Movie Titles with the Star’s Name in Them

20 May

I recently watched a Japanese movie called HIDEKO, THE BUS CONDUCTRESS (1941), starring Hideko Takamine as the title character, and I started recalling other films with the star’s name featured in the movie’s title. Sometimes the star’s full name is featured, as in the film pictured above; sometimes only the star’s first name was featured, as in TEX RIDES WITH THE BOY SCOUTS (1937, starring Tex Ritter), and sometimes only the star’s last name was featured, as in the 1941 serial, HOLT OF THE SECRET SERVICE, starring Jack Holt. The stars didn’t always play themselves in the movie. For instance, the Abbott & Costello name is featured in the titles of several films starring the popular comedy duo, but Bud Abbott and Lou Costello rarely play characters by those names in the films. And when any of these stars did play characters with the same name, they were still completely fictional. Gracie Allen nearly always played a character named Gracie Allen in her films, but it was a comic character she created for the act she did with her husband, George Burns.

I’m not counting character names even if the character is closely connected to a particular star, e.g. the Andy Hardy movies with Mickey Rooney, since none of those film titles featured “Mickey” or “Rooney” in them. I am counting stage names for actors who were billed by those names in the credits, so Spanky McFarland of “Our Gang,” Cheech and Chong, and Pee Wee Herman count in this list. I’m not counting any of the “Brucesploitation” movies made after Bruce Lee’s death that featured his name in the title and some footage of him, since he doesn’t actually star in any of them and wasn’t alive to shoot any new footage for them.

Except for one film below, all of these were titles I remembered offhand, looking them up only to confirm the exact title and date. I’d probably find a few dozen more examples if I started researching various filmographies. I’m certain there are more recent examples than the ones I’ve given here. The most recent such film title I could recall was BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999).

Since this was the film that got me onto this train of thought, I’ll start with HIDEKO, THE BUS CONDUCTRESS (1941).

In this film directed by Mikio Naruse, teenaged Hideko Takamine, already a star in Japan, plays a young woman who takes tickets and calls out stops on a rural bus route. After listening to a radio show featuring a tour bus hostess, she persuades her driver to recruit a visiting writer from Tokyo to compose some narration so that Hideko can act as a tour guide and tell bus passengers the interesting sights and historical places the bus passes. Hideko’s character name is Okoma and, as far as I could tell, she’s never called “Hideko” in the film’s dialogue.

I’m leaving out silent comedy shorts from this list since there were so many with the stars’ names in them, the best-known ones featuring Mabel Normand and Fatty Arbuckle, so I’ll start here with the earliest Hollywood sound feature I know of with a star’s name, GENERAL SPANKY (1936).

George “Spanky” McFarland played a character named Spanky in dozens of “Our Gang” shorts of the 1930s and ’40s, later shown on TV as “The Little Rascals,” and he was billed as Spanky McFarland, so this spin-off feature from the “Our Gang” series qualifies for my list. Two of the cast of “Our Gang,” Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer and Billie “Buckwheat” Thomas, join Spanky in this uncharacteristically dramatic story set in the south during the Civil War.

Tex Ritter, a popular country & western singer probably best known today for singing the theme song from HIGH NOON (1952), was also a star of B-westerns in the 1930s and ’40s and usually played a character named Tex, although the last name was never “Ritter.” TEX RIDES WITH THE BOY SCOUTS (1937) is the only one featuring his name in the title.

THE GRACIE ALLEN MURDER CASE (1939) was Allen’s first film without her famous comedy partner (and husband) George Burns, and it stars Warren William as the famous literary sleuth, Philo Vance, whom William had already played in one earlier film in 1934.

Here’s an item from IMDB Trivia on the film:

A longtime fan of comedians George Burns and Gracie Allen, ‘Philo Vance’ creator S. S. Van Dine wrote a tailor-made screenplay for the team, which emerged on-screen as ‘The Gracie Allen Murder Case’. George Burns suggested his character be eliminated, leaving scatterbrained Gracie on her own to match wits with urbane private detective Philo Vance. The character Burns would have played was rewritten for Kent Taylor. Despite his on-screen absence, Burns was on set every day cheering on his wife.

Gracie Allen made two more films without Burns and would go on to star with him in the long-running sitcom, “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show” (1950-58).

In BUCK BENNY RIDES AGAIN (1940), radio and film star Jack Benny plays a version of himself in a musical western set in Nevada.

According to IMDB: “Radio star Jack Benny, intending to stay in New York for the summer, is forced by the needling of rival Fred Allen to prove his boasts about roughing it on his (fictitious) Nevada ranch.”

This was one of several films to feature Benny as himself, in the persona he perfected on his popular radio show, which would later be transferred virtually intact to television. This was the only one that featured Benny’s name in the title.

Several of the cast members of the show also appear in the film, including Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, seen here with Theresa Harris playing his girlfriend:

HOLT OF THE SECRET SERVICE was a 15-chapter serial that featured a popular action star of silent films, Jack Holt, in the role of a Secret Service agent who just happens to be named Jack Holt. From IMDB:

“A murderous gang of counterfeiters has kidnapped the government’s best engraver and is forcing him to print virtually undetectable phony money. The Secret Service sends its toughest agent, Jack Holt, and a female partner after the gang.”

This isn’t the only film in which a well-known star played a completely different character from himself but retains his real name. In the last three Jungle Jim films (1954-55), the series star, Johnny Weissmuller, is no longer playing “Jungle Jim,” but instead plays a jungle guide named…Johnny Weissmuller!

Other than the Tex Ritter title mentioned earlier, I couldn’t recall any other B-westerns that had the star’s name in the title. So I did my only bit of research and looked up the filmographies of various B-western stars and I found the one new title that I discovered for this piece. Gordon Elliott was a working actor who’d been toiling away under that name since 1925, but who adopted the stage name Wild Bill Elliott when he began making B-westerns in 1938. (After the B-western market dried up in 1954, he dropped the “Wild” and was just billed as Bill Elliott.)

CALLING WILD BILL ELLIOTT (1943) is the only title of his to include his name.

Mantan Moreland was a black comic actor from vaudeville’s “chitlin circuit” who found success doing comic supporting roles in Hollywood films, both A’s and B’s, particularly at Monogram Pictures where he played Charlie Chan’s chauffeur in many films and stole the show as the co-star of the horror comedy, KING OF THE ZOMBIES (1940). He also made “race movies” with all-black casts for segregated theater audiences and basically played himself in a series of comedies, including these two which use his first name in the title:

MANTAN RUNS FOR MAYOR (1946)

MANTAN MESSES UP (1946)

When the comedy team of Bud Abbott & Lou Costello, under contract to Universal for most of their 16-year film career, went to MGM briefly, that studio, in 1945, was the first to put the duo’s name in the title:

 

After returning to Universal for the rest of their career, Universal began putting their names in the film’s titles. It should be noted that after their debut film, ONE NIGHT IN THE TROPICS (1940), they never played themselves in any of their movies and only played characters named Bud and Lou, but with different last names, in two of these movies, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO IN THE FOREIGN LEGION and BUD ABBOTT LOU COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN. And in one of the films, BUD ABBOTT LOU COSTELLO MEET THE KILLER, BORIS KARLOFF, a third star is featured in the title, which is something of a record films in having three complete stars’ names in one movie title.

In 1952, horror legend Bela Lugosi, evidently in need of some quick cash, starred in an extremely low-budget comedy featuring an act designed to imitate the then-popular comedy-musical team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, with Sammy Petrillo doing a blatant Jerry Lewis impression (and being sued by Lewis as a result) and Duke Mitchell doing a low-rent version of Dean Martin. Lugosi played a mad scientist on a tropical island who has a serum that turns men into gorillas and uses it on Mitchell. The title, BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA, was subsequently changed to THE BOYS FROM BROOKLYN for TV airings, which is how it was called when I saw it at the age of eight.

According to IMDB:

Bela Lugosi’s name never appears in the credits in the version of the movie that uses the “Boys from Brooklyn” title screen. Presumably the original title of “Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla” made a listing in the credits unnecessary, but since that was the only place his name appeared, the title change meant that his name disappeared completely from the credits, as there are no cast credits at the end of the movie either.

MARIANNE OF MY YOUTH (MARIANNE DE MA JEUNESSE, 1955) was a French movie directed by Julien Duvivier and starring German actress Marianne Hold as a mysterious girl named Marianne, who lives across the lake and enchants a young student at a Bavarian boarding school. I only know about this film because it had a direct influence on Leiji Matsumoto, creator of some of my favorite Japanese animation, whose own female characters were inspired by Marianne’s long hair and ethereal beauty, including Maetel in “Galaxy Express 999” and Yuki in “Space Battleship Yamato.”

Here’s a quote from Matsumoto:

I wanted to draw for girls’ manga magazines after I watched a movie called Marianne of My Youth. The face of the actress named Marianne Hold stayed with me. Maetel and Yuki look like her. I’d struggled to draw feminine faces and hands and when this woman appeared I thought that’s exactly how I wanted them to look. I was able to model my female characters on actresses like Marianne Hold, Eleanor Parker, Danielle Darrieux, and Kaoru Yachigusa.

Here’s a clip from MARIANNE OF MY YOUTH, with English subs.:

Sabu Dastagir was an Indian boy plucked from obscurity to star, under the name Sabu, in producer Alexander Korda’s ELEPHANT BOY (1937) and was then cast by Korda in three Technicolor spectacles, THE DRUM (1938), THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940) and THE JUNGLE BOOK (1942). Since the production of THIEF had to be moved to Hollywood from England during the war, Sabu relocated and would make most of his subsequent films in Hollywood. In 1957, a producer took two failed TV pilots with Sabu and edited them together to create this one-hour second feature, a comic variation on “Aladdin and His Lamp,” in which Sabu finds a way to summon a powerful genie (played by black actor William Marshall of “Blacula” fame):

SABU AND THE MAGIC RING (1957)

It’s the only Sabu film to feature his name in the title.

I covered Japanese film and recording star Hibari Misora in several previous entries and in researching her film career, I found four that use her name in the title, two of them using other co-stars’ names as well. I’m not entirely certain, but I doubt that any of Hibari’s characters in the films are named Hibari.

The ones with just Hibari’s name are:

HIBARI TRAVELING PERFORMER (Hibari no Hahakoi Guitar, 1962)

HIBARI’S TALE OF PATHOS (Hibari no Sado Jouwa, 1962)

In the next one, Hibari is paired with one of her “Sannin Musume” co-stars, another pop star of the era, Chiemi Eri, whose name is featured in the title also:

TRAVELS OF HIBARI AND CHIEMI: THE TUMULTUOUS JOURNEY (Hibari Chiemi no Yaji Kita Dochu, 1962)

And in this one, all three “Sannin Musume” stars, including the third, Izumi Yukimura, are reunited in their last film together, which incorporates all their names in the title:

HIBARI CHIEMI IZUMI SANNIN YOREBA (1964)

Evel Knievel, the famed stunt rider and motorcycle daredevil, was the subject of a 1971 biopic, EVEL KNIEVEL, which starred George Hamilton in the title role. In 1977, some enterprising producer thought Knievel himself could carry an entire feature film playing himself and so we got:

 

This entirely fictional movie is summarized this way on IMDB:

“Motorcycle stuntman Evel Knievel is offered a fortune to perform in Mexico. What Evel doesn’t know is that they’re planning to kill him and use his body to ship cocaine into the U.S. His chief mechanic, who is an alcoholic, is weary of the whole thing and discovers something, but before he can tell Evel he is sent to a rehab clinic for drug addicts, which Evel doesn’t believe he is. He goes to see him who tells Evel what he found out but is still in the dark as what is happening.”

Needless to say, it was Knievel’s last starring movie. When this came out, I was reminded of the famous lion tamers/animal trainers Clyde Beatty and Frank Buck who starred as themselves in fictional jungle adventures back in the 1930s, but their names were never featured in the film titles.

When pot-smoking comedy duo Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, billed as Cheech & Chong, had a big hit in 1978 with UP IN SMOKE, it inevitably produced a follow-up:

CHEECH & CHONG’S NEXT MOVIE (1980)

The only other film of theirs to feature their name in the title was CHEECH & CHONG’S THE CORSICAN BROTHERS (1984).

Comedian Paul Reubens, performing under the name Pee Wee Herman, had enough success with comedy specials on HBO to lead to success in his own starring features, in 1984 and 1988, both of which included Pee Wee in the title:

 

Finally, in 1999, writer-director Charlie Kaufman devised a story in which a puppeteer working in a cramped office moves a filing cabinet and finds a portal into the mind of actor John Malkovich, who plays himself in the film. For more story summary, consult the Plot page for this film on IMDB:

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120601/plotsummary?ref_=tt_stry_pl

BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999)

I’m sure there are many other films like this, but this is what I came up with off the top of my head (except for CALLING WILD BILL ELLIOTT) and felt it was a good enough cross-section of this peculiar titling phenomenon. I urge readers to add titles they remember.

Finally, I decided to leave out films that only feature cameos by the stars named in their titles, e.g. TO WONG FOO WITH LOVE THANKS FOR EVERYTHING, JULIE NEWMAR (1995), but I can’t resist adding this picture of Brigitte Bardot and Billy Mumy from DEAR BRIGITTE (1965).

 

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