Would you have swooned over someone named Archie Leech? Would you have been afraid of a showdown with someone named Marion Morrison?
In classic Hollywood, many studio executives felt there would have been no way you could have felt that way.
Many of the Old Hollywood stars you know and love—Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Judy Garland, the list goes on—use stage names picked by the studios. MGM even held a contest to find pick a name for their new star, Lucille LeSueur. The winner? Joan Crawford—and she reportedly hated it.
Cary Grant (born Archibald Alec Leach) had his name selected for him by Paramount Pictures. He had been using the name “Cary Lockwood”, but the studio decided against it, deeming it too similar to another actor working at the time. Cary and the studio eventually settled on “Cary Grant” (Grant thought the letters “C” and “G” to be lucky: they had brought previous success for both Clark Gable and Gary Cooper).
A performer may also have had their stage name chosen for them by their agent – such was the case with Barbara Eden, born Barbara Jean Huffman. Former child star Patty Duke (whose real name is Anna Marie Duke) had her stage name chosen for her by her first managers. Their choice of the name “Patty” was inspired by another child actress named Patty McCormack.
But other stage names have resulted from more personal choices:
Historically, Jews in Hollywood were encouraged to anglicize their names to avoid possible discrimination. Examples of such name changes are Danny Kaye and Mel Brooks, both of whom were born with the surname Kaminsky, the original two lineups of The Three Stooges (born the Horwitz brothers and Louis Feinburg) and Woody Allen (born Allen Konigsberg). Jon Stewart claims that he did not anglicize his name for career reasons, but because of his estranged relationship with his father.[additional citation(s) needed] Israeli-American Natalie Portman, born Natalie Hershlag, changed her name allegedly to protect her privacy.
Actors Anthony Quinn and Anne Bancroft were advised to anglicize their names because ‘Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxaca’ and ‘Anna Maria Louisa Italiano’, respectively, were considered too ‘ethnic’ for Hollywood and Broadway at the time. Eydie Gorme (born Edith Garmezano), Sophia Loren (born Sofia Villani Scicolone), Charles Bronson (born Charles Dennis Buchinsky), and Rita Hayworth (born Margarita Carmen Cansino), are four more well-known examples of this trend.
And then there’s fate, as was the case with Marion Morrison:
(H)e attended Glendale Union High School, where he performed well in both sports and academics. Wayne was part of his high school’s football team and its debating team. He was also the president of the Latin Society and contributed to the school’s newspaper sports column.
A local fireman at the station on his route to school in Glendale started calling him “Little Duke” because he never went anywhere without his huge Airedale Terrier, Duke. He preferred “Duke” to “Marion”, and the nickname stuck.
Fate, amplifed by the studio:
While working for Fox Film Corporation in bit roles, Wayne was given on-screen credit as “Duke Morrison” only once, in Words and Music (1929). Director Raoul Walsh saw him moving studio furniture while working as a prop boy and cast him in his first starring role in The Big Trail (1930). For his screen name, Walsh suggested “Anthony Wayne”, after Revolutionary War General “Mad” Anthony Wayne. Fox Studios chief Winfield Sheehan rejected it as sounding “too Italian”. Walsh then suggested “John Wayne”. Sheehan agreed, and the name was set. Wayne was not even present for the discussion. His pay was raised to $105 a week.[
Smile while you ponder that, pilgrim.
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