Thursday, April 16, 2009

Unfortunate names

IMDb's birthday list for today claims that, on this day in 1910, Doris Day was born. Now, if you've seen movies like Alfred Hitchcock's 1950s version of The Man Who Knew Too Much (airing tonight at 10:00 PM ET on TCM), you'll know that Doris Day couldn't possibly have been in her mid-40s when she made the movie. True -- and this obviously means that there's more than one Doris Day out there. In this case, the born-in-1910 Day played bit parts in about a dozen movies in the late 1930s and early 1940s before fading into obscurity. In the case of the more famous Doris Day, she wasn't even born with that name, but with the surname Kappelhoff. It makes one wonder whether the folks at Warner Brothers even remembered the original Doris Day when they signed Kappelhoff to a contract.

There are lots of reasons why actors might have same or similar names. The most obvious of these would be family relations. It's very easy to mix up Alan Hale Sr. (The Adventures of Robin Hood) with his son, Alan Hale Jr. (Gilligan's Island) if you're not paying attention to when the movie being shown was made. The two look amazingly alike, even for a father and son. Siblings can be just as easy to confuse, even though they only share a surname in common.

There are also those names that are by their nature very common. Think of all the Smiths and Joneses out there, for example. Jack Carson is no relation to Johnny Carson of The Tonight Show, although Jack's birth name was in fact John. The James Stewart we remember from the aforementioned The Man Who Knew Too Much and a whole host of other famous movies is often given the screen credit "James M. Stewart", the "M" standing for Maitland. This stems from the fact that there was another James Stewart out there, a "James G. Stewart" who was an Oscar-winning sound recordist. Thanks to these two, you have to feel bad for Stewart Granger, who had to take on such a professional name out of necessity -- he was born James Leblanche Stewart.

Perhaps the most interesting name, however is Vickie Lester, who like the first Doris Day played supporting roles in a dozen or so movies in the late 1930s or early 1940s. However, they all came out after A Star is Born. What was the studio thinking?

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