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People you never knew you should care about

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CONSTANTINOS PSILLIDES looks at the unsung heroes whose life stories are calling out for a biopic


Hollywood has always looked to history for inspiration. Oppenheimer, the story of how the atomic bomb was made and Napoleon, the life of the legendary leader of France were released this year, among a heap of other based on/inspired by true events movies. Cinema loves a biopic but most of what we get is for people almost everyone knows. What about those unsung heroes, the people who lead incredible lives or have done incredible things and whose life screams for a cinema adaptation?


The inventor of Monopoly: socialist who despised capitalism

Elizabeth Magie was a truly remarkable woman. An early feminist, she believed in the power of education and helping her fellow man. She was extremely concerned about income inequality and how poverty leads to homelessness. And above all else, Lizzie hated monopolies.

She was also gifted creatively and with a knack for designing games. Wanting to teach children about the evils of capitalism, in 1903 she invented the Landlord’s Game, a board game with a non-linear path, with title deeds that could be bought or sold, four corners, utility squares and all the other fixtures we know and love. Lizzie created two sets of rules: one where if the players worked they could all be winners by beating the game and one where they turned against each other.

Her game was not a commercial success but people who played it loved it and started copying her board and rules. In 1934 it reached the home of Charles Darrow, a down-on-his-luck businessman trying to bounce back after the Great Depression. Seeing the potential, Darrow filed a patent for the game and took it to game company Parker Bros, claiming he invented it. The game was a huge and immediate success, which of course prompted people who had played it previously to come out.

Parker Bros did some digging and found out that Lizzie invented it but an elderly, unmarried, socialist woman who always spoke her mind wasn’t an ideal original story. Darrow fit the profile far better. So they cheated her out of her invention and her name was lost to time. Until 1973 when Parker Bros got into an intellectual property fight with an economics teacher called Ralph Anspach. Anspach created the Anti-Monopoly game and the company sued. Trying to uncover evidence for the trial Anspach stumbled upon Lizzie Maggie and made her story known to the world.

tv col2 a statue of the bear in edingburgh
A statue of the bear in Edingburgh

Wojtek: beer-chugging, chain-smoking, Nazi-fighting bear

Returning to the front, recently released Polish soldiers came across a bear cub in Iran. They decided to adopt the cub as a mascot for their Corps and call it Wojtek. Growing up with people, especially soldiers, Wojtek was not your average bear. It developed an appetite for booze (beers and vodka were his favourites) as well as a love for smoking, drinking coffee in the morning and wrestling with other soldiers. He soon became an attraction and the Polish soldiers took Wojtek everywhere with them.

When they were shipped off to Italy to fight the Germans, the ever-enterprising Polish taught the bear to move ammunition crates and he was present in all battles fought by them.

Following the end of the war, Wojtek was given to a zoo in Scotland where he spent the rest of his days.

Why this is not a Disney movie directed by Quentin Tarantino, I have no idea.


Plennie Wingo: walked across the world, backwards

Desperate for money and inspired by unusual feats of strength and endurance, Plennie Wingo stepped out of his home and set out to walk across the world. And as if that wasn’t ridiculous enough, he decided that he would do it by walking backwards.

Wearing specially made shoes and glasses that allow him to see behind him, Plennie set off for his incredible journey. During his journey, he was robbed, harassed, beaten up, thrown in jail and regularly mocked. Despite that, he kept on going. Somehow, Plennie made it to Europe where he marched on until he reached Turkey where he was thrown in jail and forgotten. He was released and instructed to return home where he died in relative obscurity.


Pope: exhumed corpse of predecessor to put on trial

Courtroom dramas are always a guaranteed success and this 897 story has everything. Intrigue, mysterious deaths and juicy scandals. Pope Stephen VI really, really, REALLY hated Pope Formosus. He hated him so much, he couldn’t wait to put him on trial. When Formosus died, Stephen didn’t see a problem with that. He dug up his corpse and put it on trial.

He assigned a bishop as Formosu’s attorney/spokesman/necromancer and proceeded with hurling accusations against the deceased defendant. I can just see it now. The bishop finishes his rousing closing arguments and then slowly turns to the jury. “The defence rests, in peace”, as the courtroom erupts in applause. Get Aaron Sorkin on this now!

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