5 Classic Cartoon Characters and Their Real-Life Inspirations

Where do cartoon characters come from? You might be surprised at the inspirations behind some of these.

cartoon characters rosieYouTube

Voiced by Jean Vander Pyl, the Jetsons’ robot maid was based on Shirley Booth’s performance of a wise-cracking maid on the 1960s sitcom Hazel. Hazel called her boss “Mr. B,” so Rosie called George Jetson “Mr. J.”

cartoon characters krusty the clownYouTube

Krusty the Clown
When Simpsons creator Matt Groening was a kid in Portland, Oregon, in the 1960s, he often watched a gravelly voiced, world-weary TV clown named Rusty Nails. “He was actually a very sweet clown,” says Groening, “with an incredibly frightening name.”

cartoon characters rugratsYouTubeRugrats
In 1991 cartoon producer Arlene Klasky had one day to come up with a new series for Nickelodeon. She and her writing partner, Paul Germain, had a few ideas, but nothing was working. Then Klasky looked at her baby and wrote a few things down in her notebook. “Then I called Paul and just read him my notes: ‘If babies could talk, what would they say?'” The next day, they pitched the idea to Nickelodeon… and Rugrats was born.

cartoon characters butt-headYouTube

When animator Mike Judge was in college, he lived next door to a 12-year-old kid who called himself “Iron-Butt.” Judge recalls, “Supposedly, you could kick him in the butt as hard as you wanted, and it wouldn’t hurt him.” A troublemaker, Iron-Butt used to sneak into Judge’s house and once burned down a tree. He became the inspiration for Beavis’s friend, Butt-head.

cartoon characters dexter's laboratoryYouTube

Dexter’s Laboratory
For an animation project at an art institute in 1992, budding artist Genndy Tartakovsky drew a tall, goofy-looking ballerina. Thinking she needed a nemesis, he drew a nerdy-looking little boy with big glasses. Tartakovsky decided the boy was a genius scientist, just like his own older brother. But the mischievous ballerina, named Dee Dee, was modeled on Tartakovsky himself. When he was young, he would annoy his brother by messing with all of his scientific equipment. Tartakovsky built Dexter’s Laboratory, which premiered in 1995, around the duo.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest