So...anyone else ever mistakenly think fictional characters were real?

The other day, I saw an ad on TV for the new Ben Stiller movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. As I watched it, I realised that I had, yet again, seemingly made a wrong assumption about someone’s status as a real person - somehow I had previously filed Walter Mitty in the ‘real people’ section of my brain.
In my defense, I had never heard of the story, only heard people refer to Walter Mitty in movies and on TV. To be honest, if you’d asked me a week ago who Walter was, I would have guessed that he was a Richard Nixon era politician. Yeah, WTF, how did I get that impression? No idea.

Anyway, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard people mentioned in movies, on TV, or in books, and made the wrong guess on their status as either a real person or a fictional character. For instance:
-Daniel Boone. I assumed Daniel was just a fictional character in a TV show.
-Lord Byron. Another real person that I had assumed was made up. I only found out a year ago that he was real when he was mentioned in a doco about Mary Shelly.

And in the fictional characters that I somehow thought were real category, along with Walter Mitty, there was
-Don Quixote.I don’t know how, but I had the idea he was some sort of real life Mexican revolutionary.

So, please tell me I’m not ‘special’. Are there any people who you’ve heard or read about and you assumed they were fictional only to later find out that they were real, or vice versa?

*There is another category - well known real people about whom I made very wrong assumptions: Up until 2001 when he got a lot of coverage in the news, I had thought Rudi Giuliani was a black woman. :smack:


Santa Claus.

I once embarrassed myself by saying the character played by Cuba Gooding in Pearl Harbor was fictional.
He was fictionalized a bit, but real.

I’m sure I do this all the time, but the first example that popped into my head is actually about a guy I dated … he thought John Glenn was an actor who was famous for playing a fictional astronaut. That even added a layer of confusion, because he kept asking “so you’re saying John Glenn isn’t real?” and everyone else was double talking with a lot of “no, but yes, but not like that” kind of comments.

When I was a little kid I thought Popeye, Olive, and Bluto (from the 1930s cartoons, 20 years old at the time) were real. I even wrote them a letter and imagined them reading it. My parents put me straight. In the wax museum in San Francisco, in 1982, I saw a figure of Walt Disney. A girl standing nearby said, “I didn’t know he was a real person!”

I used to think Captain Morgan was just an advertising mascot.

He was played in The Black Swan {no, not that one} by Laird Cregar.

I used to live in London, about ten minutes from Baker Street and about five minutes from a graveyard. Whenever I had friends or relatives come over from Holland, Australia, or the U.S. I used to make a point of taking them past the graveyard on the way to the shops and I’d nod towards the headstones and casually say “Sherlock Holmes is buried there.” You’d be amazed how often that worked!

'Course, with the TV series and the Guy Ritchie movies I can’t do it anymore, but still, it was fun for a while :slight_smile:

I know I’ve seen that movie, but my memory has retained absolutely zero details about it, so I had to google.

For anyone interested, Cuba was portraying Doris Miller.

For many years, I thought Hari Seldon was a big-name science fiction fan, sort of like Forrest Ackerman.

For pretty much the same period of time, I thought that Cat Yronwode was a fictional character!

I heard that a significant number of British school kids believe Winston Churchill was a mythological character. I wondered about American school kids and how many of them think Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and even JFK were mythological.

All the more curious that Don Quixote is Spanish ;). His full name gives up the game : Don Quixote de la Mancha.

I only recently learned that Sweeney Todd was a completely made-up character. I figured the story was based on a (possibly heavily embellished) real spate of Victorian 'orrible murders.

Some while ago I also thought P.T. Barnum was from a book. Don’t ask me which, but between the name and the man’s life story or quotes, I’ll grant myself that it’s understandable :).
The fact-checking trigger was the movie Gangs of New York, which made me and a friend go “Hang on, isn’t this movie supposed to be even more historical than people think ?” “Yeah, maybe, why ?” “Then why’d they put P.T. Barnum in ?” “I don’t follow.” “Well that’s kinda like putting Captain Ahab in, isn’t it ?” “… No it is not ?”. My friend quickly got pretty confused, while I got irate that he kept trying to pull my leg :p.

Maybe he was thinking of Scott Glenn, who played Alan Shepard in “The Right Stuff.” (John Glenn was also in the movie, but played by Ed Harris.)

I was positive for awhile that Sherlock Holmes was real.

When I was a kid I was surprised to learn that Colonel Sanders was a real person.

Not quite the same thing, but someone at work didn’t know Paul Newman was an actor and thought he was just that salad dressing guy.

The James Bond film franchise is still produced by the families of Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli. A while back, I saw a piece on TV in which one of the family members remembered that when she was a child, she thought Bond was a real person. She always heard the grownups talking about him, and assumed he was some distant relative.

Even more confusingly, James Bond was a real person, but not a spy.

Nitpick: Saltzman withdrew from the Bond franchise after The Man with the Golden Gun.

I had heard of Monty Python long before I saw the first television shows; at the time (early '70s) I assumed he was a real person—Britain’s equivalent to Mel Brooks, producing zany comedies.