Was Shrek Inspired by a Multilingual Pro Wrestler? Unveiling the Tale


Shrek Inspired by a Multilingual Pro Wrestler

Welcome to a tale of creativity, resilience, and an unconventional hero. This isn’t just a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the creation of the lovable green ogre, Shrek. It’s a dive into a story that transcends the boundaries of animation and ventures into the real world, where two extraordinary lives intersected to give birth to a cultural phenomenon.


We’ll journey through the fascinating lives of William Steig, the visionary behind Shrek, and Maurice Tillet, the multilingual pro wrestler whose life became the blueprint for the world’s favorite ogre. Their intertwined narratives form an incredible tapestry of resilience, diversity, and breaking norms that continues to inspire millions.

Ever wondered how the character of Shrek came to be, and who or what served as the inspiration? Settle in, as we unravel the surprising connection between an ogre, a cartoonist, and a wrestler. Spoiler alert: Shrek’s inspiration was indeed Maurice Tillet, a remarkable man who defied stereotypes and proved that true beauty and strength lie not in appearances, but in character.

William Steig, creator of Shrek, with pro wrestler Maurice Tillet

William Steig: The Man Behind Shrek

William Steig, an artist with an uncanny ability to weave magic into the simplicity of pen and paper, was much more than just the creator of Shrek. This New York-born cartoonist and illustrator had an exceptional talent for giving life to characters that resided in his imagination.

The journey of creating Shrek was not a random stroke of inspiration, but a thoughtful process that mirrored Steig’s experiences and observations. An ardent observer of human nature, Steig had a knack for picking up unique traits and personalities from the people around him. This ability came into play magnificently when he chanced upon an intriguing character, Maurice Tillet.

The vibrant pro wrestler caught Steig’s attention not just with his distinctive physical features, but also with his rich persona that challenged societal stereotypes. Something about Maurice resonated with Steig. He saw in Maurice a mix of tough exterior and gentle intellect, a contrast that echoed his own personality.

As he began to weave this personality into his green ogre character, Shrek, Steig took a bold step in children’s literature. He defied the convention of a ‘beautiful’ hero, instead opting for an unconventional look that went on to redefine what it meant to be a ‘hero’ in children’s books.

To truly appreciate the genius of Steig, we must delve into the life and times of his muse, Maurice Tillet. Through the eyes of Steig, we can better understand the depth and complexity that made Maurice the perfect inspiration for Shrek.

Maurice Tillet: The Real-life Inspiration for Shrek

Now, let’s delve into the life of the man who inspired the creation of the world’s favorite green ogre. Maurice Tillet, nicknamed the “French Angel”, was a pro-wrestling sensation with an appearance as unique as his story.

Maurice Tillet

Tillet’s early years were shaped by adversity. Born in Russia to French parents, he developed a condition called acromegaly in his teens, which resulted in his distinctive facial features and large body. However, what could have been a life marked by ostracization and hardship, turned into a tale of resilience and triumph. Maurice decided to leverage his unique physique, stepping into the world of pro wrestling where he quickly established a name for himself. His fearsome facade and strength in the ring made him a crowd-puller, earning him fame and respect.

However, Tillet was much more than just his wrestling persona. Off-stage, he was a man of remarkable intellectual caliber. Imagine a wrestler who could effortlessly switch between fourteen languages, or engage you in a game of chess with the strategic acumen of a grandmaster. That was Maurice for you, a man who defied all stereotypes and proved that there’s always more than what meets the eye.

Tillet’s command over languages wasn’t just a testament to his intellect, but also an ode to his love for cultures and people. He treated each language as a doorway to a new world, allowing him to forge deeper connections and understand different perspectives. Similarly, his prowess in chess was not just a hobby, but a reflection of his strategic thinking and foresight.

The French Angel

As we delve deeper into the life of Maurice Tillet, we see why William Steig found him compelling. Tillet’s tale is not just about a man with a unique appearance, but about someone who turned adversities into opportunities, a trait that seamlessly resonated with the character of Shrek. A real-life ‘ogre’ who, despite his outer appearance, carried an infectious warmth and friendliness, much like our beloved Shrek.

The Intersection of Two Lives: Steig and Tillet

As we’ve seen, both William Steig and Maurice Tillet had fascinating life journeys that serendipitously intersected. Each man possessed a unique charm, their personal narratives intertwined to birth the unforgettable character, Shrek.

Steig, a keen observer of people, was drawn to Tillet, not for his outward appearance alone but for the complex mosaic of qualities that he represented. He saw in Maurice a person whose physical uniqueness was complemented by intellectual prowess and a warm, approachable nature. This combination was unusual and compelling, exactly what Steig sought for his unconventional hero.

The character of Shrek, in many ways, mirrors Maurice’s real life. Like Maurice, Shrek was initially misunderstood and feared due to his unusual appearance, only to be loved and respected when people realized the depth of his character and the kindness of his heart. Shrek’s affinity for different cultures and languages, just like Maurice’s, reflected an open mind and a broad worldview.

Steig was not just inspired by Maurice’s story; he used it as a compass to navigate the narrative of Shrek. The wrestling rings where Maurice battled became the stage for Shrek’s adventures. The languages that Maurice used to connect with people found echoes in Shrek’s interactions with other fairytale creatures. And the game of chess, a symbol of Maurice’s intellect, was mirrored in Shrek’s strategic approach to overcoming his challenges.

This intersection of two lives – one an artist, the other a wrestler, and both extraordinary in their own ways – resulted in a story that continues to delight and inspire audiences worldwide. This is a tale of life’s complexities, resilience, and the beauty of being different, told through the unlikely friendship between a cartoonist and a wrestler.

Legacy and Impact

What’s remarkable about the tale of Shrek, Steig, and Tillet is the profound legacy and impact they’ve left behind. Together, their intertwined stories have redefined societal norms, inspiring millions across the globe.

Shrek, with his “ogre-ish” charm, broke the mold of conventional heroes in children’s literature and cinema. The character not only entertained but also subtly educated young minds about accepting differences and looking beyond appearances. The green ogre’s adventures continue to delight generations, affirming that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.

In creating Shrek, Steig left an indelible mark on the realm of children’s literature. His imaginative storytelling and innovative characterization challenged the status quo, encouraging children and adults alike to embrace the beauty of diversity and individuality. Steig’s contribution extends beyond the pages of his books, influencing an entire generation of artists, writers, and filmmakers.

And then there’s Maurice Tillet, the man who unknowingly inspired a cultural phenomenon. His life was a testament to resilience and the power of self-belief. He not only excelled in a physically demanding profession but also pursued intellectual endeavors, breaking stereotypes along the way. Tillet’s legacy goes beyond his wrestling accolades; his life story remains a source of inspiration, reminding us to celebrate our uniqueness and to challenge societal norms.

The enduring popularity of Shrek, the revolutionary work of Steig, and the inspirational life of Tillet together have left a cultural footprint that’s as deep as it is wide. Their collective legacy serves as a powerful reminder: true beauty and strength lie not in appearances, but in character and resilience.


In conclusion, the story of Shrek is a testament to the power of creativity, resilience, and the breaking of norms. It serves as a reminder that inspiration can come from the most unlikely places – in this case, the intersection of the lives of a New York cartoonist and a French pro wrestler.

Shrek, through its depiction of diversity and acceptance, and its origins in the life of Maurice Tillet, a man who turned adversity into opportunity, has left an indelible impact on audiences worldwide. The character stands as a beacon of embracing one’s individuality and redefining societal norms.

So next time you watch Shrek, remember the fascinating tapestry that brought this iconic character to life – a tale of two extraordinary men and an ogre who taught us that true beauty lies within.

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