This ’n’ That by Nicky De Lange
You’re probably familiar with the quote from William Shakespeare that goes – more or less – “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Apparently not everyone agrees with the famous playwright.
I began thinking about this recently when I just happened to remember the real names of some famous entertainers. Michael Landon, for example, became famous on the popular television series Bonanza in the role of Little Joe. He later starred in the hit series Little House On The Prairie as Pa Ingalls.
My personal Landon favorite was a 1957 movie, I Was A Teenage Werewolf, in which he starred as the werewolf. I’m still getting over how frightening that film was.
Michael Landon’s real name? Eugene Orowitz.
One of my all-time favorite actors was Boris Karloff. He had starring roles in horror films of the 1930s and 1940s. I remember him being interviewed on a late-night talk show (by host Johnny Carson, I think). When asked if Boris Karloff was his real name, he confessed that it wasn’t. He had been born William Henry Pratt. He changed it, he said, because Boris Karloff sounded much more frightening.
He then explained that,
if someone said “Here comes Boris Karloff”, it sounded a lot scarier than “Here comes William Henry Pratt”!
Karloff was funny, elegant, polished and, as Frankenstein’s monster, really terrifying. And, in case you don’t know, he was also the voice of the Grinch in How The Grinch Stole Christmas.
And then there was Lucille Fay LeSueur, one of the top actresses of Hollywood’s “golden age”. You still find her movies on TV stations that run classic films. What was her stage name? Joan Crawford.
Another famous award-winning actress from the same period, known for her elegance and charm, began life as Gretchen Michaela Young. She starred with many of the top actors of the day, including Clark Gable. You would know her better as Loretta Young.
Comedians seemed particularly prone to changing their names. See if you can guess the professional names of this selection: Aaron Chwatt, Melvin James Kaminsky, Jerome Silberman, Mendel Berlinger and Benjamin Kubelsky.
Give up? Chwatt was actually Red Buttons. He played the Borscht Belt before breaking into TV.
Kaminsky is much more widely known as writer, actor and comedian Mel Brooks.
Silberman has performed with Brooks often, including a starring role in Blazing Saddles. He’s better known as Gene Wilder.
Berlinger and Kubelsky are probably the most famous comedians on this list. They moved into television in its early years.
Berlinger changed his name to Milton Berle but became even more famous
as Uncle Miltie.
Kubelsky also had his own TV show and made numerous guest appearances on talk shows. He was as famous as Milton Berle.
You knew him as that tightwad Jack Benny.
There are plenty of other interesting celebrities who have changed their names,
as well as some who didn’t.
You didn’t think Tab Hunter, Rock Hudson and Troy Donahue started out with those cool names, did you?