A Cowboy Called Marion - What's in a Name in Hollywood

And don't call me Marion
And don't call me Marion

Hollywood Stars Names

This hub is all about Hollywood stars and their name changes. Some stars don't need to change their names. Errol Flynn, Ava Gardner roll off the tongue easily and can't be improved. Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley you couldn't make up.


A classic dancing pairing of Fred Austerlitz and Virginia McMath doesn't slip off the tongue quite as easily as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. John Wayne, is better than Marion Morrison. For a cowboy, anything, is better than Marion Morrison.

Fred Austerlitz and Virginia McMath
Fred Austerlitz and Virginia McMath
The Gumm sisters (Judy at the bottom)
The Gumm sisters (Judy at the bottom)

From Gumm to Garland

Many up and coming actors and actresses have changed their names prior to stardom. Sometimes the reasons behind name changes are fairly easy to see - Judy Garland used to be Frances Ethel Gumm and sang with her elder sisters as 'The Gumm sisters'. They got disheartened when George Jessel, topping the bill, introduced them as the Glumm Sisters as though they were a comedy act and got a big laugh. Nevertheless, they stopped the show and George Jessel, horrified that his first introduction had produced a laugh, suggested they call themselves after a friend of his, Robert Garland, drama critic of New York World-Telegram. Her first name came from a Hoagy Carmichael song, 'Judy', of which she was fond.

The most usual reasons for actors and actresses changing their names are that those they were born with are too long, too difficult to pronounce, or simply unglamorous. It is not hard to understand why Herbert Charles Aangelo Kuchacewich ze Schluderpacheru decided to drop it in favour of Herbert Lom, or why Derek Julius Gaspard Ulrich Niven van den Bogaerde thought he would go further with a name like Dirk Bogarde. Equally, Ladrushka Mischa Skikne had good reason to change his to Laurence Harvey and nobody complained when Walter Matuschanskayasky chose to call himself Matthau instead;(though he was billed as Walter Matuschanskayasky when he played a recurring cameo role as a drunk in 'Earthquake' in 1974.

Certainly not Diana Fluck
Certainly not Diana Fluck

Not THE Diana Fluck?

Briefer names may be just as unacceptable. Alexandra Zuck was distasteful to Sandra Dee and Diana Fluck to Diana Dors. Olga Kronk preferred Claire Windsor, and not surprisingly Doris Day was as relieved to be free of Doris Kappelhoff, as was Cyd Charisse not to have to answer to Tula Finklea. Burl Ivanhoe substituted Ives, while Fabian Forte Bonaparte was satisfied to get along with just his first name. Robert Taylor had rather more appeal for a romantic hero than Spangler Arlington Brugh and Septimus Ryott was undoubtedly correct in thinking that his female fans would prefer him as Stewart Rome. Austrian actor Jake Kratz doubted he would be able to play hot-blooded Latin lovers with a name like that and changed it to Ricardo Cortez.

Many performers born with Latin names preferred something Anglo-Saxon: Dino Crocetti opted for Dean Martin, Margarita Carmen Cansino for Rita Hayworth, Luis Antonio Camaso de Alonso for Gilbert Roland and Anna Maria Luisa Italiano for Anne Bancroft. A few reversed the process, and changed Anglo-Saxon names into something more exotic: Monar Sullivan became Bonar Colleano, Peggy Middleton assumed the more romantic Yvonne de Carlo and Muriel Harding decided that Olga Petrova held a greater air of mystery for a femme fatale.

Jane..er..Reagan, I believe
Jane..er..Reagan, I believe

Sarah Jane Fulks

Sarah Jane Fulks hated her name. To her great relief, Warner Brothers insisted that she change her name when they signed her to a $60-a-week contract on May 6, 1936. In the name-changing meeting with her agent and sometime actor, William Demarest, she dropped her first name, which she didn't like anyway.

She asked to change her last name to "Weymann," the same last name as her adoptive siblings — her mother had first been married to a Dr. Weymann. So the studio executive shortened that to "Wyman."

Jane Wyman was her name from then on.

Really James Stewart
Really James Stewart
Really Michael Douglas
Really Michael Douglas

 Some actors chose names that others had discarded. Bernard Schwarz chose Tony Curtis, while the real Tony Curtis had become Italy's best loved comedian Toto. American actor Bud Flanagan changed  his name to Dennis O'Keefe, while British actor Robert Winthrop altered his to Bud Flanagan. It was fortunate for James Stewart that his British namesake had already decided to change James Stewart into Stewart Granger before the other James Stewart went into movies. The Leslie Hope who starred in 'First Degree' in 1995 knew she was in little danger of being confused with the screen's other Leslie Hope, who had thoughtfuly changed his name to Bob when he first entered showbusiness. Michael Keaton's real name is Michael Douglas.

Alternatively, an artiste could sometimes get away with adopting a name which already had cachet. Cambodia's leading female star before the communist takeover, Kim Nova, selected her screen name in unabashed imitation of Kim Novak. In 1974 a Cambodian starlet called herself Kim Novy in imitation of the imitation. Charles Chaplin sued a Mexican comedian called Charles Amador who had changed his name to Charles Aplin, but was unable to do anything about a German comedian who appeared on screen as Charlie Kaplin. Hong Kong's Bruce Li found fame and fortune treading in the footsteps of the late Bruce Lee.

It was also perfectly possible to have several actors with a legitimate claim to the same name. There were three Robert Lees working in Hollywood during the 1920's and four Charles Macks, two of them styling themselves Charles E. Mack, and additionally a Mrs Charles Mack who performed under that name. When Pernilla Wahlgren and Pernilla Wallgren were both cast in Bo Wideberg's 'The Serpent's Way across Helle Mountain' in 1986, the latter decided to change her screen name to Osstergren-her married name-to avoid confusion. After marrying director Mille August on the set of 'Best Intentions' in 1992, she changed it again to August Oestegren, then dropped he second name altogether and became simply August.

Although relatively few actresses assume their husbands' names, another one who did was Ellen Burstyn. It was as well that she found a name she felt she could stick with when she met Mr Burstyn (pronounced BURST-un), because the Irish-American former model from Detroit had rejoiced in no fewer then 25 different stage names since abandoning the name she had been born with, Edna Gilhooley.

Joseph Keaton assumed the first name of 'Buster' at the age of six months when he fell downstairs and Harry Houdini, a family friend, remarked to his father:That's some buster your baby took! Harry Crosby acquired 'Bing' from avid reading of a comic strip called 'The Bingville Bugle' when he was at school.

Some were satisfied simply to change their Christian name: Leslie/Bob Hope, James/David Niven, William/Pat O'Brien, Clarence/Robert Cummings, Hubert/Rudy Vallee, Julius/Groucho Marx, Virginia/Bebe Daniels, Sari/Zsa Zsa Gabor, Marilyn/Kim Novak, Julia/Lana Turner, Ruth/Bette Davis.

Even simpler was to change a single letter of the name: Conrad Veidt (Weidt); Beulah Bondi (Bondy); George Raft (Ranft); Ronald Squire (Squirl); Dorothy Malone (Maloney); Warren Beatty (Beaty); Yul Brynner (Bryner)' Paul Henreid (Hernreid); Edmund Lowe (Edmond); Van (Evan) Heflin; Julia (Julie) Roberts; James Baumgarner was content to drop the 'Baum'. Barbara Stanwyck was named by legit producer Willard Mack, who told her that Ruby Stevens sounded like a stripper. He selected Stanwyck after glancing at an old programme listing Jane Stanwyck.

Not the stripper Ruby Stevens
Not the stripper Ruby Stevens
Helena Cooper doesn't suit!
Helena Cooper doesn't suit!

Gary (Frank) Cooper was named after his agent's homeown, Gary, Indiana. The actor's own hometown would hardly have been appropriate- he came from Helena Montana.

French comedian Fernandel was born Fernand Constandin. His wife called him Fernand d'elle (her Fernand). Luis Alonso selected his new name of Gilbert Roland as a tribute to the two stars he most admired, John Gilbert and Ruth Roland. Stepin Fetdchit, the startled black manservant of '20's and '30's Hollywood movies, named himself after a racehorse which had obliged him by winning.

Marilyn Monroe's Christian name was selected for her by Fox talent scout Ben Lyon because of his admiration for Marilyn Miller - the Monroe was her mother's maiden name. Bette (Ruth) Davis took her screen Christian name from Balzac's Cousin Bette, while young Susan Weaver, daughter of NBC president Sylvester 'Pat' Weaver, was also inspired by literature. When she was sixteen she asked the family to call her Sigourney after the character of that name in F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby'.

MGM ran a fan contest in 1925 to find a new name for the extravagantly named Lucille Le Sueur. The winner came up with Joan Arden, but as there was already an actress of that name in Hollywood, Miss Le Sueur adopted the name suggested by the runner-up instead-Joan Crawford. Gretchen Young had her first name changed to Loretta by Colleen Moore, who discovered her as a 14 year old extra in 'Her Wild Oat' in 1926. Loretta, said Miss Moore, was the name of 'the most beautiful doll I ever had.'

Bela Lugosi, real name Blasko, took his screen surname from his hometown of Lugos in Hungary. Richard Burton, formerly Richard Jenkins, assumed the name of his old teacher in Port Talbot. Gig Young (Byron Barr) took the name of the character he played in'The Gay Sisters' in 1942 and former child star Dawn O'Day switched to Anne Shirley to play the heroine of that name in Anne of Green Gables in 1934.

The story put about by her studio (and still believed in some quarters) that Theda Bara's name was an anagram of 'Arab Death' was so much hokum: the name was selected by director Frank Powell on learning that she had a relative called Barranger. Equally unromantic was Carole Lombard's (Jane Peters) decision to call herself after the Carroll Lombardi Pharmacy on Lexington and 65th in New York. Greta Garbo might easily have become Greta Gabor. Long before meeting young Greta Guatafsson, her mentor Mauritz Stiller had cherished the dream of discovering and moulding a great star. He asked his manuscript assistant , Arthur Norden, to select a name. Norden, an historian, chose Gabor, after the Hungarian king, Gabor Bethlen. Stiller wanted something less West European, however, and amended it to Garbo. Another monarch was rather more personally involved in naming Lilli Damita (Lilliane Carre). Holidaying at Biarritz in 1921 when she was 17, she attracted the attention of the King of Spain, who enquired after the damita del maillo rojo (young lady in a red bathing dress).



And finally....

Those who retain their own names may also have cogent reasons for doing so. 'Bradford Dillman' said that actor, 'sounded like a distinguished, phoney, theatrical name - so I kept it.'

Well done, Bradford Dillman!
Well done, Bradford Dillman!

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Comments 5 comments

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 5 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

Brilliant. Fascinating, too. And wonderfully researched. Thank you, gunsock, for this exciting journey through Hollywood stardom. I wonder if Crosby would ever have been such a great star if he was called "Harry" instead of "Bing."


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

Terrific hub!! I LOVED it! I found it really fascinating that Michael Keaton was really Michael Douglas, by birth.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country

Enjoyed this a lot, and can only echo William Torpey's comment.


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

Thank you for great research and hard work. Well done.


ruffridyer 4 years ago from Dayton, ohio

For a long time I though Cyd Charesse was the name of a male. Well researched hub.

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