Some of our best-known actors, singers, radio entertainers, and politicians don’t use their real name. They do it for any number of reasons including money, spelling, privacy, and notoriety. Some notable examples include Nathan Birnbaum, Virginia Hensley, Bob Smith, and Barry Soetoro. Other famous celebrities include Robert Cossatto, Dino Crocetti, Doris Kappelhoff, and Robert Ridirelli.
I can tell you how many miles Harold Jenkins got, between his first name and last name, and just how far it was for Fred Picariello to travel from Florida to New Jersey. I just can’t tell you why.
Nathan Birnbaum started in Vaudeville, using several names, but didn’t hit the jackpot till he became George Burns. Married to Gracie Allen, one of Hollywood’s funniest female ditzes, Burns signed a 15-year contract to perform at Caeser’s Palace. He was 95.
Virginia Hensley’s middle name was Patterson, or Patsy for short, and she was still married to first husband Dick Cline when “I Fall to Pieces” went to #1 for Patsy Cline in 1961. At the same time, down Mexico way, a gravely-voiced American DJ named Bob Smith was blasting his trademark growl across the southern USA. Wolfman Jack went on to star in the movie “American Graffiti” and later host TV’s “The Midnight Special.”
Barry Soetoro was a little-known law student, driving a battered Dodge sedan, but became the most powerful politician on the planet, when elected as the 44th president of the United States. I don’t pretend to know how that happened, exactly, but I do know it’s true. Or could be true. Just ask Barack Obama.
Robert Cossatto recorded a #1 hit in 1959 celebrating murder and mayhem called “Mack The Knife.” Better known as Bobby Darin, he went to Rock & Roll heaven at age 37 after a failed heart surgery. Dino Crocetti and Leslie Townes both went from Ohio to Hollywood, becoming Dean Martin and Bob Hope on the way.
Another Buckeye alum, Doris Kappelhoff, started her singing career in 1939 with bandleader Les Brown. She eventually went on to become the legendary actress Doris Day. Yet another singer-turned-actor was Robert “Bob” Ridirelli, a fifties rock & roller who recorded “Volare” and “Forget Him” before starring in the movie “Bye Bye Birdie” as Bobby Rydell.
Harold Lloyd Jenkins was a fifties singer who made a name for himself by taking it right off a road map. Conway Twitty, one of the superstars of country music, took his name from Conway, Arkansas, and Twitty, Texas.
One of my favorite male singers from the fifties was a screamer named Fred Picariello, who sang “Tallahassee Lassie” and “Palisades Park” under the name of Freddy Cannon. My favorite female singer from that era was Concetta Francero, aka Connie Francis, who recorded “Where the Boys Are” and of course, “Lipstick on Your Collar.”
Don Lytle told someone to “Take This Job and Shove It” under the name Johnny Paycheck, and William Fries sang the trucking anthem “Convoy” as C.W. McCall. Jeanne Carolyn Stephenson took it to the “Harper Valley PTA” with a song written by Tom T. Hall, using the name Jeanie C. Riley. Yet another rockabilly singer from the fifties, Brenda Mae Tarpley, rocketed into country music history as the legendary Brenda Lee.
Names can be a funny thing, or a googled thing, but they’re always an identification thing. Without them, only the IRS could find us, some days.
Today’s Words to Live By: It’s not who you know that matters, but WHAT you know about who you know.
You can reach Roger Clark at [email protected].