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10 Creative Ways Famous People Got Their Revenge

by Radu Alexander
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Revenge is cathartic. A good revenge story is also something many people enjoy reading about—we relate to the wronged person who takes matters into their own hands and seeks justice.

Truth be told, most revenge involves a drunken brawl and a restraining order. However, there have been a few memorable instances worth mentioning.

10Michael Crichton Uses The Small Penis Rule


Photo credit: HarperCollins

Writers have always liked to include in their works subtle and not-so-subtle jabs at people they dislike. Oftentimes, this comes in the form of a reprehensible character—a killer, a coward, rapist—who is a thinly veiled copy of a real person. This presents a legal problem because the writer could be sued for libel if the accuser can show a definite link in the mind of readers between them and the characters.

That is how the “small penis rule” was born. It is a clever way for writers to slyly mock a real person but also protect themselves from libel allegation. Simply make it very clear that the character has a really small penis, and you don’t have to worry about libel suits. Men don’t really want to go on record as being the inspiration for such characters.

This trick has been employed successfully by writers. In 2004, Michael Crichton released State of Fear, which received a bad review from critic Michael Crowley. Then Crichton took it upon himself to create a character in his new novel, Next, called Mick Crowley, a child rapist with a very small penis. Besides the obvious similarity between names, both the character and the critic are Yale graduates and Washington-based political journalists.

9Judd Apatow Turns Freaks And Geeks Cast into Superstars


Photo credit: NBC

Judd Apatow has worked on some of the most successful comedies of the last decade, like Anchorman, Knocked Up, Superbad, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and many more. Before this, though, he was making a little program called Freaks and Geeks. The show still has a cult following, but it never had strong ratings, which is why NBC canceled it after 12 episodes.

The issue that bothered Apatow the most was the accusation that he’d cast the wrong people. He wanted to prove to the NBC executives that they were wrong and he was right. So when he went on to success in Hollywood and made movies he knew would be hits, he stuck with the crew from Freaks and Geeks.

Throughout most of his career, Apatow has continued to work with the same actors, writers, and directors, determined to turn them into success stories. And by looking at some of the people involved in that show, it looks like he managed to do just that: Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Paul Feig, James Franco, and Jason Schwartzman.

8Lord Byron Brings A Bear To College

Lord Byron was one of the most successful poets of all time. He made a fortune off his work and wasn’t afraid to spend it, soon developing a reputation as a man of excess and someone who didn’t like being told “No.”

Byron was also a huge animal lover. All of his life, he kept exotic pets such as monkeys, foxes, peacocks, crocodiles, badgers, geese, and goats along with numerous dogs and horses. Of them all, his favorite was a beloved Newfoundland dog named Boatswain who now has a giant marble monument at Newstead Abbey next to Byron’s. It’s inscribed with “Epitaph to a Dog,” one of Byron’s most successful works (which he didn’t actually write).

Naturally, when Byron attended Cambridge Trinity College, he wanted to bring a dog with him as a companion. Unfortunately, this was not possible because the rules explicitly stated “no dogs allowed.” However, the statutes failed to make mention of other animals. So Lord Byron brought along a bear instead.

Obviously the university didn’t want to keep the bear, but they had no legal recourse. The bear was allowed to stay on campus for the entire duration of Byron’s stay.

7Peter James Creates Multiple Characters For Revenge


Photo credit: Diana Frangi

Crime writer Peter James has made a habit out of creating characters based on people who have annoyed him. He also makes sure to give them a grim fate. One critic said something bad about him. Her character wound up on a slab in his next book where, by his own admission, James “took great pleasure in her dissection.”

When the need arose, Peter James also made use of the “small penis rule” to get revenge on fellow writer Martin Amis. After a particularly unpleasant exchange between the two, James took to Twitter to vent his frustration, claiming that his next book would feature a character with a very small penis. The result was Amis Smallbone, a character with a penis so small that a prostitute laughs at it and compares it to a “stubby pencil.”

On another occasion, James used as inspiration a reader who blurred the lines between devoted fan and stalker. She appeared at all of his events, emailing him personally when she couldn’t. Eventually, at a book signing, James forgot her name, and this caused the woman to storm out furiously and then send him a 10,000-word rant. This was so disturbing that he got the authorities involved. She became the basis for a character—a crazed fan who stalks and murders a famous actress.

6Jonathan Swift Creates Alter Ego To Prank Astrologer

Back at the beginning of the 18th century, John Partridge was one of the most successful astrologers around. He authored many popular almanacs, but he unknowingly also made an enemy out of writer Jonathan Swift, who disliked Partridge for his attacks against the church. At the same time, Swift was a known prankster. In February 1708, he went to work on a revenge scheme that would only be resolved a few months later.

He created the persona of Isaac Bickerstaff, another astrologer who published his own almanac out of nowhere. It had all kinds of typical assertions, but among them was a very unusual prediction: On March 29, at about 11:00 PM, John Partridge would die of a fever. Partridge responded, dismissing Bickerstaff as an amateur and a charlatan.

This rivalry captured the public’s attention. People were counting down the days, wondering who would turn out to be right on March 29. Swift was prepared for this, and on that day, he published a pamphlet saying that Partridge had died. Many people believed this to be true, and Partridge had to publish a letter to assure everyone that he was still alive. A few decades later, Ben Franklin would be inspired to pull the very same prank on a rival writer.

Eventually, Swift himself put an end to the hoax through another publication titled A Vindication of Isaac Bickerstaff. Even so, the notoriety of the hoax haunted Partridge for the rest of his life.

5Mark Twain’s Petrified Man

Before there was Mark Twain, the famous writer, there was Samuel Clemens, a new employee at the Territorial Enterprise newspaper. Though young, Twain already had a knack for playing pranks and getting even with people who annoyed him. In this case, it was the new justice of the peace for Humboldt County, Judge Sowell, who Twain considered a pompous fool.

At the same time, Twain was also annoyed with all the petrification stories that were present in every newspaper—tall tales of perfectly preserved human bodies. He decided to kill two birds with one stone and write his own story involving the discovery of a petrified man in the mountains near Gravelly Ford. Twain gave a detailed description of the creature and made sure to mention that Judge Sowell was the one in charge of the body.

Twain saw his work purely as satire, but nobody else did. The story was soon republished in newspapers across the country. After a few months, it even appeared in a London publication. Twain made no effort to hide his misdeeds and was actually quite pleased with the result. According to him, he sent all newspapers mentioning the petrified man to Sowell to spite him. The judge received about half a bushel of newspapers each day, which he ended up burying in his backyard.

4General Meigs Turns Robert E. Lee’s Home Into A Cemetery


Photo credit: Remember/Wikimedia

Montgomery Cunningham Meigs is not one of the first names associated with the American Civil War, but he was Quartermaster General of the US Army during that time. More than that, though, he was an unwavering patriot who considered anyone who sided with the Confederacy a traitor to the nation. In his mind, perhaps nobody deserved that title more than the Commander of the Confederate Army, Robert E. Lee. Meigs had previously served under Lee, but he now thought that only a death sentence was fitting for him and Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Though that didn’t happen, Meigs had another opportunity to take revenge on his former commanding officer. During the war, mounting casualties provided a need for a new military cemetery. Meigs had his men scout the area to find the best spot, and that spot was Lee’s former house. It actually belonged to his wife, a descendant of Martha Washington. The name of the estate was Arlington House.

Meigs wasted no time in turning Lee’s beloved home into a cemetery with the expressed intention of making it uninhabitable should the Lees ever get it back. This home went to become Arlington National Cemetery, the famous 624-acre cemetery reserved for military personnel and their families. Meigs himself was buried here along with his father, wife, and son.

3Friz Freleng And Chuck Jones’s Cartoon Classics

It’s possible that you have never heard of Friz Freleng or Chuck Jones, but you are certainly familiar with their work. They were animators for Warner Brothers and helped create such iconic characters as Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, and many more. They are also responsible for creating some of the most successful cartoons the studio has ever made, and many of them were done to spite one producer.

That producer was Eddie Selzer, head of Warner Brothers Cartoons from 1944 until 1957. The first time he really clashed with the animators was in 1947. Sylvester the Cat was a new character who Freleng wanted to pair up with another newcomer—Tweety. However, Selzer wanted Sylvester paired with a woodpecker because woodpeckers are funnier, apparently. Freleng had to threaten to quit to make Selzer relent. The result was not only one of the studio’s most popular pairings but also Tweetie Pie, a cartoon that won Warner its first Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.

Soon, the animators simply started doing exactly the opposite of what Selzer said. As Chuck Jones put it, Selzer’s judgment was “impeccable. He’s never been right yet.” Another one of his decisions was that a French-speaking skunk wouldn’t be funny. The result: Pepe Le Pew in 1950’s For Scent-imental Reasons and a second Oscar. Selzer happily went on stage to receive both Oscars, of course.

2Dante Alighieri Condemns The Pope To Hell

Pope Boniface VIII isn’t going to make anyone’s 10 Best Popes list any time soon. He seized power when two factions, the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, were feuding over whether to support the pope or the Holy Roman Emperor. The Guelphs were further divided between Black and White factions based on different ideologies. The Black Guelphs, who completely supported the power of the pope, eventually won, and Boniface VIII soon started taking revenge against the White Guelphs.

One of the most prominent White Guelphs was Dante Alighieri, who eventually found himself exiled from his native Florence. Dante completely despised the pope, but this exile did allow him a lot of free time. He spent it creating the most famous Italian literary work in history—The Divine Comedy. The epic poem details Dante’s travels through purgatory and heaven, but it’s mostly remembered for Inferno, its depiction of the nine circles of hell.

Dante took revenge on Boniface by placing him in hell. Specifically, he is found in the eighth circle of hell, guilty of simony, which is the act of selling church roles and offices. Boniface was still alive when Dante wrote The Divine Comedy, but the poet got around this minor detail by merely foreseeing Boniface’s eventual damnation.

The revenge wound up being greater than Dante could have even intended. Nowadays, Boniface is better known for his poem appearance than for anything he ever did as pope.

1Peter I Makes His Dead Lover Queen

This is a story of forbidden love that blows Romeo and Juliet out of the water. It takes place in 14th-century Portugal between Prince Peter I and the beautiful aristocrat Ines de Castro. Peter had already been married by his father, King Afonso IV, to Constanza, the daughter of a powerful ally. Still, this didn’t stop him and Ines from carrying on with a torrid love affair.

Everyone tolerated this relationship until Constanza’s death in 1345. The king, fearing political repercussions, forbade Peter from seeing Ines, but the son disobeyed. In time, the king saw no other option—he ordered Ines’s assassination. Three men captured her at the Santa Clara-a-Velha monastery and carried out the sentence.

Peter revolted against his father but was far outmatched and was defeated within a year. He then chose a different approach and feigned complete forgiveness. He was actually merely biding his time. After another year, Afonso died, and Peter became the king of Portugal.

He sought revenge against the men who’d killed Ines. One of them managed to escape, but Peter executed the other two by ripping their hearts out of their chests.

The king then asserted that he had married Ines in secret and posthumously named her Queen Consort of Portugal. Her body was moved into a sumptuous mausoleum at the palace.

An apocryphal addition to the story states that Peter had her corpse placed on the throne and made every courtier kiss her hand.

Radu is a history/science buff who writes for GeeKiez when he isn’t writing for Listverse. You can also find him on Twitter.

fact checked by Jamie Frater