Every classic character is created to fill a need -- the wacky sidekick, the cruel henchman, the one carefully calculated to sell toys with its cute catchphrase. But sometimes that need is "filling space" or "selling ice cream," and only later does everyone realize that this commercial pitchman could become the basis of a massive movie franchise. Look at how ...
There are three tiers of Star Wars fandom. If you ask people in the first tier about Boba Fett, they'll tell you that he debuted in The Empire Strikes Back. Those in the second tier will tell you, while wearing Chewbacca slippers, "Actually, Boba Fett made his debut in the widely reviled Star Wars Holiday Special." And then a few special people who have ascended to the third tier, and all of the millions of words of fanfiction it contains, will cry out, "Actually, Boba Fett appeared in the San Anselmo Country Fair two months before the holiday special aired. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to eat lunch with my lightsaber chopsticks, then brush my teeth with my DL-44-shaped electric toothbrush."
San Anselmo is north of San Francisco, and a medium length of time ago was where George Lucas' home and growing commercial empire was based. Someone thought it would be a good idea to have Star Wars characters appear in the town's annual fall parade, and the rest was obscure nerd history.
The parade was hellish for the men in the costumes thanks to the 100-degree heat, but it was all worth it to give the public their first taste of a villain beloved for saying three sentences and then getting his ass kicked. Anyway, speaking of holiday specials ...
In 1970, Muppets creator Jim Henson worked on a Christmas special called The Great Santa Claus Switch, in which Ed Sullivan read a story to a bunch of disinterested children who clearly didn't know or care who he was.
The story finds Santa Claus getting kidnapped by monsters at the behest of their evil wizard boss, possibly as part of a scheme to exchange, or "switch," Santa with an imposter.
One of the wizard's less muscular henchmonsters had been punished to live in a cigar box and hand out smokes. Does he look familiar?
If you had a proper childhood, you'll recognize him as Gonzo the Great, performance artist extraordinaire.
In Santa Claus Switch, he's identified as a Frackle, and he has a generic bad guy personality. Later, when he was developing the character of Gonzo, Henson rooted through a box of his old puppets, picked the little purple guy "almost at random," and gave him a second life as one of the more iconic Muppets. He's not even the only Muppet from this special to get recycled. Thog, the big blue kidnapper of Santa, became a Muppet regular too. (Thig, the green kidnapper, got stuck with a poor lawyer and was eventually executed for his crimes against Christmas.) So let this be a valuable lesson either about using your old ideas in innovative new ways or in learning that your fans don't care if you recycle some old crap you had lying around.
Among a certain generation, the character of Ernest is famous for going to camp, going to jail, and eventually going straight to video. Good-natured but simple-minded, Ernest would find himself in wacky situations, shenanigans would ensue, and a villain's cartoonish evil scheme would eventually be foiled. It wasn't exactly high art, but he kept kids entertained for 90-minute stretches.
There were nine Ernest movies, and a TV show in the late '80s, but the character was created by an ad agency back in 1980 to promote a Kentucky amusement park. The park was a shithole undergoing renovations, so they needed to advertise all the features that would exist but couldn't be shown yet. In the commercial, Ernest visits/harasses his neighbor Vern by rattling off all the park's features into the camera. They were aiming for "intrusive but lovable," just like how many a domestic abuse incident report starts.
The ads weren't enough to save the park, but the agency liked the Ernest character. So they kept using him to promote other stuff, mostly other local businesses, but also a few national products like Coke and Chex. Every ad used the same format: Ernest would talk rapid-fire to Vern / the camera about the product's features, and Vern couldn't escape the sales pitch despite clearly wanting to because he was trapped in the horrible pseudo-reality of his commercial world. Of course, Vern was also the viewer, because in a way, aren't we all trapped?
The ads didn't reach the Los Angeles area, but Ernest inexplicably became popular enough to appear in the Indianapolis 500 parade. Shots of fans cheering him on caught the eye of Disney executives on their never-ceasing quest to own the totality of human output, and the eventual result was, somehow, a commercial empire. It's like if in 2027 the GEICO Gecko inexplicably started building a vast cinematic universe.
Between Batman and Robin, Superman and Jimmy Olsen, and of course Aquaman and Kelp Lad, there was a time in comics when seemingly every hero had to have a plucky young sidekick. Olsen's role in the Superman mythos is to give Superman a more relatable human companion, and to help him out despite sucking, just, so hard. Ur-Jimmy's first appearance was in a 1938 comic book ...
... but since he didn't get a name beyond "Office Boy," and because he looks like he just wandered out of a Hitler Youth meeting instead of sporting Olsen's signature red hair, we officially declare that punk to not be a True Jimmy. Jimmy Olsen's name was first uttered in 1940, on The Adventures Of Superman radio serial. (For our younger readers, you used to need a special box to listen to podcasts, and they'd only be available at a certain time.)
The young reporter was invented mostly so Superman would have someone to talk to on his adventures, because thought bubbles don't really come across in an audio-only medium. Olsen dutifully helped Superman battle the Yellow Mask, Atom Man, and the KKK, but only made a few appearances in the comics with his proper name. Then the Superman TV show debuted in 1953 and brought Olsen into the new medium, after which he became a comic staple, even receiving his own spinoffs. And then Zack Synder turned him into a CIA agent who gets shot in the head after one minute, because DC movies are stupid.
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