Saturday, 29 August 2015

Rainman's Autistic Savant Based on Kim Peek

Car dealer Charlie Babbitt goes home to Cincinnati after his estranged father passes away.  He discovers he has an older brother, Raymond, an autistic savant, who lives in a mental institution to which his father has bequeathed his 3 million dollar fortune.  Motivated by the money, Charlie checks his brother out of the institution and they proceed to cross the country to Los Angeles, a trip which profoundly affects both men.

Raymond is based on a megasavant named Kim Peek, who was born in Salt Lake City.  Kim suffered from a condition called macrocephaly in which the bundle of nerves linking the two hemispheres of the brain is missing.  While he was behind in his physical development -- he didn't walk until he was four years old -- he was ahead in his mental development (

By 16 months of age he was memorizing small books; once read, he would place them on his bookshelf upside down.  At age 14, he had already completed his high school education.  At age 18, he was hired to do the payroll for 160 people, a task he completed without the use of a calculator.  With the invention of computers, his job was phased out ten years later.

Screenwriter Barry Morrow visited Kim Peek in 1984 and interviewed him for a story he had in mind.  Morrow tracked down Dustin Hoffman to play the character of Raymond Babbitt, an autistic savant.  Tom Cruise was chosen to play his car salesman brother, Charlie.  Rainman, which debuted in 1988, was the result.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Doc Brown Based on Physicist Dr. Ronald Mallett

"My whole existence, who I am, is due to the death of my father, and my promise to myself to figure out how to affect time with Einstein's work as a foundation." (

Everyone remembers the wide-eyed, wild-haired scientist Doc Brown from the movie Back to the Future. Michael J. Fox's character, Marty McFly, drives Doc's DeLorean car, a time machine, into the past (1950's) and then has to get "back to the future" (1980's) to warn Doc about the terrorists who would shoot him for his plutonium.  McFly knows that there will be a lightning strike on the clock tower on a specific date and time in 1955, thanks to a poster with the caption "Save the Clock Tower".  He relies on the power from the lightning to start his disabled DeLorean and get back to the future, thereby saving the scientist.

Doc Brown is based on the real physicist Dr. Ronald Mallett, a physicist from Pennsylvania whose father died when he was only 11 years old.  At the time, Mallett started working on a time machine to transport him back into the past to warn his father about the heart attack that would kill him, a tragedy that left Mallett "depressed and heartbroken".  Sadly, his invention did not fly.

However, at 69, Dr. Mallett's not giving up on the time machine.  He is building on Einstein's "Theory of Relativity".  He "describes how a neutron can be moved or dragged because the space it occupies is being twisted by laser light".

Thursday, 27 August 2015

All The King's Men character based on Huey Long

"Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again."

Robert Penn's 1946 novel All the King's Men, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, featured a character named Willie Stark.  Stark was based on the real life governor and senator of Louisiana, Huey Long. 

Long was an outspoken populist and early supporter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  His motto was: "Every man a king, but no man wears a crown."  Long denounced banks and the rich, painting himself as a spokesman for the poor and downtrodden.  As governor of Louisiana, he established a "Share Our Wealth" program, developping public works programs to get the unemployed back to work (

Long became a controversial figure in his attempt to combat the rich.  He suggested a 5 cent a barrel tarrif on oil, a big business in Louisiana.  The reaction of the state capitol was to try to impeach him, an attempt that failed.  

In 1935, Long announced that he would be a candidate for the President of the United States.  At the peak of his popularity, Long's Share Our Wealth programs attracted 7.5 million Americans; his radio broadcasts attracted 25 million listeners; and he received 60,000 letters a week (more than the President).  

But his opponents remained.  In September of that year, he attempted to have an opponent removed form the bench of the Louisiana Court, Judge Pavy.  Pavy's son-in-law interrupted the proceedings, pulled a gun and assassinated the senator.  Long's last words were:  "God don't let me die.  I have so much to do."

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The Real-Life Willy Wonka

"You won't know his name, but Brian Sollit was the genius who brought a perfect ending to dinner parties and family gatherings at Christmas." (

Brian Sollit's relationship with Rowntree in York, England dates back to the 1950's.  At the age of 15, he was hired as a chocolatier.  David's work on chocolate recipes so impressed his boss that he was promoted to head of the cream department in 1962.  There, he was asked to develop a recipe for a thin mint.  After Eight's were the result; the chocolate with the peppermint fondant became a favourite of many, including the Queen Mum.  

"[Brian] spent months, sometimes years agonizing over the technical details of his creations."  He also created the Lion's Bar and the Yorkie.  Referred to as a "larger than life" figure, the chocolatier was assigned the task of creating a 3 foot Pudsey Bear for Children in Need.  In 2012, he created a 3 kilogram After Eight to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the popular mint.  Over the past half century, millions of After Eights have been sent to over 50 countries around the world.

Brian Sollit not only loves chocolate but also Christmas, two things that go hand in hand.  "Every surface in my house is covered with Father Christmases" explained the Rowntree chocolatier.  Sadly, he never found a wife; some say he was married to his job.  

In 1964, author Roald Dahl penned the novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  First published in the United Kingdom, the novel sold 10,000 in the first week after it came out in the United States.  Like the After Eight, the novel was a huge success, going on to be read in classrooms all over the continent.  In 1971, the novel was adapted for the big screen starring Gene Wilder.

Brian Sollit referred to After Eight mints as the highlight of his career. Here he presents a giant version to parliament to mark the 50th anniversary in December 2012

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The Shop Around the Corner Based on Hungarian Play Parfumerie

Jimmy Stewart plays a character named Alfred who works in a leather goods shop in Budapest, Hungary.  Margaret Sullavan plays Alfred's co-worker Klara who takes an immediate dislike to him.  Each day, between customers, the pair argues over petty things.  At home, Alfred writes letters to a secret admirer; so too, does Klara.

One day Alfred plans to meet his admirer at a cafe.  Klara also plays to meet her beau at a cafe. Alfred says he'll wear a flower pinned to his lapel.  Klara is disappointed that her admirer is not at the cafe.  She spots Alfred and strikes up a conversation.  After several minutes, Alfred uncovers a flower, pinned to his lapel (

The Shop Around the Corner is based on the play Parfumerie, written by Hungarian born playwright Mislo Laszlow.  Born to German Jewish parents as Nicholaus Leitner, he was forced to change his name to Mislo Laszlow to appear Hungarian rather than German, in the country's attempt at "cultural unification".

Mislo grew up in the hustle and bustle of wartime Budapest.  His family was in the entertainment business.  He "rubbed elbows with the Hungarian literati, including Ferenc Molnar, the playwright for Liliom, better known as Carousel.

After many years of high living and poor management, Mislow's father became destitute.  Mislow, who had never wanted for anything, became a surrogate father overnight to his seven siblings.  He tried his hand at candy making, collar sales, a necktie agent and a petrol factory worker.  But his heart remained in the world of entertainment.

In 1934, Mislow wrote his first script for a play called A Legboldogabb Ember, which won a Hungarian Academy Award, the equilavent of the Pulitzer Prize in the United States.  In 1936, he penned the script for Parfumerie, which was performed at the Pest Theatre a year later.

But things were getting rough for Jews in Europe.  The Anschluss was only a year away, uniting Germany and Austria.  Kristallnacht, or The Night of Broken Glass, during which Jewish shop windows were shattered and businesses robbed, was fast approaching.  Hitler was bent on occupying neighbouring countries.  Would Hungary be far behind?  Mislow chose to immigrate to the United States in 1938.

Once in America, Mislow struck a deal with Hollywood.  The Shop Around the Corner, starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan premiered on the silver screen on January 12, 1940.  The romantic comedy was remade in 1999 as You've Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Mockingbird's Dill Harris Based on Truman Capote

"Mr. and Mrs. Lee, Harper Lee's mother and father, lived very near.  Harper Lee was my best friend...I'm a character in her book, which takes place in the same small town in Alabama where we lived.  Her father was a lawyer and she and I used to go to trials all the time.  We went to trials instead of going to the movies." (Truman Capote)

When I first read To Kill a Mockingbird to my Grade 10 class in Windsor, the image of Scout and Dill timidly approaching the recluse Bo Radley's house stuck in my head.  The image of Scout and Dill peeking their heads over the courthouse balcony as they watched Scout's dad defend a black man accused of rape lingered in my memory.  

In the 1920's and early 1930's, Harper Lee and Truman Capote were next door neighbours.  They developped a close relationship, spending long afternoons together.  Lee used to sneak into her lawyer father's study and sat at his typewriter as Capote dictated wildly imaginative stories.  Lee and Capote used to attend Mr. Lee's trials, the way other kids would go to the movies.   

Another pastime the friends shared was "the killing of mockingbirds", mentioned in a letter to a friend in 1955, seven years before the publication of the famous book.  The two were what Anne of Green Gables would call "kindred spirits".  Capote moved to New York; Lee later followed.  Both became writers.  Both became recluses later in life.  While Capote was a prolific writer, Lee only published one book in her lifetime (Go Set a Watchman came out posthumously).  Capote is immortalized in Lee's classic novel, a testament to a lasting friendship.

For more information, visit


Sunday, 23 August 2015

Jimmie Foxx Basis for A League of Their Own Character

"He has muscles in his hair." (Lefty Gomez, New York Yankees pitcher)

Jimmie Foxx, who played professional baseball for 20 seasons, was only the second person in history to score 500 home runs, after Babe Ruth.  Foxx was the inspiration for Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own.

Born and raised in Maryland, Foxx was signed by the Athletics in 1925 at the tender age of 17.  Four years later, Foxx had a breakthrough year batting .354 and scoring 33 home runs, meriting him a spot on the cover of Time.  

By 1933, Foxx earned the Triple Crown of Baseball, with a batting average of .356 and 48 home runs.  Lefty Gomez, a New York Yankees pitcher, explained:  "He has muscles in his hair."  It was Gomez who pitched a ball to Foxx which the latter hit into the third deck of Yankee Stadium, a rare feat.

The Great Depression forced the Athletics owner to sell Foxx's contract to the Boston Red Sox.  Foxx played in Boston for six years in which he earned 50 home runs one season, a feat not duplicated until 2006.

Foxx's skills diminished after 1941, possibly the result of drinking.  He finished his career with the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies.  Often referred to as the "left handed Babe Ruth", Foxx ended his career as a pitcher.  He played with such greats as Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Hank Greenberg.  

Foxx passed away in 1967 but his jersey hangs in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  He will also be remembered as the character Jimmy Dugan, played by Tom Hanks, in the 1992 movie A League of Their Own.