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Characters you never knew were based on real people from Miss Piggy to Popeye
December 13, 2021
Come to the Cabaret…as a new production of the hit musical has just opened in London.
It is set in 1931 Berlin, a sexually-charged haven of decadence in which the legendary Sally Bowles performs at the infamous Kit Kat Klub.
Sally – made famous by Liza Minnelli in the 1972 film – is being played by Jessie Buckley, while Eddie Redmayne also stars.
But did you know Sally was based on a real person? And from Scrooge to Miss Piggy, many other famous fictional characters have had their roots in real people, as the Daily Star's own NADINE LINGE reveals…
Cabaret is based on the writings of Christopher Isherwood, drawing on his experiences in 1930s Berlin and his relationship with 19-year-old cabaret singer Jean Ross, aka Sally.
She was an upper-middle-class English girl, expelled from boarding school who sang in the city’s many clubs. She had affairs, an abortion, and was pregnant with her daughter when she later became a war correspondent.
It’s a festive classic, and Charles Dickens based his miser from A Christmas Carol on the real-life politician and eccentric John Elwes. He was the MP for Berkshire between 1772 and 1784, born into a wealthy family of skinflints.
Elwes went to bed when it got dark to save on candles, walked in the rain so he didn’t have to pay for a coach, ate mouldy food and wore clothes so ragged people thought he was a beggar.
The inspiration for the glamorous porker was American jazz star Peggy Lee, famous for her song Fever.
Muppets designer Bonnie Erickson even gave the puppet the original name Miss Piggy Lee – both as a joke and in tribute to Lee – but the surname was ditched after the unimpressed singer threatened to sue.
Sexy Angelia Jolie played the adventurer in two films which were based on the popular Tomb Raider video game series, with Alicia Vikander reprising the role.
But the original character was inspired by American palaeontologist Sue Hendrickson who discovered the 67-million-year-old remains of a Tyrannosaurus Rex in 1990. Among her other discoveries were whale fossils in Peru.
Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly
The musical Chicago, which inspired the 2002 film starring Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta Jones as a pair of sexy female murderers, was based on a 1926 play created by Maurine Dallas Watkins.
Watkins was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune and covered the trials of Belva Gaertner and Beulah Annan. Both women were accused of shooting men they were having affairs with, but both were acquitted.
Created by the Belgian artist Hergé, Tintin was a globe-trotting teenage reporter who did good deeds and foiled criminals with the help of his trusty dog, Snowy.
He was inspired by the Danish actor Palle Huld, who was 15 when he won a competition to recreate Phileas Fogg’s circumnavigation of the globe in the novel Around the World in 80 Days.
He managed the 1928 feat in just 44 days and his adventure was widely publicised – Tintin was published the following year.
No idea whether the real copper who was Clint Eastwood’s inspiration for Harry Callahan ever asked a villain to make his day, but Dave Toschi was certainly a top inspector with the San Francisco Police Department.
He was the chief investigator in the Zodiac serial killer case and 1971’s Dirty Harry drew upon that as Callahan seeks out a similar vicious psychopath. But unlike Harry, Toschi never managed to catch the culprit – the Zodiac killer has never been identified.
Harry Potter’s Hogwarts professor was based on one of author JK Rowling’s own school teachers, John Nettleship. He taught chemistry at Wyedean School in Gloucestershire, while when we first meet Snape, he is the Potions professor.
John, who died in 2011, was unaware of the connection until the films came out and later said: “I was horrified when I first found out. I knew I was a strict teacher but I didn’t think I was that bad.”
The real Frank Abagnale inspired the 2002 movie Catch Me If You Can, with Leonardo DiCaprio playing him on screen.
The New Yorker assumed multiple identities to pull off a series of frauds in the 1960s including that of a doctor and lawyer, but most famously as a Pan Am pilot in order to get free air travel. Now 73, he runs a consultancy firm but the truth of some of his tales has been questioned.
There’s no way the pipe-chomping, spinach-scoffing sailor could be a real person right? Wrong. The creator of Popeye, Elzie Crisler Segar, lived in the same US town as a barman called Frank "Rocky" Fiegel.
Fiegel always smoked a pipe, had a jutting chin and was constantly getting into fights, often taking on multiple opponents. Fiegel is widely believed to be the inspiration for Popeye, and his grave even features an image of the character.