Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What’s in a Name?: Women Embracing Their Birthright

In Hollywood, everyone wants to make a name for himself. Or, of course, herself. Many mid-level performers keep tinkering with the spelling of their names in hopes of somehow rocketing to stardom. And it’s not just the unknowns: in 1971 pop singer Dionne Warwick, no slouch in the fame and fortune department, was advised by her astrologer to add a final “e” to her surname to encourage good psychic vibrations. (It didn’t work, and she went from “Warwicke” back to her original name a few years later.)

Then there are those celebrities who wed their co-stars and feel a sweet sense of obligation to take their husbands’ names as their own. If they’re smart, they hyphenate. When Farrah Fawcett married TV star Lee Majors, she became Farrah Fawcett-Majors. I can also think of Meredith Baxter-Birney (during her marriage to David Birney), Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (married to John Stamos), and Joanne Whalley-Kilmer (who fell for  Val Kilmer on the set of her first movie, Willow). None of these marriages lasted, and the hyphens quickly disappeared, with no career harm done.

By contrast, comedian Roseanne Barr variously billed herself (depending on her marital status)  as Roseanne Arnold, or Roseanne Thomas, or just plain Roseanne.  And I remember wags poking fun at Elizabeth Taylor by referring to her as Elizabeth Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky. Funny: much-married men don’t get mocked in the same way.

Which I’m sure has occurred to Susan Henry, author of the fascinating Anonymous in their Own Names: Doris E. Fleischman, Ruth Hale, and Jane Grant. Henry’s subjects are three American women who married circa 1920. All three were capable writers, journalists, and businesswomen, but all lived in the shadow of famous husbands: Edward L. Bernays (“Father of Public Relations”), Heywood Broun (popular newspaper columnist), and Harold Ross (editor-in-chief of The New Yorker). Each woman pointedly kept her birth name after she married, and then spent years struggling with post offices, record-keepers, and passport officials over a moniker she’d had all her life.

Doris Fleischman was for me an especially interesting case. She was the dutiful daughter of a strict father, and the man she married was equally controlling. It was husband Bernays who decided she should hold onto her own family name after they wed in 1922. When they checked into New York’s Waldorf-Astoria for their honeymoon, press releases trumpeted that by signing the register in both names they were making hotel history. (It wasn’t true, but Bernays was a master at self-promotion.) 

Fleischman worked closely with Bernays at the public relations firm that bore his name alone. In one respect, I wish she hadn’t been quite so successful. One of their best clients was the American Tobacco Company. As a smoker herself (despite her husband’s objections), Fleischman was instrumental in figuring out how to reach others of her gender. An early ad encouraging women to “reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet” paid off by appealing to the weight-conscious. Next, the goal was to persuade bold young ladies to light up in public places. This campaign (which preceded Virginia Slims’ “You’ve come a long way, baby” ads by many decades) emphasized cigarettes as “torches of freedom” for liberated females.
Cigarette ads, as we all know, generally do their work far too well. Eric Lawson, featured as a rugged cowboy in many Marlboro commercials, died this past January of lung disease at age 72. That makes the fourth former Marlboro man brought down by smoking-related illness. I wish Doris Fleischman had concentrated on names, not smokes. 


  1. Very interesting post - and with a message in the ravioli as well. To add to your list Kaley Cuoco of The Big Bang Theory has just had her credit changed to Kaley Cuoco-Sweet after her recent marriage.

  2. Thanks, as always, for reading, Mr. C. I DO like ravioli.