Little Sheba, Come Back, Little Sheba
When lively young Marie rents a room from Doc and Lola Delaney, she sets their middle-aged malaise into stark relief. Much as she longs for lost years and missed opportunities, Lola most desperately hopes for the return of their runaway dog, calling, “come back, Little Sheba”! Lola dreams of Little Sheba every night, speculates about what might have become her, and waxes rhapsodic remembering what a “cute little puppy” she was. But will the little fluff-ball ever show up?
Little Sheba joins a long tradition of oft-referenced and much anticipated but conspicuously absent title characters.
Godot, Waiting for Godot
We’ve been waiting for Godot since 1953, when Samuel Beckett’s absurdist tragicomedy premiered. We’re also waiting for Lefty, thanks to playwright Clifford Odets, and Guffman, thanks to noted mockumentarian Christopher Guest. Maybe Lefty, Guffman, and Godot are hanging out together somewhere?
Virginia Woolf, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The Modernist author does not make a cameo in Edward Albee’s 1962 marital drama. Woolf *spoiler alert* isn’t the only conspicuous absence from George and Martha’s deteriorating and childless marriage, and their self-created fictional son is even scarier than the fiction writer.
In Hitchcock’s psychological thriller, the brooding aristocratic widower Maxim de Winter remarries after the death of his first wife, Rebecca. But her death casts a long shadow, which threatens to overwhelm his naïve young second wife. The ‘second Mrs. de Winter’ remains unnamed, while Rebecca – who never appears on-screen -- claims the title role from beyond the grave.
Charlie Townsend, Charlie’s Angels
"How will we ever know you really exist unless you come down here and have a coconut with us?"
"Faith Angels, it's called faith."
Arguably the grandfather of the unseen character cliché on television, Charlie Townsend leads the Townsend Agency of Private Investigators shrouded in anonymity. His “angels” know him only as a disembodied voice over a telephone speaker.
The French Lieutenant, The French Lieutenant’s Woman
Despite what the title might imply, Meryl Streep’s romance with the French Lieutenant of the title only exists as an imagined prequel to the 1981 film. Sarah, a woman recently disgraced by her affair with a French ship’s officer, enters into another disastrous relationship with the principled but entranced young Charles. Their Victorian romance is a film-within-a-film set against a contemporary film-set, where – surprise surprise – the actors playing ‘Sarah’ and ‘Charles’ enter into a parallel affair.
Sauron, The Lord of the Rings
The title character is the epic fantasy classic’s Big Bad, the creator and lord of the One Ring, Sauron. Though the movies might mislead audience members into equating Sauron with his menacing Eye, the books make clear that he has a humanoid physical body, though one he shields from view. His Orcs bear the symbol of the Eye because he does not allow his name to be written or spoken, and he speaks through an emissary, the Mouth of Sauron, Even Tolkien’s descriptions of Sauron’s appearance are notoriously sparse.
It might feel like a long wait til Chapter 36, when the title character is first named, but Moby-Dick doesn’t actually appear until the final three chapters of the novel. While Ahab’s quest for vengeance against the white whale dominates the epic tome, Moby-Dick himself only shows up if you make it to Chapter 133.
The Mother, How I Met Your Mother
Making it through 9 seasons of How I Met Your Mother might feel like an epic and stormy sea voyage, and the much-anticipated mother of Ted’s children only peaks out from under her yellow umbrella in the season 8 finale.
Though they don’t make title billing, these characters are talked about an awful lot for folks who never show up.
Tino, My So-Called Life
Diane, Twin Peaks
Mrs. Columbo, Columbo
Stan Walker, Will & Grace
Vera Peterson, Cheers
Maris Crane, Frasier
Ugly Naked Guy, Friends
Rosaline, Romeo and Juliet
Colonel Kurtz, Heart of Darkness / Apocalypse Now
*Mistah Kurtz earns an honorable mention for Anticipation > Screen Time -- especially when they tried to mask Marlon Brando’s weight gain with shadow, more shadow, and some choice distractingly bleak lines from T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland.