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Home / Opinion / What’s in a name, Bill and Fred?

What’s in a name, Bill and Fred?

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This ’n’ That by Nicky De Lange

Some weeks I know exactly what this column will be about. At other times, I depend on last-minute inspiration. This week’s topic is a mix of both.
It just happens that I recently watched several movies on TCM. These included Mutiny On The Bounty and It Happened One Night. Both starred my favorite actor and all-around hunk, Clark Gable. (Yes, I realize he’s been dead a long time, but he’ll always be alive to fans like me.)
As a result of my wallowing in old movies, I got to wondering which stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age became famous under the names with which they were born and which ones changed their names. I just grabbed my iPhone and asked Siri for the information. Siri, by the way, is my techno best friend.
I found it surprising that many of the early movie and TV stars stuck with their birth names, although Clark was actually Mr Gable’s middle name – it followed William.
Those actors who elected to reinvent themselves often had good reasons for doing so.
Do you, for example, know of an actor named Leonard Slye? Probably not. But, if I tell you he became an actor named Roy Rogers, I bet you remember him. Leonard Slye, king of the cowboys, just doesn’t have the right ring to it, does it?
How about Bernie Schwartz? He had to overcome his name as well as his New York accent to become the famous Tony Curtis. (Actually, I’m not sure he ever completely overcame that accent.)
And, no matter how suave and debonaire he was on screen and off, do you really think Cary Grant would have had the same effect if he’d acted under his birth name of Archibald Leach?
Actress Joan Crawford’s real name was in reality so refined and elegant that she would have probably been limited in the roles she played. Her given name was Lucille Fay LeSueur. (Even more surprising to me was that Siri told me she was born in San Antonio.)
Everyone remembers the incredibly talented dancer Fred Astaire. His top hat and tails went perfectly with his dance moves. But, as Frederick Austerlitz, he sounded more like a Nazi spy and surely would never have won a date with Virginia Katherine McMath, aka Ginger Rogers.
John Wayne is one of the most famous, admired and beloved stars of westerns and war movies. He was an all-around rugged guy’s guy. But, acting under the name he was born with – Marion Mitchell Morrison – might have been too much of a challenge, even for “Duke Wayne”.
Considered one of the most beautiful actresses in the Golden Age, Rita Hayworth’s original name was Margarita Carmen Cansino. An exotic name for a famous beauty, it might just have been too big a mouthful on the movie screen.
The famous comedy team of Martin and Lewis was a complete name changer. Dean Martin was born Dino Crocetti, while Jerry Lewis started life as Joseph Levitch. Somehow, Crocetti and Levitch just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Then there’s Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter. Both actors wound up with really fake-sounding names but they were a step up from Rock’s Roy Scherer and Tab’s Arthur Kelm. That was back in the era of “cool” names – and these poor actors got stuck with two of the “coolest”.
I’ll finish this list with one of my all-time favorite actors, Boris  Karloff. What a terrific name for one of the most talented horror actors ever. So evil sounding.
It was a much better choice as a pseudonym for this cultured British gentleman, who began his life as William Henry Pratt. That just would not have sounded anywhere near as scary.
As Shakespeare said: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. But Shakespeare wasn’t dealing with Hollywood, was he?

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