Seventh Sanctum, one of my favorite online generator sites, just put up a new toy for us to play with: The History Scrambler. Basically what it does is pair a famous figure from history with a new job title to nudge your imagination, such as Bach - Private Detective. You can generate up to 25 results at a time, too.
Now, if I'm interpreting the use of this generator correctly, you think of Bach as an archetypal character, not actually as the historic composer Bach himself, and make him a private detective (unless you're writing alternative/secret life history, then disregard what I'm saying.) It's a provocative exercise in characterization to be sure. And a world class composer secretly working as a gumshoe? I'd buy that book in a heartbeat.
Here are a few others I generated that I thought were interesting:
Paracelsius - Mutant
Calamity Jane - Alchemist
Marquis De Sade - Vigilante (hmmmm, that sounds familiar)
Immanuel Kant - Warlock
Queen Elizabeth - Secret Agent
Archemedes - Werewolf
Florence Nightengale - Black Ops Agent (whoa, there's a cool idea)
Isadora Duncan - Super-soldier
Ptolemy - Alien Invader
Leonardo Da Vinci - Steampunk Hero (I know one writer who could do this fabulously)
Copernicus - Anime Magical Knight
Oscar Wilde - Assasin (Hey, I already wrote this one)
Emily Dickenson - Computer Simulation
Indira Ghandi - Fallen Angel
Harriet Tubman - Time Traveller
Queen Victoria - Exotic Dancer
H.P. Lovecraft - Paranormal Investigator
I especially like the one with Ghandi as a fallen angel (that sent a small shiver up my spine) and Lovecraft as a paranormal investigator -- he'd be the perfect Yog-Sothothery-buster.
If you have a chance give the generator a whirl, and let us know in comments which famous person you've scrambled.