Well-known stars all had different names before they were famous, but how did their stage names come about?
Betty Joan Perske
Better known as: Lauren Bacall
The daughter of Jewish immigrants, Perske was born on September 16, 1924 in New York. Her father left when she was six and her mother reverted to using her grandmother’s maiden name Bacal (and added the second L). Later, when Hollywood director Howard Hawks and his wife Nancy discovered the young actress they suggested changing her first name to Lauren to make her sound "less Jewish."
Lucille Fay LeSueur
Better known as: Joan Crawford
After being discovered by MGM, Lucille was forced to change her name as the studio thought "LeSueur" sounded too much like "sewer!" They organized a "name the star" contest in Movie Weekly for readers to suggest Lucille’s new stage name. The original choice was Joan Arden, but another actress had taken that name, so the alternate surname Crawford was used. Joan later said she wanted her first name to be pronounced Jo-Anne, and that she hated the name Crawford as it sounded like crawfish.
Better known as: Kirk Douglas
Born on December 9, 1916 in New York, Danielovitch lived in a largely anti-Semitic neighborhood. His parents adopted the last name Demsky, but Kirk, determined to be an actor, later met fellow aspiring actors Lauren Bacall and Karl Malden. Both had changed their names and suggested he do the same.
Roy Harold Scherer, Jr.
Better known as: Rock Hudson
After a stint in the US Navy this aspiring actor became the protégé of talent scout Henry Wilson, who crafted the name by which he’s now known. The surname was after the New York river but, according to the book The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson, the plan was to call him Roc until someone pointed out he might be confused with actress Rochelle Hudson.
Walden Robert Cassotto
Better known as: Bobby Darin
The singer-songwriter suffered bouts of rheumatic fever as a child and planned to live life as fully as he could and be a legend by the age of 25. One story is that he got his new last name, Darin, from a neon sign on a Chinese restaurant that was supposed to say "Mandarin," but the first three letters were burned out.
Better known as: John Wayne
Weighing a whopping 13 pounds when he was born, Wayne made an impact from day one and, as a child, was given the nickname "Duke" after his pet terrier. John was a good sportsman and attended college on a football scholarship. His life changed however when Western star Tom Mix secured him a job as a prop man (in exchange for football tickets). On that set he met director John Ford, and a legend was born.
Caryn Elaine Johnson
Better known as: Whoopi Goldberg
Before making it as an actress, Goldberg worked in a funeral parlor and as a bricklayer, while taking small parts on Broadway. She changed her real name because she felt it was "too boring" — taking Whoopi (after the joke cushion) and Goldberg because she has half-Jewish and half-Catholic ancestry.
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