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Name That Dame

by David Westheimer


In the olden time, when I was watching and writing about television for a living and going to movies for fun, Renee Zellwegger (Chicago) and Reese Witherspoon (Legally Blonde) would never have made it as film stars.

Not with those names.

The powers-that-be would have changed them to names which would fit better on a marquee. And in Zellwegger's case, a name that didn't sound so ethnic. It wasn't male chauvinism. They did it to male actors, too. Roy Rogers was really Leonard Slye. (And his wife, Dale Evans, was really Frances Octavia Smith.) Zellwegger would have become something more middle-American, say Elsworth. Mamie Elsworth? Does that work for you?

Take Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff, for example. She changed her name to Doris Day and look how far she got. Others who kept their first name when they switched monikers include Greta Garbo, born, Greta Lovisa Gustafson, and Audrey Hepburn, whose real name would require a marquee stretching around the block — Audrey Kathleen van Heemstra Ruston.

Marlene Dietrich kept her last name but switched from Marie to Marlene, which somehow seems more fitting. Dinah Shore also retained her last name when she switched from Fanny Rose Shore.

Ginger Rogers did a full switch, having been Virginia MacMath, although Ginger could be a nickname for Virginia. And so did Demi Moore, having originally been Demetria Guynes. Judy Garland got the works, too. From Frances Gumm. And Rita Hayworth. She was Margarita Carmen Cansino when she danced professionally with her father.

Two actresses from Houston had perfectly acceptable movie-type names but changed them anyhow. Ann Miller was Lucille Collier. Gale Storm was Josephine Cottle but her movie name was preordained. It went with the Gateway To Hollywood contest she won.

A host of male actors of an earlier day were also nomenclaturely altered. I long thought Tyrone Power must be one of them because the name is so proudly theatrical but it was his real name, minus a Jr. tacked on when he was born. Tyrone Power, Sr. was also an actor as was an ancestor before them, also named Tyrone Power.

Among those did get the show business metamorphosis are Paul Muni, from Meshilen Meier Weisenfreund; Tony Curtis, from Bernard Schwartz; Mickey Rooney, from Joe Yule, Jr; Edward G. Robinson, from Emmanuel Goldenberg, to name a few.

Speaking of names, would you go see a movie just because Archibald Leach, Sofia Scicolone and Roy Sherer were in it? I would. Who wouldn't want to see a film starring Cary Grant, Sophia Loren and Rock Hudson?


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