‘The Simpsons’: 10 real-life inspirations behind the show’s best-loved characters

From Troy McClure to Bumblebee Man, via Rainier 'Arnie' Wolfcastle

The Simpsons is now available to stream in its entirety for the first time in the UK – that’s 676 episodes and no end in sight to its unceasing run on the air.

Of course, a vast number of famous people have to lent their voices to the show over the years (check out our run-through of the musicians who’ve guested on The Simpsons), but did you know some of its best-loved and longest-serving characters are based on real-life Hollywood megastars, political figures and even family members of the show’s core production and writing staff? Here’s a look at some of the most interesting real-life inspirations behind The Simpsons‘ cast of thousands.

Moe Szyslak – Stand-up comedian Rich Hall

Rich Hall / Moe Szyslak
Rich Hall / Moe Szyslak (Picture: Getty / Alamy / Fox)

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US alternative comic Rich Hall found fame on the comedy circuit in the 1980s for his bad tempered – but hilarious – rants and bleak outlook on life. The comedian has long claimed that Simpsons creator Matt Groening once revealed to him that he was the basis of grumpy, downtrodden bartender Moe, and in November 2018 Hall dressed up as Moe for a photoshoot. “It’s an honour,” Hall said of being the inspiration for Moe. “Once you get over the shock of seeing yourself as a horrible, yellow caricature.”

Homer Simpson – Matt Groening’s father / actor Walter Matthau

Groening derived the names for America’s most famous family from his own family, with dad Homer, mum Margaret and sisters Lisa, Maggie and Patty all getting a nod. The creator of the show has been at pains to point out, though, that cartoon Homer was nothing like his actual father. “Homer originated with my goal to both amuse my real father, Homer, and just annoy him a little bit,” Groening told EW in 2010. “My father was an athletic, creative, intelligent filmmaker and writer, and the only thing he had in common with Homer was a love of donuts. And he never strangled me, but he got so mad sometimes, it felt like that could be the next move.”

Dan Castellaneta, who plays Homer on the show, revealed in the early 1990s that he developed the character’s voice from his impersonation of the late actor Walter Matthau.

Mayor Joe Quimby – Senator Ted Kennedy

Mayor Quimby / Ted Kennedy The Simpsons
Mayor Quimby / Ted Kennedy (Picture: Alamy/Fox and Getty)

Springfield’s philandering, sketchy mayor bears resemblance to a few members of the Kennedy dynasty, but it’s the late Massachusetts Senator Ted who’s most often cited as the one. Kennedy embraced his cartoon doppelgänger in 2000 when a contest was held in the US to determine which town of Springfield should serve as the real-life equivalent of the Simpsons’ hometown, as he invited “ol’ Diamond Joe Quimby” to come and sample some “chow-dah” in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Rainier Wolfcastle – Arnold Schwarzenegger

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You probably didn’t need telling about this one. Rainier Wolfcastle’s McBain could’ve easily slotted into the leading role in any of Arnie’s many action movies in the ’80s and ’90s. We’re still holding out hope that McBain: Let’s Get Silly will actually be released in full one day, too.

Krusty The Clown – Rusty Nails The Clown

As explained in the OPB video above, the character of Krusty was inspired by real-life Portland clown James Allen, AKA Rusty Nails. Groening, like many kids of his age at the time, grew up watching Rusty on TV and later described him as “a very sweet clown” with an “incredibly disturbing [name], because as a child you know you’re supposed to avoid rusty nails”.

Troy McClure – Actors Troy Donahue and Doug McClure

Troy McClure The Simpsons
Troy McClure and his namesakes (Picture: Getty / Fox)

A portmanteau of the names of two prominent 1960s actors helped create the much-loved and much-missed Troy McClure, star of Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off!, Get Confident, Stupid! and Meat And You: Partners in Freedom (“Don’t kid yourself, Jimmy: if a cow ever got the chance, he’d eat you and everyone you care about”).

Simpsons producer and writer Mike Reiss once recalled meeting Doug McClure’s daughter, who revealed that her late father was a huge fan of his Simpsons namesake before his passing in 1995.

Edna Krabappel – Our Gang actress June Marlowe

Simpsons writers Wallace Wolodarsky and Jay Kogen chose the surname Krabappel for the Springfield Elementary educator for two reasons: 1) as a play on the name of the “crab apple” fruit, and 2) as a nod Marlowe’s teacher character Miss Crabtree in the Our Gang shorts, which later became known as The Little Rascals.

Mr. Burns – John D. Rockefeller, Barry Diller and many others

John D. Rockefeller / Mr. Burns / Barry Diller simpsons
John D. Rockefeller / Mr. Burns / Barry Diller (Picture: Getty and Alamy/Fox)

The real-inspirations for Charles Montgomery Burns, it seems, are numerous. It was long thought that Norwegian oil magnate Fred Olsen had inspired the creation of the Springfield Power Plant tycoon, but Groening finally denied the link in 2015.

In a 2000 interview with TV Guide in the US, Groening stated that Burns’ personality had been concocted by combining actual oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller with the It’s a Wonderful Life character Henry Potter. That same TV Guide story also cited supervising director David Silverman’s claim that the look of Mr. Burns was based on Barry Diller, who headed up the show’s network Fox at the time of The Simpsons‘ TV debut in 1989.

And the Burns name? Charles is taken from Citizen Kane‘s Charles Foster Kane, while Montgomery came from a childhood friend of Groening’s who lived across the street from a Montgomery Ward shop. Next to the store was a historic log cabin which burned down, and the location of the two buildings later combined in Groening’s head to create Montgomery Burns.

Bumblebee Man – Roberto Gómez Bolaños

 

Actor and comedian Roberto Gómez Bolaños inspired the Spanish-speaking Bumblebee Man in The Simpsons via his own TV character, El Chapulín Colorado. Bolaños, who died in 2014, was hugely popular in his native Mexico for his wacky performances in shows such as the one you can see above.

Chief Wiggum – Actor Edward G. Robinson

Chief Wiggum / Edward G. Robinson simpsons
Chief Wiggum / Edward G. Robinson (Picture: Alamy/Fox and Getty)

The design of Springfield’s bumbling police chief, you might not be too astounded to hear, was primarily based on a pig. But Mike Reiss told EW in 2018 that Golden Age actor Edward G. Robinson was the inspiration for the sound of his voice, which is provided by Hank Azaria. In a nod to this bit of inspiration, the 2008 ‘Treehouse of Horror’ episode saw Wiggum and Robinson’s ghost confront one another, accusing each other of being rip-offs.

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