Saturday, January 11, 2014

What's In A Name: Stars Who Lost Their Screen Names

The adoption of stage names among actors has long a history, dating back centuries. Today no one recognises the name of 17th Century playwright Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, but they might well recognise his stage name, "Molière". With the advent of film the practice of adopting a stage name continued unabated, and it seems likely that the majority of stars of the Golden Age of Film acted under names other than their given names or legal names.

In the Golden Age of Film the reasons for adopting a stage name varied a great deal. Often it was a case of an actor's given name being difficult to remember, hard to pronounce or spell (or both), or simply not sounding very good. There can be little wonder that  Rodolfo Guglielmi  adopted the stage name "Rudolph Valentino". Quite simply, many Americans had difficulty pronouncing his given surname, let alone spelling it. Other times an actor might adopt a stage name to avoid discrimination due to their ethnicity.  Rita Hayworth was born Margarita Cansino.  Among other things, she adopted her mother's maiden name of Hayworth at the suggestion of Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn to avoid being typecast in Latin roles.

Of course, not all actors voluntarily adopted stage names in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Often stage names were forced upon them by the studios. Actor Marion Morrison went by his more masculine sounding nickname, "Duke". Unfortunately, he would only be credited as "Duke Morrision" once, in the 1929 film Words and Music. It was director Raoul Walsh and Fox Film Corporation head Winfield Sheehan who decided Duke Morrison's stage name should be "John Wayne". Duke Morrison was not even present when they did so. Archibald Leach at least had some say in choosing his stage name. Mr. Leach had even appeared on Broadway under the name "Archie Leach", but when he signed to Paramount Pictures he was promptly told to change his name. Mr. Leach suggested "Cary Lockwood", the name of the character he had played in the 1931 Broadway production Nikki. An actor named Harry Lockwood was already under contract to the studio, however, so Paramount rejected that name. Archie Leach then chose the surname "Grant" from a list of suggestions the studio kept for actor's stage names. Archie Leach then forever became Cary Grant.

Not surprisingly given the fact that the studios sometimes forced stage names on actors, there have been a few cases in which actors have decided to revert back to their given or legal names. As a child Imogene Rogers was well known for her prowess at baseball. It is for that reason that she earned the nickname "Casey" (from the poem "Casey at the Bat"). She later changed the spelling of her nickname  to "Kasey". While the name "Kasey Rogers" would seem easy to remember, easy to pronounce, and easy to spell, she began her film career at Paramount Pictures as Laura Elliott. And she would have a relatively successful film career using that name. Indeed, it was as Laura Elliott that she played Miriam Joyce, the cheating wife of Guy Haines (Farley Granger) in the Hitchcock classic Strangers on a Train (1951).

It was in 1953, when she left Paramount Pictures, that she returned to the name "Kasey Rogers". The name change would have no real impact on her career and she remained a very busy actress, particularly in television. Indeed, she was a regular on the night time soap opera Peyton Place as well as a semi-regular on Bewitched (becoming the second actress to play Louise Tate on the show). Curiously, many people do not realise that Laura Elliott and Kasey Rogers are the same actress. This may simply be because most of her films were made under the name "Laura Elliott" while almost all of her television work she was billed as "Kasey Rogers".

While Kasey Rogers had only been "Laura Elliott" for a few years, there is one, very well known instance of an actress who started using her legal name after fifteen years of using a stage name. Blossom MacDonald was the older sister of actress Jeanette MacDonald. She and her younger sister Jeanette performed on the vaudeville circuit. When she married actor Clarence Rock she took his surname and continued performing on vaudeville "Blossom Rock". Despite the fact that "Blossom Rock" is a very memorable name, when she started making films she was billed by the much more generic and forgettable name "Marie Blake". It was under the name "Marie Blake" that she played numerous bit parts in films. Indeed, it was as Marie Blake that she played what might be her second most famous role, that of Sally the Telephone Operator in MGM's series of "Dr. Kildare" films.

Despite being known as "Marie Blake" for fifteen years, in 1952 Blossom Rock decided to use her legal name professionally. Arguably, Blossom Rock would prove to be more famous than Marie Blake ever had been. While Marie Blake was best known for bit parts in films, Blossom Rock would go onto several guest appearances on television before achieving everlasting fame as Grandmama on the Sixties television show The Addams Family.

While Kasey Rogers and Blossom Rock started their film careers with stage names and then reverted to their given or legal names, there has been at least one instance of an actress who achieved success under her given name, then adopted a stage name, and then returned to her given name. In the Sixties Patricia Harty was an up and coming actress with a promising career. After stints as a dancer on The Perry Como Show, The Pat Boone Show, and The Garry Moore Show, she made her television acting debut on a 1963 episode of Route 66. It was only three years later that she became the star of her own sitcom, Occasional Wife.

Occasional Wife debuted on 13 September 1966 to strong ratings. Unfortunately the ratings would slip early in the 1966-1967 season and would drop even more at mid-season. In the end, NBC chose not to renew the show. Fortunately Patricia Harty would receive a starring role in another sitcom relatively quickly. Unfortunately it would be one of the biggest critical and ratings failures of the Sixties. Blondie, based on the famous comic strip of the same name, debuted on 26 September 1968. Lambasted by critics and avoided by audiences, the ratings for Blondie were so low that predictions of its cancellation were being made as early as November. Indeed, the show left the air on 9 January 1969.

After Blondie Patrica Harty guest starred on The Virginian, Bonanza, Alias Smith and Jones, Love American Style, Medical Centre, and The Odd Couple. She then took a break from acting. When she returned it was with a new stage name. She had two problems when she had used her given name of "Patricia Harty" professionally. One was that people would call her "Pat", a nickname she did not particularly like. Another was that people consistently mispronounced her name as "Hardy". She then adopted the stage name of "Trisha Hart". Of course, it probably didn't hurt that the new name would help distance her from the failures of both Occasional Wife and Blondie.

As it turned out, however, "Trisha Hart" would be no more successful than Patricia Harty had been. As Trisha Hart she did land a lead role in The Bob Crane Show in 1975. Unfortunately it performed badly in the ratings and was cancelled after 13 weeks Given the failure of The Bob Crane Show, it should be little wonder that when Patricia Harty resurfaced on television again in 1982 in a lead role in the sitcom Herbie the Love Bug, she was once more using her given name professionally. Sadly, Herbie the Love Bug would prove no more successful than her previous shows and only lasted five episodes. Afterwards she made guest appearances on several television shows.

Given the studio's habit of forcing actors to adopt stage names, it is surprising that more actors did not eventually revert to their given names. In case of better known actors the reasons for not doing so seem pretty clear. After achieving fame as "Cary Grant", would Archie Leach really want to lose possible box office revenue by insisting on being billed under his given name? Even if a famous actor absolutely hated his or her stage name, then, there would be considerable motivation to continue using it. Of course, today the studio system is long dead and actors are free to choose use a stage name if they wish to. What is more, they can choose a stage name they like.  It is then very doubtful that in years to come very many actors in the future will elect to change their stage names in mid-career.

Friday, January 10, 2014

"Bend It" by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich

It was five years ago today, on 10 January 2009, that Dave Dee of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich died after a long battle with prostate cancer. In memory of Dave Dee, then, I am posting one of my favourite songs by  Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich.

"Bend It" went to #2 on the British singles charts. It also did well in Europe, going to #1 in Germany and Denmark. In Australia it reached #2 on the singles chart.  Unfortunately,  many radio stations in the United States banned the record because of its suggestive lyrics. As a result  Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich recorded a second, less suggestive version and the original version was pulled from record stores. Sadly, this didn't help a whole lot. It only reached #110 on the Billboard singles chart. Regardless, it remains one of  Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich's more popular songs among their American fans.

Here is the original promotional film for "Bend It", filmed at the London Playboy Club. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Larry D. Mann Passes On

Character actor and voice artist Larry D. Mann died 6 January 2014 at the age of 91. He had recurring roles on the TV shows Shane, Accidental Family, and Hill Street Blues, and made numerous guest appearances on other shows. He had appeared in such films as The Singing Nun (1966),Caprice (1967), and The Sting (1973). He provided voices for several animated TV show and feature films, the most famous of which was probably that of Yukon Cornelius in the perennial Christmas special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Larry D. Mann was born in Toronto, Ontario on 18 December 1922. He worked for a time as a disc jockey at the Toronto radio station CHUM before going into acting. He made his television debut as one of the regulars on the CBC children's show Let's See in 1952. He then played the role of Lib in the CBC satirical comedy show Ad and Lib in 1954.He also provided the voice of Captain Scuttlebutt and Flubadub on the Canadian version of Howdy Doody. In 1956 he was a regular on The Barris Beat. In 1958 he was the host of Uncle Chichimus. In 1960 he was the host of Midnight Zone. He provided the voice of Foxy Q. Fibble  on the animated series The New Adventures of Pinocchio. In the Fifties he guest starred on such shows as Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans, Cannonball, The Man and the Challenge, Encounter, and The Unforeseen. He made his film debut in Flaming Frontier in 1958.

In the Sixties Larry D. Mann provided the voice of Rusty the Tin Man on the animated series Tales of the Wizard of Oz. He was a regular on the American TV show Shane and a semi-regular on the American show Accidental Family. He provided voices for the Saturday morning cartoons Here Comes the Grump and Sabrina and the Groovy Ghoulies. His most famous work in television during the decade (in fact, perhaps his most famous work of all time) was as the voice of Yukon Cornelius in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which debuted in 1964. He guest starred on such shows as The New Breed, The Gallant Men, The Dakotas, 77 Sunset Strip, Burke's Law, The Big Valley, Honey West, Ben Casey, Run for Your Life, My Favourite Martian, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Get Smart, Captain Nice, The Green Hornet, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., He & She, The Guns of Will Sonnett, Hogan's Heroes, Green Acres, and Bewitched. He appeared in the films The Quick and the Dead (1963), Spencer's Mountain (1963), Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964), Harlow (1965), The Singing Nun (1966), The Daydreamer (1966), The Appaloosa (1966), Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round (1966), The Swinger (1966), A Covenant with Death (1967), Caprice (1967), In the Heat of the Night (1967), and Angel in My Pocket (1969). He was the voice of Professor Von Rotten in the animated feature Willy McBean and His Magic Machine (1965).

In the Seventies Larry D. Mann provided the voices of Crazylegs Crane and The Blue Racer in Depatie-Freleng theatrical cartoons. He appeared in the films Scandalous John (1971), Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972), Cotter (1973), Charley and the Angel (1973), The Sting (1973), Black Eye (1974), Pony Express Rider (1976), and The Octagon (1980). He guest starred on such shows as Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Night Gallery, Love American Style, Columbo, and Quincy M.E.

 In the Eighties Mr. Mann appeared in the semi-regular role of Judge Lee Oberman on Hill Street Blues. He provided voices for The New Scooby and Scrappy Doo Show. He guest starred on such shows as The Dukes of Hazzard, The New Leave It to Beaver, MacGyver, and Equal Justice. His last appearance was in 1991 in a guest appearance on Homefront. Starting in 1981 he appeared for ten years in a series of commercials for Bell Canada as "The Boss".

There can be little doubt that Larry D. Mann was a great character actor. In a career that spanned nearly four decades he played everything from Old West marshals to Army officers to mad scientists to judges. As good as Larry D. Mann was as a character actor, however, he was an even better voice artist. Yukon Cornelius stands as one of the most memorable creations in the history of stop motion animation, largely because of Mr. Mann's voice. What is more, his voice was extremely versatile. Yukon Cornelius sounds nothing like The Blue Racer, Crazylegs Crane, or any of the other many characters Larry D. Mann voiced. There is little wonder Mr. Mann was so prolific as both a character in live action television and film and a voice artist in animation. Few actors were as talented as him.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Godspeed Sir Run Run Shaw

Sir Run Run Shaw, who co-founded the Shaw Brothers Studio and TVB (the first free to air television station in Hong Kong died today, 7 January 2014, at the age of 106.

Sir Run Run Shaw was born Shao Yifu on 23 November 1907. He was the youngest of the six sons of a textile merchant in Shanghai. He attended American run schools in Shanghai. In 1927, at the age of 19, he went to Singapore to work for his older brother Runme Shaw's film distribution and production operation.  After producing several silent films they produced what is largely thought to be the first Chinese talkie, Spring on Stage. In 1937 Run Run Shaw wrote and directed Country Bumpkin Visits his In-Laws, the only film he would write and direct.

Unfortunately for the Shaw Brothers, in 1941 Singapore was invaded by Japan. The Shaw Brothers saw were stripped of their cinemas and the Japanese seized their movie making equipment. Run Run Shaw said that he and his brothers buried gold, jewellery, and money in their backyard in the amount of $4 million for when the war ended. It was then 1957 that the Shaw Brothers founded the Shaw Brothers Studio  in Hong Kong. In 1961 the Shaw Brothers Studio opened a new, state of the art studio complex called Movietown on the Clear Water Bay Peninsula. The Shaw Brothers Studio produced a varied array of films. Their drama The Magnificent Concubine (1962) became the first Chinese language film to win an award at the Cannes Film Festival (it won the Grand Prix for Best Interior Photography and Colour). While the studio produced films in a number of genres, however, they would soon become best known for their wuxia films (in English commonly lumped together as "kung fu movies"). Their film One-Armed Swordsman (1967) was a box office smash. Not only was the Shaw Brothers' motion picture production prospering in the Sixties, but by the mid-Sixties they owned over 200 cinemas in Asia and North America.

It was in 1967 that Run Run Shaw founded Television Broadcasts Limited (better known as TVB), the first free to air television station in Hong Kong. It would become the dominant television station in Hong Kong, as well as the largest producer of Chinese language television programmes in the world. In 1970 the Shaw Brothers Studio released Chinese Boxer. The film took a more realistic approach to martial arts than the wuxia films that had preceded it and proved to be a hit at the box officer. It was in 1973 that their film King Boxer (under the title Five Fingers of Death) proved to be a hit in the United States. Along with various other factors it would ignite a kung fu fad in both the U.S. and the United Kingdom. The Shaw Brothers Studio co-produced The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (1974) with Hammer Films. It would be released in a mutilated form in the Untied States as The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula.

Unfortunately beginning in the Seventies Shaw Brothers Studio would face increasing competition in the martial arts film market from Golden Harvest. In the late Seventies and Eighties Run Run Shaw served as a producer on the English language films Blood Beach (1980) and Blade Runner (1982). In 1985 Shaw Brothers Studio ceased film production and concentrated entirely on television. Since then the Shaw Brothers Studio has produced only a few films over the years.

Beyond movie making Sir Run Run Shaw was the first chairman of the Hong Kong Arts Festival in 1973 and was one of its financial supporters since then. He served on the Board of Trustees of United College (part of the Chinese University of Hong Kong), as well as president of the Hong Kong Red Cross. He was very much a philanthropist, active in fund raising for the Community Chest of Hong Kong  and donating literally billions to various charities, hospitals, and schools. He established the the Shaw Prize for research in astronomy, mathematics, and medicine in 2004. In 1994 he donated 10 million pounds to help found the Run Run Shaw Institute of Chinese Affairs at Oxford University

There can be no doubt of Sir Run Run Shaw's impact on both Hong Kong film making and Hong Kong television. To put things in perspective, he was in many respects the equivalent of such American film moguls as David F. Zanuck and Louis B. Mayer, as well as such television moguls as William S. Paley and David Sarnoff. To say he was one of the most powerful entertainment moguls in the world would be an understatement. It must also be pointed out that Sir Run Run Shaw was largely responsible for the popularity of kung fu films in the Anglosphere. While Golden Harvest made their contributions, it was a Shaw Brothers film that (King Boxer or Five Fingers of Death) was the first kung fu film to be a bona fide hit in the United States. Of course, it must also be pointed out that Sir Run Run Shaw was a philanthropist, contributing billions to various charities, hospitals, relief funds, and schools. Even beyond the films he produced, then, Sir Run Run Shaw made a difference in people's lives.