The Real Life Inspiration Behind Forrest Gump

The Real Life Inspiration Behind Forrest Gump

"Forrest Gump" famously inserted Tom Hanks into old archival footage, interweaving moments from real U.S. history with the fictional story of his character: A simple yet sincere man, sharing homespun wisdom on a park bench to different strangers while recounting the story of his ever-so-charmed life.

Director Robert Zemeckis and ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) employed digital compositing and other groundbreaking visual effects to give Forrest's tale a true-to-life veneer. Thanks to the wonders of CGI they were able to rewrite history cinematically, having Forrest intersect with presidents and pivotal moments in American culture across three decades. 

The film won six Oscars and is endlessly quotable -- but what you might not know is that the character of Forrest Gump was loosely inspired by three real men.

Sammy Lee Davis Was The Inspiration For Forrest's War Wound The Real Life Inspiration Behind Forrest Gump

As "Forrest Gump" was celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2019, USA Today spotlighted Sammy Lee Davis, a decorated Vietnam veteran, as one real-life inspiration for the character. Nicknamed "the real Forrest Gump," Davis was at the film's anniversary screening on the National Mall in Washington, DC. President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded him the Medal of Honor in 1968, and he's at least famous enough to have his own Wikipedia page.

You can see footage of the Medal of Honor ceremony in "Forrest Gump" -- though of course, it's Hanks who shakes Johnson's hand. Like Forrest Gump, Davis was shot in the buttocks and elsewhere in his back over thirty times, by friendly fire. The moment where Forrest shows the President his butt wound was invented for the film.

Winston Groom Dedicated His Novel To Two Other Men The Real Life Inspiration Behind Forrest Gump

Screenwriter Eric Roth adapted Winston Groom's novel, "Forrest Gump," for the big screen. Groom, who passed away in 2020, dedicated the book to Jimbo Meador (pictured above) and George Radcliff, two of his childhood friends. Both men are private individuals, but Distractify notes that their "speech patterns are similar to Forrest's." Hanks originally sought to downplay Gump's Southern accent but Zemeckis coached him to keep it and adhere to the source material.

The Bubba Gump Seafood Company is now a real restaurant chain, but it started out as a fictional business endeavor launched by Forrest and Lieutenant Dan (Gary Sinise). The idea for that stemmed from conversations that Groom had with Meador -- appropriately, at lunch. He explained to Distractify:

"Although he never did any shrimp farming, [Meador] was always interested in it, and we used to talk about it a lot. Jimbo knows everything there is to know about shrimp. We used to have lunch about once a week, and it occurred to me after one of these conversations while I was writing Forrest, 'What better thing to do than make Forrest a shrimp farmer?' "

Meador also owned a river delta boat and had a seafood processing job, much like Forrest does in the movie. He reportedly shunned the public spotlight after he started getting copious interview requests from the likes of David Letterman.

The same goes for Radcliff, who only consented to an interview with Mobile Bay Magazine because the writer was someone he had known for a long time beforehand. Radcliff appears to have wholly or partly inspired the felicitous nature of Forrest's journey through history. He once beat Paul McCartney at arm-wrestling, for instance, without knowing who "that little drunk English guy" was.

What's interesting about Radcliff is that he was a scrapper, meaning he liked to fight. This might be part of what Groom meant when he told The New York Times that Zemeckis sanded the "rough edges" off his book character. He originally wanted John Goodman to play the role of Forrest Gump. That would have been a very different movie.

At the end of the day, "Forrest Gump" is still cut from a fictional cloth, but art does imitate life. To do a mad-lib bit of paraphrasing with Forrest himself, "[Movies are] like a box of [inspirations]."

Read this next: The Unmade 'Forrest Gump' Sequel Would've Been Out Of Its Damn Mind

The post The Real Life Inspiration Behind Forrest Gump appeared first on /Film.

Tags: Movies, David Letterman, Tom Hanks, Washington Dc, John Goodman, Paul Mccartney, National Mall, The New York Times, Vietnam, Johnson, Usa Today, Robert Zemeckis, Eric Roth, Forrest, Jimbo, Forrest Gump, Hanks, Lyndon B Johnson, GROOM, Zemeckis, Radcliff, Winston Groom, SlashFilm, ILM Industrial Light Magic, Distractify, Meador, Dan Gary Sinise, Sammy Lee Davis, Forrest Gump Davis, Jimbo Meador, George Radcliff, Bubba Gump Seafood Company, Mobile Bay Magazine


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