Real People Who Inspired Timeless Fictional Characters

It’s easy to forget that people rarely invent fictional characters out of the blue. They’re typically influenced by a real person in one way or another. Whether it’s their appearance, mannerisms or personality, people who create fiction take the aspects of real-life people in order to create a character of their own. Here’s a list of fictional characters you would’ve never guessed was based on a real person. Killer Ed Gein was the inspiration behind three horrifying villains.

Hiram Bingham III Was The Ultimate Explorer Before Indiana Jones


Photo Credits: Harry Ward Foote / Wikipedia

Before Indiana Jones, there was Hiram Bingham III. Bingham was an American explorer, academic, and politician. Although not a trained archeologist, he was a Yale professor teaching South American history in the early 1900s. It was during his time at Yale that he also discovered the lost Incan city of Machu Picchu.

The discovery of the city has been considered one of the most significant discoveries of the 20th century. Because of Bingham’s discoveries, adventures, and life, he has been credited with inspiring the character Indiana Jones, who was also a history professor, and a great explorer. They also wore strikingly similar hats.

Jeff Dowd Abides

Jeff Dowd Abides

Photo Credits: Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images for Roger Ebert’s Film Festival

If you couldn’t tell by his appearance, this man named Jeff Dowd is the direct inspiration behind the Coen Brother’s “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski. Although “The Dude’s” antics, lifestyle, and attitude on life may seem nothing short of fictional, they aren’t entirely made up.

Jeff Dowd is a producer and political activist who met the Coen brothers when they were promoting their first film Blood Simple. The two brothers were so captivated by Dowd that they ended up basing their character Jeffery Lebowski or “The Dude” for both his looks and personality traits. Dowd even goes by the name “The Dude” since sixth grade, when he was given the nickname.

Grave Robber Ed Gein Inspired Three Classic Killers


Photo Credits: Bettmann/Getty Images

Ed Gein, also known as the Butcher of Plainfield is an American serial killer and grave robber. He murdered at least two women and was known to steal bodies from graves only to fashion furniture and keepsakes from their body parts. His horrific acts helped to inspire not one but three fictional murderers.

The characters include Norman Bates from Robert Bloch’s novel and Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psycho. He also inspiredBuffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, and Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Each of these characters resembled some aspect of Gein’s life whether it was an obsession with their mother, making trophies from body parts, or being uncontrollably disturbed.

J.K. Rowling had her own Professor Snape when she was a student.

John Gray Or Dorian Gray?


Photo Credits: Bright Ant / YouTube

John Gray was a poet and peer of Irish playwright and author Oscar Wilde. Being inside of Wilde’s circle of friends, it is assumed that Wilde’s only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray was dedicated to John and was Wilde’s way of hinting his feelings at him. For starters, he kept the surname Gray, yet changed the first name to Dorian, most likely after the Greek ethnic group the Dorians who believed in male homosexuality.

John Gray was also a handsome male, which would make sense, as an inspiration to the character Dorian. John Gray later commented on the book noting that although there were some similarities, he didn’t think that Dorian was based on him. However, other people see it differently.

The Inspiration Behind Severus Snape Was A Real Professor


Photo Credits: AnswersVideo / YouTube

While J.K. Rowling was writing the character of Severus Snape for the Harry Potter series, she drew inspiration from someone she personally knew. The somewhat dark, yet ultimately misunderstood potions master was based on her former chemistry teacher, John Nettleship.

By the time the series was popular, people who knew Rowling and Nettleship began asking if there was a connection. She eventually admitted her inspiration to Nettleship who eventually came to love the character and say that he was proud to be the inspiration. Hopefully, he read the books to know the true nature of Severus Snape.

The Man Behind One Of Literature’s Most Iconic Pirates


Photo Credits: F. Hollyer/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Author of the novel Treasure Island, Robert Lewis Stevenson based his pirate character of Long John Silver on one of his best friends William Henley. Henley was a writer as well as an editor and had grown close with Stevenson. Stevenson’s stepson described Henley as a nice man with a big laugh and a bigger beard.

He also was missing a leg from a bout of Tuberculosis when he was younger. After Treasure Island was published, Stevenson finally told Henley that he was the inspiration behind Long John Silver not just because of his physicality, but for his ambition and attitude on life.

The Original Grouch


Photo Credits: New York Public Library / Wikipedia

John Elwes was a Member of Parliament in Great Britain for Berkshire between 1772 and 1784. He was a known grouch and after he inherited his uncle’s fortune became overly frugal with his money.

He was known to go to bed at sundown to save on candles, never bought new clothes, ate old food, walked in the rain, and a number of other things in the name of saving money. It was his frugality and all around negative demeanor that inspired the character of Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol.

Edith Head Was The Ultimate Fashion Designer


Photo Credits: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

You’d be right if you thought that Edith Head looked similar to the super-suit designer Edna Mode from the animated film The Incredibles. Edith Head was an incredibly successful Hollywood movie costume designer that was nominated for 35 Academy Awards over the course of her career.

Aside from Edna Mode resembling Edith, she also had her temperament which was incredibly sassy and confident. Basing the character of Edna Mode on the real-life Edith was a nod to all of Edith’s great work and the mark she left in Hollywood.

The Man Who Became The Protagonist And Antagonist


Photo Credits: Bettmann/Getty Images

Eugene Francois Vidocq was a French detective during the 19th century. He started out as a criminal that escaped from prison and spent years in hiding. He eventually started his own business, then became a detective for the French authorities.

During that time, he used his knowledge from his past criminal life to hunt down and capture other criminals. His actions and transition in life inspired both the protagonist Jean Valjean and the antagonist Inspector Javert from Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. His life story also helped inspire Edgar Allen Poe to write an early form of detective fiction.

The Real Popeye The Sailor Man


Photo Credits: AnswersVideo / YouTube

On January 17, 1929, Elzie Crisler Segar came out with her first Popeye comic in the daily King Features comic strip. Popeye is the pipe smoking, spinach eating, muscular bad boy that grew from a small hand-drawn cartoon into a television show, advertisements, and more.

However, Segar didn’t just come up with the idea for Popeye out of thin air. She admitted that it is loosely based on a man named Frank “Rocky” Fiegel from her hometown in Chester, Illinois. He was a pipe smoking tough guy as well and Segar ended up sending him money after her success with the cartoon.

See which comic book character was based on business tycoon Howard Hughes.

The Card Counter Behind 21


Photo Credits: DAVID X PRUTTING/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Back in the mid-1990s, Jeff Ma was a member of the MIT Blackjack Team. During that time, he was counting cards and eventually ran into trouble. He became the main inspiration for the character Kevin Lewis in the novel Bringing Down the House and Ben Campbell in the film 21.

Although many changes had been made about his story, at its core, it is the story of Jeff Ma. Today, Jeff Ma works as a Predictive Analyst Expert where he makes appearances on SportsCenter and is a contributing writer for

Iron Man Is The Comic Book Version Of Howard Hughes

howard hughes.jpg

Photo Credits: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Howard Hughes was a business tycoon, investor, film producer, pilot, and philanthropist. During the 20th century, he was known as one of the most successful icons of his time. In 1932, he established the Hughes Aircraft Company where he built new kinds of air technology, as well as set piloting records himself.

All of his accomplishments, as well as his strong personality traits, are reflected in the comic book character Tony Stark from Ironman. The comic first came out in 1963, back when Hughes was still alive and well, always inventing new technologies and constructing his empire.

The Girl That Fell Down The Rabbit Hole


Photo Credits: Lewis Carroll/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1862, Charles Dodgson, also known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, was on a boat to Oxford with his good friend Henry Liddell and his three young daughters including a ten-year-old Alice Liddell. He entertained the girls by telling them stories of a fantasy world and even named the main character Alice.

Alice particularly liked the stories and asked Carroll to write them down for her. He eventually wrote the manuscript for “Alice’s Adventures Underground” and sent it to her. The manuscript found its way to author George McDonald who revised it for publication and changed the title to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The Story of Moby Dick Wasn’t Fiction After All


Photo Credits: Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images

For the most part, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is based on fact, regarding the nature of the whaling industry during the 19th century. However, the part about Captain Ahab and his battle with the white whale Moby Dick can be seen as just a fictional motif.

Yet, that wasn’t necessarily the case. Melville based his whale on a white whale called Mocha Dick. That whale was also a fighter and was unusually large and aggressive. It’s assumed that this whale was Melville’s inspiration for his story Moby Dick. Supposedly, Mocha Dick was killed in 1838, although there were still sightings reported in the following years.

Can you believe a real person inspired Dirty Harry?

Hester Prynne Isn’t Completely Made-Up


Photo Credits: Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

Hester Prynne, the main character of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel The Scarlet Letter had her fair share of humiliation and torment. As much as we don’t want to believe it, there was a real woman who lived to inspire this famous literary character.

Her name was Elizabeth Pain, and like Hester, she also had a child out of wedlock. She was later accused of murdering the child, was acquitted, but was convicted of child negligence and forced to pay a fine and was flogged. It is believed that she inspired the character because if you read the ending of the novel, it’s describing Pain’s grave in Boston.

Make My Day, Punk


Photo Credits: Nancy Wong / Wikipedia

Real-life Detective David Toschi spent 34 years with the San Francisco Police Department, working on more than 100 homicide cases. One of these cases was that of the Zodiac killer during the 1960s, which he spent a total of nine years working on. During this time, he became one of San Francisco’s best-known officers.

His dedication to his work, as well as his quirks, made him into an adapted film character. While Steve McQueen copied his style in the film Bullitt, he also inspired the role of Harry Callahan from Dirty Harry. Although Harry’s policing methods may have been on the more questionable side of things, it is clear that Toschi was a direct influence.

Someone Is Whacky Enough To Have Inspired Kramer


Photo Credits: Bobby Bank/WireImage

In the show Seinfeld, Jerry Seinfeld lives next door to the hilariously crazy character Cosmo Kramer who also happens to be friends with George and Elaine. He’s known for his unkempt hair, constant rants, and intricate schemes to make money.

Although it seems that there isn’t anyone that could be like Cosmo Kramer, there is. Cosmo Kramer was based on a neighbor of the show’s co-creator Larry David. Kenny Kramer lived across from David for years. Kramer is a stand-up comedian that is a fan of golf, hot tubs, and other classic Cosmo Kramer trademarks.

The Robin Hood Of Mexico


Photo Credits: Thomas Armstrong / Wikipedia

In 1919, pulp writer Johnson McCulley created the fictional character of Zorro, a suave and skilled vigilante that fought to protect the lower-class and indigenous people of California. Armed with a sword, cape, and mask, he continually evades authorities while there is a bounty on his head.

It’s believed that this fictional character is based on Joaquin Murrieta. Murrieta assembled a gang during the 1850s to avenge his assaulted wife and protect the weak, innocent, and Mexicans from the injustices caused by those involved in the California Gold Rush. He soon became a legend among the community and was housed by them when the California state legislature put a bounty on his life.

Pooh Bear’s Best Friend


Photo Credits: Bettmann/Getty Images

In 1926, English author A.A. Milne wrote and published the children’s book Winnie-the-Pooh. While nothing about an anthropomorphic teddy bear seems based on reality, the young boy Christopher Robin is a real person. Christopher is A.A. Milne’s son. Milne’s wrote the books about Christopher’s adventures with his teddy bear and dedicated it to him.

After WWI, Milne moved his family to Ashdown forest where he and Christopher would go on long walks together, usually accompanied by some of Christopher’s favorite stuffed animals. His son’s interactions with the animals inspired him to write about it. They started out as poems but grew into the stories we know today.

Tintin Isn’t Just An Animated Character


Photo Credits: dzveroo007 / YouTube

In 1928, 15-year-old Palle Huld from Denmark won a competition in honor of Around The World In 80 Days author Jules Verne. He was awarded a 46-day trip around the world, completely unaccompanied. During travels, he went to England, Scotland, Japan, Korea, China, the Soviet Union, and more.

Upon his return to Copenhagen, he was greeted by a crowd of thousands of people to welcome him home from his travels. Palle Huld’s adventures, in turn, inspired the Belgian cartoonist Hergé to come up with his character Tintin, a young Belgian reporter and adventurer who travels the world with his little dog Snowy. The comics were later made into the animated movie The Adventure of Tintin directed by Steven Spielberg.