Q: What's in a Name? A: Fame.
A lot of actors, musicians and even politicians have played the name game -- changing up their name for something more befitting someone whose star is destined to rise. Hollywood movie star Joan Crawford built a formidable career after the studio held a contest in which fans got to choose a new name for starlet Lucille LeSueur. It's very possible Barry Manilow found it easier to write the songs that make the whole world sing after he legally left Barry Alan Pincus behind. John Denver may have felt Henry John Deutschendorf was bumming his Rocky Mountain High. Even Colorado's own Senator Gary Hart found reason to switch from Gary Hartpence.
This Tuesday and next we're paying tribute to Cary Grant -- one of the most legendary name changers. He traveled from England at the age of 16 to perform in vaudeville shows as a stilt walker, juggler and comedian under his real name Archibald Alexander Leach. He eventually transitioned to playing secondary leads on Broadway; when Hollywood took an interest in Leach, he signed on the dotted line....as Cary Grant, a name chosen by the studio. Grant liked the new name because he believed his new initials, CG, would bring him good fortune -- as they were the same as Clark Gable's. That was in 1931. In quick succession he made the films Blonde Venus with Marlene Dietrich (born Maria Magdalene Dietrich) and She Done Him Wrong with Mae West (born Mary Jane West) and his stardom and legacy were cemented.
Grant even made fun of his real name. In the film His Girl Friday, his character Walter Burns, having been told by another actor that he is "through, all washed up" replies, "The last man who said that to me was Archie Leach just a week before he cut his throat." And at the end of his career, Grant said to an interviewer, “For more than half my fifty-eight years I have cautiously peered from behind the facade of a man known as Cary Grant.” We celebrate the man named Cary Grant this Tuesday with the free showing of Talk of the Town; and film critic Walter Chaw deconstructs Cary Grant and explores why we can’t look away from Grant even when we know that we may be looking at a shadow. Showtimes here.
Our Cary Grant film series culminates next Tuesday with a presentation of the comedy Monkey Business in which Grant stars with Virginia McMath and Norma Jeane Mortenson (you might know them as Ginger Rogers and Marilyn Monroe). Find out who else changed their name in the name of fame at the Celebrity Almanac. (click on the photos above to find out the original names of these performers, too.)