I’ve always been intrigued with the names of the characters played by movie stars, especially the iconic figures of the Golden Age—the interplay between actor and character name, and the roles those names played in establishing and perpetuating their screen personas.
It certainly comes as no surprise that John Wayne played numerous heroes named John and Jim or that Cary Grant portrayed three Nicks or how many good girl Pollys and Pennys there were, played by the likes of the young Shirley Temple and Judy Garland. But there were a lot of interesting aberrations– for example, though to most of us Clark Gable will always be Rhett Butler, he was also Ace, Blackie (twice), Candy, Duke and Patch; Humphrey Bogart may live on eternally in video heaven as Rick, but he also answered to Baby Face, Bugs, Turkey, Duke, Gloves, Chips and Rocks, Joan Crawford was Bingo as well as Mildred Pierce, and Bette Davis was Fluff Phillips as well as Margo Channing.
Looking over some vintage cast credits, one thing that jumps out is the number of current trends that were anticipated in the movies of the 1930s, forties and fifties. For example:
In addition to those mentioned above, there were:
SMOKEY – Olivia de Havilland
BOYS NAMES FOR GIRLS
Just in case you thought this was a new thing, it was also a rampant trend in Hollywood’s heyday, with such examples (in addition to those above) as:
In just about every World War II movie, it seemed that every ship and every squadron had at least one guy called Brooklyn, and a couple of Dakotas and Detroits. Of course these were nicknames based on place of origin, but still—Golden Age films were filled with place-name characters, including:
ALABAM — Carole Lombard
One thing that has changed is the perception of some specific names. In the olde days, when W. C. Fields and Groucho Marx were looking for character names sure to produce a guffaw, they would come up with choices like Otis, Rufus, Quincy, Quentin, Augustus and Ambrose—names that now sound like handsome and perfectly acceptable names for babies.
Tomorrow look for some unusual monikers from vintage films that could make interesting choices today.