Historical figures whose fictionalized versions have surpassed them in importance

I was thinking today about how some historical figures are the basis for a fictionalized account of their lives in television, theater, music, movies, etc. Then I was thinking, that sometimes, it seems, that the fictionalized versions of these historical characters become way more memorable, relevant, or otherwise more important than the actual people they were based on.

One example may be Eva Peron. Now I’m not Argentinian so I speak as a fairly clueless American, but I don’t think that in the grand scheme of things, Eva was nearly as influential and historically as important as the play Evita is, based on the story of her life. Evita is one of the most successful plays in history, earning over 2 Billion dollars in revenue and countless productions and performances. I think that many people wouldn’t even be aware of Peron if it weren’t for the play, as her actual historical mark seems to have faded with time. Of course this is just opinion so I’m willing to be contradicted if you feel otherwise.

But what about others? Are there any other historical figures who were overshadowed by their fictionalized versions? If we were holding a contest for such a thing, who do you think would win?



Joseph the carpenter!

Davy Crockett.

Daniel Boone.

Antonio Salieri - Largely forgotten in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Restored to prominence by being portrayed as Mozart’s murderer in the completely fictional play and film Amadeus.

King Arthur and Robin Hood were probably based on real people at some point.

Macbeth. Brutus of et tu fame.

Vlad the Impaler.

Mark Antony. Ask anyone about him and they’ll probably come back with the Shakespeare version.
But it’s not as good an answer as Jesus.

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Richard III

whoever committed the “Jack the Ripper” crimes

Anna “(fake) Anastasia” Anderson

the Buddha




Joseph (Elephant Man) Merrick

Antonio Salieri


Nikolaos of Myra aka Saint Nicholas aka Sint Nicolaas aka Sinterklaas aka Santa Claus

Speaking as an Argentinian, I’ll say that inside the country she is far more influential and historically important than the play, if you say “Evita” here no one’s first thought would be the play.
Outside Argentina you are correct.

I wasn’t thinking about him when I saw the thread, but I have to agree that the top of the list has to be Jeshua ben Joseph, aka The Christ, Jesus of Nazareth.

A couple of others off the top of my head:
Betsy Ross
Paul Revere


If you really want to get all ethnic, it’s Yeshua bar Yosef.

Will Adams (fictionalized as John Blackthorne in SHOGUN)

Eliot Ness

The Marquis de Sade (got a lot more freaky-deaky action in fiction than he probably ever got in life)

Giacomo Casanova

Maria von Trapp and family: she herself said of The Sound of Music that it was a lovely story, just not her’s (though that didn’t stop her from trying to cash in).

Lady Godiva (Godgifu)

Lady Macbeth (Gruoch)

Look at the Old West, from Jesse James to Calamity Jane to Wild Bill Hickok…