1. SEVERUS SNAPE
Harry Potter’s antagonistic, unkempt, and ultimately loyal potions master was inspired by J.K. Rowling’s severe high school chemistry teacher, John Nettleship. “I knew I was a strict teacher,” he told a reporter, “but I didn’t think I was that bad.”
2. WONDER WOMAN
Psychologist William Moulton Marston was a man of many talents: He invented an early lie detector test. He also debuted Wonder Woman in 1941 to teach children about women’s equality in an easy-to-digest format. His inspiration was a member of his family, Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger.
3. UNCLE BEN
Betty Crocker and Aunt Jemima are fictitious, but Uncle Ben was a real Houston rice farmer renowned for his quality grains. However, that’s not his rice in the box—nor is that his visage. The bow-tied man is said to be a Chicago maitre d’hotel named Frank Brown.
Zorro was likely based on the Mexican bandit Joaquin. Few facts exist about his life. Some say angry American miners raped his wife. Others say he was unfairly taxed for being Mexican. Regardless, something inspired Murrieta to form a band of hellraising desperadoes, and it made him a frontier legend.
5. CHEF BOYARDEE
Before becoming the head on ravioli cans, Ettore Boiardi was the head chef at New York City’s Plaza Hotel. In 1924, he opened a restaurant in Cleveland and began selling pasta sauce on the side. Four years later, he founded Chef Boyardee (changing the spelling so people would pronounce it correctly).
6. JESSICA RABBIT
Pin-up model Vikki Dougan—nicknamed “The Back” for her trademark low (and we mean low) backless dresses—never made it big in Hollywood, but her wardrobe (or lack thereof) was immortalized by the cartoon bombshell in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
7. THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA
In 1962, a 17-year-old Heloísa Pinheiro walked by a seaside bar, caught the eye of songwriters Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes, and inspired a bossa nova masterpiece. When Jobim later met his tall, tan, young, and lovely muse, he proposed to her. She declined. (Image credit: Sérgio (Savaman) Savarese)
8. DON DRAPER
Mad Men’s protagonist got his name and look from Draper Daniels, the creative director who helped invent the Marlboro Man at Chicago ad company Leo Burnett. Daniels, however, was a one-woman guy. Like a true ad man, he proposed to Myra Janco by giving her a business card stating his best qualities.
9. COSMO KRAMER
(Image credit: minds-eye)
When Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld sat down to write a sitcom, they realized the man living across the hall from David was a ready-made character. Kenny Kramer is a former comedian who loves golf, cigars, and hot tubs. He has no regular job, is an ordained minister, and once ran for New York City mayor.
The above article is reprinted with permission from the May 2015 issue of mental_floss magazine.