It is now common knowledge that a fair number of the major stars of Hollywood’s golden age were christened with long or decidedly unglamorous names which were changed for greater box office appeal. Issur Danielovitch gritted his teeth as Kirk Douglas, Constance Ockelman peeked through curls as Veronica Lake, Lazlo Lowenstein made skin crawl as Peter Lorre, Emmanuel Goldenberg ruled gangland empires as Edward G. Robinson, Vladimir Palahnuik earned hisses playing dark villains as Jack Palance, and Eunice Quedens went to the head of the class as Eve Arden. Eve was such a treat to watch that in The Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors Barry Monush perceptively admits that “her name in the credits of any film was a reason to rejoice.”
I take pleasure in searching credits for the big names of the little players, those performers who kept their original names even if they didn’t have the grace of Fred Astaire (born Frederick Austerlitz) and Ginger Rogers (née Virginia McMath). What follows is my tribute to the long or peculiar names lurking way, way down in the credits or maybe only on a casting sheet.
Hidden among the costume comedies Lost in a Harem and The Princess and the Pirate is dependable Adia Kuznetzoff.
Lucille Ball and a few critics have high regard for her dramatic performance in The Big Street, a role she could sink her teeth into, yet there is no writer feasting on the delights served up by Art Hamberger.
The next time you call Northside 777, ask for Kasia Orzazewski.
I have no eyes for anyone in No Leave, No Love but Wedgewood Nowell.
When Topper Returns to a TV screen near you, look for Rafaela Ottiano.
Any viewer of Sorry, Wrong Number will not feel regretful if they keep an eye out for Harold Vermilyea.
Just as the Gershwin melodies heard in Rhapsody in Blue linger after the picture is over, so do the alliterative strains of enunciating “Gregory Golubeff.”
If it is possible to notice anything in The Outlaw except Jane Russell’s outfit, one might keep an eye out for Mimi Aguglia.
While on The Road to Utopia with Bing and Bob, observe the roadside attraction named Romaine Callender.
The Strawberry Blonde is Rita Hayworth, but the diamond in the rough is Abe Dinovtich.
Anyone willing to sit through The Sea of Grass should be able to spot Wyndham Standing.
And the Angels Sing the praises of this 1944 musical, aided by the capable Mikhail Rasummy.
In 1944 when Bela Lugosi donned the cape again in The Return of the Vampire, Ottola Nesmith was there in the background.
That same year when Bela and fellow boogeymen George Zucco and John Carradine camped it up in Voodoo Man, Ethelreda Leopold helped stirred the plot.
The Talk of the Town should be about the performance of Ferike Boros.
Let Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy share the spotlight in Boom Town; Minna Gombell made a little noise herself in that action picture.
No one ever called the Technicolor western San Antonio a dog, including Poodles Hanneford who drove the stage if not the plot.
Surely on the set of Margin for Error inveterate gagster Milton Berle must have approached Poldy Dur with a saltine and the teasing query “Poldy want a cracker?”
Hiding from the credits of Ministry of Fear and numerous other 1940s pictures is steady Olaf Hytten.
Among the best reasons for watching The Best Years of Our Lives is looking for the melodic name Roman Bohnen.
Similarly, spending time On an Island with You can be even more enjoyable if one rolls the syllables of Cosmo Sardo over and under the tongue.
What is not in question is whether To Be or Not to Be is Jack Benny’s best film but rather will Wolfgang Zilzer ever get to take a bow?
There was no beef from Gene Autry or anyone associated with Saddle Pals when the casting director roped Larry Steers into the corral.
None But the Lonely Heart and the faithful film fan remember Cary Grant’s best chance to win the Oscar for best actor, but there is a spot in this lonely heart for Skelton Knaggs, a wonder at playing weasels.
Expect to encounter Martin Garralaga when Going My Way or passing through Casablanca.
Some want to spend A Night in Paradise with Merle Oberon; I prefer the charms of Mercedes Mockatis.
My favorite in My Favorite Wife is not Cary Grant or Irene Dunne but rather Eli Schmudkler.
One of the reasons to go along with Abbott and Costello in Hollywood is to catch a glimpse of comely Zaz Vorka.
When Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back, he does it with the capable assistance of Elspeth Dudgeon.
During The Green Years along Green Dolphin Street, Lumsden Hare could be found nibbling his way through portions of Rebecca and Random Harvest.
If I am going to Reap the Wild Wind, I want to do it standing on the deck and shouting “Stanhope Wheatcroft.”
When John Wayne spent time In Old Oklahoma and In Old California, he took good old Hooper Atchley with him.
So Ends Our Night might be a fitting way to so end this brief survey with the mention of steady performer Gisela Werbiseck.
And now for a few extra added attractions…
The one-hit wonders of the Billboard charts at least had their brief moment in the sun; the bit players with the strange-sounding names who stuck their heads in front of the cameras just once have no home in most movie books nor do they have any Homer to record their fleeting moments onscreen. From the wings let us beckon forth a foursome for a brief bow.
Nora Prentiss leaves movie fans wanting to see more of Ann Sheridan; I want to Seymore Saner.
Stepping Out of the Fog to join John Garfield and Ida Lupino for a bow is Konstantin Sankar.
The most provocative name in Bud and Lou’s Rio Rita is Eros Volusia.
One objective in sitting through Objective, Burma is to wait for the appearance of Asit Koomar.
But no actor or actress could honestly place failure to grasp the brass ring of fame on having a slippery handle. Akim Tamiroff, Minerva Urecal, Nestor Paiva, Fortunio Bonanova, Vladimir Sokoloff, Oscar Homolka, Maria Ouspenskaya, and Ludwig Stossel became familiar faces on the Hollywood scene without camouflaging their real identities.
So let us salute all those movie standbys who did not get their names up in lights on the marquee because the theater owners did not have enough letters to fit the bill. And, before the curtain comes down, a tiny nod in the direction of the one bit player with an easy name to pronounce that forever condemned him into obscurity and insignificance: John Piffle.