Top 10 Real-Life Inspirations for Famous Animated Characters

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Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney. Is there a person alive today that doesn’t know who they are? Unless they live somewhere secluded and don’t speak a word of English, we really doubt it. However, we bet you didn’t know that the inspiration for Mickey came from Walt Disney’s own pet mouse. Walt decided to give him a pair of pants and gloves before setting the mouse off to build his billion-dollar empire. Now, Mickey Mouse isn’t on this list, but can you guess who inspired cartoon legends such as Tintin, Betty Boop and Snow White?

10. Harley Quinn – Arleen Sorkin

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Arleen Sorkin was an actress on the never-ending soap opera Days of Our Lives and was also a long-time friend of Paul Dini, a writer for several Warner Bros. and DC Comics animated series. One day Sorkin received a surprising call from Dini, who had seen an episode in which Sorkin was dressed as a court jester. The scene was a dream sequence – something the soap opera liked to do often. Dini contacted Sorkin about it, admiring her performance. The two then came up with DC Comics favorite anti-heroine Harley Quinn, a cute and somewhat twisted addition to the DC Universe. She was the yin to The Joker’s yang.  Harley Quinn’s name was a play on the word “harlequin” (meaning: a clown and/or a buffoon) and Arleen Sorkin’s name. Sorkin was so flattered by the gesture that she didn’t think twice about becoming a voice-over artist for the character on Batman: The Animated Series back in 1992.

9. Snow White – Marge Belcher Champion

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Marge Belcher Champion may not have been where the idea of Snow White came from, but her appearance influenced the sweet and wholesome look that Snow is known for. In fact, Marge was a model the animators used to imitate when drawing the first Disney princess. She seemed to be the apple of Walt Disney’s eye with her beautiful almond shaped-eyes, good manners and kind spirit, and all that at only 14 years of age. Walt thought that little Marge was not only perfect for Snow White, but a few years later he had animators craft her again, but this time as The Blue Fairy in Pinocchio.

8. The Joker – Conrad Veidt

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The Joker is one of the most iconic figures in comic book and movie history, but where did he come from? He’s said to have been influenced by a movie character, Gwynplaine, from the late 1920’s. The silent movie was called; The Man Who Laughed and was based on a book by the same name that centered around 1690. It’s about a nobleman who offended King James II and was sentenced to death by iron maiden (a torture device that consisted of a spike covered interior) whilst his son, Gwynplaine, suffered the sins of his father in the form of surgical disfigurement. Dr. Hardquannone (another influence for Joker’s girlfriend, perhaps?), mutilates him by fixing a permanent smile on his face to “laugh at his fool of a father forever”. The permanent grin was the first influence for The Joker and soon after, the playing card was added. Et voila – The Joker was born.

 7. Eric Cartman – Archie Bunker

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Matt Stone and Trey Parker, best friends and the two geniuses behind the controversial series South Park, admitted that the show is filled with influences from their upbringing in Colorado. Among these influences were scandalous shows like All in the Family, which the pair watched as kids. The chauvinistic Archie Bunker was the biggest inspiration for 8-year-old foul-mouthed Eric Cartman. Matt stated in an interview that the friendship between Eric Cartman and Kyle Broflovski was greatly influenced by the relationship between Archie Bunker and Michael Stivic, thus making it the most politically-incorrect bromance in animated history.

 6. Popeye The Sailor – Frank “Rocky” Fiegel

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Elzie Crisler Segar, the creator of Popeye, got his influence for the pipe-smoking spinach-chomping sailor man in the form of Frank “Rocky” Fiegel when he was just a boy. E.C. Segar found his inspiration for Popeye, Olive Oil and Bluto in residents of his hometown Chester, Illinois. Frank Fiegel was a one-eyed sailor with incredible strength and a sturdy build, which earned him the nickname “Rocky”. Fiegel impressed Segar so much that the young cartoonist took to the funny pages with his “Thimble Theatre” comic strip on Jan. 17, 1929. Long after his skit in the funny pages ended, Popeye was still alive and well appearing in his own cartoon show, commercials and a movie that featured the legendary Robin Williams.

5. Tintin – Palle Huld

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Another cartoon character that entered the hearts of children and grownups alike back in 1929, was a red-haired boy named Tintin and his white dog, Snowy. Georges Rémi, aka Hergé, (the creator of Tintin) was a Belgian artist during this time and got his inspiration from Palle Huld, a truly remarkable boy of only 15. Huld had been the winner of a competition run by a Danish newspaper in 1928, where applicants were challenged to reenact Phileas Fogg’s journey from the 1873 novel “Around the World in 80 Days” by train and passenger liner. Tintin also became a firm favorite with his trips around the world and the sense of realism that Hergé brought to the comic. Tintin even got his own 3D movie in 2011, directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson. Not bad for a fictional teenage boy and his fox terrier!

4. The Little Mermaid – Alyssa Milano

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You probably know Alyssa Milano as little Samantha on Who’s The Boss or as Phoebe from Charmed, but did you know that this bright-eyed, bushy-tailed girl was the inspiration for Ariel in The Little Mermaid? Don’t worry, very few people do. While Sherri Stoner, a writer and producer for Disney back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, delivered some inspirational elements to Ariel, she was hardly the sole motivation. It was Alyssa’s lively nature and beautiful big eyes that inspired the look and personality of the popular mermaid back in 1989. As for Ariel’s flaming red hair – that was inspired by astronaut Sally Ride.

 3. Betty Boop – Helen Kane

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“Boop-oop-a-doop!” It was the catchphrase that started it all. Now, what if we told you that along with that catchphrase, Helen Kane’s looks and voice were “stolen” for a certain bobble-headed sex-kitten of the 1930’s? At least, that’s what she’d like you to believe. Nobody knows what the real story was, because the internet is filled with he-said she-said accounts, but it seems as Betty Boop’s star rose, Helen’s crashed and burnt. In 1933, Paramount Pictures was sued by Kane for $250 000. Kane’s reason? Betty had apparently stolen her “boop-oop-a-doop and loopy” style. Various performers of the time testified, including Esther Jones’ (aka Baby Esther, another Betty Boop inspiration) manager, claimed to have used “boop-oop-a-doop” long before Helen Kane, and that Kane had stolen the catchphrase from Esther’s cabaret show in the first place. Kane lost the lawsuit and was soon forgotten, unlike her so-called “impersonator”, Betty Boop, who still lives on in the merchandise of teens and adults alike.

 2. Jessica Rabbit – Vikki Dougan

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The year was 1957. Vikki Dougan was the talk of the town, the girlfriend of Frank Sinatra and It-Girl of the social scene. She was a sexpot in her backless numbers that scored her the nickname “The Back”. Gangsters were often quoted saying things like; “Vikki Dougan makes the best exits in town!” She oozed self-confidence and sex appeal, making the women jealous and exciting the men of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Then in the 1988 film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Jessica Rabbit – Roger’s incredibly sexy wife – was created with Dougan as the inspiration. She had long red hair and wore a dress slit right down her spine. She became a sensation and was one of the spiciest characters ever penned. Her famous quote explains it all: “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.”

1. Elmer Fudd – Robert “Believe it or Not!” Ripley

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Believe it or not, Elmer “I’m hunting wabbits” Fudd (formerly known as Egghead) was inspired by Robert Ripley. Famous for his strange egg-shaped head and speech impediment, Ripley inspired Warner Bros. when they created the bald rabbit-hunting nemesis of Bugs Bunny in the late 1930’s for their series of animated cartoons called Looney Toons. Ripley even modeled as Fudd for an episode called “Believe it or Else,” where Fudd is seen sporting spats and a loud suit – Ripley’s trademark outfit. Elmer Fudd, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and others were an absolute hit with the audience and so was Robert Ripley’s show, Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Ripley would feature people on his show that could do incredible things and then tell his audience stories that awed and amazed them. Unfortunately, Ripley’s downfall was his love of alcohol and he would anger Murray Roth, the show’s producer, because he kept mashing up the scripts in his drunken stupor. Elmer Fudd, on the other hand, still lives on children’s networks such as Boomarang today.


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1 Comment

  1. Marge Belcher became half of a successful dance team, with husband Gower Champion–appearing on stage, TV and in fims.

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