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Sometimes writers of counterfactual stories decide to disregard plausibility in order to throw in their stories cameos by historical figures from our own timeline, but in a totally different occupation. Usually this is done as something of an in-joke with the audience or the dimension-hopping character(s); seeing Adolf Hitler as a Starving Artist instead of the tyrannical dictator he was in real life would tickle anyone's funnybone.[1]

Related to In Spite of a Nail. A subtrope of Allohistorical Allusion. Compare with Different World, Different Movies.

Examples of Richard Nixon the Used Car Salesman include:


Comic Books:

  • Self-parody Marvel Comics Wha... huh...? features worlds where Stan Lee sells hot-dogs and Mark Millar is homeless, as they never got into comics.
  • Sometimes Marvel series What If dwellt into it, mostly in humoristic backups, which featured things like Wolverine working at restaurant or The Incredible Hulk becoming school hall monitor (he later become a principal and hired The Punisher to do his old job).
  • One of the projects in Marvel's anthology Millennial Visions has alternate versions of Cyclops, Rogue, Quicksilver and Nightcrawler never becoming superheroes, but founding a rock band called "X-Men: Revolution".
  • One of DC Comics Elseworld stories has Bruce Wayne as Gotham City's policeman.
  • In the Alternate History 1949 that Chassis is set in, Adolf Hitler is a cartoonist.
  • A DC/Wildstorm crossover had the Planetary team looking into murders in the Wildstorm universe's Gotham City. There's no Batman, but they encounter Dick Grayson (the first Robin, later Nightwing) and someone heavily hinted to be The Joker working in Planetary's Gotham field office.
  • In Warren Ellis' newuniversal counterparts of various characters from main Marvel Universe live mostly mundane lifes - Mary Jane Watson is a movie producer and drug addict, John Jameson is black and joined a military and supervilain Jim Braddock is an archeologist. Tony Stark is a complete moron who gets gifted with supernatural talent to make all kinds of technology from literally a box of scraps, but gets himself killed before having a chance to become a superhero ... and Thunderbolt Ross is still general of U.S.Army, but is bald.
  • Marvel's series Powerless is all about this trope - it's set in a world where none of Marvel's protagonists or antagonists have superpowers. Peter Parker is a normal teenager, Tony Stark and Norman Osborn compete for a government's contract for their Powered Armor projects (codenamed Iron Man and The Juggernaut respectively), Matt Murdock is just a blind lawyer, Eric Magnus and Charles Xavier are senators, Stephen Strange is a stage magician and Bruce Banner is in an insane asylum. The only one who has any sort of extraordinary life is Logan, the protagonist of the story, caught in political intruge, who has visions of everybody's counterparts from the mainstream Marvel Universe because he is The Watcher's counterpart in that universe.
  • Occurs in Bullet Points - James Barnes never becomes Bucky, Stephen Strange uses S.H.I.E.L.D's implants to continue his work as a surgeon and Tony Stark is just a businessman that is until he takes the mantle of Iron Man after Steve's death.

Film

  • In the French movie Jean-Philippe, French rock star Johnny Hallyday is the manager of a small bowling hall and goes by his real name of Jean-Philippe Smet.
  • In The One, Agent Funsch's boss from his timeline, Agent Roedecker, is killed. However, Funsch later meets another version of Roedecker working as a gas station attendant.

Literature

  • Harry Turtledove's novel The Two Georges is the Trope Namer; the Revolutionary War was averted by diplomacy and America and is still a part of the British Empire. Richard Nixon is a used car salesman. The novel, set in 1990, also features Martin Luther King Jr as the Governor-General of the North American Union, and John F. Kennedy as the editor of a pro-independence newspaper.
    • Unusually, Richard Nixon is not quite so much less of a success as that might make it seem: he is a very rich owner of a major chain of used car dealerships.
  • The counterfactual Author Tract The Probability Broach by L. Neil Smith also features Nixon: in an alternate timeline where America became a libertarian Mary Suetopia, he became a small-time crook. In the same novel, we briefly see "Jim-Earl" selling peanuts for a living. Another work by the same author features Hitler, who immigrated to the U.S. and became a painter / embarassing dad.
  • Ronald Reagan is a jingoistic boy scout leader in Michael Moorcock's Warlord of the Air, the first novel of the famous Nomad Of The Time Streams trilogy.
  • There are a bunch in the Back In The USSA short stories by Kim Newman and Eugene Byrne. Al Capone as American Stalin, Kurt Vonnegut as the American Gorbachev, Trotsky's daughter is a commoner who marries the British Crown Prince. Lafayette Hubbard, Mitch Morrison, Charles Lindbergh and Joseph McCarthy appear as a propagandistic "troupe of war heroes" in the 1950's Communist America.
  • In the short story Southern Strategy Nixon ends up leading a guerilla war in the US south, together with Martin Luther King. It Makes Sense in Context.
    • Interestingly, the card game Chrononauts also features Nixon and MLK teaming up in an alternate reality -- as President and Vice-President.
  • Howard Waldrop does this a lot. In one of his stories Elvis Presley is a senator, and Dwight Eisenhower and George S. Patton are jazz musicians.
  • In the Wild Cards universe, Fidel Castro is pitching coach for the Brooklyn Dodgers. (In the real world, a long-debunked rumor has Castro trying out for the Washington Senators but ending up going to law school instead.)
  • In Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream, Adolf Hitler emigrated to the U.S. in 1919 and became a science fiction illustrator, editor and Hugo-winning author for his novel Lord of the Swastika.
  • There is a Kim Newman short story, "The Germans Won" (referring to the 1966 World Cup, not that other thing you might be thinking of), where John Major is a bus conductor. In our timeline, Major actually applied for a job as a bus conductor in his youth but couldn't do the mental arithmetic the job required; one of the explicitly-mentioned features of the story's alternate history is the adoption of a much simpler schedule of bus fares.
    • And his manager is a man called Jeffrey who "wrote a book once", and likes to say "Not a penny more, not a penny less" when adding up the totals.
    • Averted in Newman's other "Alternate Major" story, "Slow News Day", in which he expresses his opinion of the then-current Conservative government by suggesting that, if the Nazis had won World War Two they would be ... still in government. Major even succeeds the "Iron Duchess".
  • There is a Polish short story where a supercomputer has its funding cut after it generates an alternate-history Show Within a Show, in which Second World War never happened, and most of primary timeline's political elites (Expies of our world's politicians) were small crooks and burglars in the second one.
  • The Animorphs novel Megamorphs #3 featured the villain of the story, the Yeerk who formerly held the rank of Visser Four, changing Earth's history as part of his scheme to conquer the world in the present. The story climaxes with the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, but by this point the timeline has been polluted so much that France and Germany are allies against the landing forces (Who the landing forces are is never specified, though they do speak English). In this reality Adolf Hitler never rose above the rank of corporal and is serving as the driver to the Colonel that is actually relevant to the scene. One character starts to kill him anyway because... well, because he is Hitler, and winds up accidentally doing so (while in Hork-Bajir morph with a blade to Hitler's throat, he's hit by a bullet, causing his arm to move) while still debating it.
  • In the Timeline-191 book series of Harry Turtledove, a character is listening to a football broadcast narrated by a sportscaster named "Dutch". The character thinks "Dutch" could make anything sound interesting. "If anyone was a great communicator, he was the man."
    • In How Few Remain (the first installment), Samuel Clemens is a journalist in San Francisco, having given up on novel writing as a way to earn a living. Also, Abraham Lincoln, who lost the 1864 presidential election as a consequence of losing the Civil War, becomes a socialist activist; in later books he is considered one of the pivotal figures in American socialism.
      • Clemens and Reagan did at one point work as a journalist and sportscaster in real life, though not in exactly the circumstances shown in TL-191.
      • Lincoln is something of a border-line case, in that his activism is both a direct and somewhat plausible consequence of the divergence, and that his alternate job was being dead.
    • There's also "Ernie," who's still a writer, but he writes biographies, is considered a hack, and is even more depressed than the real-life analogue. All because he got his penis blown off in The Great War.
    • During the Settling Accounts tetraology, which takes place during the analogue to WWII, one character meets the aide to a German officer, a very angry man who keeps spouting off about Jews and Poles.
  • In the His Dark Materials series, the Protestant Revolution never took place in Lyra's world, which somehow resulted in John Calvin becoming pope. (And apparently that world's popes don't use their full first names rather than regal titles, too. Go figure.)
  • In a (currently unidentified) short story, Western pop culture needed only a few nudges to be completely different. Our hero, who goes by Aaron (he finds his real first name embarrassing), is head of security for the opening ceremonies of the world's first spaceport in 1964. Captain Burt Reynolds has returned from his triumphant landing on the moon, a victory for private enterprise (it was funded by Boeing instead of NASA); Nixon is just finishing his term as President after beating Kennedy in 1960; Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, and Buddy Holly are the reigning kings of rock-and-roll, and a struggling rock quintet from England are just beginning their first American tour.
  • Harry Turtledove again: The Case Of The Toxic Spelldump has a brief appearance by a stern, impressively bearded US judge of Islamic origins named Ruhollah. It's briefly mentioned that he left Persia when the secularist government was formed.
  • Another Turtledove example: In the short story "Joe Steele," Joseph Stalin's parents had emigrated to the United States before he was born. He becomes president of a U.S. that, under his leadership, changes into a country so different that it just might remind you of something. Leon Trotsky becomes leader of the Soviet Union.
  • In the Lord Darcy series, set in a world where the automobile was never invented, Ferarri of Milan is a noted manufacturer of firearms. The Nero Wolfe pastiche even extends this to a fictional car company; Lord Bontriomphe's gun is a Heron .38, reflecting Wolfe's 1938 Heron sedan.
  • Robert Anton Wilson's Schrodinger's Cat Trilogy lives on this trope, with an alternate James Joyce becoming Pope, Adolf Hitler remaining a painter, and more besides.
  • In Sergey Lukyanenko's Seekers of the Sky duology, several well-known figures in our world are mentioned as still existing in the alternate world of the novels, despite radical differences in all other areas. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a smart but trigger-happy Guard officer of noble blood; Antoine de Saint Exupéry is Count Antoine of Lyon, a retired combat glider pilot who writes poetry in his spare time but refuses to publish it; Gérard Dépardieu is Bishop Gegard Lightbringer, a reformed thief, capable of curing cancer with divine magic.
  • Lampshaded subversion: while pretty much everyone else is somewhere different in the alternate history posited by H. Beam Piper's "He Walked Around the Horses", Talleyrand is still Prime Minister of France (but also a Cardinal now). According to one of the characters (who in our timeline became the Duke of Wellington), "His Eminence, I have always thought, is the sort of fellow who would land on his feet on top of any heap, and who would as little scruple to be Prime Minister to His Satanic Majesty as to His Most Christian Majesty."
  • "Alternate Universe James Hetfield Named Taco Bell Employee of the Month."
  • One of the main time periods featured in The Time Ships was an alternate 1940's in which World War I was still ongoing. The Time Traveller meets Albert Stubbins, a soldier who mentions that he briefly played professional football before the war put an end to the league.
  • Frederik Pohl's novel The Coming of the Quantum Cats takes place in several alternate universes. Ronald Reagan is still an actor (and still married to Jane Wyman) in a Muslim-dominated Earth, while in another Nancy Reagan is President and Reagan is First Gentleman. In that timeline, John F Kennedy was never elected President, and is still a Senator in the 1980s (instead of Ted, who died at Chappquidick). Pohl also includes a joking reference to his old friend Isaac Asimov; in an alternate timeline where Russia never became the USSR, Asimov's family stayed in Russia, where he became a famous surgeon. In reality, Asimov briefly considered becoming a medical doctor, but chose biochemistry instead.
  • Pohl also wrote "The Mile High Club", a short story for an Isaac Asimov tribute book. The story featured all the members of the famous SF club the Futurians, still alive in the 1990s. In this timeline, Asimov had convinced FDR to focus on biological research instead of atomic weapons. The post WWII research boom resulted in a number of medical breakthroughs, and Asimov became more famous than Einstein (who is mentioned in the story as an obscure physicist from Princeton).
  • George R. R. Martin in Retroperspective, which is a mix of autobiography and reprints of his old stories, mentions that his debut on professional writing scene was in magazine "Galaxy", but it happened months after they bought his story, because it got lost in the office. He notes that there probably is another world, in which it was never found and he is now a journalist.
  • In the short story "Catch that Zeppelin!", Fritz Leiber writes of a person jumping sideways-and-backwards from 1973 to 1937, replete with Zeppelins, electric cars, a successful Reconstruction, and - most crucially - a completely defeated Germany at the end of 1918. It is revealed that the alternate-1937 perspective is from a very different Adolf Hitler.
  • Super Folks has several examples, including Supreme Court Justice Charlie Brown, and Roy Mack, head of the defunct Ronaldburger chain, who lost his shirt when Americans stopped eating hamburgers and now works a taco cart.
  • The Mirage is about a War on Terror in which the Christian and Islamic countries' roles are flipped, so naturally it features some. Saddam Hussein is the boss of the Baathists, who are equivalent to The Mafia in this universe, and Osama Bin Laden is a war hero, prominent politician and rumored head of intelligence agency Al-Qaeda. LBJ takes the role of Hussein, as dictator of the Christian States of America.

Live Action TV

  • On History Channel's The Universe, in an alternate universe, George W. Bush never became Governor or President. Instead, he became Commissioner of Baseball.
    • That was actually based on (almost) real history: Bush had wanted to be the Commissioner of Baseball, but couldn't get the job, so he went into politics instead.
    • Parodied on a Saturday Night Live opener that pretended to be "President Al Gore"'s State of the Union address, which made a comment that Bush was the Commissioner of Baseball, and had vowed to hunt down steroid users "wherever they may hide".
    • In his liberal-talk-radio days, Al Franken often stated that Bush would've made a great Commissioner of Baseball but was far over his head as president.
  • A number of these appear in the Stargate SG-1 two-part episode "Moebius", in which the team travels back in time 5,000 years for the first 20 minutes of the episode, and then the story follows their counterparts in the alternate timeline created. Despite a point of divergence 5,000 years back, all the main cast are clearly the same people, just stuck in more boring jobs. (Except for Teal'c, who's still First Prime of Apophis) Also, Robert Kinsey is now President while Henry Hayes is Secretary of the Interior.
  • Lois and Clark had an alternate universe where Charlton Heston is President of the United States, and the nation is full of gun nuts waging open warfare on the streets. Elvis Presley also held the office sometime in the past.

Tabletop Games

  • In Britannica-6, a GURPS sourcebook/adventure describing an alternate Steampunk universe stemming from a different history of the British royal family, one of the example characters is Charles Dickens, a journalist specializing in science and technology. "He wrote a few short stories, most concerning heroic engineers, but never found much money in it."
  • GURPS Alternate Earths has lots of them. Malcolm Little (Malcolm X) as VP of the rest-US in a world where the CSA successfully seceded. David Duke as POTUS in a world where The Nazis win World War II and the US become their fascist satellite. Jabir ibn Hayyan as a Roman chemist inventing mustard gas in 767. Swedish king Charles XII invading Britain. Roman emperor Heraclius founding a new empire in Africa after Constantinople falls. And Adolf Hitler ending up in an insane asylum painting more watercolors.
    • The sequel had some more of these. Alissa Rosenbaum writing novels about heroic rail builders in Nationalist Republican Russia. Japanese admiral Hiyoshimaru fighting European pirates for the Ming emperors. St. Bernhard of Clairvaux and St. Dominic de Guzman converting still-pagan Scandinavia to a somewhat different Christianity. Ibn Sina inventing calculus in 1006. Jan Masaryk elected Archon of an Austrian empire turned republic. And finally, Otakar Przemysl kicking out the Mongolian oppressors from the Holy Roman Empire in Centrum.

Theme Parks

  • Nearly Played Straight in EPCOT Center's World of Motion. A scene in the attraction had guests pass a used car lot with a salesman chatting up customers. As an in-joke, the designers originally intended to use the Richard Nixon face mask from the Hall of Presidents for the salesman, invoking this trope nearly fifteen years before the Trope Namer. However, CEO at the time Card Walker had ties to the Republican party, and management was afraid that he wouldn't be amused seeing Richard Nixon the Used Car Salesman in the attraction. Nixon was eventually added to the attraction, though in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo in the Egyptian scene.

Video Games

  • The Kaiserreich mod to Hearts of Iron 2 does this a lot (because it's trying to avoid using the OTL historical figures) Stalin is head of the Georgian Mafia in Chicago, Mussolini is minister of transportation in the Socialist Republic of Italy, Hitler is dead and his wartime letters home (along with those of many other soldiers') has been published by Ernst Röhm, who for some reason wears a Charlie Chaplin-style mustache, Mosley is a leader of a radical left faction in Syndicalist Britain, which includes Eric Blair and a gay CS Lewis.
    • Mussolini can subvert this trope - it is quite possible for him to end up as the self-described totalitarian leader of an Italian state. It just happens to be a far-left ('National Syndicalism') state rather than a far-right (Fascism) one.
    • Especially since Mussolini started out as a leftist, then had a change of heart.
  • A borderline example in Covert Front. A painting of a young Albert Einstein is on the wall of the hotel room in Zurich. While Einstein did much of his famous work in Zurich, it wouldn't be for decades and in 1904 he was working at the Swiss patent office. Either someone Did Not Do the Research or in this universe, Einstein decided to earn a bit of money on the side as an artist's model.

Web Comics

  • Roswell Texas has a lot of them. Lyndon B. Johnson is apparently a small time crook of some, Hitler immigrated to Texas and took art lessons from that Diego Riviera, and ended up marrying his and Frida Kahlo's daughter.(The Nazi party still came to power.) Also, Charles Lindbergh and his son are president of the Federated States at different points in the story.
  • In Homestuck, the Alpha universe is a reset of Earth intended to make the eventual players of Sburb more apt to win the game, and as such sports numerous differences in combination with outside influence on the universe, resulting in this trope (generally Played for Laughs). Betty Crocker is a former alien queen who owns a multiglobal empire, Harry Anderson became a private investigator due to not getting a role on Night Court, Guy Fieri became a Subjugglator and joined the Supreme Court, Donald Glover won an Oscar for the role of Geromy before being assassinated by the aforementioned Crocker, and the Insane Clown Posse are DUAL PRESIDENTS.

Western Animation

  • Most episodes of Time Squad had a variation of this trope, as the show's premise was that the timeline "decays" and the characters need to convince historical figures to get back to their actual roles in history. Beethoven was a professional wrestler, Leonardo da Vinci was a beatnik, and one episode even featured Albert Einstein as a used car salesman.

Web Original

  • A major theme in Ill Bethisad.
  • Pretty much every character in No Mans Land Tales From the Weird Wars.
  • Done lots of times in No Spanish Civil War in 1936. Leon Trotsky breaking with Marxism, Lister working together with Franco, Franco dying for the Republic, Millan Astray spying the Nazis, Manuel Fraga making the PSOE a viable option... not to talk about the Spanish president Buenaventura Freaking Durruti. Barry Goldwater is a different kind of libertarian in this world. Ernesto Guevara writes books about political systems.
  • Done various times in Union and Liberty including Walt Whitman becoming a senator and a vice presidential candidate, and Paul Gauguin coming to the United States and starting a chain of department stores.
  • Reds! has Sean Hannity as a very patriotic and jingoistic writer about the history ofthe United American Socialist Republics. It also uses many prominent American politicians and activists as members of the communist regime.

Notes

  1. As a point of clarification, Nixon's parents owned a gas station, which makes a job dealing with cars understandable for a less successful/ambitious alternate Nixon.
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