5 Meetings Between Famous Figures That Sound Like Bad Fan Fiction

Mark Twain and Helen Keller walk into a bar...
5 Meetings Between Famous Figures That Sound Like Bad Fan Fiction

If you don’t know how to write stories for real, the easiest way to do it is to take two established characters, imagine their meeting and just see what happens. This is the basis of vast genres of fan fiction. This is the basis of movie cinematic universes (which are, really, just another kind of fan fiction). This is the basis of long-running TV series — making them yet another kind of fan fiction, a pretty good kind. 

The thing is, famous people really do meet in real life. And sometimes, it really does sound like someone invented the story by just grabbing two names out of a hat. 

Neil Armstrong and Edmund Hillary Teamed Up to Go to the North Pole

You might say Armstrong and Hillary are the two most famous explorers of the 20th century. They were the first person to reach the Moon and the first person to summit Mount Everest (or each were tied with someone else for that title, depending on how strict you are). Other than both being “explorers,” they had very different occupations. Hillary was a lifelong mountain climber, while Armstrong was an aeronautical engineer and then a test pilot. If each tried the other man’s goal, disaster would have ensued. 

Still, in 1985, the two teamed up to travel together, heading toward one other landmark destination: the North Pole. This was a deliberately engineered crossover event. The expedition leader, a man named Mike Dunn, sought them both out as well as two other people whom he considered the world’s greatest explorers. One was Steve Fossett, who’d circumnavigated the globe solo in a hot air balloon (as well as — in separate voyages — by plane and by boat). The other was Patrick Morrow, the first person to climb the tallest peak on each of the seven continents.

They flew to the North Pole, rather than trekking there by sled. This was still a bit of an adventure, involving traveling from island to island and getting snowbound in a hut for three days during the return voyage. This Avengers-level team-up must sound like a some sort of elaborate publicity stunt, except for the small fact that the media knew nothing about it at the time and only learned of it years later. Did a fifth explorer come along as well, and did the other men have to eat him? We have no way of knowing. 

Mark Twain Got Helen Keller’s Education Paid For

In the improv game “Blind Date,” the host asks the audience for the names of two famous people. Two performers, who were outside the room and out of earshot, are then each given a slip of paper with one name. They act out a dinner scene, in which each drops hints about who they are and must guess their date’s identity.

One time, when my improv troupe did a show, the audience offered up the suggestions of Genghis Khan and Hellen Keller. The first performer dutifully entered the scene with her eyes closed and miming walking with a cane. “Ah,” said her scene partner, in an awful Chinese accent. “So good to meet you, Herren Kerrer.” This was actually a caliber of comedy above what we typically managed. The audience applauded, and as the cheers died down, the triumph was replaced with a sense of utter horror as we realized what we’d set up. Because the scene had to continue, and Helen Keller had to interact with Genghis Khan and guess who he was... without being able to speak.

Helen Keller Mark Twain


Left: Helen Keller. Right: Riverboat Captain Genghis Khan.

All of this is my way of introducing how Keller is kind of a default answer when people think of famous historical figures. She never did meet Genghis Khan, but she did meet another default historical figure, Mark Twain — even though he was dead by the time her career started and during the final 58 years of her life. In fact, Twain may be why Keller had a career at all.

The two met when Keller was 14 and Twain was a writer just shy of 60 years old. A friend got them together for lunch. I won’t call it a date, but the way Keller would later describe it, you can sure imagine someone in love: “He gave me a thrill, and a thrill is the most exquisite thing one can give another. When his name appears on a page under my hand, a quiver of expectancy runs through me.”

Twain then wrote to Henry Rogers, one of the heads of Standard Oil, saying, “It won’t do for America to allow this marvelous child to retire from her studies because of poverty.” He got Rogers to pay for Keller to attend Radcliffe. She went on to be a writer and a political activist — if Rogers knew she’d end up campaigning for socialism, maybe he’d never have backed her. She even learned to speak. If only we knew that during that improv scene, so much pain could have been avoided. 

The Joyous Meetup Between the Two Automatic Rifle Makers

Mikhail Kalashnikov designed famous assault rifles, including the AK-47 (which is often simply called a Kalashnikov). Eugene Stoner also designed famous assault rifles, including the AR-15. Naturally, the two had some shared interests. But they had little chance of meeting, because Kalashnikov was a Soviet general, while Stoner designed guns in the United States. An iron curtain separated the two countries, and iron is stronger than lead. 

Then, at the end of the 1980s, barriers crumbled. The Smithsonian Institution invited Kalashnikov to the United States, and when he came in May 1990, Stoner met him at the airport. 

Eugene Stoner Mikhail Kalashnikov

via Guns and Ammo

Crazily, the stiff guy in the suit is the American, while the cool guy in leather is the 70-year-old Soviet.

They must have had lots to discuss. Like, maybe Kalashnikov, who’d lent his name to his famous rifle, asked why Stoner remained relatively anonymous. Maybe Stoner replied, “I didn’t invent the gun myself, it was more of a team effort.” Or maybe he said, “We can’t call the gun a ‘stoner.’ Stoner already means something in English.” Maybe he said, “Given some of the stuff AR-15s are going to the be associated with, I’m cool with people not dropping my name every time they mention it.”

Or maybe he said, “Who cares how much of a household name I am? The important thing is my work made me fabulously rich.” During the meeting, Stoner revealed that he was a millionaire. Kalashnikov did not understand what that word meant

The Bonnie and Clyde Fan Letter to Henry Ford

A good car is fast and reliable. No one knows that better than bank robbers (or, robbers of small stores and funeral homes, to summarize what Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow really were). And so, in 1934, Henry Ford received the following letter:

Bonnie Clyde Ford letter

Henry Ford Museum

“While I still have got breath in my lungs,” it said. “I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusivly when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got ever other car skinned and even if my business hasen’t been strickly legal it don’t hurt enything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8.” 

It was signed “Clyde Champion Barrow.”

No one has ever been able to definitively authenticate the letter. But the Henry Ford Museum now displays it, and the timeline on it seems to add up. It was postmarked April 10th from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the duo seemed to have been around there at that point. One month after that, police fired 130 rounds into their car, killing them both. The car was a Ford V8. 

The Time Einstein and Charlie Chaplin Went to the Theatre

Throw Einstein into any tale, and it sounds made-up. When people saw promo photos of Oppenheimer showing off Albert Einstein, they thought he was being shoved in as desperately as Michael Keaton in The Flash. But the Oppenheimer story is filled with famous scientists, so Einstein is rightfully at home there. What if, instead, we tell you about Einstein at a Los Angeles film premiere — in 1931, when Einstein wasn’t even living in the United States but was still in Germany?

Einstein did indeed appear at this premiere, a premiere of the Charlie Chaplin film City Lights. First, Einstein toured Universal Studios. He met Chaplin there, the actor invited the scientist to dinner, and they popped up at the premiere together. 

Albert Einstein (left) and Charlie Chaplin at the Hollywood premiere of City Lights, January 1931

Photoplay Publishing

It’s a movie about a blind girl and a rich benefactor, but not based on Keller and Rogers.

You probably wouldn’t even recognize Chaplin, who it turns out had a toothbrush mustache for his Tramp character and some other roles but didn’t wear one all the time. He also looks a bit older than his 41 years there. 

Which made Einstein ponder why time seemed to flow differently for Chaplin. Then he looked at the title of the film, and one word leaped out at him — light. “Eureka!” he cried, and immediately opened a portal to 25 years in the past, to his blackboard and his lab. 

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