Shrek may well be a work of fiction, but the common consensus suggests that the pug-eared and pug-ugly hero was based on a real person. A famous wrestler, to be precise, who was once known as the “The Angel.”
Shrek has got to be one of the most loved and instantly recognizable characters ever to grace the silver screen, but let’s be honest: the green giant may have a heart of gold, but he has the sort of face that looks like it’s been beaten repeatedly with the ugly stick.
When Shrek fell out of the ugly tree, he definitely hit every branch on the way down, but the ogre, as they say, has character, and character goes a long way.
And the man Shrek is rumored to be based upon has definitely got character – by the bucketful. Maurice Tillet was his name, also known as “The Angel”.
Although born in Russia in 1917, Maurice moved to France with his parents as a young lad, where he was nicknamed “The Angel” because of his cherubic face.
In his early 20s, Maurice’s features began to protrude in a most striking manner and left him with a profile that was almost a caricature. He was eventually diagnosed with acromegaly, a condition which causes extreme bone growth and thickening of the tissue.
Joining the Navy, because his illness prevented him from entering his preferred profession of law, Maurice found his true calling – wrestling.
Nicknamed “The French Angel,” the man with the uncanny resemblance to Shrek became a firm favorite with the fans due to his larger-than-life character and signature bear hug.
Wrestling in Boston, Massachusetts, during World War II, Maurice made a name for himself during a sensational 19-month unbeaten run, and his popularity soared.
Yahoo Movies reports that other wrestlers keen to get in on the act also dubbed themselves “Angels,” including Paul Olaffsen aka “The Swedish Angel,” who also suffered from acromegaly.
Yet, there was only one original “Angel,” and that was Tillet, right up until he retired in 1953 due to heart problems. A year later, he was dead at the tragically young age of 36. Before his demise, a plaster cast was made of his striking head, and it is now preserved for posterity in Chicago’s International Museum of Surgical Science.
The question remains: Does Tillet’s true legacy lie with the grumpy green ogre who captured the heart of the world with his crooked smile and reluctant charm?
Well, the camera never lies, and the pictures of Tillet in his prime would certainly seem to suggest, “That man is so Shrek!”
Tellingly, in the movies, Shrek is also a natural when it comes to wrestling. Coincidence or a secret homage on behalf of the animators?
Although Dreamworks based the Shrek character on the picture books by William Steig, the illustrations were not detailed or lifelike enough to successfully adapt for the 2001 movie in the way the studio planned.
Hence, the artists began studying real life people for their inspiration for Shrek.
Dreamworks never released a statement confirming Shrek was based upon Maurice Tillet, but that might be because they don’t want to shell out for likeness rights.
Rumors continue to abound that Shrek is an animated version of “The French Angel.”
Such as the one from an anonymous commentator on a blog deleted in 2007, who said, “I was working in the PDI/Dreamworks art dept. while Shrek was being developed. On my wall I had photos of wrestling oddballs ‘The Swedish Angel’, ‘Irish Angel’ and the ‘French Angel’. They may have well inspired the modelers who sculpted Shrek.”
The co-director of Shrek, Vicky Jenson, has explained she doesn’t know where the designs for the character came from but admits it’s a possibility he could be based upon the forgotten wrestler.
“Wow, I never saw that before but doesn’t mean the artists who helped design Shrek didn’t. I know we worked hard on his charm!”