1. Fred MacMurray (Captain Marvel)
It’s July, the perfect time to hit the local multiplex and enjoy some summer blockbuster action, so I can’t think of a better time to post a few lists about celebrities and comics. First up: have you ever noticed how some comic book characters happen to look a lot like real-life famous people? It’s not always a coincidence. Conceived by writer/editor Bill Parker, Captain Marvel was first drawn by C.C. Beck in 1940, who later in life confirmed his model for the hero’s look was actor Fred MacMurray. At that time in his career, MacMurray (who would go on to play many famous roles, including the title role in The Absent-Minded Professor and the gentle patriarch of TV’s My Three Sons) was often cast in romantic comedies as the decent guy (think Tom Hanks during his Sleepless in Seattle/You’ve Got Mail phase), so it’s easy to see Beck borrowing MacMurray’s wavy dark hair and cleft chin for a hero whose adventures had a more humorous spin than most other superhero books.
2. Judy Garland (Mary Marvel)
Mary Marvel’s inspiration, on the other hand, is a little less established. As noted on The Marvel Family Web, Beck and others have claimed that actress Judy Garland (The Wizard of Oz, A Star is Born) was the model for Mary Marvel, and Garland’s appearance in her earlier films like 1939’s Babes in Arms shares more than a passing resemblance to initial designs for Captain Marvel’s sister. But Mary’s creator, Marc Swayze, never confirmed the source of his inspiration, only claiming the original design for Mary was quick and quickly approved. Even so, it’s possible her features were later refined to more closely resemble Garland’s.
3. Paul Newman (Silver Age Green Lantern)
When John Broome and Gil Kane set out to update Green Lantern for the Silver Age, they weren’t kidding around: they gave him a streamlined costume, a job that was the epitome of Jet Age coolness (test pilot), and an aliens-among-us origin that invoked the popular sci-fi flicks of the day. Kane also patterned the look of Hal Jordan after his neighbor, an up-and-coming actor by the name of Paul Newman. Best known at the time for his Oscar-nominated role in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Newman was an obvious inspiration for Jordan, given his smoldering looks and tendency to play dashing playboy types on the big screen. Interestingly enough, Newman spent much of the ’60s playing anti-hero types who played by their own rules (Hud, Harper, Cool Hand Luke) while Jordan was as by-the-book as a superhero can get, even playing the stuffy conservative to Green Arrow’s radical liberalism in a series of stories during the early ’70s. But the Hal Jordan in today’s DC universe is much more of a maverick, a hero more willing to bend the rules and defy his masters’ orders if it means doing what his gut tells him is right. It’s nice to think Newman’s rebellious influence may have had something to do with that.
4. David Ben-Gurion (Guardians of the Universe)
Speaking of Jordan’s masters. I might be stretching the definition of “celebrity” on this one, but it’s pretty clear Kane also used the likeness of Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion as the model for Hal Jordan’s celestial bosses, the immortal and identical-looking Guardians of the Universe. Ben-Gurion, who served as his country’s first prime minister from 1948 to 1954, was a major international figure during the middle of the 20th century, and it stands to reason he would have been held in high regard by DC editor Julius Schwartz and Kane (né Eli Katz), both Jews. Schwartz, a sci-fan buff who once said aliens didn’t have to look totally different from humans for a story to work, confirmed the homage at a 1998 Comic-Con panel discussion with Green Lantern writer John Broome.
5. Michael Caine (Willie Garvin)
Modesty Blaise might not be a familiar name to comic fans who aren’t acquainted with British comic strips, but trust me when I say she’s huge over there. The ongoing story of an international adventurer and her platonic male sidekick ran from 1963 to 2002 and spawned dozens of paperbacks and collections, as well as at least two feature films. While Blaise is the star of the strip, Willy Garvin — a charismatic and resourceful fellow who is totally loyal to Blaise — is an effective scene-stealer whenever he shows up. Small wonder, then, that creators Peter O’Donnell and Jim Holdaway based him on an up-and-coming actor named Michael Caine, who even in the early ’60s was building an impressive résumé with a couple dozen minor TV and film roles (his breakout film was Zulu, which debuted January 1964).
6. Jack Palance (Dracula)
Now mostly remembered for his Western roles (including his Oscar-winning turn in 1991’s City Slickers), Jack Palance was one of those actors who was game for pretty much anything, including the title role in the 1973 TV movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula. But before Palance played the legendary count, artist Gene Colan based his own interpretation of Dracula for Marvel’s The Tomb of Dracula on Palance. “I had seen him do Jekyll and Hyde for television [in 1968], and right there and then I knew that Jack Palance would do the perfect Dracula,” Colan told interviewer Tom Field in 2001. “He had that cadaverous look, a serpentine look on his face… Dracula never turned out really looking like him — somewhat like him. Maybe I didn’t catch the actual essence of him in the beginning… but I think as the years went by — and that’s when you really begin to develop a character; you get much, much better at it — it began to evolve into Jack Palance.”
7. Bo Derek (Dazzler)
The story, according to former Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, goes something like this: in early 1979, Alice Donenfeld, Marvel’s VP of Business Affairs, proposed that Marvel create a super-heroine/singer that the publisher would set up as a joint venture with a record company, marketing “her” music using studio musicians (à la the Archies). Disco was big at the time, so they came up with “Disco Dazzler,” with artist John Romita reportedly basing her likeness on model/actress Grace Jones (who would later play the statuesque killer in 1985’s A View to a Kill). But the record company that Marvel was working with had to back out of the deal, and Marvel was left with a character and a movie treatment to promote on its own. Donenfeld went to Cannes in 1980 with treatment in hand, hoping to interest Bo Derek in the project. In the meantime, Dazzler debuted in an issue of the X-Men, where she just happened to look quite a lot like a certain model and star of the 1979 smash hit 10. Alas, the project fell through, a Dazzler film never materialized, and Marvel decided to launch the character in its first-ever direct-market title. Dazzler’s dreams of movie stardom remain unfulfilled, but if they can give a movie to Ant-Man then anything’s possible.
8. Bettie Page (Betty from The Rocketeer)
Anyone familiar with the late, great Dave Stevens knows two things about his work: (1) the man behind The Rocketeer took his sweet time creating his reverently retro and goddamned beautiful renditions of vintage pulp characters and (2) he was a fan of 1950s pin-up queen Bettie Page to the point that, when he discovered in the early 1980s she was still alive and living near him, he befriended her and helped her get financial compensation from publishers who were still reprinting her famous photos. So it should come as no surprise Stevens modeled the look of Betty, the Rocketeer’s girlfriend, after her.
9. Sting (John Constantine)
English musician and activist Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner — better known as Sting to his fans — released five chart-topping albums between 1978 and 1983 with his bandmates in The Police. At the height of the band’s success, Swamp Thing artists Steve Bissette and John Totleben were joined by a Brit writer named Alan Moore on their book, and he had a few ideas about shaking things up. One idea, however, came from Bissette and Totleben; specifically, they wanted to include a new character who would resemble The Police’s lead singer. That worked perfectly with what Moore was considering: “I have an idea that most of the mystics in comics are generally older people, very austere, very proper, very middle-class in a lot of ways,” he told Wizard magazine in 1993. “It struck me that it might be interesting for once to do an almost blue-collar warlock. Somebody who was streetwise, working class, and from a different background than the standard run of comic book mystics. [John] Constantine started to grow out of that.” While Moore suspected DC was initially afraid of Sting suing them over the appropriation of his image, Sting was characteristically cool about it: “That character is someone else. It’s not me. And thank God. Nice things happen to it, bad things happen to it — fine. Just leave me out of it!”
10. Peter Murphy (Sandman)
To quote the Wikipedia: “Thin, with prominent cheekbones, a baritone voice, and a penchant for gloomy poetics, Murphy is often called the Godfather of Goth.” Sounds about right. Starting out as lead vocalist for British band Bauhaus in the late ’70s, Murphy has carved a long career for himself as a solo artist and colorful personality, and even made a cameo in one of the Twilight movies as “The Cold One.” As Sandman creator Neil Gaiman himself confirmed in response to a fan on his Tumblr: “The original idea-model for Morpheus was Peter Murphy from Bauhaus… and even that was after I’d described him a lot and Sam Kieth had sketched pages of faces, and we’d picked one. Mike Dringenberg went ‘Oh, you mean a Peter Murphy face’ and we went, ‘Oh yes.'”
11. Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury)
Marvel’s Nick Fury started out as a (very white) grizzled army sergeant in Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, then got a new job as a (very white) director of an agency full of super-spies. But when the character made his first appearance in Marvel’s Ultimate universe in 2001, he bore a striking resemblance to the (very non-white) Samuel L. Jackson. That wasn’t a coincidence; right from the start, Ultimates creators Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Allred wanted their updated Nick Fury to resemble the Pulp Fiction star, and they were thrilled when Jackson consented to allow his face to be used. Smart move: when it came time to cast Fury for a cameo in 2008’s Iron Man, fans couldn’t imagine anyone but Jackson taking on the role, and he has since enjoyed many fine paydays showing up in Marvel’s films.
12. Simon Pegg (Wee Hughie)
If Samuel L. Jackson and Simon Pegg were ever to stand next to each other, not a lot of people would peg Pegg (heh) as an action hero, even if they saw him save the day in the action/comedy Shaun of the Dead. But Pegg’s slight and unassuming stature was precisely the look that creators Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson were looking for when “casting” the role of Wee Hughie in The Boys, an insanely funny and extremely violent book about a team of CIA agents charged with sanctioning super-powered individuals who have stepped over the line. Although they borrowed his features without his permission, Pegg apparently became a big fan, even writing an introduction for the title’s first collected volume. And when a film adaptation of the book was first shopped around, Pegg told MTV News he was obviously interested in taking the part but feared he would be too old (b. 1970) to play the 20-something character. But heck, if Sean Connery could pull off playing Indiana Jones’s father while being only 12 years older than Harrison Ford, then why not?
13. Donald Glover (Miles Morales Spider-Man)
If anyone ever tells you that you can’t change history by wearing a pair of snappy pajamas, show them this. A few months before Barack Obama was elected, Marvel tossed around the idea of introducing a non-white version of Spider-Man in one of its books. Nothing much came of it until September 2010 when, as writer Brian Michael Bendis recalls, he was watching an episode of Community in which Donald Glover wore Spider-Man pajamas (an inside joke referencing Glover’s unsuccessful Twitter campaign to get himself cast as the lead in the 2012 Amazing Spider-Man film). “He looked fantastic,” Bendis told a USA Today reporter. “I saw him in the costume and thought, ‘I would like to read that book.’ So I was glad I was writing that book.” Miles Morales, the half-black, half-Hispanic teenager who lucks into Spider-Man’s powers, made his debut in the mini-series Ultimate Fallout in 2011, with a regular ongoing series by Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli shortly after. “It’s funny, people say he looks like me, I don’t see it that much, but I know he was influenced by me,” Glover told an interviewer shortly after the new series came out. “I can’t wait to have grandkids and be like, ‘Yup, that’s me.’ It’s really cool.”
14. Wesley Willis (Milan)
Wesley Willis was a singer, songwriter, visual artist and all-around icon of the Chicago underground arts scene who gained a sizable cult following in the 1990s. A paranoid schizophrenic, he wrote songs about riding the bus, going to concerts, getting beaten up by superheroes and the police, and many other bizarre and often obscene topics. Although he died in 2003 at age 40 from complications related to leukemia, his memory lives on in Brian Azzarello’s (a Chicago native) and Cliff Chiang’s Wonder Woman, one of the better titles in DC’s “New 52” line-up. Milan, a minor deity who is one of Zeus’s many progeny and a half-brother to Wonder Woman, is clearly modeled after Willis, from his headbutting as a way to greet a fellow god to his references to “joyrides” and “hellrides” (Willis referred to his psychotic episodes as “hellrides,” which usually happened during his frequent rides on Chicago’s buses; a “joyride” was any moment he considered a good time, like when he was making music). Willis once sang a song called “I Whupped Spider-Man’s Ass,” and maybe he’ll get to do that in a comic someday — but I’d bet he’d be happy with this joyride, too.