The Most Famous People Who May Have Never Actually Existed
History is full of incredible tales of brave warriors, great thinkers and prolific writers. But how often have you wondered if these people actually lived up to their names, or even lived at all? As it turns out, there are a large number of people who have managed to become incredibly famous without ever actually bothering to exist.
Check out this collection of famous fictional people who managed to gain notoriety, both in ancient times and our own.
For over a century now, Betty Crocker has been synonymous with the image of wholesome American housewives everywhere. Known for her legendary cooking skills, her image still appears on a variety of foods we've all had in our kitchens at one point or another.
While certain parts of King Arthur's tale are clearly the stuff of legend, it would make sense that he was at least based on an actual ruler, right? To this day, there's still a debate, even among historians, over whether King Arthur actually existed or not.
If you've ever read The Odyssey, then you're likely familiar with its main character, Odysseus. The epic poem deals with all the mythical problems he faces while trying to get home from the Trojan War. The frequent appearances of mythical creatures like sirens and cyclopses are enough to make anyone suspect the story is mere fantasy.
While you likely learned about Pythagoras in math class, his legacy is actually up for debate. Some say that Pythagoras did live in the 5th or 6th century B.C. but was more the leader of a numerology cult than the great thinker he's known as today.
Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon
If you grew up reading both The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, then you may or not be surprised to find out that they were actually the work of the same guy. Though Carolyn Keene is credited as the author of the Nancy Drew series and Franklin W. Dixon as the writer of The Hardy Boys, both are just pennames.
It may come as no surprise to learn that there was never an actual guy who loved planting apple seeds. Even so, while the folk tales we all know about Johnny and his tin pot hat may not be true, he was actually based on a real person.
Back in World War II, an all-female group of English-speaking radio broadcasters began spreading Japanese propaganda in the hopes of demoralizing U.S. troops. Several of the women went by pseudonyms on the air for obvious reasons, though ironically the name "Tokyo Rose" was never one of them.
In 1964 during the height of the Avant-Garde movement in modern art, a prolific artist arrived on the scene. When four of his paintings appeared in a Swedish art gallery, critics were quick to insist that Pierre Brassau was destined to be the next big thing in the art world.
Another artist by the name of Nat Tate took things even farther than being an ape by never actually existing at all. He was the invention of a Scottish writer named William Boyd who published a "biography" about Tate's life in 1998.
While Pope Joan's story is a great one, historians are highly doubtful that it actually happened. As legend has it, Joan dressed as a man and moved up through the church hierarchy until she was finally elected Pope. Unfortunately, she blew her cover one day by accidentally giving birth in front of everybody.
While there definitely was a real guy named William Shakespeare, some people insist that there was no way he was actually the author of the plays we attribute to him (or at least all of them). Rumors have swirled for centuries that he was simply the frontman for a woman or another author who couldn't reveal their true identity.
Long before Donald Trump was president, he was a real estate mogul. Back in the 1980s, Trump's calls were often fielded by his spokesman, John Barron. Barron was frequently quoted in the press and was known to handle many of Trump's stickier situations.
There’s a famous Swiss folktale about a man named William Tell who was forced to shoot an apple off of his son’s head by the Austrians. After defying the Austrian rulers of the day, Tell was forced to either perform the seemingly impossible task or die.
While Robin Hood is legendary for robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, historians have had a hard time pinning down whether he was a real person. As tales of his adventures have spread over the years, it’s become incredibly hard to figure out which, if any, were based in fact.
We’ve all heard the tales of the massive lumberjack and his enormous friend, Babe the Big Blue Ox. But was Paul Bunyan actually a historical figure whose story eventually morphed into legend? Some historians believe that while he’s a fictional character, he may have been based on two famous French-Canadian loggers named Fabian Fournier and Bon Jean.
During the Crusades, a man named Prester John, aka John the Elder, was the most sought after man in Christendom. Legends spread throughout Europe that he was a great Christian priest-king who ruled a kingdom hidden somewhere in Asia or Africa.
As the legend goes, John Henry was a massive steel-driver who died in the process of racing a steam drill. While he appears to be fictional, historians point to two likely candidates for his inspiration.
Even the existence of the Greek poet Homer, author of the epic poems The Illiad and The Odyssey, has come under scrutiny by some scholars. Historians note that there's little contemporary evidence for the life of the famous poet, which supposedly took place in the 7th or 8th century BCE.
In case you're not familiar with Lycurgus, he's said to be the creator of the "Lycurgan reforms" of ancient Sparta. The reforms were a set of laws that ultimately led Sparta to become known as one of the most fearless civilizations in all of history.
Since the 1980s, director Alan Smithee has racked up a number of directing credits. His name has been splashed across screens in theaters across the world, and many a critic has reviewed his work. Known as one of the worst directors in Hollywood, the good news is that he doesn't actually exist.
Another Hollywood personality who turned out to be fictional was a film reviewer named David Manning. When all the other critics were giving the public a head's up about notoriously bad films, Manning would regularly appear and shower them with praise.
While Mulan (more properly known as Hua Mulan in China) has become popular enough to score her own Disney movie, historians have had a hard time nailing down whether she was an actual person. Some claim that she may have been inspired by an actual female Chinese warrior named Wei Huahu.
Back in 1996, Esquire Magazine ran a cover story on Allegra Coleman, who they declared Hollywood's next "it girl." Fawned over by everyone from Deepak Chopra to Quentin Tarantino, Coleman was destined to become a household name.
For decades now, Ann Taylor stores have been a staple in the world of women's fashion. The brand offers everything from suits and dresses to bridalwear for the elegant American woman. Ironically, however, Anne Taylor is nothing more than a fictional name chosen by the brand's founder, Richard Liebeskind.
George P. Burdell
A guy named George P. Burdell managed to lead the 2001 online poll votes for Time's Person of the Year, all without ever having existed. It all began in 1927 when a student named Ed Smith enrolled both himself and the fictional Burdell into Georgia Tech.
During the late 18th-early 19th centuries, Jim Crow laws were enacted to keep the American South racially segregated. So who was this Jim Crow, and was he a supporter or victim of the laws that bear his name? As it turns out, he was neither.
The Art of War remains a classic piece of literature that's still read by people all over the world. Rumored to have been the work of a brilliant Chinese military leader named Sun Tzu, it includes advice on everything from outsmarting enemies to motivating troops.
In 1969, Catholics were a bit shaken to learn that St. Christopher had been kicked off of their universal calendar like Pluto from the solar system. As the patron saint of travelers as well as a defender against everything from toothaches to hailstorms, St. Christopher had held a place in the hearts of Catholics around the world for centuries.
Lao "Laozi" Dan, the Chinese philosopher and founder of Taoism, is a man shrouded in mystery. Legend says that after writing the Tao Te Ching, he simply walked off and disappeared into the mists. Nonetheless, his legacy and work have survived even to this day.
A woman named Silence Dogood definitely scores a place as one of the funniest fake people in American history. She began making contributions to a newspaper run by a man named James Franklin back in the 1700s, and her work was so prolific that she received several marriage proposals from readers.