He’s hardly alone — lots of figures from history and pop culture are the product of either some marketing campaign or just bad record keeping. Either way, centuries from now, people will probably still think that at one time there was a person named …
#5. Betty Crocker
Why She’s Famous
When you buy Betty Crocker cake mix, or one of the dozens of other products bearing that name, you obviously don’t assume that the company is still run by her, any more than Wendy’s is still owned by Wendy. But it’s logical to assume that, way back when the company got started, there was some actual lady named Betty Crocker just selling her cookies or whatever, in the same way that at one time Ferrari was just Enzo Ferrari making cars in his garage.
And in fact, Betty Crocker first became famous in the 1920s when she started personally responding to customer questions for the Washburn Crosby Company (which later became General Mills). Her popularity grew so much that in 1924 she got her own radio show and cooking school, and by 1945, she was the second best known woman in America, after the first lady. She also loved sitting for portraits, apparently:
“You’re allowed one outfit. Make it a good one.”
But It Turns Out …
Betty Crocker is a crock of shit. It’s not that she no longer exists, as some of you may assume — it’s that she never did. The name was created in 1921 to “personalize responses to consumer inquiries,” and her famous signature was chosen from samples submitted by female employees. She was invented by Sam Gale, Washburn Crosby’s advertising director, because he didn’t think women would take cooking advice from a man.
“Betty Crocker cake mix: vagina certified!”
The made-up name gained so much respect and credibility that the company just went along with it. For the radio show, each station had a different woman to be the voice of “Betty,” but all read from a script developed by the home office. As for the portraits, well, this explains how she could look like a 30-something housewife in the ’40s and a still-30-something yuppie in the ’80s, short of her being Doctor Who.
So that brownie mix doesn’t grant immortality? This is bullshit.
And people of all ages still believe in her today. The writer of Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America’s First Lady of Food did a little survey and says that about half the people she talked to believed that Betty Crocker was a real person, or that she existed at some point. Hell, just do a Google search and you’ll find plenty of disheartening evidence.
If they tell us Count Chocula isn’t real either, we’re going to lose our shit.
Hey, speaking of great female entrepreneurs who are actually just fictional characters created by some dudes in an office …
#4. Mavis Beacon (of “Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing” Fame)
Why She’s Famous
If you can type a full sentence without looking down after every letter, there’s a good chance you know who Mavis Beacon is. For 25 years, Beacon has been teaching kids how to make words with a keyboard with her popular “Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing” software. Today she operates her very own website and Twitter account (which describes her as “smart, classy, and a little bit sassy,” and accordingly follows Sarah Silverman). She also has a charity called Mavis Cares, which “donates software to nonprofit organizations specializing in job-skills training.”
And other high-risk sectors, like YouTube commenters.
So she’s a great lady, all in all. Hopefully we won’t find out she’s fake in the next paragraph.
But It Turns Out …
The best typing teacher ever really was too good to be true. Mavis Beacon started out as little more than a random face on the box of the program, but she became an instant success: The guy who created her says that in the year the program launched, competitors were asking him how he got the Mavis Beacon to endorse his product and telling him they’d “been after her endorsement for years.”
“More the ‘early ’90s Halle Berry from Boomerang‘ era Mavis, but we’re not too picky.”
Beacon’s original face was discovered working at a department store (she’s since been replaced with computer-generated images, as will we all eventually), while her voice was provided by an assistant at the company. As her popularity grew, Beacon went from a glorified logo to an interactive onscreen instructor who is known for telling students to “call it a day” when she senses they’re screwing around.
When the story broke, people were shocked to learn of Mavis’ origins. Apparently, the news hasn’t reached everyone, because people are still finding out about this. “Ms. Beacon’s” public relations representative (yep, that’s a thing) says she gets inquiries about speaking engagements and fields questions about where, exactly, the woman is teaching currently. Some fans find Beacon’s non-existence difficult to stomach: “There was one man who kept calling back. He could not believe it. He kept asking questions, and saying ‘Are you sure?'”
“Mavis, NO! She was to be my wife.”
#3. Carolyn Keene (Writer of the Nancy Drew Books)
Why She’s Famous
She’s one of the most popular authors in history, having sold more than 100 million copies of her Nancy Drew books. In fact, a whole bunch of you out there only started reading books at all because somewhere around middle school you stumbled across some Nancy Drew paperbacks.
Each of the over 300 books in the series starring the titular teenage Sherlock Holmes was written by Carolyn Keene. When the series first started, Keene was profiled by magazines and invited to join the Authors Guild, and she continues to crank out bestsellers despite the fact that she has to be, what, over 100 years old now?
Here she is at age 24.
But It Turns Out …
Actually, she’s zero years old, because she never existed. Nancy Drew (along with The Hardy Boys and other series in the “unattended teenagers solve mysteries” genre) was invented by publisher Edward Stratemeyer, then handed off to numerous ghostwriters and credited as “Carolyn Keene.” This would be fine and good if the company hadn’t then started lying and threatening people to protect its “business secrets.”
Nancy Drew books are like sausages: shadily made, but delicious with mustard.
For instance, in the 1930s, one Walter Karig wrote to the Library of Congress asking to be credited as the writer of three Nancy Drew books because, well, he fucking was. In response, the Stratemeyer Syndicate claimed they’d never heard of such a man. Most of the early books were actually written by Mildred Wirt Benson, but she signed a “secrecy contract” that forbid her from claiming credit for them. It didn’t say anything about TV shows, though, so when her stories were adapted in the ’70s, she asked for some recognition. The Stratemeyers threatened to sue her if she didn’t cut that shit out.
“If we can’t fuck over the people who create the content that makes us money, I don’t even know why we’re in business.”
Obviously, at some point Nancy Drew fans started getting curious about all the mystery surrounding the author, so in the ’70s the publisher put out publicity materials hinting that Keene was Harriet Stratemeyer all along (she did write many of the books, but not all). However, in 1980, the company was involved in a lawsuit and Mildred Benson was called to testify — as a result, they had to admit her contribution. That didn’t extend to putting her name on the covers of the books she wrote, of course. That would be crazy.