5. ROALD DAHL
The author of James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and about a dozen other stories you probably remember as some of the greatest books of all time.
Also, the namesake for one of the greatest guns in videogame history?
WHO HE SECRETLY WAS: In addition to writing some of the most beloved children’s books of all time and quite a few Playboy pieces, we’re proud to say…
Roald Dahl was also a 6’ 6” giant who lent quite a few of his service to the Allied forces during WWII. He was a pilot for the Royal Air Force and successfully downed enough pilots to quality as an ace. While this would already qualify him as one of the greatest heroes in the history of the British Empire according to Winston Churchill, well, that’s where the Playboy part of Roald Dahl’s life had to take over. In between saving England and writing James and the Giant Peach, he also served in the British Security Coordination: A covert operation in New York City set up by MI6. Yup, the dude was also a real life James Bond right down to the occasional boning.
The pen is mightier.
4. DONNIE DUNAGAN
We know what you’re thinking: “Who the hell is Donnie Dunagan?” Honestly, we didn’t know either until we started researching this article, so let’s put it this way… See this little fella?
Not the butterfly; the childhood icon.
Donnie Dunagan provided his voice in Bambi, so make sure you remember that the next time you’re on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? It might make you famous, or something.
WHO HE SECRETLY WAS: While you’re at it, you might as well also note that Donnie Dunagan not only a successful child actor, but also one of the hardest human beings ever recorded on film. We say this in full confidence because young Dunagan joined the Marine Corps in 1952 at 18, and he stood with them all the way up to and including the Vietnam War. According to the Houston Chronicle, Dunagan became the youngest person ever to become a Marine drill instructor. That’s right; not too long after playing Bambi, this dude leant his voice to the nation’s youngest ever Sergeant Hartman.
“You are a skunk! You hear me? A SKUNK!!!”
Dunagan served 15 years in the Marines, eventually retiring a Major. His decorations include a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. What were his injuries? Glad you asked! According to the man himself, he suffered some pretty serious gunfire during the Tet offensive. His injuries: “Back of the head, left side. Stomach. Left lung with minor penetration of the right lung. Left leg. Scrotum sack — still functional, though.”
Think about that for a minute…
Yup. That’s the voice of Bambi telling you he got shot through the nuts for his country more than 40 years ago, and that it still works.
3. FRED ROGERS
The friendliest neighbor you never had. A messiah of kindness and make-believe. With his cardigan sweater and mad shoe-tying skills, Fred Rogers ruled the childhoods of countless children for half a century through Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
Last known photograph.
WHO HE SECRETLY WAS: For one, when he wasn’t starring in one of the most celebrated children’s shows of all time, Fred Rogers also played a huge role in George A. Romero’s career. A while back, PBS hired the future wizard behind the legendary Night of the Living Dead to shoot a video for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood called “Mister Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy.” Not only did the experience inspire Romero to pursue horror films, but it even led to a friendship between the two pioneers of their respective careers.
Mister Rogers, shortly after the surgery.
Being the godfather behind the godfather of all zombies should be reason enough to make this list. However, since making friends is something you would expect of Mister Rogers with anyone, it might surprise you to find out who one of his biggest enemies was.
Hint: He was also not a fan of Black Dynamite.
In the late ’60s, none other than President Richard M. Nixon proposed significantly cutting PBS’s budget. His reason: To finance the Vietnam War, what else? Sure enough, there to take a stand against the president and defend the network was none other than Mister Rogers himself, who on May 1, 1969 passionately testified to Congress about the importance of children’s television:
Considering that Nixon was nothing short of a real life super villain, it is nothing short of heroic that Fred Rogers risked his career, his reputation and yes, even his life to keep America’s children safe from Richard Nixon.
We’d like to think Mister Rogers was watching Nixon’s resignation in this picture.
2. THE BROTHERS GRIMM
You may know these chaps and some old guys who used to tell stories, but a more accurate description would be that these brothers were the engineers who made Walt Disney possible. Born Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in late eighteenth-century Germany, their collection of folk tales included Cinderella, The Frog Prince, Rapunzel, and last but certainly not least, Snow White.
Also, this movie.
That’s billions upon billions of dollars generated for the Walt Disney Company each year on everything from feature films to coloring books to direct-to-video home garbage. So yeah, while Disney may have stuck quite a few thumbs into the pies of your childhood, it’s only because the Brothers Grimm showed him the recipe. Don’t believe us? Show us the last 100 percent original Disney film that was not a complete piece of crap.
WHO THEY SECRETLY WERE: In addition to being the Tesla to Walt Disney’s Edison, the Brothers Grimm also enjoyed impressive careers in both academia and rabble-rousing. Both served as professors at the University of Göttingen, where they famously took part in a protest group known as the Göttingen Seven. For those of you familiar with the extracurricular activities of The Dude of The Big Lebowski and the Seattle Seven, yeah: The Brothers Grimm were totally “Dudes” in their own time.
The Brothers Grimm… and, five other guys.
The brothers were subsequently fired for their little protest, but that didn’t stop them from getting elected to parliament following the Revolutions of 1848, landing plum jobs up north, and beginning work on the definite German dictionary. Not too bad for two brothers that most people probably can’t even name, even though they also happened to be responsible for most of their favorite childhood memories.
1. BOB ROSS
For those who remember, Bob Ross was everyone’s favorite babysitter: A kind man whose soothing voice and sick painting ability helped an entire generation of children through sick-days.
Bob Ross hosted the PBS television show The Joy of Painting from 1983 until Ross’ death in 1995. Since it was a daytime show, children from all over the world got to spend their mornings with Ross once Sesame Street and Square One were over.
The original X-Files.
The show transformed Ross into a minor celebrity for two reasons: One, his omega-level mutant painting skills. The dude was able to crank out unbelievably realistic landscapes at the rate of one masterpiece every half-hour. At this rate, Ross was able to film an entire season of The Joy of Painting in only two days.
Two, the man’s personality could only be described as Ned Flanders in the flesh. Everything was “happy” in the Bob Ross lexicon: “Happy little trees,” or “happy little clouds,” and… hell, even the glaciers were happy.
The clouds that turned Bob Ross into an emperor.
Oh, and for extra brownie points with the Almighty, Bob Ross did all his painting on PBS for free, donating his works to local PBS stations, and even converted his backyard into a rehab center for orphaned, injured baby animals.
WHO HE SECRETLY WAS: It turns out Bob didn’t start his career studying fine arts or as a holy person, but by paintings landscapes at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, where he was First Sergeant. In Ross’ own words, “I was the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work.”
“This is what happens when you don’t hold your brush straight.”
After 20 years of making grown men in uniform cry for their country, Sgt. Ross vowed “never to scream again” and dedicated the rest of his life to painting.
At least publicly.
Oh, and that backyard nature center he started? Yeah, that was an old hobby of his as well. As a kid, he tried nursing a “small alligator” back to health in the family bathtub, we image after wrestling it for a bit.
Bob Ross’ first painting [UNFINISHED]