Silly Name Hall of Fame: From Cuthbert J. Twillie to Jar Jar Binks
Silly names have been a staple of comedy since the early days of vaudeville, and when old burlesque performers eventually moved in front of Hollywood’s rolling cameras their outlandish sobriquets, garish noms de plume, goofy monikers and loopy pseudonyms came along with them
And so pioneers of comedy traipsed across Nickelodeon screens in the guise of characters such as Egbert Souse, Cuthbert J. Twillie, Larson E. Whipsnide, T. Frothingill Bellows, Rollo La Rue, Elmer Prettywillie and Professor Eustace McGargle (all W.C. Fields inventions), or as Wolf J. Flywheel, Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush, Otis B. Driftwood and Prof. Quincy Adams Wagstaff (a.k.a. Groucho Marx).
That va-va-voom vamp Mae West gave us the suggestive Marlo Manners, Flower Belle Lee and Peaches O’Day.
And while the comedy team of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy mostly appeared onscreen in their heyday as Stan and Ollie, their earlier screen incarnations, both together and individually, were rich with purple appellations. Stan boasted performances as Ferdinand Finkleberry, Romaine Ricketts, Winchell McSweeney, Rhubarb Vaselino, Gabriel Goober, Dippy Donawho and Magnum Dippytack, while Ollie donned such character names as J. Piedmont Mumblethunder, Sharkey Nye, Oswald Schwartzkopple and Solomon Soopmeat.
Preston Sturges, that master of screwball comedy from the 1930s and ‘40s, wrote into his scripts such distinctively nutty character names as Dr. Zodiac Z. Zippe (“Hotel Haywire”), Charles Poncefort Pike (“The Lady Eve”), Constable Edmund Kockenlocker (“The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek”), Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith and Sgt. Heppelfinger (“Hail the Conquering Hero”), Harold Diddlebock and E.J. Waggleberry (“The Sin of Harold Diddlebock”) and Judge Alfalfa J. O’Toole (“The Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend”).
Comic Bob Hope kept close to his vaudeville roots with such movie names as Milford Farnsworth (“Alias Jesse James”), Pippo Popolino (“Casanova’s Big Night”), Hot Lips Barton (“Road to Rio”), Painless Peter Potter (“The Paleface”) and Humphrey “Sorrowful” Jones (“Sorrowful Jones”).
Even sexpot Marilyn Monroe wasn’t immune to a little suggestively silly nicknaming, appearing on screen as such characters as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk (“Some Like It Hot”), Pola Debevoise (“How to Marry a Millionaire”) and Dusky Ledoux (“Right Cross”).
Hollywood he-men generally veered toward macho character names in their movies, but every so often they also got saddled with slightly silly monikers. John Wayne turned in one of his best performances ever as Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit,” and as an early matinee cowpoke the Duke labored under such trumped-up sagebrush pseudonyms as Stony Brooke, Duke Slade, Biff Smith, Dare Rudd and Singin’ Sandy Saunders.
Even big star James Stewart suspended his leading man image to play such whimsically named characters as Mattie Appleyard (“Fools’ Parade”), Elwood P. Dowd (“Harvey”) and Rowdy Dow (“The Gorgeous Hussy”).
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