We did this back in 2017. Here we are, back again, with all new entries.
Below is a list of characters from popular culture. But how
did they become popular? See the box on the right? All the characters
began life in one of those media. See if you can match 'em up. Be
warned: there isn't a one-to-one match up, meaning exactly one character started
in a TV show, etc.
The Lone Ranger
The Mighty Casey
Stuart (Stu) Bailey
Mack the Knife
Bambi. Novel. Austrian novelist Felix Salten (an enthusiastic hunter, by the way) wrote Bambi: A Life in the Woods. It
was more or less what we would today call a Young Adult novel. Published in 1922 and became an immediate success. British
novelist John Galsworthy called it a "little masterpiece." The Disney
film version came out in 1942. By the way, Thumper the Rabbit broke
into show biz through the movies. He is part of the Disneyfication process, not appearing in the book.
a legendary (though very real) hero, the first African-American U.S.
Marshal in the west. A biography of Reeves suggested that he inspired
the Lone Ranger, but there is zero evidence that the creators of the
show had ever heard of Reeves.
Radar O'Reilly. Novel. The very first character to appear
in the novel MASH by Richard Hooker (real name Hiester Richard Hornberger Jr.) is
Radar O'Reilly of Ottumwa, Iowa. In the movie he was played by Gary
Burghoff, who went on to repeat the role in the TV series. The only
other actor I could think of who brought a character from the flicks to
the small screen was Richard Widmark with Madigan, but it turns out there have been others.
Jimmy Olsen. Radio. The eternal cub reporter, Superman's Pal, first appeared on The Adventures of Superman
radio show in 1940. He was created basically so the hero would have
someone to talk to. We all need that from time to time, don't we? Jimmy made it into the comics a year later. Since then
he has been in TV and movies as well as having his own comic book.
Raylan Givens. Novel. The Deputy U.S. Marshal first appeared as a supporting character in Elmore Leonard's Pronto. He also showed up in Riding the Rap,
before getting a starring role in the short story "Fire in the Hole."
This story, in which Givens is punished for an iffy killing by being
assigned to his home state of Kentucky, inspired the TV series Justified.
The producers were so dedicated to making a work in the Elmore Leonard
mold that they gave out bracelets to the crew that read What Would Elmore Do? Most critics agreed that they succeeded and Leonard was inspired to write Raylan,
supposedly a novel, but essentially designed to be broken up into three
episodes of the series. In fact, two parts were used that way.
The Mighty Casey. Newspaper. Ernest L. Thayer's poem
"Casey at the Bat," first appeared in a San Francisco newspaper on June
8, 1888. It happened to be read by Arch Gunter, a visiting novelist nd
playwright. He was so taken with the work that he clipped it out. When
he arrived in New York he shared it with a theatrical producer who
asked his star comedian, DeWolf Hopper, to memorize it and recite it
during that evening's performance. Thus Hopper began a new career as
the prime interpreter of the poem for forty years, on stage, radio,
records, and movies. It does make you wonder what minor masterpieces are buried in a century of newspapers....
Lamont Cranston. Magazine. I just know I'm going to get an argument over this one. Bear with me. In 1930 the Street and Smith company decided to create a radio show to promote their Detective Story Magazine. The narrator was a mysterious character called The Shadow.
soon listeners were going to the newsstand and asking for "the Shadow
magazine," which didn't exist. There is a modern MBA rule that says:
Let your customer tell you what business you are in. Street and
Smith tookthe hint. They founded The Shadow Magazine and magician Walter B. Gibson filled it with a new novel twice a month (he had to be a magician, don't you think?), writing under the name Maxwell Grant. He wrote 282 of the tales over 20 years.
Mack the Knife. Opera. Yes, but which opera? The popular song is a bowdlerized version of the song from Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht's Three Penny Opera. But the song tells the story of Macheath, who first appeared in John Gay's Beggar's Opera, written two hundred years earlier (and inspired by an idea of Jonathan Swift's!).
Alexander Waverly. Television. The regional head of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement was created for The Man From UNCLE, although some see a strong resemblance to the Professor, a spymaster who appears in North by Northwest. Of course, both characters were played by the wonderful Leo G. Carroll.
Waverly and Carroll almost missed their big chance. In the pilot for
the series the boss was Mr. Allison, played by Will Kuluva. However,
the network executives told the producers to get rid of the guy whose
name began with K, so Kuluva was replaced by Carroll. Turns out the
network had really wanted to dump Russian spy Ilya Kuryakin, played by
David McCallum. Fortunately for the show (and thousands of adoring young
women) Ilya dodged death, not for the last time.
Carroll, in his seventies.
had health problems during production. When you see papers scattered
across Waverly's desk, some of them are Carroll's script, available for
easy reference. At one point he told the producers that his
grandchildren complained that Mr. Waverly never did anything but talk,
so they created a scene in which he karate-chopped a bad guy. When he
nailed it the whole crew cheered.
Oh! Here's a bonus question for you. The star of The man From UNCLE was, of course, Robert Vaughn. But do you know what he did in his spare time during production? The astonishing answer is here.