50 Famous People Who Never Existed

These fictional characters definitely loom large in real life.

50 Famous People Who Never Existed

These fictional characters definitely loom large in real life.

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We’d all love to be as successful as kitchen icon Betty Crocker, as prolific as Nancy Drew author Carolyn Keene, or as legendary as the great King Arthur. But even if our efforts at megastardom fall short, we’ve got at least one major advantage over these famous people: We’re real.

That’s right: some of your favorite spokespeople, brand mascots, composers, and authors are nothing more than the invention of some very creative people. Curious to know which icons are purely fictional?  Read on, because we’ve compiled 50 of them. And for more fascinating truths about the world, check out these 30 Astonishing Facts Guaranteed to Give You Childlike Wonder.

Betty Crocker Famous People Who Never Existed

1
Betty Crocker

As it turns out, the First Lady of Food wasn’t real at all. Since Betty Crocker’s inception almost a century ago, multiple models tricked us all into thinking that the female goddess of the kitchen was a real person—though, admittedly, she aged a little too well. And for more behind-the-scenes celebrity info, check out these 20 Celebrity Friendships You Never Knew Existed.

Aunt Jemima Famous People Who Never Existed

2
Aunt Jemima

Shockingly, Aunt Jemima never existed. In fact, similar to Betty Crocker, this character—created by R.T. Davis and then later passed on to Quaker Oats—was merely a series of actresses paid to portray the queen of pancakes.

Ali Larter Famous People Who Never Existed

3
Allegra Coleman

Supermodel and actress Allegra Coleman graced the cover of Esquire in 1996, and in an accompanying article, writer Martha Sherrill made claims that Coleman would be “Hollywood’s next dream girl.” After the issue hit newsstands, agents scrambled to get their hands on Coleman—only to find out that the article had been one giant hoax created by Sherrill. However, coverage ended up being great for actress Ali Larter, who portrayed Coleman, and eventually landed a lead role on Heroes a few years after the fakeout. And for more astonishing celebrity behavior, check out these 50 Crazy Celebrity Facts You Won’t Believe Are True.

William Tell Famous People Who Never Existed

4
William Tell

Swiss folk legend William Tell was too good to be true from the start. C’mon. The guy could really shoot an arrow into an apple on top of a child’s head—from several feet away? Nah.

Donald Kaufman Famous People Who Never Existed

5
Donald Kaufman

Donald Kaufman, the fictional brother of real-life screenwriter Charlie Kaufman—portrayed by Nicolas Cage on screen in Adaptation—didn’t hit the press junkets with his famous sibling. His shyness was pretty understandable, however: he was merely a work of fiction. And for more shocking facts about your favorite films, check out these 30 Shocking Facts about Your Favorite Movies.

alan smithee famous people who don't exist

6
Alan Smithee

No, director Alan Smithee wasn’t actually an incredibly awful director—this was merely the pseudonym for multiple directors too ashamed to put their own names on the credits reel. This famous pseudonym has appeared in hundreds of films over the past fifty years, but most notably in Twilight Zone: The Movie, Hellraiser: Bloodline, and Mighty Ducks the Movie: The First Face-Off.

Nancy Drew Book Series Famous People Who Never Existed

7
Carolyn Keene

Sorry, Nancy Drew fans: it was actually Edward Stratemeyer who created the famed detective series. When Stratemeyer didn’t have nearly enough time to write out every story he had in mind, he hired a group of ghostwriters to piece the prolific series together—and collectively named them Carolyn Keene.

Franklin W. Dixon Hardy Boys Famous People Who Never Existed

8
Franklin W. Dixon

Stratemeyer also had everything to do with this pseudonym, under which multiple writers penned the monumentally successful Hardy Boys series, which has spanned nearly 9 decades.

Mavis Beacon Famous People Who Never Existed

9
Mavis Beacon

If you grew up in the 1980s, it’s very possible that Mavis Beacon taught you how to improve your typing skills. But, as it turns out, there is no real Mavis Beacon—all these years we’ve learned typing skills from a cold, emotionless robot.

Tokyo Rose Famous People Who Never Existed

 

10
Tokyo Rose

Tokyo Rose was the name created by the allied troops during World War II for the female English-speaking group of radio broadcasters spreading Japanese propaganda. Since these broadcasters aimed to mainly demoralize troops, they soon earned quite an unfavorable reputation. And, though one of the group’s key figures, Iva Toguri, was actually arrested for this hate speech, the famed Tokyo Rose never actually existed.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

aimi eguchi famous people who don't exist

 

11
Aimi Eguchi

When fans of the Japanese pop group AKB48 found out that their latest member, Aimi Eguchi, was actually a computer-simulated creation combining the “best” features of each of the other 6 members, they were understandably surprised. Though, when the video premiered debuting her introduction into the group, it’s fairly obvious from her lack of facial expressions that the robot girl didn’t quite have the charisma of her human counterparts.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Otto Titzler Famous People Who Never Existed

12
Otto Titzling

While it would be an incredible coincidence that the founder of the brassiere was aptly named Otto Titzling, it is indeed false (though the makers of the game Trivial Pursuit seemed to fall for the hoax).

Pierre Brassau Famous People Who Never Existed

13
Pierre Brassau

Pierre Brassau was the brainchild of journalist Åke “Dacke” Axelsson, who, in 1964, attempted to prove that critics couldn’t tell the difference between Avante-Garde modern art and the work of a chimpanzee—a point he proved by actually enlisting the help of a chimpanzee and some watercolors. As it turned out, critics hailed Pierre Brassau as the next big thing—and were quickly disappointed to realize that he was only an ape.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Pope Joan Famous People Who Never Existed

 

14
Pope Joan

Though it’s nice to imagine that a female Pope once existed in a church dominated by men, the myth of Pope Joan has been busted by modern-day scholars.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Lonelygirl15 Famous People Who Never Existed

 

15
Lonelygirl15

Lonelygirl15, a popular YouTube channel, supposedly documented the life of 15-year-old Bree. It was revealed just a few months later that the everyday life of a high school girl was actually being portrayed by 19-year-old actress Jessica Rose—which obviously didn’t go over well with the fans.

Georgia Tech Campus Famous People Who Never Existed

16
George P. Burdell

George P. Burdell was a fictional student enrolled at Georgia Tech in 1927, created by William Edgar “Ed” Smith. Since enrollment, he has supposedly received all undergraduate degrees offered by Georgia Tech, served in the military, gotten married—among other accomplishments. At one point, Burdell even led the online poll for Times 2001 Person of the Year award.

Buffalo Sabres Famous People Who Never Existed

17
Taro Tsujimoto

The pride of Tokyo that never actually existed, Taro Tsujimoto, was a fictional draft pick for the Buffalo Sabres in 1974 after then-general manager Punch Imlach became fed up with the incredibly tedious drafting process. Since the NHL was actually looking to expand its talent base outside of Canada and the United States at the time, few had reason to doubt Tsujimoto’s pick. In fact, the story was reported by multiple top news sites, until, of course, they found out it was just a hoax formed out of spite.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Nat Tate Famous People Who Never Existed

 

18
Nat Tate

In 1998, Scottish writer William Boyd wrote a biography about a troubled artist, Nat Tate, who threw away 99 percent of his work and leapt to his death from a Staten Island ferry. On April Fool’s Day, David Bowie hosted a launch party for the novel, where some of the biggest names in the art world eventually fell for this gigantic hoax. April Fools!

Image via Wikimedia Commons

President Donald Trump John Barron Famous People Who Never Existed

19
John Barron

When reporters called the Trump Organization during the 1980s, they were often directed to Donald Trump’s official spokesman, John Barron, who was also quoted in multiple print stories about the Trump family over the years. The true identity of John Barron was revealed when Donald Trump appeared in court, and, under oath, admitted that he had been his own official spokesman for years without anyone noticing.

Robin Hood Famous People Who Never Existed

20
Robin Hood

The centuries-old tale of a caped figure stealing from the rich to give to the poor is, in fact, way too good to be true. His (or her) existence is almost impossible for scholars to prove, as so many different conflicting stories about his provenance and accomplishments only point out the less-than-likely existence of this larger-than-life bandit.

Paul Bunyan Famous People Who Never Existed

21
Paul Bunyan

Our favorite giant lumberjack, Paul Bunyan, isn’t real, but merely a combination of different, very real men: French-Canadian lumberjacks Bon Jean and Fabian Fournier. Sadly, Babe the blue ox is also little more than a fictional character, too.

People Working on Laptop Kaycee Nicole Famous People Who Never Existed

22
Kaycee Nicole Swenson

Though Kaycee Nicole Swenson may not be well known today, she was undoubtedly one of the first internet-famous people in the early 2000s.

For two years, Kaycee talked openly about her struggle with leukemia on her blog and ultimately captivated thousands of daily readers. When it was reported that she died in the summer of 2001, her fans began to look into her life, and quickly found out that it was all just a flimsy story put together by bored housewife Debbie Swenson, who had created her own website portraying herself as Kaycee’s grieving mother.

The Marlboro Man Famous People Who Never Existed

23
The Marlboro Man

This vintage cowboy and heavy smoker was just a very crafty myth intended to get people to smoke more Marlboro cigarettes—and it may have actually worked. According to the LA Times, four actors who portrayed the Marlboro Man have died of smoking-related diseases in the years since the ads first aired in the 1950s.

Mingering Mike Famous People Who Never Existed

24
Mingering Mike

Mingering Mike was an incredibly prolific—and completely fictional—funk and soul musician in the late 1960s. It turns out that Mingering Mike was actually Mike Smith, a Washington, D.C.-based teen, who had created a series of album covers—but no actual records—for his fictitious musical persona.

King Arthur Famous People Who Never Existed

25
King Arthur

Though King Arthur of Camelot was most likely not real at all, his bravery and strength of character have inspired countless leaders from King Henry VIII to Queen Victoria.

Jim Crow Famous People Who Never Existed

26
Jim Crow

The man behind one of America’s most intolerant set of discriminatory laws was, in fact, a theater persona created by a white man, Thomas D. Rice, who used blackface to portray a bumbling trickster named Jim Crow.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

John Doe Famous People Who Never Existed

27
John Doe

John Doe, or Jane Doe for women, is the identification used for unknown or unidentified people in dealings with the law. In England, this naming practice is said to have been used since the late 1300s, although no actual living man or woman inspired the choice of name.

Man in Suit Writing David Manning Famous People Who Never Existed

28
David Manning

David Manning the critic was suspect from the start—mostly due to his incredibly positive reviews for total flops like A Knight’s Tale and The Animal. Like many started to suspect, Manning was the creation of Sony marketing director Matthew Cramer, who ended up getting into hot water with disgruntled movie goers who wasted money seeing these films, thanks to his positive reviews.

John Henry Famous People Who Never Existed

29
John Henry

John Henry, the steel-drivin’ man’s tall tale of strength and bravery, is an American folk legend. And similar to fellow American folk heroes like Paul Bunyan, John Henry was most likely fictional—little more than an amalgamation of multiple African-American railroad workers.

famous people who never existed

30
Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind

Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind is more than just an obnoxiously long name—she’s also a feminist folk hero and the supposed spouse of Davy Crockett. However, like we’re discovering with most American folk legends, she’s also totally fictional.

Image via Instagram

pecos bill famous people who don't exist

31
Pecos Bill

American folk legend and cowboy Pecos Bill may be the hero we need, but sadly, he never existed. Fans of the legendary cowboy have likely long suspected he’s fictional, however—he does ride a tornado, after all.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Alfred Bulltop Stormalong Famous People Who Never Existed

32
Alfred Bulltop Stormalong

World, meet Alfred Bulltop Stormalong: the lifelong enemy of the Kraken and Massachusetts-area hero, towering above the rest at 19 feet tall. Of course, you guessed it: he’s definitely not real.

Image via Instagram

Spinal Tap Band Famous People Who Never Existed

33
Spinal Tap

Often stylized as Spın̈al Tap, this parody heavy metal rock band, created by songwriter/performer Loudon Wainwright III and writer/director Rob Reiner did such a great job at imitating (AKA making merciless fun of) rock bands in the late ’70s that people actually thought that they were, in fact, a real rock band. But alas, they’re just a bunch of guys making fun of the music we all loved.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

James S.A. Corey Famous People Who Never Existed

 

34
James S.A. Corey

James S.A. Corey is best known to fans as the writer behind numerous science fiction masterpieces, like Leviathan Wakes, the first novel in The Expanse series, and the Star Wars novel Honor Among Thieves. As it turns out, James S.A. Corey is actually the pseudonym for two writers, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Titanic improvised movie lines

35
Jack Dawson

While many people were convinced that the handsome protagonist of James Cameron’s Oscar-winning Titanic was based on real man, he is little more than a work of fiction. Let’s face it: even if Jack Dawson had been a real person who boarded the Titanic, he would never be able to measure up to Leo’s perfectly romantic portrayal in the film. Never.

Hua Mulan Famous People Who Never Existed

36
Mulan

Mulan, or Hua Mulan as she’s known in China (and outside of the Disney franchise), is a Chinese warrior princess who disguised herself as a man to fight in combat. More recently, the tale of Mulan has been regarded as a legend and not a true story, as there has been little to no evidence found of a Hua Mulan existing during the Northern and Southern Dynasties period.

Sybil Ludington Famous People Who Never Existed

37
Sybil Ludington

According to legend, 16 year-old Sybil Ludington rode to warn the American militia that the British were coming during the Revolutionary War. If you haven’ t heard of her, it’s probably due to the fact that her very existence was debunked by the Daughters of the American Revolution long ago.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Sherlock Holmes Famous People Who Never Existed

38
Sherlock Holmes

We’re sorry to be the bearers of bad news, but Sherlock Holmes, the British detective mastermind created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is merely fictional. However, Doyle has said that aspects of Holmes’ character are derived from those of Joseph Bell, a British surgeon and lecturer.

The Legend of Zorro Famous People Who Never Existed

39
Zorro

When you think of Zorro, you probably picture Antonio Banderas wielding a sword and running from the law. Well, you’re spot on: he’s a very fictional character created by Johnston McCulley in 1919. Though it’s worth noting that McCulley was inspired by a 19th-century bandit named Joaquin Murrieta.

Ichabod Crane Famous People Who Never Existed

40
Ichabod Crane

As far as we know, Ichabod Crane, the protagonist of Washington Irving’s short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” is purely fictional. Well, at least we really hope that he is.

ann taylor store

41
Ann Taylor

The name Ann Taylor conveys exactly what the iconic women’s clothing brand aims to represent: preppy, classic style. However, the store’s namesake was never a real person to begin with. The brand’s founder, Richard Liebeskind, chose the name because it evoked both a New England sensibility and the idea of tailored clothing.

tony clifton andy kaufman

42
Tony Clifton

Tony Clifton, a disgruntled Las Vegas lounge singer with a penchant for insulting his audience who became famous in the 1980s, was about as far from your typical schmooze-happy entertainer as you could get. More interestingly, he was also a fake.

First portrayed by actor Andy Kaufman, who initially claimed that Clifton was, in fact, a real person, the character has been kept alive in the decades since Kaufman’s death in 1984. In recent years, Clifton—often portrayed by Kaufman’s close friend, Bob Zmuda, among others—has reappeared on the comedy scene, causing many conspiracy theorists to believe that Kaufman is actually still alive.

uncle ben famous people who didn't exist

43
Uncle Ben

Uncle Ben, the supposed namesake of the Uncle Ben’s line of food products, likely never existed at all. While Mars, Incorporated, the parent company of Uncle Ben’s, claims that the name comes from an African-American rice grower known for his superior product, the image used on the brand’s packaging is actually that of Frank Brown, a Chicago restaurant maître d’ known to Gordon L. Harwell, the former president of Uncle Ben’s.

rosie the riveter stamp

44
Rosie the Riveter

Rosie the Riveter is a cultural icon, but, sadly, she never existed in real life.

The woman in the famous “We Can Do It” image created by J. Howard Miller wasn’t a portrait of a real person but is often said to be inspired by gun factory worker Veronica Foster, also known as “Ronnie, the Bren Gun Girl,” an image of whom became frequently used in Canadian propaganda posters during World War II.

alfred e neuman mad magazine

45
Alfred E. Neuman

Mad Magazine’s mascot, Alfred E. Neuman, isn’t exactly a pedigreed journalist. In fact, the magazine’s gap-toothed ginger cartoon cover boy is seemingly a riff on earlier cartoons, the earliest known iteration of which dates back to the late 1800s.

manti t'eo lennay kekua

46
Lennay Kekua

New Orleans Saints linebacker Manti Te’o made headlines in 2012 when it was revealed that his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, had died from leukemia. The only problem? She never existed at all.

Te’o had been duped into believing he was in a long-distance relationship with a woman he’d never actually met by an acquaintance, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who used pictures of his former high school classmate, Diane O’Meara, to hook Te’o.

piotr zak

Piotr Zak

Ghastly Polish composer Piotr Zak, whose jarring composition was broadcast on the BBC Third Programme in 1961, never existed at all. His piece, “Mobile for Tape and Percussion,” was actually the work of Susan Bradshaw and Hans Keller, two BBC producers who created the character, and his terrible music, for fun.

lorna doone cookies

48
Lorna Doone

While the origin of the cookies’ name isn’t entirely clear, it is likely a reference to the 1969 novel Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoore, written by R. D. Blackmore.

JT LeRoy author

49
JT LeRoy

In the late 1990s, literary wunderkind JT LeRoy was the hottest new author on the planet, thanks to his semi-autobiographical books The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things and Sarah.

As it turned out, the allegedly HIV-positive teen author, who claimed to be a former escort and drug addict, was actually the brainchild of author Laura Albert, who enlisted her sister-in-law, Savannah Knoop, to pose as LeRoy during public appearances.

Juan Valdez coffee commercial

50
Juan Valdez

Think famed coffee icon Juan Valdez had a hand in growing the beans in your favorite brew? Think again.

In truth, Valdez was a character created by advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach as a means of promoting the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia. The character has been portrayed by three people since 1958: José F. Duval, Carlos Sánchez, and Carlos Castañeda. (For what it’s worth, the latter two men actually worked as coffee growers.) And for more of history’s greatest mind-benders, check out these 30 Crazy Facts That Will Change Your View of History.

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