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The Inspiration For Mrs. Doubtfire Will Surprise You

Robin Williams was one of the most successful comedians of his generation and remains beloved by fans to this day. The actor made a decades-long career out of portraying a vast array of characters, from an inspirational English teacher to an adult version of Peter Pan and of course, the iconic hero-slash-heroine of the comedy "Mrs. Doubtfire."

The 1993 comedy starred Williams as a voice actor named Daniel Hillard who, when facing a divorce and potentially losing custody of his kids, comes up with a ruse to ensure time with his family. He gets his makeup artist brother to create an elaborate disguise and takes up the alter-ego of Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire, an older British nanny. He successfully becomes employed at his estranged wife Miranda's (Sally Field) house and tries to get his life together while balancing it with his new identity.

"Mrs. Doubtfire" is one of the best Robin Williams movies thanks to his hilarious portrayal as the titular British housekeeper. What fans may not know, however, is that the character of Euphegenia Doubtfire was actually inspired by a real-life person.

Mrs. Doubtfire was based on a Scottish shopkeeper

As reported by The Scotsman, Mrs. Doubtfire was based on a shopkeeper named Annabella Coutts who owned a second-hand store in Edinburgh, Scotland. She had "Madame Doubtfire" hung above her store, and locals even referred to her by the moniker. Where did the name come from, you ask? It was the surname of her first husband, Arthur Cyril Doubtfire, who died in action during World War I.

Eventually, an author named Anne Fine moved to the area and would pass by Coutts' shop often. She decided to use the name "Madame Doubtfire" for her novel, and when it proved to be a success, she went back to Edinburgh to ask Coutts for permission to use her name. According to The Scotsman, "'Madame Doubtfire' had passed away 7 years earlier, but Anne did manage to track down one of her nephews who said his aunt 'would have been chuffed to bits' for the name to be used."

When Fine's novel was eventually adapted into a film, she was apparently upset that her themes of divorce and complex family dynamics were made much more light-hearted than she'd intended. However, she made it clear she wasn't upset with Williams for playing the part and said of his death in 2014, "It was terribly sad and I was as sorry as everyone else to hear the news. He brought enormous joy to so many people."

The real Mrs. Doubtfire was as eccentric as the film version

Though Robin Williams' portrayal of Mrs. Doubtfire was goofy and over the top, the inspiration behind the character was eccentric in her own way — though was quite a personality herself. An acclaimed photographer named Douglas Corrance who snapped Coutts in the 1970s described her positively, saying (via The Scotsman), "The lady is a legend. So are her cats – never fewer than a dozen, say her neighbours. She is Madame Doubtfire, seller of old clothes for half a century from her shop near Stockbridge. The hat is rakish. The face is strong with a leathery tan. The eyes have seen and measured most things. The cat has probably seen more."

Visitors to the Madame Doubtfire shop recognized Coutts by her characteristic pipe and several cat companions she kept close by. A former resident named Olivia McAdam once described Coutts' love for her cats. "I remember her sitting outside her shop in the early 1970s with her numerous cats," she recalled. "I think she had about half a dozen. Some were less than friendly and would snarl and hiss if you got too close!"

It seems fitting that Williams, an icon himself, helped make the Doubtfire name even more legendary than the unique woman who inspired it all.