January 24, 2008

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25 Famous Granite Staters who never lived
A who’s who of fictional faces
By Alec O’Meara aomeara@hippopress.com

What most of us know about the rest of the world we learned from fiction.

That’s not to say that people don’t understand that their favorite TV show or movie is all make believe, but it’s human nature to believe that the characters that populate these programs are at least partially representative of the world that they live in. There are plenty of people who have never been to New York but feel like they know what a makes a New Yorker a New Yorker. Maybe they picture George Costanza, or Gordon Gekko, or Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City.

Since a ridiculous amount of fiction is set in New York, there are plenty of characters to flesh out that part of the world. If a writer wants to set a movie in rural New England, Maine or Vermont come off as more rustic. Massachusetts has Boston, a city rife with familiar settings that make for great drama, and Connecticut feeds off both Boston and New York to collect its dues.

What of New Hampshire? Where are our fictional heroes?

After countless hours of Internet research (thanks, Internet Movie Database and Wikipedia), We have cataloged the most famous New Hampshire residents who never actually existed. The rules for the list are simple. (1) The character must have ties to New Hampshire or “belong” to the state in some way (growing up here-off camera or in an off-hand mention to the character’s background in the book is A-OK). (2) All forms of media are fair game.

Here then, are the Granite State’s most prolific fictional ambassadors.

25. Shannon Ashbury of The X-Files
Agents Mulder and Scully of The X-Files paid a visit to New Hampshire in the second season to explore the death of a teenager that suggested occult rituals and perhaps even, gasp, the presence of actual supernaturally manifested evil. While interviewing residents, the agents eventually focused on the Ashbury residence, specifically classmate Shannon. After an exceptionally stressful biology class where the pig she is dissecting returns to life, Shannon “remembers” years of creepy abuse. The revelation ends up being the tip of the iceberg, as many in the town turn out to be active occultists, though not necessarily hardcore about their faith anymore. The story doesn’t end well for Shannon, who is possessed by a substitute teacher who was possibly the devil and apparently commits suicide. Shanon’s death is enough to get her father to talk to the agents, though before he gets the chance, he is eaten by the teacher’s pet snake. Bummer.

24. USS Kearsarge of Star Trek: The Next Generation
Proof that the memory of the state’s geography will survive at least until the 24th century, the USS Kearsarge, named after New Hampshire’s Mount Kearsarge, is established as part of Starfleet in Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Kearsarge is mentioned in passing during the episode “Firstborn” as a planned rendezvous for the Enterprise. The Star Trek Encyclopedia is all too happy to take a one-sentence, one-episode mention and use it to explain that the Kearsarge is a Challenger-class starship with the Federation insignia of NCC-57566. There have been real naval ships with the namesake, including the carrier that fished New Hampshire astronaut Alan Shepard out of the ocean following his historic orbit.

23. The Shaw brothers of The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire
When TV uber-producer David E. Kelley (The Practice, Ally McBeal, Boston Public, Boston Legal) announced he was going to set a show in rural New Hampshire, many in the state were thrilled. When show producers went up to Plymouth to shoot the pilot, there was excitement about what it would mean to the local economy. Then the pilot aired and the world was introduced to Hank, Garrett, and Waylon Shaw (Randy Quaid, John Carroll Lynch and Chris Penn, respectively), three pudgy natives who argue a lot, like their drinks, and sleep with each other’s wives. The initial reviews were scathing. Just about all the good will of Plymouth was gone by the first commercial break, and the show was off the air after five episodes. Despite its decent cast, which also included Ann Cusack and Elizabeth McGovern, the show is best remembered as arguably the largest flop on Kelley’s impressive résumé.

22. New Hampshire’s Marvel Initiative Team of Marvel Comics
Following the 2006 “Civil War” storyline within the Marvel Comics universe, the Congress enacted legislation that required all superheroes to register their powers with the federal government after a battle with a supervillain caused massive collateral damage on a college campus. As part of the “50-state Initiative,” B-list heroes were placed on special teams for every state in the union. Pennsylvania, for instance, has the “Liberteens,” featuring The Revolutionary, Blue Eagle, Ms. America, Iceberg, Whiz Kid, Hope, and 2-D. Only a handful of actual teams have been written into the mythos so far, so all that is known today is that somewhere outside the panels of the comic books there is a team in New Hampshire fighting for justice. (Who are these avengers of the North Country? Go to www.hippopress.com to see the side bar.)

21. Louis Winthorpe III of Trading Places
Early in the 1983 classic film Trading Places we learn that Dan Aykroyd’s sniveling stockbroker is the product of an Exeter/Harvard education, when the Duke brothers set up their nature-versus-nurture wager and agree to ruin Winthorpe’s life for the sole purpose of seeing what happens. As Winthorpe’s life hits rock bottom, he shows the true nature of his character by showing up at the Dukes’ Christmas party in a Santa suit, drunk, hiding a smoked salmon in his beard, and threatening the life of Eddie Murphy’s Billy Ray Valentine with a gun. Winthorpe might be Aykroyd’s best-known character, and Trading Places is an all-time great. What keeps Winthorpe on the bottom of the list is that he was never a true New Hampshire resident — he only went to school here for a couple of years, and you just know that the arrogant, pre-wager Winthorpe felt that he was out “among common people” while at Phillips Exeter.

20. Sutter Cane of In the Mouth of Madness
In the Mouth of Madness was a weird movie, even by director John Carpenter’s standards. In it, we are introduced to horror writer/evil wizard Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow), a resident of the fictitious town of Hobb’s End, N.H. Cane writes a book that turns its readers into homicidal maniacs. The movie ends with Cane’s book released and world gone mad. There is no town called Hobb’s End in the real New Hampshire, but according to the movie, that is because Cane’s H. P. Lovecraftian power over the human mind has erased knowledge of the town. (Here’s guessing the Department of Tourism isn’t thrilled about that.) Prochnow went on to appear in Wing Commander, House of the Dead and Beerfest. We’re guessing he’d be available for a sequel.

19. Grover’s Corners, N.H.
The titular town in Thornton Wilder’s famed play isn’t technically a character. However, the omniscient “Stage Manager” — who opens the show by introducing each resident of the town, speaks with the dead, and oversees the wedding between two major characters — represents the soul of the community at the center of Wilder’s script. Wilder’s play is about Americana, but for New Hampshirites the themes hit closer to home, since the “our” in Our Town could actually be true. Wilder wrote the play partly at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough and it’s often been said that Peterborough inspired Grover’s Corners.

18. Alan Pangborn of The Dark Half and other Stephen King novels
Retired Sheriff Alan Pangborn, of the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine, is an interesting case. For about 20 years Stephen King made this guy’s life a living hell. Pangborn was elected sheriff after his predecessor was eaten by Cujo, a clear red flag for any career. In The Dark Half he attempts to arrest a serial killer who turns out to be the physical manifestation of a local writer’s pen name. Then, in Needful Things, Pangborn faces a demon who opens a small antique shop in town (you might remember Ed Harris playing Pangborn in the movie). It isn’t until Pangborn passes out of King’s world entirely that the author mentions in Bag of Bones that the sheriff retired and happily lived out his days on a farm in New Hampshire. It was likely the first place Pangborn found that met his retirement criteria, which was “anywhere but this effed-up, monster-ridden state.”

17. John “Rugged” Rudgate of Live Free or Die
In 2006’s Live Free or Die, Rudgate is a worthless con man who is anything but rugged. The movie is fairly forgettable, but anyone who went to high school in the state knows a guy like Rudgate (played by Aaron Stanford), a sad, small-time crook who honestly believes he is the closest thing to a criminal mastermind north of Boston. After trying to make a living from rebate check fraud and selling “stolen” speakers, Rudgate convinces his old high school friend to team up with him and go on a crime spree. They make error after error as Rudgate attempts various stunts to clear his name from a crime he thinks he committed but never actually did. The weird part? By the end of the story, Rudgate comes off as more than a little endearing.

16. Owen Meany of A Prayer for Owen Meany
Year after year, young Meany is doomed to die hundreds of times in high schools across the country, as John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany remains a staple of required reading lists everywhere. Meany is a native of the fictional town of Gravesend, N.H. Over the course of his bizarre life, Meany manages to kill his best friend’s mom with a foul ball at a little league game, get expelled from Gravesend Academy, graduate from UNH, cut off that same best friend’s finger to help him avoid the draft, and get his arms blown off by a grenade and bleed to death. Oh, and Meany was a virgin birth and the son of a granite quarryman. Today, high schoolers are forced to read the book and come up with all the ways Meany comes off as a Christ-like figure. Here’s a hint: start with the virgin birth thing. Teachers love that stuff.

15. Peter Houghton of Nineteen Minutes
If Jodi Picoult had set her tale about a high school shooting in any old town, it still would have generated a fair amount of controversy. Setting Nineteen Minutes at the fictional Sterling High School, a thinly veiled stand-in for Hanover High School, gave the book an extra explosive charge locally. Houghton is the troubled teen who goes on a shooting spree at the school, killing 10; the book looks at his relationships with students, parents and teachers, and examines how horrible high school can be for a student branded as an outcast. Nineteen Minutes was removed from mandatory reading lists at Hanover High, where the story’s clear parallels to Columbine left some teachers and parents concerned about the content.

14. Selena Cross of Peyton Place
Now, there’s a book that pissed everybody off. Cross, whom it is believed author Grace Metalious “loosely” based on a Gilmanton woman who murdered her sexually abusive father, is the character who makes our list, but the book follows three women as they undergo a sexual awakening in the rural part of the state. The panicked game of who’s who that was played in Gilmanton, Gilford and Laconia when this book was released in 1956 is legendary. Metalious famously insisted that her novel was a work of fiction until her dying day, said friend and current Gilmanton resident Jeanne Gallant.

“The town abused her so much,” Gallant said. “She once said to me that she regretted writing the book because it turned out that the things that people were doing in town were far worse than what she wrote. You can quote that, because I don’t care what this town will do to me.”

13. Daniel Webster of The Devil and Daniel Webster
Sure, the real Daniel Webster might have helped hold the nation together as senator when slavery threatened to tear it apart, but the fake Daniel Webster in Stephen Benet’s 1937 short story beat the devil. Fake Webster comes to the aid of New Hampshire farmer Jabez Stone, who sells his soul to the devil for a decade of prosperity. When it comes time to pay up, Stone welches and asks Webster to aid him as his legal counsel. In the ensuing trial, the esteemed senator convinces a jury of damned souls that all Americans are free from the laws of the devil, and then proceeds to banish “Mr. Scratch” from the state for all eternity. To get back at Webster, the devil tells him that he will never be elected president, but Franklin Pierce will. Webster doesn’t believe him.

12. Old Man of the Mountain
The Old Man is arguably the most recognizable face on the list. Also known as Great Stone Face or Profile, the Old Man is the unofficial state symbol and forever immortalized on the quarter for our state. Daniel Webster (the real one) once famously said of the Man, “Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades; shoemakers hang out a gigantic shoe; jewelers a monster watch, and the dentist hangs out a gold tooth; but in the mountains of New Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there He makes men.”

Until 2003, the Old Man sat approximately 1,200 feet in the air by Franconia Notch up over Profile Lake. Then he crumbled and fell in the middle of the night on May 3. It is unknown where he went, but if other Old Men in New Hampshire are any indicator, Florida is a pretty good guess.

11. Officer Carl Bentley of Jumanji
In the film Jumanji, it’s 1969 and a young Bentley (David Alan Grier) is about to invent a futuristic sneaker at the Parrish Shoe Mill of Brantford, N.H. (the movie was shot in Keene). Young Alan Parrish screws him out of millions by destroying his prototype and getting him fired. But then Parrish ends up trapped in the Jumanji board game jungle. After he’s released 24 years later by a new generation of players, he finds now-Officer Bentley and continues to torment him, this time by bringing a bunch of jungle creatures to town. Bentley’s cruiser is eventually eaten by a giant plant. Thankfully, once the game is over and the proper timeline is restored, Bentley gets his job at the mill back.

10. Robert Langdon of The DaVinci Code
Langdon, a more cerebral version of Indiana Jones, is the hero of Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons. Langdon was born in Exeter and attended Phillips Exeter Academy; he then became a professor of iconology and symbology at Harvard. The character first appeared in Angels, but it wasn’t until The DaVinci Code became an omnipresent literary phenomenon in 2004 that Langdon became a superstar and earned the ultimate honor: being portrayed by Tom Hanks in a movie adaptation. The movie was critically panned and fans of the book weren’t exactly thrilled with the treatment, but that won’t stop Hanks from appearing again in the adaptation of Angels and Demons. Langdon is scheduled to appear in Brown’s next book.

9. Dr. Leo Marvin of What About Bob?
Dr. Marvin (Richard Dreyfus) represents all those seasonal residents the locals love to hate. A New York shrink, he visits Lake Winnipesaukee to get away from work, but he’s followed by a neurotic new patient, Bob (Bill Murray). Dr. Marvin tells Bob to wait in a local diner, where he will give him a call and do a therapy session over the phone. The diner’s owners, however, apparently would like nothing more than to make the Marvin family miserable, so they take Bob to the Marvin home, setting up the rest of the movie. In a way, What About Bob? is a cautionary tale to part-time residents: don’t screw with the locals.

8. Lieutenant Col. Frank Slade of Scent of a Woman
Quick, what is the only role Al Pacino won an Oscar for? Micheal Corleone? Scarface? Actually, it wasn’t until 1992 that Pacino won an Academy Award — for Best Supporting Actor for playing this blind military man with a death wish in Scent of a Woman. Was Slade a New Hampshire native? His ward, Charlie Simms, is attending New Hampshire Prep School. Simms meets Slade when he decides to make extra money to fly home for Thanksgiving by taking a job from him. That job turns out to be a road trip to New York City, where Pacino parties and plans on killing himself. It’s entirely possible that Slade is a Massachusetts man, but it stands to reason that he’s a Granite Stater. Hoo-ahh!

7. Norman Thayer of On Golden Pond
Nowhere in the script is it actually said that Golden Pond is in New Hampshire. The movie was based on a play of the same name written by Maine vacationer Ernest Thompson. And yet, we put the “old poop,” Norman Thayer (played by Henry Fonda) in the top 10 thanks to arguably the most famous on-location shoot ever to happen in New Hampshire. In the summer of 1980, the Holderness side of Squam Lake was transformed into Golden Pond and Fonda, daughter Jane, Katharine Hepburn and company shot a movie that was so well received (it won three Oscars) that people still go to Squam today to check out Golden Pond memorabilia and see locales from the movie. Area residents are happy to oblige.

“It certainly puts this area on the map,” said Debbie Irwin, inn manager of The Manor on Golden Pond in Holderness, which offers a summer “On Golden Pond Experience” package that includes a boat tour of locales shown in the film. “We keep the video on hand, and people are always asking to watch it when they come up here.”

6. Longfellow Deeds of Mr. Deeds
Adam Sandler has made several tips of the cap to his New Hampshire roots, but it’s his remake of the classic Mr. Deeds Goes to Town that shows off his warmest feelings for the state. Deeds, a pizzeria owner in the fictional town of Mandrake Falls, N.H., is named heir to a multi-billionaire’s media empire. Comedy ensues. In the original Deeds, Mandrake Falls is in Vermont and the inheritance is $20 million for Gary Cooper’s Deeds, not the $40 billion that Sandler’s Deeds gets.

At the end of the film, Deeds gives a Corvette to every resident of his hometown. It’s fairly unlikely that Sandler will do that for Manchester, but last fall he did donate $1 million to the Boys & Girls Club in Manchester.

“We found out … that he did spend some time at the club [in the past] and that it was a very positive experience for him,” said Brian Tremblay, director of development at the club. Tremblay said that the money will help finance a 15,000-square-foot expansion.

5. Richard Bachman
According to Stephen King’s official Web site, the fictional fiction writer Richard Bachman was created because there was a notion that fans would only support one book a year from a given author. From 1977 to 1984, King pulled off the double life. He produced five books as Bachman in that period and gave his alter ego a home in central New Hampshire and a wife, Claudia Inez Bachman. Bachman’s fifth novel, Thinner, featured a photo of a stand-in actor as Bachman on the book jacket. Some of King’s most brutally social satire he wrote as Bachman, including Rage, about a high school kid who goes on a killing spree, and The Running Man, which nailed the reality TV movement about 20 years before Survivor. Since Bachman’s “death” in 1985, two more books by him have been “found” by King, The Regulators in 1996 and 2007’s Blaze. Bachman even got his own movie deal, the hilariously bad Schwarzenegger adaptation of The Running Man. King says the name was partly inspired by rock band Bachman Turner Overdrive.

4. Jim “Johnny Cakes” Witowski of The Sopranos
As The Sopranos entered its final weeks, longtime character Vito Spatafore (played by Joseph R. Gannascoli) went into hiding in New Hampshire after being outed. “Hiding” meant a bed and breakfast in Peterborough, where Vito called himself Vince and caught the attention of Jim Witowski (John Costelloe), owner of Jim’s Diner. Vito liked Witowski’s, um, johnnycakes so much he became a regular at the diner and got to know the owner personally. Very personally. Vito enjoyed life with “Johnny Cakes” for a while but eventually got itchy for action and departed in the middle of the night for Jersey, where he promptly got whacked. The “gay Vito antiquing in New Hampshire” side story was the butt of jokes and was pointed to by many critics as a sign that the show had lost its edge, but, hey, it put some granite in The Sopranos.

3. Mary and Little Lamb
At the New Hampshire Historical Society, a plaque sits in memory of Newport resident Sarah Josepha Hale, a noted advocate for women’s rights in the 1800s. Aside from becoming the first female magazine editor, Hale is credited with writing the poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” which was later set to music. The town of Sterling, Mass., also takes credit for the poem and has put up a statue of the lamb outside the schoolhouse that “Mary Sawyer” is said to have attended; she is said to have been the inspiration for the poem. Wesley Balla, curator for the Museum of New Hampshire History, said he had never heard of the Sterling claim, but he confirmed that the museum sells a children’s picture book credited to Hale about Mary and the lamb.

2. T.S. Garp of The World According to Garp
Exeter native John Irving’s most notable character (the T.S. stands for Technical Sargent) is yet another private school student. He endures bizarre plot twists not unlike those experienced by Owen Meany (#17). Like Irving, Garp attended a private school where a parent worked. Like Irving, Garp was a successful writer. However, there’s plenty in the story that is clearly fictional in a loony, Irving sort of way. In any case, Garp was the character that put the one of the state’s most critically acclaimed novelists on the map.

1. President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet of The West Wing
At first, creator Aaron Sorkin wasn’t planning to make President Bartlet a regular character. That plan changed after Martin Sheen turned Barlet into one of the most memorable characters on a show that collected Emmy Awards like candy. Bartlet, a fictional descendent of the very real Josiah Bartlett (a New Hampshire resident and signer of the U.S. Constitution) reeks of New Hampshire sensibilities. He’s the son of a headmaster, spent a couple terms as governor of the state and was a professor of economics at Dartmouth.

Bartlet served two terms as president and, despite almost being ousted over withholding information about his struggles with multiple sclerosis, managed to create peace in the Middle East and reform Social Security. He’s also a Nobel laureate in economics.

Thanks in part to the seven seasons of material produced, Bartlet is the most three-dimensional character on our list. And during his re-election bid, when Bartlet was blowing challenger Robert Ritchie out of the water, it wasn’t until Bartlet was told that he won New Hampshire that he began celebrating.