Friday, December 4, 2009

What's not in a name?

According to the IMDb, today is the 92nd birthday of the actress Movita. Yes, that's just Movita; although the lady had a last name it was often not used. This isn't as uncommon as one might think; in addition to all the rapper who have made-up one word names today, there are other singers-turned-actresses like Madonna and Cher (who, to her credit, has actually won an Oscar).

But, as with Movita, it's also not a new phenomenon. Apparently, it was considered "exotic" to bring in a foreign actress, and use either only her surname or her given name. Ann-Margret has made a whole bunch of movies not using her familiy name (for the record, it's Olsson). When Alida Valli first started making English-language movies, such as The Paradine Case and The Third Man, she was only credited as "Valli". (At least audiences didn't get Frankie Valli in these parts.)

It's not just the women who do it; think of the famous Mexican actor Cantinflas. And, it's not just the people in front of the camera. Using just one name seems to be a surprisinly common practice for costume designers: Irene, Adrian, ReniƩ, and Travilla (the last name of a man, William Travilla) all spring to mind; there's also the hyphenated Orry-Kelly and Jean-Louis.

Finally, there are a couple of composers who come to mind. In the movie Detour, composer Leo Erdody only uses her last name. And, of course, there's multiple Oscar nominee Frank de Vol, who later in his career ditched the last name, giving the screen credit, "Music by de Vol", as though this somehow made his music more elegant.

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