When Julie Andrews played the singing nun Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music, she created one of cinema's most nauseatingly saccharine characters. She brought tinkling laughter and music into the lives of the widowed Captain von Trapp and his seven children, infusing their home in wartime Austria with songs about whiskers on kittens and brown paper packages. And yet she still found time to spin around the hills with her arms outstretched.
It's enough to make your stomach turn. However, a new play suggests that Maria von Trapp was not the saintly character we know her to be, but rather a pushy manipulator who saw off her competition in the form of the captain's fiancée, Baroness Schraeder.
While Maria was painted in the movie as Little Miss Irritating, I mean Perfect, the baroness was represented as a frosty, Nazi sympathiser, even though there is no historical evidence to support this. In fact, by all accounts, she was a beautiful, intelligent charmer who got on well with the kids. It seems a little surprising, not to mention dubious, that the older captain would opt to run off with the stroppy young nun.
Annie Caulfield, author of the new play How Do You Solve A Problem Like That?, said that, ironically, it was the baroness's idea to recruit the young nun to help look after the children.
In fairness, the sickly sweet character portrayed by Andrews has always seemed too good to be true, and the idea of Maria as a devious minx makes her more human. Caulfield said: "Andrews was so nice that Maria came across as nice, but she was pushy. The Von Trapps were quite a well-known folk-singing group; Maria was ambitious. I also got the impression the nuns were only too glad to see the back of her."
If Maria von Trapp can turn out to be a scheming manipulator, who's to say what the real-life inspirations behind some of our other best-known characters were?
Even if you've never seen the film Breakfast At Tiffany's, the image of Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, with sunglasses, little black dress and cigarette holder, is as recognisable as the iconic image of Che Guevara. Hepburn immortalised Golightly as a clueless, eccentric, single woman living on her wits and her beauty in New York City. Hepburn's character has her dark moments in the film, suffering from bouts of what she calls 'the mean reds' and cadging money from older wealthy men. But the overall image is charmingly ditzy. The real-life character was a much darker creation. Written by Truman Capote, his 1958 novella of the same name was full of sinister intimations about Golightly's experiences. While Golightly is portrayed in the film as naively delivering coded messages to a criminal in Sing Sing prison for money, in the book she is nobody's fool.
Until recently, it was never suspected that the iconic Holly Golightly might have been based on an Irishwoman. Angela Bourke's 2004 biography of writer Maeve Brennan asserted that she may have been the true inspiration for Golightly.
Brennan worked with Truman Capote at Harper's Bazaar and The New Yorker. She was an eccentric too, who, just like Holly Golightly, favoured black cocktail dresses, large sunglasses, and her hair piled high. Like Golightly, she was beautiful and maddeningly mysterious.
Brennan was almost unknown in her native Ireland, having moved to America at the age of 17. By the time of her death, at the age of 76 in 1993, she was destitute and suffering from alcoholism and mental illness, but she has experienced a revival in recent years on the back of her novella, The Visitor, which was discovered and published in 2000.
He worked for the British Secret Service, he got through a bottle of gin and over 50 cigarettes a day, led a playboy lifestyle before finally settling down and marrying his mistress. It might sound like James Bond, but it is actually his creator Ian Fleming. Many have tried to discover who the inspiration for the world's most famous spy was, but he shares more than a few similarities with the author.
Fleming once said: "Everything I write has a precedent in truth." And that truth often involved himself.
James Bond, just like his creator, was kicked out of Eton. Fleming went on to work in intelligence during World War II where it is thought he found his real inspiration for Bond. He had a similar attitude to women as Bond and smoked and drank as much as the special agent.
Who could forget Hannibal Lecter's blood-curdling, lip-smacking action in The Silence of the Lambs? Or, for that matter, the leather face mask that was supposed to offer some protection from the cannibal? Lecter is one of the most terrifying murderers ever portrayed in film.
Created by the writer Thomas Harris, Lecter became a movie icon. His origins are not known, although he is thought to be a composite character, as Harris had the help of FBI profilers when developing him. A couple who fit the bill are William Coyne, a Cleveland killer whom Harris would have heard about growing up, and Albert Fish, a murderer who wrote letters about his victims and crimes. Anthony Hopkins has admitted, however, that his own inspiration for playing the role of Lecter was much smaller, but equally lethal, in its own way. It was a cat...
Remember Lecter's languid, tiptoe, stalking walk?
Steven Spielberg made Oskar Schindler a household name the world over with his Oscar-winning depiction of the Nazi who saved Jews in his 1993 movie Schindler's List.
Schindler was already a hero among Jews, having been honoured as one of the Righteous Among the Nations in 1967, an award given to non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust.
Schindler was an unlikely saviour, being a war profiteer who earned millions during the war, and he also had extramarital affairs. His wife Emilie stood by him and helped him steadfastly in his efforts to save the lives of hundreds of Jews.
Schindler eventually left his wife and ended his life bankrupt. The film was based on Thomas Keneally's book, Schindler's Ark, and is thought to be an accurate depiction of Schindler.
RHETT BUTLER AND
Margaret Mitchell created two of cinema's most memorable characters when she wrote her novel Gone With The Wind. Rhett became famous for his callous "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn", while Scarlett was defined by her assertion that "tomorrow is another day." Mitchell always maintained that Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara were entirely fictional, but there is some evidence to suggest that real-life characters may have provided inspiration. Rhett's less flattering, ungen-tlemanly character traits are said to be based on Mitchell's first husband, Red Upshaw, whom she married in 1922. The pair quickly separated when he became abusive and it emerged he was both a bootlegger and an alcoholic.
Scarlett O'Hara, with her fierce determination and defiance of social expectations is thought to be a composite of Mitchell's maternal grandmother and Theodore Roosevelt's mother, who had similar personality traits.
But another candidate is a woman called Adalicia Acklen who owned cotton plantations in Nashville and stood up to Union forces during the war to get free passage to sell her cotton.
Bridget Jones may be responsible for giving us those whopping big knickers, but she was also the crystallisation of every neurotic thirtysomething single woman obsessed with her weight, whose ultimate goal was to find a man.
The character of Bridget first appeared in journalist Helen Fielding's regular newspaper column, which she later expanded into a book. The film adaptation duly followed, with Renee Zellweger in the title role. Bridget does share some traits and experiences with her creator (Fielding was a television journalist), but the real inspiration for the character was the classic Austen heroine Elizabeth Bennet from Pride And Prejudice, with whom Bridget is coincidentally obsessed.
Both heroines are holding out for love, despite all the evidence to the contrary, and both manage to embarrass themselves in public despite their best efforts (remember that shot of Bridget sliding down the fire pole?). As a reference to Bridget's love for Colin Firth, the film actually starred Firth as her love interest Mark Darcy (a direct reference to the BBC's 1995 adaptation of Austen's Pride And Prejudice).
ALICE IN WONDERLAND
There has been much speculation over the years about Lewis Carroll's relationship with Alice Pleasance Liddell, the girl said to have inspired his Alice tales.
There has never been any proof that their relationship was anything other than platonic and Lewis has always maintained that Alice is a fictional creation.
There is little concrete evidence that Alice is the basis of Carroll's most famous tale, but there are some indicators that she provided some inspiration. In Through The Looking Glass, there is an acrostic poem spelling out Alice's full name, and the Alice books were dedicated to her, so it can at least be assumed she was an inspiration for the name, even if she never fell down a rabbit hole herself.
The commander of HMS Bounty has been famously portrayed in films and books (and most recently in Irish novelist John Boyne's Mutiny On The Bounty). Bligh was in charge of the Bounty in 1789, when his trusted protégé Fletcher Christian staged a mutiny.
The story was told in the 1962 film Mutiny On The Bounty, starring Marlon Brando as Fletcher Christian, who was portrayed as a hero. Bligh meanwhile was portrayed as a tyrant, but one suspects this had more to do with showing Brando's character in a heroic light rather than historical fact. In reality, the mutineers were in the minority, making up only one third of the crew and after being thrown off the Bounty with 18 loyal men, Bligh navigated all but one to safety (one member of the crew was murdered in an attack). Amazingly, Bligh also designed the North Bull Wall in Dublin Bay.
Boxers have certainly inspired some of the best-known characters in film and the story of Jake LaMotta was immortalised by Robert DeNiro in the film Raging Bull. DeNiro famously gained over four stone in weight to play the older, out-of-shape LaMotta in later life and received an Oscar for his efforts.
LaMotta, born and raised in the Bronx, was known in real life as the Bronx Bull. He threw a fight with Billy Fox in 1948, allowing himself to be knocked out in four rounds so that the mafia would organise a title fight for him, but he was later called to testify against mafia groups by the FBI in 1953. He won the world middleweight championship in 1949 by default when the then-champion Marcellin Cerdan had to bow out due to an injury (he was later killed on his way to fight the rematch with LaMotta when his plane crashed). In 1970, LaMotta wrote his memoir Raging Bull, which became the basis for the film. After retiring from boxing, LaMotta ran a few pubs and also worked as an actor... although he didn't win any Oscars.