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6 Lesser-Known Versions of Famous Pop Culture Characters

What’s in a name? In Hollywood, a built-in audience. But not all the famous pop culture characters you know today are the first fictional beings to boast that moniker. From the Ghostbusters to Dennis the Menace, here are six lesser-known versions of famous pop culture characters (not all them related to the better known characters with whom they share a name).

1. GHOSTBUSTERS

In 1986, there were two animated Ghostbusters TV shows: The Real Ghostbusters and Filmation’s Ghostbusters.

The Real Ghostbusters was based on Ivan Reitman’s wildly popular 1984 movie, while Ghostbusters, production by Filmation, was an animated series based on The Ghost Busters, a live-action Saturday morning TV show that aired on CBS in 1975.

While the former featured the well-known characters of Doctors Peter Venkman, Egon Spengler, and Ray Stantz (and yes, even Slimer the ghost), the latter centered around ghost-fighters Jake Kong Jr., Eddie Spencer Jr., and their sidekick Tracy the Gorilla.

When Columbia Pictures was producing Ghostbusters in 1984, the movie studio licensed the title from Filmation for $500,000 plus one percent of the movie’s profits. However, Columbia claimed that the movie didn’t make a profit (yes, Hollywood accounting is complicated). To profit off the film's success, Filmation produced an animated TV series based on their property after Columbia decided not to partner with them for The Real Ghostbusters TV show. In fact, Columbia added the word “Real” to distinguish the two animated TV shows (and possibly as a jab), even though Filmation’s series was more than 30 years old at that point.

2. THE WIZARD OF OZ

While MGM’s 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz will always be the most iconic version of L. Frank Baum’s children’s book of the same name, Walt Disney wanted to get in on the Oz game and purchased the film rights to all of Baum’s Oz stories (minus The Wizard of Oz) in 1954.

He produced a 10-minute segment of Rainbow Road to Oz as a story pitch with The Mickey Mouse Club and the Mouseketeers in September 1957. However, due to the growing popularity of The Wizard of Oz in the 1950s and ‘60s, Disney scrapped the project and produced Babes In Toyland instead, which borrowed a number of elements from Rainbow Road to Oz.

The Walt Disney Company still owned the rights to the Oz stories, so over the years, Disneyland Records produced a number of Disney Storyteller LPs, featuring some of Baum’s stories and characters, including The Scarecrow of Oz and The Cowardly Lion of Oz. In 1985, Disney released Return to Oz, which is based on The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz. While it was made as an unofficial sequel to The Wizard of Oz, Disney worked with MGM and paid a hefty licensing fee to use the iconic ruby slippers—which were silver in Baum’s original story. Years later, in 2013, Disney released Oz the Great and Powerful, directed by Sam Raimi.

3. JAMES BOND

There were two James Bond movies released in 1983: Octopussy was an official movie from Eon Productions that starred Roger Moore as James Bond, while Never Say Never Again was an unofficial remake of Thunderball from producer Kevin McClory (who also produced the original), and starring Sean Connery as 007.

Here’s how it happened: James Bond author Ian Fleming was working with McClory and screenwriter Jack Whittingham on a script for a potential James Bond movie in 1961. The script never came together, so Fleming turned what they were working on into the novel Thunderball, without giving McClory or Whittingham proper credit. The pair sued Fleming and were ultimately rewarded all copyrights.

When Eon Productions, the production company that owns the film rights to all of Fleming’s Bond stories, was working on the film adaptation, they allowed McClory a producing credit with the stipulation that he wouldn’t produce any other version of Thunderball for 10 years after the film’s release in 1965. 

Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, McClory and Connery worked on another screen adaptation of Thunderball, but the pair ran into problems with Eon Productions. However, after a long development process and a number of court cases, McClory was eventually allowed to remake Thunderball with Connery as Bond. A new title was suggested as Connery said he would never play James Bond again after 1971's Diamonds Are Forever, so Connery’s wife suggested Never Say Never Again as the remake’s title.

Octopussy was released about four months before Never Say Never Again, and actually fared better with critics and audiences (despite Connery’s presence in the latter).

4. AND 5. QUICKSILVER AND THE SCARLET WITCH

The comic book characters Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a. Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch, are superhero mutants and properties of Marvel Comics. Back in the 1990s, the comic book giant licensed a few of its top-tier characters to major movie studios and, as a result, the superhero siblings are the property of 20th Century Fox, who acquired the film rights to everything belonging to the X-Men and Mutant universe. In 2014, Quicksilver (played by Evan Peters) made his feature film debut in X-Men: Days of Future Past, as a speedy and wild fan favorite. The Scarlet Witch also received a nod in a deleted scene, as Quicksilver’s little sister.

However, in 2015, Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch also appeared in Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, respectively. While Fox currently owns the film rights to the characters, Marvel Studios and Disney can also use the superheroes because they are members of The Avengers in the comic book world. Marvel Studios is allowed to use the characters without legal recourse as long as they’re not referred to as "Mutants" and are not the children of Magneto, who also belongs to Fox. Marvel got around these stipulations for Avengers by referring to them as being “enhanced” after a series of scientific experiments, and including a back story which states that their parents died when they were younger.  

6. DENNIS THE MENACE

In March 1951, two different comic strips from two different countries were released within days of each other that featured the same character name: Dennis the Menace. Hank Ketcham created his Dennis as a newspaper comic strip for the United States, while Davey Law and Ian Chisholm created their Dennis for British children's comic The Beano. The two versions of Dennis the Menace were completely unrelated; that they used the same name, and were released about a week apart, was purely coincidental.

While they share the same name, they are completely different characters. The American Dennis is a kindhearted, overly stimulated boy who accidentally gets into hijinks and is only considered a “menace” by his neighbor, Mr. Wilson, while the British Dennis is a mean-spirited troublemaker.

Over the years, the characters have gained popularity in their respective home countries, while the American Dennis is more popular internationally than his British counterpart. In fact, the British Dennis the Menace comic changed its name to Dennis and Gnasher (his dog) to avoid confusion outside of the United Kingdom. The American Dennis the Menace also had to change its name to simply Dennis when the live-action film version opened in England.

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Space Goat Publishing
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Comics
These Evil Dead 2 Comics Will Look Groovy on Your Bookshelf
Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Bruce Campbell has been quoted as saying the gallons of fake blood poured into his face during filming of the 1987 cult classic horror film Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn led to a week of red-tinged mucus leaking out of his nostrils. Fortunately, no Campbells were harmed in the making of two new comic collections from Space Goat Productions that are now being funded on Kickstarter. The Evil Dead 2 Omnibus features over 300 pages of stories set in the Necronomicon-plagued universe featured in numerous comic book miniseries; The Art of Evil Dead 2 reveals never-before-seen production art from both the comics and ancillary projects.

The campaign is the latest from Space Goat, the Bellingham, Washington-based company that’s made a cottage (or cabin) industry from products spinning out of the Sam Raimi-directed film, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In addition to the new collections, the publisher has also issued an Evil Dead 2 coloring book; a comic where Campbell’s demon-fighting hero, Ash Williams, encounters Adolf Hitler; and a forthcoming board game where players can navigate Deadite threats while shaking their head at Ash’s questionable competency. (No matter the iteration, he seems ill-equipped to deal with the threat of his own possessed and lopped-off hand.)

According to Space Goat publisher Shon Bury, licensing the Evil Dead 2 property from rights holders StudioCanal in 2015 has been a buoy in navigating the difficult waters of comic book publishing. (Even Marvel, which rakes in billions through its film franchises, struggles to sell more than 60,000 to 70,000 copies of its most popular monthly titles.) One day into its Kickstarter launch, the Evil Dead titles had reached 50 percent of their $20,000 funding goal.

“It’s definitely our flagship on the publishing side,” Bury tells Mental Floss. “The board game is our top seller in the Evil Dead category, and the coloring book sells really well. They’re our evergreen products.”

The cover to 'The Art of Evil Dead 2' from Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Exploring Ash’s adventures in other media comes with a few caveats. While Space Goat is free to explore the characters and situations portrayed in Evil Dead 2, incorporating ideas from the rest of the series (including 1993’s Army of Darkness or the Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead) is generally off-limits. And while the StudioCanal rights include a likeness of Campbell, the actor has veto power over how he’s depicted on the page. “For some reason, he doesn’t like the dimple on his chin to be drawn,” Bury says. “But he’s very insistent that the scar on his face from the movie is always there.”

Other actors featured in the film—like Richard Domeier, the future home-shopping host who portrayed “Evil Ed”—may not have granted their likeness rights, but his Deadite character design is part of the deal. “You want to inoculate the owner or licensor of the rights,” Bury says. “So we submit drawings and they might say, ‘No, too close to the actor.’”

That development process is part of what makes up The Art of Evil Dead 2, one-half of Space Goat’s current Kickstarter project that follows a successful Evil Dead 2 board game launch in 2016. The campaigns, Bury says, help target Ash fans with material that might not get enough attention if it were released directly to retailers. “Kickstarter is basically social media. It’s direct engagement, our way of saying to fans, ‘Hey, you’re really going to like this.’”

Bury expects fans to be just as enthused about Evil Dead 2: The Doppelganger Wars, a limited series due for release in 2018 that sees Ash and sidekick Annie Knowby enter the mirror dimension glimpsed at in Evil Dead 2 to discover the true origins of both the demon-summoning Necronomicon and the cult surrounding it. A meeting with H.P. Lovecraft may also be on deck, along with other narratives that would carry the license through the end of the publisher’s current agreement with StudioCanal in late 2019.

Still to be decided: whether Ash will ever encounter the werewolves of The Howling, Space Goat’s latest horror license. “Those conversations have occurred,” Bury says. “It would be a natural. But it’s also challenging because the royalties [for the licenses] double.” 

Digital versions of The Art of Evil Dead 2 and the Evil Dead Omnibus will be available to backers pledging $20 beginning in December. Softcover, hardcover, and Necronomicon slipcase editions ($30 and up) ship in May 2018. The Kickstarter runs through November 25.

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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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History
How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images

The Klansmen were furious.

Dozens of them had congregated in a nondescript room in Atlanta, shaking cloaked heads at the worrisome news that their sect leader had just shared: An act of gross subterfuge had transpired over the airwaves. Millions of Americans had now become privy to their policies, their rankings, their closely guarded methods of organized hatred.

All of it fodder for some comic book radio show. Their mission had been compromised, sacrificed at the altar of popular culture. Kids, one Klansman sighed. His kids were in the streets playing Superman vs. the Klan. Some of them tied red towels around their necks; others pranced around in white sheets. Their struggle for racial purity had been reduced to a recess role play.

Stetson Kennedy listened, doing his best to give off irate body language. He scowled. He nodded. He railed.

The covert activist waited patiently for the Klan to settle down. When they did, he would call radio journalists Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, offering the results of his infiltration into the group for public consumption.

He’d also contact Robert Maxwell, producer of the Superman radio serial. Maxwell, eager to aid the humanitarian mission of the Anti-Defamation League, would promptly insert the leaked information into his show’s scripts. In between fisticuffs, his cast would mock the KKK’s infrastructure, and the group’s loathsome attitudes would be rendered impotent by the juvenilia.

The Klan roared, demanding revenge on their traitor. “Show me the rat,” their leader said, “and I’ll show you some action.”

Kennedy cheered, just as they all did.

And when he returned home, his Klan robe would be traded for a cape.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kennedy, born in 1916, was an unlikely undercover operative. After a back injury kept him out of World War II, the Jacksonville, Florida native decided he wanted to combat anti-American forces on the home front. With Klan members alleged to have assaulted his family’s black maid when he was a child, the Klan—once again gathering steam in an era of segregation and racial divisiveness—was a favored target.

Having convinced a “Klavern” in Atlanta, Georgia that he shared their bigoted views, Kennedy donned the ominous attire of a Klansman, attended cross burnings, and covertly collected information about the group that he would then share with law enforcement and media. Radio journalist Drew Pearson would read the names and minutes of their meetings on air, exposing their guarded dialogues.

Revealing their closed-door sessions was a blow—one that Kennedy didn’t necessarily have to confine to nonfiction. In 1946, Maxwell, who produced the Superman radio serial broadcast around the country, embraced Kennedy’s idea to contribute to a narrative that had Superman scolding the racial divisiveness of the Klan and airing their dirty laundry to an enraptured audience.

“The law offices, state, county, FBI, House Un-American Activities Committee, they were all sympathetic with the Klan,” Kennedy said later. “The lawmen were, ideologically at least, close with the Klansmen. The court of public opinion was all that was left.”

Ostensibly aimed at children, Superman’s daily radio dramas were often broadcast to assembled nuclear families; one phone poll showed that 35 percent of its audience was composed of adults.

But regardless of whether parents listened, the activist believed the younger demographic was worth attending to. “Even back in the ’40s, they had kids in the Klan, little girls dressed up in Klan robes at the cross burnings," Kennedy said. "I have photos of an infant in a cradle with a complete Klan robe on. It seemed like a good place to do some educating.” 

In “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” a 16-part serial airing in June and July of 1946, Superman opposes an organized group of hatemongers who target one of Jimmy Olsen’s friends. Exploring their network, Clark Kent uncovers their secret meetings and policies before his alter ego socks the “Grand Scorpion” in the jaw. The idea, Kennedy wrote in his account of his work, The Klan Unmasked, was to made a mockery of their overblown vernacular.

When traveling, for example, Klansmen might identify one another by asking if they “knew Mr. Ayak,” an acronym for “Are You a Klansman?” Although Kennedy may not have actually shared their code words on air—a longstanding myth that was debunked in Rick Bowers’s 2012 book, Superman vs. the KKK—their histrionics were perfect for dramatization in the breathless structure of a radio drama. Given shape by actors and sound effects, all the clubhouse tropes of the Klan seemed exceedingly silly.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Kennedy continued to serve up Klan secrets to Superman, he watched as Klan morale dipped and membership enrollment ebbed. Desperate, the Klan tried calling for a boycott of Kellogg’s, a new sponsor of the show, but racial intolerance was no match for the appetites of post-World War II homes. Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes remained breakfast table staples, and Superman’s battles with the close-minded continued. Emboldened by his success against the Klan, Superman took aim at Communism, a favorite target of the show’s anti-Red star, Bud Collyer.

Kennedy would go on to burden the Klan using proof of uncollected tax liens, and eventually convinced the state of Georgia to revoke their national corporate charter.

Kennedy died in 2011 at the age of 94. While some of his accounts of subterfuge in the Klan later came under fire for being embellished, his bravery in swimming with the sharks of the organization is undeniable. So, too, was his wisdom in utilizing American iconography to suffocate prejudice. Fictional or not, Superman may have done more to stifle the Klan’s postwar momentum than many real people who merely stood by and watched.

Portions of this article were excerpted from Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon by Jake Rossen with permission from Chicago Review Press. Copyright (c) 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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