The Quick 10: Why 10 Celebrities Picked Their Stage Names

It's common knowledge that celebrities often change their names because they want a more memorable moniker or a name that will look great on a marquee (or movie poster, these days). But why did they pick the names they would be known by for the rest of their lives? Let the Q10 fill you in"¦

lucy1. Joan Crawford's real name was Lucille LeSueur. Louis B. Mayer had her change her name because he thought the latter half of it sounded too much like "Le Sewer." Instead of letting her choose her own name, MGM publicity head held a contest in Movie Weekly that allowed fans to give her a new name. Lucille hated "Joan Crawford," thinking that "Crawford" sounded too much like "crawfish."
2. Cyd Charisse started life as Tula Elice Finklea. Despite the less-than-glam name, studio execs didn't exactly have to rename Cyd because "Sid" was her childhood nickname. It came about when one of her younger siblings was trying to pronounce "Sis" and it came out "Sid" instead. MGM changed the spelling to "Cyd" just to make her seem more exotic and mysterious. As for her last name, she came by that the usual way too: she married Nico Charisse and took his last name.

3. Jamie Foxx was born Eric Marlon Bishop. He changed his name when he started doing standup because he found that female comics often got to perform first "“ he thought "Jamie" was ambiguous enough that they wouldn't know if he was male or female and would at least put him mid-list somewhere. "Foxx" was in tribute to Redd Foxx, who also picked his own name"¦

4. Redd Foxx, AKA John Elroy Sanford (yup), got his first name because of the reddish tone in his hair. In fact, he was friends with Malcolm X, who used to call him "Chicago Red." When Redd started working in the entertainment business, he chose his new last name because of MLB power hitter Jimmie Foxx.

gaga5. Lady Gaga was known by a considerably longer name just a few years ago: Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. When music producer Rob Fusari was helping her develop an album, Queen's 1984 song "Radio Ga-Ga" came on the radio. He immediately made a connection between their old hit and her new sound, saying, "You are so Radio Gaga." Thus, Lady Gaga was born.
6. Judy Garland was also born with a decidedly unglamorous name: Frances Ethel Gumm. She and her siblings used to do vaudeville shows together as "The Gumm Sisters," but the audience would laugh every time their name was announced. Vaudeville veteran George Jessel eventually suggested that they change their names for that very reason, and Frances chose "Judy" based on a Hoagy Carmichael song. How the surname came about is really unknown "“ at least four versions of why it was chosen exist. One is that it came from Carole Lombard's character Lily Garland in the movie Twentieth Century. Another is that George Jessel once declared the sisterly trio was "prettier than a garland of flowers." And still another is that they chose it to flatter drama critic Robert Garland. So, take your pick. I like the garland of flowers story, myself.

7. Nina Simone used to be Eunice Kathleen Waymon, which doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, does it? When she started playing at the Midtown Bar & Grill in Atlantic City, she started going by the name we know her as today. The "Nina" was adapted from the Spanish "niña," meaning "little girl," because it's what an old boyfriend used to call her. "Simone" was for French actress Simone Signoret.

8. Stevie Wonder's real name was Steveland Morris, but because of his insane talent, people started calling him the little boy wonder when he first showed up on the Motown scene at the age of 10. Berry Gordy, Jr. capitalized on this and named him Little Stevie Wonder for his first Motown contract.

dita9. Dita Von Teese was born Heather Renee Sweet, which also sounds like a totally made up name. She took "Dita" from German actress Dita Parlo and wanted to just do a one-name kind of a thing, but when she landed the cover of Playboy, the execs at the magazine insisted that she use a last name. Not wanting to be "Dita Sweet," she randomly picked a name out of the phonebook. It was Von Treese. Playboy typoed it, and she ended up liking that version even better.
10. Nikki Sixx has a not-very rockstar name: Frank Carlton Serafino Ferrana, Jr. When he first started touring with a band, he called himself Nikki London because the band he was in was called London, but eventually he decided that was maybe not the best idea. He was considering new last names when he stumbled across his then-girlfriend's scrapbook; she had documented a time when she dated a musician from a band called Jon and the Nightriders. The musician's name was Niki Syxx. "I stole his name," Nikki admits. "I just liked it."

If you could pick your own stage name, what would it be? I can't think of anything that doesn't make me sound like a porn star, so I'll defer to you guys. Inspire me!

Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures
10 Monster Facts About Pacific Rim
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures

Legendary Pictures took a gamble on Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 monster/robot slugfest. Since it wasn’t based on a preexisting franchise, it lacked a built-in fanbase. That can be a serious drawback in our current age of blockbuster remakes and reboots. The movie underperformed domestically; in America, it grossed just over $100 million against its $180 million budget. Yet Pacific Rim was a huge hit overseas and acquired enough fans to earn itself a sequel, Pacific Rim Uprising, which arrives in theaters this week. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the movie that started it all.


Idris Elba in 'Pacific Rim' (2013)
Warner Bros.

One foggy day in 2007, Beacham—who’d recently moved to California—was walking along Santa Monica Beach. As he looked out at the Ferris wheel on the city’s eponymous pier, he pictured a looming sea monster. Then he imagined an equally large robot gearing up to fight the beast. “They just sort of materialized out of the fog, these vast godlike things,” Beacham said. He decided to pursue the concept further after coming up with the idea of human co-pilots who’d need to operate their robot as a team, which added a new thematic dimension.

“I didn’t know I had something I wanted to write until I realized these robots are driven by two pilots, and what happens when one of those people dies? What happens to the leftovers? Then it became a story about loss, moving on after loss, and dealing with survivor’s guilt," Beacham said. "That made the monsters scarier because now you care about the people who are in these robots.”


Pacific Rim was picked up by Legendary Pictures and handed over to director Guillermo del Toro. A huge fan of monster cinema, del Toro enthusiastically co-wrote the final screenplay with Beacham. Sixteen concept artists were hired to sketch original robot and creature designs for the film. “We would get together every day like kids and draw all day,” del Toro told the New York Daily News. “We designed about a hundred Kaijus and about a hundred Jaegers and every week we would do an American Idol and we would vote [some of] them out.”


In “Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats,” the tenth episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's sixth season, Charlie Day’s character gives us a darkly comedic monologue about rodent extermination. Little did the actor know that the performance would open a big opportunity for him. Impressed by the rat speech, del Toro offered Day the part of Dr. Newton Geizler, Pacific Rim’s socially-inept kaiju expert. “He said to himself, ‘That’s my guy. That guy should be in my next movie because if he killed rats, he can kill the monster,’” Day recalled during an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. On the movie set, del Toro often joked about how much he enjoys It’s Always Sunny. As a way of repaying his director, Day helped get del Toro a minor role in the series.


Most of the film’s special effects were computer-generated, but not everything was digital. For the robot cockpit scenes, del Toro had his team build the interior of a full-scale Jaeger head. The finished product stood four stories tall and weighed 20 tons. And like a Tilt-A-Whirl from hell, it was designed to rock around violently on its platform via a network of hydraulics. Once inside, the actors were forced to don 40-pound suits of armor. Then the crew strapped their feet into an apparatus that Charlie Hunnam has compared to a high-resistance elliptical machine.

Certain shots also required del Toro to dump gallons of water all over his exhausted, physically-strained stars. So yeah, the experience wasn’t much fun. “We saw every one of the actors break down on that set except for the female lead actress Rinko Kikuchi," del Toro said. "She’s the only actor that didn’t snap."


Del Toro wanted Gipsy Danger, his ‘bot, to have the self-confident air of a wild west gunslinger. To that end, he and concept artist Oscar Chichoni developed a swaggering gait that was based on John Wayne’s signature hip movements. The Jaeger’s Art Deco-like design was influenced by the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings.


Hailed as the “fortieth greatest guitarist of all time” by Rolling Stone, Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello rocked the MTV generation with hits like “Bulls on Parade” and “Killing in the Name.” Pacific Rim bears his mark as well. The film’s lead composer was Ramin Djawadi, whose other works include the Game of Thrones theme. Wanting to add a “rock element” to the Pacific Rim soundtrack, he and del Toro reached out to Morello. The guitarist didn’t need much persuading.

“When they asked me to put some giant robot riffs and screaming underwater monster licks on the film score, I was all in,” Morello said. Djwadi was pleased with the rocker's contributions to the project. As he told the press: “Tom’s unique style and sounds really defined our robots.”


A definite highlight of this movie is Gipsy Danger’s duel with the winged kaiju Otachi in downtown Hong Kong. Both characters were computer-generated, as were the majority of the streets, cars, and towers in this epic sequence. However, there is one moment which was at least partly realized with practical effects. Gipsy punches through the wall of an office building early in the fight. We see her fist rip through a series of cubicles and gradually decelerate until it lightly taps a chair with just enough force to set off a Newton’s Cradle desktop toy. For that shot, effects artists at 32Ten Studios constructed a miniature office building interior featuring 1/4-scale desks, cubicles, and padded chairs. The level of detail here was amazing: 32Ten’s staff adorned each individual workspace with lamps, computers, wastebaskets, and teeny, tiny Post-it notes.


Rinko Kikuchi in 'Pacific Rim' (2013)
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures

Audiences reacted strongly to Kikuchi’s character Mako Mori, who inspired an alternative to the famous Bechdel test. Some critics praised the culmination of her relationship with Raleigh Beckett (Hunnam). Although it’s common practice for the male and female leads in an action flick to end their movie with a smooch, Mori and Beckett share a platonic hug as Pacific Rim draws to a close. Del Toro revealed that he shot three different versions of that final scene. “We did one version where they kiss and it almost felt weird. They’re good friends, they’re pals, good colleagues,” del Toro said.


At the end of the credits, there’s a tribute that reads: “This film is dedicated to the memories of monster masters Ray Harryhausen and Ishiro Honda.” Harryhausen passed away on May 7, 2013—two months before Pacific Rim’s release. A great stop-motion animator, he breathed life into such creatures as the towering Rhedosaurus in 1953’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

Ishiro Honda was another giant of the kaiju genre, having directed Rodan, War of the Gargantuas, and numerous Godzilla films. Del Toro has great respect for both men. When Harryhausen died, the director said, “I lost a member of my family today, a man who was as present in my childhood as any of my relatives.” He also adores the Japanese monster classics and says he’d love to see a Pacific Rim-Godzilla crossover someday. Maybe it’ll happen.


If you’re not familiar with the practice of “Sweding,” let us fill you in: The 2008 comedy Be Kind, Rewind is about two co-workers at a VHS rental store who accidentally erase every tape in stock. Hoping to save their skins, they create ultra low-budget remakes of all the films they’ve destroyed using cardboard sets and cheap costumes. It’s a process these guys call “Sweding” as a ploy to convince everyone that their (unintentionally hilarious) knockoffs were produced in Sweden. Since Be Kind, Rewind was released, Sweding has become a legitimate art form.

When Pacific Rim’s first trailer debuted in 2013, YouTubers Brian Harley and Brodie Mash created a shot-for-shot, Sweded duplicate of the preview. Instead of state-of-the-art CG effects, their version used toy helicopters, duct-tape monster masks, and an ocean of packing peanuts—and del Toro loved it. At WonderCon 2013, he praised the video, saying that it inspired the editing used in Pacific Rim’s third trailer. Harley and Mash happened to be at the same gathering. When del Toro met the comedic duo, he exclaimed “I loved it! My daughters loved it, we watched it a bunch of times!” Then he invited the Sweding duo to attend Pacific Rim’s premiere in Hollywood.

Evening Standard/Getty Images
Pop Culture
Stanley Kubrick Photography Exhibition Opening at the Museum of the City of New York
Evening Standard/Getty Images
Evening Standard/Getty Images

Stanley Kubrick will forever be known as one of the most important film directors of the 20th century, but he started his career in the 1940s as a photojournalist for Look magazine. Now, the Museum of the City of New York will host a photographic exhibition of Kubrick’s early work, featuring 120 pictures from his time as a staff photographer at Look from 1945 to 1950.

Much of Kubrick’s work at the time revolved around daily life in New York City—the clubs, the commutes, and the sports. Some of his most notable pieces while at Look were his photo features on boxers Rocky Graziano and Walter Cartier, the latter of which became the subject of Kubrick’s first film, a 1951 documentary called Day of the Fight.

“Turning his camera on his native city, Kubrick found inspiration in New York's characters and settings, sometimes glamorous, sometimes gritty,” the museum wrote in a press release. “He produced work that was far ahead of his time and focused on themes that would inspire him through his creative life. Most importantly, his photography laid the technical and aesthetic foundations for his cinematography: he learned through the camera's lens to be an acute observer of human interactions and to tell stories through images in dynamic narrative sequences.”

Titled "Through a Different Lens: Stanley Kubrick Photographs," the exhibition will detail the different themes that inspired Kubrick’s work, as well as guide patrons through his Look tenure, including both published and unpublished work. One of the exhibit’s goals is to provide an “examination of the direct connection between Kubrick the photographer and Kubrick the director.”

"Through a Different Lens" runs from Thursday, May 3 through October 28, 2018 at the Museum of the City of New York.


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