5 True Stories Too Unbelievable for the Movies They Inspired
Fictional characters aren't constrained by boring old reality. They don't have to poop or pay taxes or make awkward small talk at bus stops; they just have to embody villainy, hope, or heroism in ways that no stupid mortal could aspire to. They are truly larger than life ... except for when they're equal to or less than life. Sometimes reality is indeed stranger than fiction, and the real people that inspired your favorite fictional characters are actually far more compelling. Like ...
Crocodile Dundee, Who Was Gunned Down by Police
Crocodile Dundee is about a perfectly average Australian living a typical Aussie day. You know, knife fights and crocodile hypnosis. For example, in the 2001 threequel Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, which you didn't even know existed until just now, the protagonist's poor understanding of LA traffic laws cause him to face off against some police officers while armed with nothing but a skunk. Hilarious!
"This animal didn't even try to bite, sting, or poison me; I reckon he needs a vet." The Real-Life Inspiration: Rodney Ansell
In 1999, the real Crocodile Dundee had a similar encounter with the law which ended somewhat differently:
Two decades before meeting his drug-fueled death, bushman Rod Ansell became popular in Australia when his boat capsized during a solo hunting expedition and he had to spend two months trapped in the wilderness -- or, more accurately, the wilderness was trapped with him. With limited resources, he survived by drinking cow blood, sleeping with snakes, and occasionally fighting and decapitating the odd crocodile. During a later BBC interview about his adventure (which he reportedly attended barefoot), Ansell mentioned that the hotel they'd put him in was very nice and all, but he'd decided to sleep on the floor. Oddly enough, it was this little detail -- not any of the animal fighting stuff -- that inspired Crocodile Dundee. Hollywood really wanted to make a movie about unconventional sleeping preferences; they just threw some high adventure in there as filler.
Also, Ansell was able to recognize the danger of knives of all sizes.
Unfortunately, Ansell didn't see a cent from the use of his story. His life and marriage fell apart. He eventually developed a drug habit and also a related belief that Freemasons wanted to kidnap his children. One day, he grabbed two high-powered rifles, shot up a farmhouse, and ambushed some police officers, killing one. At some point, a citizen broke a baseball bat over Ansell's skull, which did precisely nothing to stop him. Maybe the addiction and subsequent Terminator rampage were inevitable, or maybe it was because the production company seriously wouldn't toss him the barest bone: they even banned him from starting his own "Crocodile Dundee tour," which we're picturing as basically just the "Seinfeld Reality Tour" with significantly more platypus-stabbing.
Captain Hook, Who Was an Ex-Pirate Preacher
Captain Hook is an evil pirate who fears nothing ... except flying boys in pantyhose. And crocodiles. And watches. Well, maybe he's a bit more fearful than your average pirate, but that's understandable -- one time Peter Pan fed Hook's watch to a crocodile, along with the appendage it was attached to.
He was called "Captain Hand" before that.
Since that day, the mere sound of a ticking watch sends the guy into 'Nam-like flashbacks. In the movie Hook, he even has a room full of broken clocks as a grim reminder of his impending doom. Good thing he also has the love and support of his faithful second in command, Mr. Smee, across all possible realities ...
"Holding hands with you just doesn't convey the intimacy I thought it would." The Real-Life Inspiration: Reverend John Maher
... except our reality, because the real-life version of Smee probably killed the guy Captain Hook is based on. John Maher was a preacher at St. George's parish in the English village of Brede, East Sussex. At first glance, Maher appeared to be no more than a regular, small town reverend, who just happened to have an ominous hook in place of his left hand. He told everyone he lost it in a coaching accident, and no one had any reason to doubt his story ... until a man named Smith came into town and revealed he lost it in his previous career as a brutal goddamned pirate. Apparently, Maher had a pretty successful career as a swashbuckler until he decided to strand his partner (Smith) in the Caribbean, relocate to Brede, and become a man of the cloth. Because the Christian church is where the real booty is at.
He may have been on to something.
Eventually, Smith tracked down his old pal and set out to blackmail him with his own past. The pressure was a little too much for Maher, and he was driven insane -- so, like the movie version, his past stalked him at every turn until the paranoia drove him mad. Or perhaps the whole thing was just made up by gossipy altar boys to explain the old reverend's weird hook-hand. The point is that decades later, J.M. Barrie visited Brede, heard the sordid tale and thought, "Hey, this old priest is the perfect villain to prey on some innocent boys."
He was right, of course.
Ebenezer Scrooge, Who Was a Crazy-but-Actually-Somewhat-Generous Hermit
We're guessing we don't have to explain much about the plot of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, since you've probably already seen it parodied by sitcoms, anthropomorphic ducks and Bill Murray. In fact, the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge's avarice is among the most adapted stories in literary history.
The guy who apparently inspired the book, 18th century British MP John Elwes, made Ebenezer Scrooge look like a mashup of Bill Gates and Tony Stark. For starters, Scrooge at least dressed relatively well; Elwes refused to buy any clothes at all, preferring to wear stuff discarded by beggars.
And makeup discarded by dockside prostitutes.
It's hard to tell what's true and what was added by the Victorian equivalent of the Daily Mail, but here it all is anyway: At one point Elwes was worth 800,000 pounds -- about $100 million in 2010 money, or five Russell Brands. Despite being set for life, he refused to spend a penny on luxuries like candles, a fireplace, or a roof for his bedroom (to the horror of relatives visiting when it rained). One time, he reportedly fought a rat over the rotting corpse of a hen that it had dragged out of a river. You know, for that old British delicacy, ratbird pie.
If the rat had won and taken over his life, no one would have noticed.
But the most surprising thing about Elwes is that he was always willing to lend money to friends and never asked for it back unless they volunteered first (so ... never). By the way, actor Cary Elwes, who appeared in Jim Carrey's 2009 glassy-eyed abomination version of the Dickens classic, claims to be John Elwes' descendant. So scratch what we said before: the most surprising part is that the weasel-faced, sewer-chicken-eating super-miser up there somehow spawned a sex god like the Dread Pirate Roberts.
Sherlock Holmes, Who Actually Solved Murders With the Power of Deduction
Sherlock Holmes: the guy is so good at solving crimes, he may as well be supernatural. He's so brilliant that his name is now synonymous with "smart," or at least sarcastically with "dipshit." The catch with writing a super-genius like Sherlock Holmes is that the author has to be at least as smart as the character, and nobody is as smart as Sherlock. Well, except ...
What about the guy Holmes' creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, specifically said he "owed" the character to? Someone who solved crimes, had a friend called Dr. Watson, and dressed like this:
Based on your clothes, we logically deduce you don't talk to many women.
Dr. Joseph Bell was a teacher of Conan Doyle's at the University of Edinburgh. In his spare time, he also worked as Queen Victoria's personal surgeon. Like Holmes, his powers of observation bordered on the absurd: he could accurately diagnose people just by looking at them, a trick he often used to blow the minds of his students. One time, he guessed that an outpatient rang the bells every Sunday at a church in a specific town, just by listening to his accent and noticing the calluses on his hands -- which, to Bell's keen eye, were completely different than those of a farmer, a miner, or a compulsive masturbator.
As Bell's assistant, Conan Doyle himself was the comparatively dumb Watson character to the brilliant Holmes. The name Watson itself came from Sir Patrick Heron Watson, a military doctor and ballistics expert who helped Bell solve an actual high-profile murder case. Although, he ain't no Jude Law:
"At least I know better than to let a friend wear a deerstalker hat indoors."
Moby Dick, Who Was Way More Murderous Than in the Books; Captain Ahab, Who Was a Cannibal
Moby-Dick is the story of one man's obsession to hunt down the giant albino whale that fucked up his boat and said whale's obsession with being a whale and fucking up more boats. Or at least that's what it's about on the surface: in truth, the book explores themes such as mankind's treatment of nature, the value of revenge, and at what point a novel becomes a whaling textbook.The Real-Life Inspiration: Mocha Dick and Owen Chase
"Mocha Dick" may sound like your new favorite porn film, but it's actually the name of a massive, 70-foot albino sperm whale that ruled the oceans and terrorized seafarers for 28 freaking years in the early 19th century. Like Moby Dick, Mocha was nigh impossible to kill. Over the span of three decades, he was attacked by over 100 whaling ships who managed to kill zero of him, while he took down 20 ships and 30 sailors.
"Just tell me, what was the name of this formidable beast that took my husband?"
"Moc ... Jeff. Jeff, the Whale."
The sailors christened the creature "Mocha" because it was first encountered near Isla Mocha in the Pacific, and "Dick" for obvious reasons. It often went out of its way to ram into whaling ships and fought as many as three at the same time, wrecking all. When it was finally killed in 1838 (after apparently coming to the rescue of another whale), its body was found to have 19 harpoons that had been lodged into it over the years. Dang, Mocha makes a way better protagonist than Ahab. Tell the story from his point of view, and it's Die Hard for whales.
"Now I have a harpoon. Ho ho ho."
Mocha didn't have a singular nemesis like Captain Ahab, though -- Herman Melville based that character on a sailor called Owen Chase, whose whaling vessel was sank by 85 feet of pure karma.
"Call me Screwed."
Chase and a few survivors drifted at sea for 95 days, eventually resorting to cannibalism to survive. Like with Ahab, the memory of the whale haunted Chase for the rest of his life and drove him insane ... though not insane enough to actually try to find a single whale in all of the oceans. There's crazy, and then there's just dumb.
For more total badasses, check out The 5 Most Badass War Heroes Who Never Held a Weapon and 11 Celebrities Who Were Secretly Total Badasses.
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