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10 Movie Star Strategies for Changing Your Name

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In the Golden Years of Hollywood, it was almost essential for any movie star to change their name—unless they happened to be born with an instantly cool name like Errol Flynn or Clark Gable. Even Janet Cole, who had a perfectly good name, had it changed to Kim Hunter. (It’s less of an issue in the past few decades, when actresses usually don’t choose to change their name, even if their surname is Bullock.) So if you’re a movie star, how do you choose your new name? Here are some tips.

1. Name yourself after one of your characters.

Dawn Paris presumably wasn’t a good name for an actress, so 16-year-old Dawn renamed herself Dawn O’Day. Perhaps realizing that this was no great improvement, she re-renamed herself after her first big movie role in 1934: Anne of Green Gables. To be exact, she named herself Anne Shirley, the same name as the title character—and kept the name for the rest of her career. Gig Young also named himself after his character in The Gay Sisters (1942), and Donna Lee Hickey renamed herself May Wynn after her character in The Caine Mutiny (1954). Please don’t try this if you ever get cast in a Hobbit movie.

2. Don’t be too obvious.

When Australian actress Louise Carbasse came to Hollywood, she was renamed “Louise Lovely.” She hated the name, and as you’ve probably never heard of her, it didn’t do her much good. Sure, rock stars can have names like Johnny Rotten and Alvin Stardust, but it just looks ridiculous if a film star chooses a name like Doris Beautiful or Jimmy Terrific or (if you want to win an Oscar) Al Pretty-amazing-actor. Subtlety works better. Frances Gumm, for example, was renamed Judy Garland – a name connected with flowers, but not one that’s too blatant.

3. If your first name isn’t so good, just use your middle name.

Terence McQueen had a name that made him sound like a Latin scholar, but as he wanted to be known as an all-American hero, he used his middle name: Steve. Ernestine Russell wanted something sexier, so she took her middle name: Jane. Eldred Peck wanted a name that sounded less like “Eldred,” so he used his middle name: Gregory.

4. Or use your mother’s maiden name.

Joan Fontaine did this, so that nobody could confuse her with her older sister (and fierce rival) Olivia de Havilland. Shirley Maclaine did this to tell her apart from her brother, Warren Beatty. Rita Hayworth, Diane Keaton, and Simone Signoret also renamed themselves after their mothers.

5. Use the same name as a movie star from the past.

Bette Midler named herself after Bette Davis, without realizing that most people pronounced her idol’s name “Betty”, not “Bet.” Most people didn’t know, however, that Bette Davis herself pronounced her name “Bet.” So Bette Midler got it right, accidentally. (Bette Davis, for the record, took her name from Balzac’s Cousin Bette. I’m not sure how Balzac pronounced it.)

6. If you don’t like any past movie stars, name yourself after one of your heroes.

Nicolas Coppola obviously decided that nobody with his surname was going to get anywhere in the film business. Fortunately, he was a devoted comic book reader. Depending on whom you ask, he might have called himself Nicolas Cage after Luke Cage, alias Power Man, a tough superhero in 1970s Marvel Comics blacksploitation comics who would go around wearing an unbuttoned silk shirt and a silver bandanna, and beating up villains while calling them names like “You freakin’ mealymouth!” Always a comic-book geek, Cage was later tapped to play Superman (which never happened) and another 1970s Marvel Comics hero, Ghost Rider (which did happen, sadly).

7. If you still can’t think of anything, hold a contest.

MGM arranged one of these in 1925 for Billie Cassin, a promising 19-year-old actress whom they were grooming to be the next big thing. Billie Cassin didn’t sound special, so she had renamed herself… Lucille Le Sueur! Exactly how that was meant to be pronounced, it’s probably best not to know. Instead, MGM ran a contest in a fan magazine to give her a new name. The winning name was … Joan Arden! Unfortunately, the name was so good that an actress in Hollywood already had it. MGM settled on the name that was runner-up in the contest: Joan Crawford. The actress kept this name for another 50 years.

8. Avoid a name that will provoke embarrassing questions.

Well, you can if you like. Caryn Elaine Johnson got the name Whoopi Goldberg, after her long-standing nickname—but while she came up with stories in interviews, she didn’t admit the real reason for that first name for several years: “I get gassy.” If this is how you got your name, you might prefer to keep it to yourself. Up to you, of course.

9. Make it gender neutral.

At first glance, this question doesn’t make a great deal of sense. Obviously, if your name is “Miriam” or “Anthony,” the pundits know what they’re getting—or your gender, at least. Stars like Drew Barrymore, Daryl Hannah and Cameron Diaz, however, make it slightly more unpredictable—and perhaps that might help your career. Jamie Foxx (real name: Eric Marlon Bishop) tried for years to break into the entertainment business, going to open-mike nights in a standup comedy venue in Los Angeles. The thing is, every other aspiring comedian had the same idea, so he had to struggle for a space. After a while, it was obvious that most of the comics had one thing in common: testosterone. If a female comic was found on the list, she could jump the queue. While he could have changed his name to Penelope or Rosanna to make it clear, he decided to call himself Jamie just to provide a shadow of doubt. Soon, his acting career was well on its way—all because of the chance he might have been a woman.

10. Shorten your name.

Is your name Rudolpho Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguolla? Funnily enough, we’ve seen this problem before. The name was changed to Rudolph Valentino. Sorry, but it’s going to have to fit on the poster.

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.

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10 Biting Facts About Snapping Turtles
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Here in the Americas, lake monster legends are a dime a dozen. More than a few of them were probably inspired by these ancient-looking creatures. In honor of World Turtle Day, here are 10 things you might not have known about snapping turtles.

1. THE COMMON SNAPPING TURTLE IS NEW YORK'S OFFICIAL STATE REPTILE.

Elementary school students voted to appoint Chelydra serpentina in a 2006 statewide election. Weighing as much as 75 pounds in the wild (and 86 in captivity), this hefty omnivore’s natural range stretches from Saskatchewan to Florida.

2. ALLIGATOR SNAPPING TURTLES CAN BE LARGE. (VERY LARGE.)

An alligator snapping turtle
NorbertNagel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Utterly dwarfing their more abundant cousin, alligator snappers (genus: Macrochelys) are the western hemisphere’s biggest freshwater turtles. The largest one on record, a longtime occupant of Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, weighed 249 pounds.  

A monstrous 403-pounder was reported in Kansas during the Great Depression, though this claim was never confirmed.  

3. COMMON SNAPPERS HAVE LONGER NECKS AND SPIKIER TAILS.

Alligator snappers also display proportionately bigger heads and noses plus a trio of tall ridges atop their shells. Geographically, alligator snapping turtles are somewhat restricted compared to their common relatives, and are limited mainly to the southeast and Great Plains.

4. BOTH VARIETIES AVOID CONTACT WITH PEOPLE.

If given the choice between fight and flight, snapping turtles almost always distance themselves from humans. The animals spend the bulk of their lives underwater, steering clear of nearby Homo sapiens. However, problems can arise on dry land, where the reptiles are especially vulnerable. Females haul themselves ashore during nesting season (late spring to early summer). In these delicate months, people tend to prod and handle them, making bites inevitable.

5. YOU REALLY DON'T WANT TO GET BITTEN BY ONE. 

Snapping turtle jaw strength—while nothing to sneeze at—is somewhat overrated. Common snapping turtles can clamp down with up to 656.81 newtons (N) of force, though typical bites register an average of 209 N. Their alligator-like cousins usually exert 158 N. You, on the other hand, can apply 1300 N between your second molars.

Still, power isn’t everything, and neither type of snapper could latch onto something with the crushing force of a crocodile’s mighty jaws. Yet their sharp beaks are well-designed for major-league shearing. An alligator snapping turtle’s beak is capable of slicing fingers clean off and (as the above video proves) obliterating pineapples.

Not impressed yet? Consider the following. It’s often said that an adult Macrochelys can bite a wooden broom handle in half. Intrigued by this claim, biologist Peter Pritchard decided to play MythBuster. In 1989, he prodded a 165-pound individual with a brand new broomstick. Chomp number one went deep, but didn’t quite break through the wood. The second bite, though, finished the job.

6. SCIENTISTS RECENTLY DISCOVERED THAT THERE ARE THREE SPECIES OF ALLIGATOR SNAPPING TURTLES.

A 2014 study trisected the Macrochelys genus. For over a century, naturalists thought that there was just a single species, Macrochelys temminckii. Closer analysis proved otherwise, as strong physical and genetic differences exist between various populations. The newly-christened M. suwanniensis and M. apalachicolae are named after their respective homes—namely, the Suwannee and Apalachicola rivers. Further west, good old M. temminckii swims through the Mobile and the Mississippi.

7. THANKS TO A 19TH CENTURY POLITICAL CARTOON, COMMON SNAPPING TURTLES ARE ALSO KNOWN AS "OGRABMES." 

Snapping turtle cartoon
Urban~commonswiki via Wiki Commons // CC BY PD-US

Drawn by Alexander Anderson, this piece skewers Thomas Jefferson’s signing of the unpopular Embargo Act. At the president’s command, we see a snapping turtle bite some poor merchant’s hind end. Agitated, the victim calls his attacker “ograbme”—“embargo” spelled backwards.

8. ALLIGATOR SNAPPERS ATTRACT FISH WITH AN ORAL LURE …

You can’t beat live bait. Anchored to the Macrochelys tongue is a pinkish, worm-like appendage that fish find irresistible. Preferring to let food come to them, alligator snappers open their mouths and lie in wait at the bottoms of rivers and lakes. Cue the lure. When this protrusion wriggles, hungry fish swim right into the gaping maw and themselves become meals.

9.  … AND THEY FREQUENTLY EAT OTHER TURTLES. 


Complex01, WikimediaCommons

Alligator snappers are anything but picky. Between fishy meals, aquatic plants also factor into their diet, as do frogs, snakes, snails, crayfish, and even relatively large mammals like raccoons and armadillos. Other shelled reptiles are fair game, too: In one Louisiana study, 79.82% of surveyed alligator snappers had turtle remains in their stomachs.

10. YOU SHOULD NEVER PICK A SNAPPER UP BY THE TAIL.

Ideally, you should leave the handling of these guys to trained professionals. But what if you see a big one crossing a busy road and feel like helping it out? Before doing anything else, take a few moments to identify the turtle. If it’s an alligator snapper, you’ll want to grasp the lip of the upper shell (or “carapace”) in two places: right behind the head and right above the tail.

Common snappers demand a bit more finesse (we wouldn’t want one to reach back and nip you with that long, serpentine neck). Slide both hands under the hind end of the shell, letting your turtle’s tail dangle between them. Afterwards, clamp down on the carapace with both thumbs.

Please note that lifting any turtle by the tail can permanently dislocate its vertebrae. Additionally, remember to move the reptile in the same direction that it’s already facing. Otherwise, your rescue will probably turn right back around and try to cross the road again later. 

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Tina Fey
Jenny Anderson, Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions
Jenny Anderson, Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

Tina Fey has transformed modern comedy more than just about anyone else. From the main stage of Second City to the writer’s room of SNL to extremely fetch comedy blockbusters, Elizabeth Stamatina Fey has built a national stage with a dry, eye-popping sarcasm and political satire where no one is safe. She has a slew of Emmys, Golden Globes, SAG, PGA, and WGA awards to prove it—plus a recent Tony nomination (her first). But, more importantly, she’s the closest thing we have to a national comic laureate.

Here are 10 facts about a fantastically blorft American icon.

1. SHE DID A BOOK REPORT ON COMEDY WHEN SHE WAS 11.

Fey got a very early start in comedy, watching a lot of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Bob Newhart, and Norman Lear shows as a kid. Her father and mother sneaked her in to see Young Frankenstein and would let her stay up late to watch The Honeymooners. So it’s no surprise that she chose comedy as the subject of a middle school project. The only book she could get her hands on was Joe Franklin’s Encyclopedia of Comedians, but at least she made a friend. "I remember me and one other girl in my 8th grade class got to do an independent study because we finished the regular material early, and she chose to do hers on communism, and I chose to do mine on comedy," Fey told The A.V. Club. "We kept bumping into each other at the card catalog."

2. THE SCAR ON HER FACE CAME FROM A BIZARRE ATTACK THAT OCCURRED WHEN SHE WAS A CHILD.

Fey’s facial scar had been recognizable but unexplained for years until a profile in Vanity Fair revealed that the mark on her left cheek came from being slashed by a strange man when she was five years old. “She just thought somebody marked her with a pen,” her husband Jeff Richmond said. Fey wrote in Bossypants that it happened in an alleyway behind her Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, home when she was in kindergarten.

3. HER FIRST TV APPEARANCE WAS IN A BANK COMMERCIAL.

Saturday Night Live hired Fey as a writer in 1997. In 1995 she had the slightly more glamorous job of pitching Mutual Savings Bank with a radical floral applique vest and a handful of puns on the word “Hi.” In a bit of life imitating art, just as Liz Lemon’s 1-900-OKFACE commercial was unearthed and mocked on 30 Rock, the internet discovered Fey’s stint awkwardly cheering on high interest rates a few years ago and had a lot to say about her '90s hair.

4. SHE WAS THE FIRST WOMAN TO BE NAMED HEAD WRITER OF SNL.

Four years after that commercial and two after she joined Saturday Night Live’s writing staff, Fey earned a promotion to head writer. Up until that point, the head writers were named Michael, Herb, Bob, Jim, Steve. You get the picture. She acted as head writer for six seasons until moving on to write and executive produce 30 Rock. Since her departure, two more women (Paula Pell and Sara Schneider) have been head writers for the iconic show.

5. SHE’S THE YOUNGEST MARK TWAIN PRIZE WINNER.

Established in 1998, the Kennedy Center’s hilarious honor has mostly been awarded to funny people in the twilight of their careers. Richard Pryor was the first recipient, and comedians who made their marks decades prior like Lily Tomlin, Whoopi Goldberg, and George Carlin followed. Fey earned the award in 2010 when she was 40 years old, and the age of her successors (Carol Burnett, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, David Letterman ...) signals that she may hold the title of youngest recipient for some time.

6. SHE WROTE SATIRE FOR HER HIGH SCHOOL NEWSPAPER.

Fey was an outstanding student who was involved in choir, drama, and tennis, and co-edited the school’s newspaper, The Acorn. She also wrote a satirical column addressing “school policy and teachers” under the pun-tastic pseudonym “The Colonel.” Fey also recalled getting in trouble because she tried to make a pun on the phrase “annals of history.” Cheeky.

7. SHE MADE HER RAP DEBUT WITH CHILDISH GAMBINO ON "REAL ESTATE."

Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino) first gained notice as a member of Derrick Comedy in college, and Fey hired him at the age of 23 to write for 30 Rock. Before jumping from that show to Community, Glover put out his first mixtape under his stage name. After releasing his debut album, Camp, in 2011, Gambino dropped a sixth mixtape called Royalty that featured Fey rapping on a song called “Real Estate.” “My president is black, and my Prius is blue!"

8. SHE VOICED PRINCESSES IN A BELOVED PINBALL GAME.

Between the bank commercial and Saturday Night Live, Fey has an intriguing credit on her resume: the arcade pinball machine “Medieval Madness.” Most of the game’s Arthurian dialogue was written by Second City members Scott Adsit (Pete Hornberger on 30 Rock) and Kevin Dorff, who pulled in fellow Second City castmate Fey to voice for an “Opera Singer” princess, Cockney-speaking princesses, and a character with a southern drawl. (You can hear some of the outtakes here.)

9. SHE USED MEAN GIRLS TO PUSH BACK AGAINST STEREOTYPES OF WOMEN IN MATH.

Tina Fey and Lindsay Lohan in 'Mean Girls' (2004)
Paramount Home Entertainment

There’s a ton of interesting trivia about Mean Girls, Fey’s first foray into feature film screenwriting. She bid on the rights to Rosalind Wiseman’s book that inspired the movie without realizing it didn’t have a plot. She initially wrote a large part for herself but kept whittling it down to focus on the teenagers, and her first draft was “for sure R-rated.” Fey also chose to play a math teacher to fight prejudice. “It was an attempt on my part to counteract the stereotype that girls can’t do math. Even though I did not understand a word I was saying.” Fey used a friend’s calculus teacher boyfriend’s lesson plans in the script.

10. SHE SET UP A SCHOLARSHIP IN HER FATHER’S NAME TO HELP VETERANS.

Fey’s father Donald was a Korean War veteran who also studied journalism at Temple University. When he died in 2015, Fey and her brother Peter founded a memorial scholarship in his name that seeks to aid veterans who want to study journalism at Temple.

"He was really inspiring," Fey said. "A lot of kids grow up with dreams of doing those things and their parents are fearful and want them to get a law degree and have things to fall back on, but he and our mom always encouraged us to pursue whatever truly interested us." Fey also supports Autism Speaks, Mercy Corps, Love Our Children USA, and other charities.

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