about the power of this image spoke not only to Manhattan teens trying to annoy their parents but to oppressed people around the world.
National Geographic, the parent company of Glimpse magazine, did actually pay Galai for the use of his image for their cover, marking the first and only time he's seen a dime. Instead of getting lawsuit-happy and attempting to sue everyone from small businesses to freedom fighters, though, he took the popularity of his stolen picture in stride and started a website where people can send in pictures of the image.
Galai isn't the first person to have his image used without his permission. In fact, if you've ever posted your photograph online, you might already be famous. Danielle Smith and her family became literally huge overseas after she posted their Christmas card photo on a few social networking sites and ... that's it. She didn't sell the photograph to a modeling agency. Just posted it online and forgot about it.
And that would have been the end of the story if she didn't happen to have a friend in Prague, who happened to be walking by a high-end grocery store that was displaying this life sized ad:
How many friends do you have in Prague? You might be the Eastern European equivalent of the Jordan jump man logo right now. You'd never know. And thanks to Facebook settings, it's only going to get weirder from here. Tomorrow it could easily be your sexy face staring back at you from a cheap T-shirt.
The Afghan Girl
It's one of the most famous photos of all time, and it's no wonder why.
The girl was a nameless teenage Afghani refugee who wound up on the cover of National Geographic in 1985. Seventeen years later, the photographer, Steve McCurry, decided to track her down.
After sifting through countless tips, chasing false leads and even daring to cross a conflict-ridden border, McCurry finally caught up to her again. Her name turned out to be Sharbat Gula, and McCurry had something to tell her. Something to show her, actually: her iconic photo. It had become the face most associated with the Afghan-Soviet war and an icon for the heavy toll of war in general. And Gula knew nothing about it until McCurry tracked her down.
How did she feel about her face being known to millions of people around the world? "Meh," she was quoted as saying, so long as you don't go looking for a source.
"Also it's kind of creepy, guys." -- same source.
In fact, she didn't really understand how a simple photo of her face could be important at all. To her, the photo had just been a brief moment in her life. A furious, pissed-off moment. In 1984, Gula had just fled from the ongoing Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, hoping like so many others to find safety in Pakistan. Instead, after losing her parents and trekking through the mountains with her siblings and grandmother, she found a crowded refugee camp.
After enduring all of this cosmically unfair bullshit, the young girl had her photo taken, for the first time in her life, at the refugee camp. McCurry didn't even learn her name and ended up imaginatively titling the photo "The Afghan Girl" as you might have guessed. While her picture helped to sell subscriptions of National Geographic to your grandfather, Gula was busy living in poverty and poor health. Oh, and she has to live in the mountains for much of the year now because the pollution in the city, where her husband earns a dollar a day, is too much for her asthma.
So we really can't blame her for not getting too excited about a photo that's done nothing to improve her existence. She still agreed to sit for a second photo by McCurry, though -- the second one in her entire life. She had to lower her veil for it, obviously, which is massively frowned upon in her culture, but she did it anyway because she was told there was a chance it could inspire others to help the people of Afghanistan.
The Iconic Woodstock Couple
One of the most famous photos of the most iconic music festival in history is this picture of a couple hugging under a blanket, the people and debris of Woodstock scattered behind them.
Nick and Bobbi Ercoline were just two teens in love when they heard about the festival on the radio and decided to travel a few towns over to check it out. Unbeknownst to them, a photographer snapped their picture. The first they knew about it was when the Woodstock album was released in 1970 and they went over to a friend's house to listen to it. Nick picked up the record sleeve and recognized their blanket. At this point, Bobbi figured she had to confess to her mom that she had been lying when she'd sworn she hadn't gone to the concert.
500,000 people. What were the chances?
Oh, and she might also have to mention that her image prominently adorned the poster of the Woodstock movie that would win the Academy Award for best documentary and would gross over $200 million (adjusted for 2011 dollars) and an album cover that would be purchased by millions of stoners from 1970 through the end of time.
Two years after the photo was taken, the couple got married. Over 40 years later, Nick and Bobbi are still together, have two sons and still live just outside Woodstock. While they still get recognized today after all the media attention their photo garnered, their foray into the counterculture didn't last: he works for the Man, i.e. the local government, and she is a school nurse.
You are looking at your chilling future, hipsters.
Osama Bin Laden as an Old Man
If you were an older gentleman from 2001 until this year, who is pretty much the worst person you could be confused with? How about Osama bin Laden?
Of course if you were accused of looking like the terrorist mastermind NOW, you would either have a serious head wound or give rise to some major conspiracy theories. But back in 2009, we were still pretty sure Osama was alive and every government agency in the world was looking for him.
So imagine the horror of one Spanish gentleman when he woke up one morning in late 2009 to find his face on the covers of newspapers around the world. Sure, he didn't remember buying a turban and while he had a beard, it was certainly not as impressive as the one in the photo. But it was definitely him. Except all the papers were saying it was what Osama bin Laden would look like today, thanks to the FBI's state-of-the-art age-progression technology.
"This is a Back to the Future plot, isn't it."
Only instead of using the fancy aging technology, somebody just used Google Image Search and Photoshop.
Making it worse was the fact that Gaspar Llamazares was a respected member of Spain's parliament and had been since 2000, meaning the U.S. government didn't just take some random guy's picture and turn him into a terrorist -- they did it to a lawmaker of an allied country.
While the FBI eventually removed the photo from its website, Llamazares said he no longer felt comfortable traveling to the U.S. and considered suing. Of course now that Bin Laden is dead, there isn't a problem anymore, unless those death photos end up being Photoshops of Llamazares with a head wound.
Please don't do this.
To learn about more unknown (yet famous) people and groups, check out 7 Inventors You Didn't Know You Wanted to Punch In the Face and 6 Secret Monopolies You Didn't Know Run the World.
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