Ever wonder where some of the movie stars from the Golden age got their names. Sure, some used their real names, like Clara Bow. But most were given “acceptable” names by their studio. Some, like Joan Crawford, were named by their fans –(MGM held a contest to name their new starlet). Many got to keep their first names but got new last names. Many got to keep their last names, but got new first names.
But a select few took their film star names from characters they portrayed. Today we picture two of those performers. The woman above is Anne Shirley, an RKO star from the 1930s and 40s.
Back in 1934 a child actress, Dawn O’Day (who’d been born Dawn Evelyn Paris), starred in a film version of the classic Anne of Green Gables, and ever after called herself the name of the character she’d played, Anne Shirley.
Shirley didn’t make many films remembered today except perhaps for director King Vidor‘s’ renowned 1937 tearjerker Stella Dallas, where she portrayed Barbara Stanwyck‘s daughter; and in 1944, Edward Dmytryk‘s hard boiled Murder, My Sweet. In that, her last film, she played the “good” girl opposite Dick Powell‘s version of Philip Marlow. Claire Trevor was her evil stepmother.
Shirley was married briefly to John Payne and their daughter, Julie Payne, became an actress.
Pictured above is Byron Barr.
You might remember him as an extra and bit player at Warner Brothers where he was often unbilled or occasionally listed as Byron Barr. But in the 1942 film The Gay Sisters costarring Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent and Geraldine Fitzgerald, he played a character called Gig Young — and guess what? The studio and Barr decided they liked that name better than the Byron Elsworth Barr monicker he was born with in 1913.
Young certainly wasn’t the first nor the last actor to do this. It probably started with Moliere’s troupe, or maybe even the Greeks. In Young’s case, he was under some name-change pressure unknown to his classical predecessors because another actor was billed at the time as Byron Barr. (The Screen Actors Guild frowns on the use of the same name by any two performers.)
The Gay Sisters not only gave him a new name but provided Young’s career a much-needed push. As a result, he happily gave up his part time job as a gas station attendant to concentrate on making movies full time. After service in the Coast Guard during World War II, Young returned to Hollywood and carved out a solid career in mostly light secondary leading roles.