6 Famous Figures you Thought Were Real, but Actually Aren’t

By: Jo Rochelle

Names of famous authors, legendary figures, and trademarks swim around in the heads of Americans. They’re on television, the internet, and store merchandise. But who stops to wonder if the famous people, whose names they’ve grown accustomed to seeing, actually existed? If one were to do a little digging, they might find a surprising number of well-known people who never actually existed. Just take a look at the following six:

  1. Betty Crocker

Famous for cookies, cake, and everything else baking-related, Betty Crocker is the creation of the Washburn Crosby Company, the biggest flour-milling company pre-General Mills. In 1921, the Washburn Crosby Company experienced an influx of consumer inquiries, leading the company to create a personalized form of response: the name Betty Crocker. According to the brand’s website, “The surname Crocker was chosen to honor a popular, recently retired director of the company, William G. Crocker, whose family name had long been associated with milling. Betty was chosen simply as a friendly sounding name.”

  1. Aunt Jemima

In 1889, co-owner of Pearl Milling Company, Chris Rutt, attended a show where a blackface performer wearing an apron and bandana headband performed a tune called “Aunt Jemima.” This served as the inspiration for the name and image of his new ready-mixed, self-rising pancake flour. The next year, Rutt and his partner Charles Underwood sold the formula for the flour to R.T. Davis Milling Company. The company set out in search of a living trademark for the brand, and former slave Nancy Green fit the bill. She traveled the country, serving pancakes and stealing hearts until she died in 1923.

  1. Robin Hood

The story of the scruffy vagabond who traversed Nottinghamshire with his merry crew, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, is a tale known and loved by many. The first literary references to Robin Hood appeared in the 14th and 15th centuries in what the History Channel  describes as “a series of ballads about a violent yeoman who lived in Sherwood Forest with his men and frequently clashed with the Sheriff of Nottingham.” The tales and accounts of the bandit grew and evolved over the years. Some variations make Hood out to be a rebel who murders the wealthy, while others describe him as a follower of King Richard. However, historians have failed to find any solid evidence that the thief and his merry men ever existed.

  1. Alan Smithee

Alan Smithee was one of Hollywood’s most diverse directors of all time. He’s credited with directing one episode of the Cosby Show in 1992, an episode of The Twilight Zone in ‘85, and countless other films from 1968 to the present. Smithee has also been nominated for two film awards, once in 1997 and again in 1999. There’s just one missing detail: the guy didn’t exist. Alan Smithee was a pseudonym used by directors who wanted to disown their project, usually due to cuts that completely altered the film from the director’s original vision. So if a show or movie is directed by Alan Smithee, be sure that it was nothing like the director wanted it to be, and it will almost always suck.

5 & 6. Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene

Many people grew up reading Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys books; they are as much an American staple as fried chicken or cheeseburgers. But neither Franklin W. Dixon, author of the Hardy Boys series, nor Carolyn Keene, author of Nancy Drew, ever existed. Rather, they were pseudonyms developed by Edward Stratemeyer and the Stratemeyer Syndicate. The books were written by a number of ghostwriters who completed manuscripts for a flat fee rather than be recognized and then paid for the success of each book.