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BellaOnline's Classic Film Editor

Their Names Before They Were Stars

Would you go see a film staring “Archibald Leach and Grace Kelly star in “To Catch A Thief” or “Frances Gumm starring in “The Wizard of Oz” ? Would the marquee have enough room for Rodolpho Alphonso di Valentina d'Antonguolla? Some film stars were born with strange names; others were born with names that did not fit their star potential. Can you blame them for changing?

Probably one of the most well-known name changes is that for Cary Grant. Born Archibald Alexander Leach, he changed his name for the stage to Cary Lockwood. Upon arriving in Hollywood, the studio picked “Grant” from a list. One of Grant’s famous quotes is, “Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.”

Marilyn Monroe was born with the name Norma Jean Baker. She came up with “Marilyn” but the studio gave her the last name “Monroe.” For the public, she became Marilyn Monroe but still legally remained Norma Jean until changing it in 1956. Later in her career, Monroe would reflect on taking it back, “I've never liked the name Marilyn. I've often wished that I had held out that day for Jean Monroe. But I guess it's too late to do anything about it now.”

“The Duke” John Wayne, Hollywood’s quintessential tough cowboy. But not with his birth name Marion Morrison. Though known in the cinema world as “John Wayne,” he never changed his name legally from Marion Morrison. His nickname,“The Duke,” came from Wayne’s beloved family dog who had the nickname “Big Duke.” As Wayne had once explained, “There's been a lot of stories about how I got to be called “Duke.” One was that I played the part of a duke in a school play--which I never did. Sometimes, they even said I was descended from royalty! It was all a lot of rubbish. Hell, the truth is that I was named after a dog!”

Other classic stars and their real names:

Gary Cooper was born as Frank James Cooper
Kirk Douglas was born as Issur Danielovich
Woody Allen was born as Allen Stewart Konigsberg
Joan Crawford was born as Lucille La Sueur
Doris Day was born as Doris Von Kappelhoff
Judy Garland was born as Frances Gumm
Natalie Wood was born as Natasha Nikolaevna Gurdin
Rudolph Valentino was born as Rodolpho Alphonso di Valentina d'Antonguolla
Cyd Charisse was born as Tula Ellice Finklea
Marlene Dietrich was born as Maria Magdalele von Losch
Hedy Lamarr was born as Hedwig Keisler
Gene Wilder was born as Jerome Silberman.
Carole Lombard was born as Jane Peters
Ava Gardner was born as Lucy Johnson
Fred Astaire was born as Fredric “Fritz” Austerlitz
Barbara Stanwyck was born as Ruby Catharine Stevens

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