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The Real-life Inspirations for 17 Simpsons Characters

Neatorama presents a guest post from actor, comedian, and voiceover artist Eddie Deezen. Visit Eddie at his website. What can you say about The Simpsons?

The incredible animated series is currently in its 23rd season! The Simpsons has given us dozens of clever, original characters. Every Simpsons fan has his or her favorite character. Let's take a look at the original, real-life inspirations behind several characters on The Simpsons.

BART The original breakout star of the series, Bart's name is an anagram of the word "brat." Bart's character was based on another very mischievous cartoon character, Dennis the Menace. Creator Matt Groening said he was "always disappointed" that the Dennis the Menace TV show character wasn't as mischievous as the comic strip.

HOMER Without question, Homer is the most popular, beloved character in the history of The Simpsons. Homer's character evolved from an irascible, grouchy father to the lovable, bumbling buffoon who captured the heart of every Simpsons fan. According to Dan Castellaneta (who voices Homer), the original inspiration for Homer's voice was the greatest character actor in movie history: Walter Matthau.

MAYOR QUIMBY Springfield's lascivious, girl-chasing mayor, Mayor Quimby was based on our very charming (and very womanizing) U.S. president John F. Kennedy.

BARNEY GUMBLE

Gumble is Homer's best pal and the town drunk. Barney was based on a character from The Jackie Gleason Show of the 1960s called Crazy Guggenheim (played by actor Frankie Fontaine). Crazu Guggenheim was a rum-soaked drunken character who would chat with Jackie in comedy skits. Jackie played the bartender, the straight man to Crazy.

CHIEF WIGGUM Chief Wiggun is Springfield's inept Chief of Police. The Chief's voice was based on the wonderful, legendary movie star Edward G. Robinson.

TROY MCCLURE

Doug McClure, Troy McClure, and Troy Donahue

The quintessential cheesy, grade B movie actor, Troy McClure is actually a combination of two grade B movie stars: Troy Donahue and Doug McClure. In real life, Doug McClure was not offended by the character, but flattered instead. His daughter often called him "Troy."

PROFESSOR JOHN FRINK

Springfield's resident mad scientist was originally scripted to be an evil scientist. But during his first reading of the character, actor Hank Azaria ad-libbed his impression of Jerry Lewis' character in The Nutty Professor. Everyone loved Hank's interpretation and his Nutty Professor slant on Frink stuck. (Jerry Lewis later guest starred on a Simpsons episode, playing Professor Frink's father.)

RAINIER WOLFCASTLE Springfield's overwrought action hero/movie star was based (as if you didn't know) on actor/politician Arnold Schwarzeneggar.

APU

Apu runs Springfield's local Kwik-E Mart. This very ethnic character was based on Peter Seller's character in one of his best films, The Party.

MOE THE BARTENDER Moe Szyslak, the very cranky local bartender and one of Homer's trusted pals. Moe was based on the voice of acting great Al Pacino. (Moe's favorite film is The Godfather.)

ITCHY AND SCRATCHY

Bart and Lisa love watching the ultra-violent Itchy and Scratchy cartoons on TV. Itchy and Scratchy are based on the popular Oscar-winning MGM cartoon pair Tom and Jerry.

MONTGOMERY BURNS

Olav Thon, Montgomery Burns, and Fred Olsen

Mr. Burns, Homer's boss, is the richest man in Springfield (or the world). Mr. Burns was based on Olav Thon, a Norwegian businessman who reputedly took over a couple of businesses in his town and shut them down. Also, Frederick Olsen, a reclusive millionaire, who owned several companies, including Timex, is mentioned as a Mr. Burns influence. And Matt Groening's high school teacher, Mr. Bailey.

DR. NICK Dr. Nick is Springfield's resident "quack" doctor. Dr. Nick was based on Elvis Presley's pill-dispensing (probably quack) doctor George Nichopoulos, whose medications probably expedited the King's tragic death. Elvis and hos entourage always called Dr. Nichopoulos "Dr. Nick."

OTTO THE BUS DRIVER

Otto Mann was based on Guns 'n' Roses guitarist Slash. Both Otto and Slash have long black curly hair and both collect snakes.

NELSON MUNTZ Nelson is the bully in Bart and Lisa's class. Nelson was based on Judd Nelson's character in the movie The Breakfast Club. He is also reputed to be partly based on Keanu Reeves' character in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.

DR. JULIUS HIBBERTS Springfield's always-laughing doctor and resident African-American character was based on Bill Cosby's character Dr. Cliff Huxtable, from his TV series The Cosby Show.

KRUSTY THE CLOWN

Krusty the clown is Springfield's TV star, a blasé, shlocky, Catskills-based comic. Krusty was based on a real-life clown named Rusty Nail, a semi-funny, semi-scary clown Matt Groening used to watch as a child. Krusty's biography on the show was based on comedian Jackie Mason, a world-weary Jewish comedian whose father was an Orthodox rabbi.


Groening has said publicly that his teacher "Mr. Bailey" inspired Mr. Burns, but I'm not so sure. Mr. Bailey - Portland, Oregon Lincoln High School journalism teacher David Bailey, who is actually still teaching - has a bit of an evil old conservative attitude that could possibly be interpreted as a little bit Burns-esque. Just a little bit, though. Dave Bailey is no part evil industrialist. He was also quite young in the 1970s when Groening was his student.

I've seen a picture of Mr. Bailey from the 1970s. He looked just like Principal Skinner, and he's still a confirmed bachelor who loves his school more than anything else in the world. I'd be shocked if I found out that he didn't live with his mother back when Groening was one of his students.

There is no doubt in my mind that Principal Skinner is David Bailey.
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I never watched The Simpson's for the first few years... for some reason, seeing their images plastered all over various products, endorsing them with a bit of sarcasm just didn't appeal to me. I grew up on the rounded-soft-cutesy animated images, such as Bugs Bunny, Goofy and Barney Rubble, and the images of Homer and Bart were a bit "edgy" for me.

Then my surroundings started changing. I noticed people around me were beginning to worry and complain about life in general. A mood that I see even more deepened today.

As The Simpsons became more and more popular, I was finally exposed to watching an episode at a friends house.... then I caught another episode, then another. I started seeing a correlation between what the characters were expressing and the anguish that people in real life were beginning to feel. The Simpsons seemed to be a mirror for expression. I don't know if the public was setting the direction for the story lines or if the characters were changing the views of the people watching them. All I know is that people seemed to relate.

It was very interesting reading Eddie's article comparing who the characters were best modeled after, and what has kept The Simpsons on the air for all these years. Maybe I'll go back and watch some of the earlier episodes and re-examine what place they had made in society back then.
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What you have to keep in mind is there are a lot of different influences in play. There are the names, which Matt based on his family like his father Homer, mother Margaret, sisters maggie and lisa and also the street names in Portland such as lovejoy, kearney, flanders, etc. Then there are the looks and occupations and general characterizations which were based on other people. By the time the voice actors got to them they were already defined, but then they may have based their voice and mannerisms on someone else, so there are lots of answers for each character not just one, so everybody is right!
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Very cool post Eddie. I did not know a lot of those although some were pretty easy to see who they were based on. An item of interest is Barney being based on Frankie Fontaine. Not only did Fontaine play a loveable drunk but he also had an incredible singing voice. One episode had Homer and some of his friends forming a band called The B-Sharps (story was semi-based on The Beatles)and we learn that Barney also has an incredible singing voice much in the same style as Fontaine. Very cool subject. Thanks a bunch!!
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In the original Tracey Ullman shorts and for the first several eposides, Homer's voice is a dead-on Walter Matthau impression. It's a little jarring to see them now...

@Steve angstrom: Hank Azaria has specifically credited Pacino as the inspiration for Moe. He was playing a lowlife character in a play in Hollywood, in which he was doing a Pacino impression, when he auditioned. They had him tweak it only slightly, raising the pitch a little. However, the visual design very well might have some Rich Hall. I can see a resemblance...

Incidentally, this article references Doug McClure in the present tense, though he passed away in 1995.
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I could have guessed maybe half of those pairings, but never knew that Walter Matthau was the inspiration behind Homer's voice/character. As always, good stuff, Eddie. Long live your articles....and The Simpsons!
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also Dr. Hibbert is not the only african american in the series, nor would I even say the most regularly appearing - that title would of course go to carl carlson so if anyone is the "resident african american" in the simpsons it would be him. And there are smaller characters that are african american as well including dr. hibbert's wife, the occasional school child, and others.
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I'm pretty sure that Moe Szyslak is based on comedian Rich Hall. This has been mentioned many times and is in the wiki entry for the origing of the character. He was a friend of the writers at the time.
Watch a clip of Rich Hall and you'll notice the extreme resemblance.

It's certainly more plausible than Al Pacino!
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