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  Home > IndexArchives > Contents > Feature Story - February 2002  
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The Nobody Years: 
When Celebrities Went by a Different Name 
- by Jerome A. Holst

     You know their names. You've seen them on TV and the movies, and you've read about them in the gossip columns. They're our Hollywood celebrities. Famous folk who are idolized by millions and, of whom, we dream of being like, one day. But long before these "celebrities" were big and famous, they were just like you and paddling in the same pool of mediocrity that most of us still swim in today. It was during those more innocent times, that our pre-celebrities were treated like simple mortals. And just like the rest of us, they were victims to the harsh social realities that come with childhood and growing up like bullies, peer pressure and yes, the dreaded "nickname." The nickname that generally emphasized one or more of their shortcomings, or physical attributes. And wherever they went, whether it was on the playground, at a jobsite or home, the nickname was always there to label them, to brand them part of the "nerd" herd.  

But luckily, spring turns into summer, time passes, and one day our PRE-lebrities grew up and became CE-lebrities. However, lurking within celebrity-hood, there are always old school chums or family members with loose lips who want to expose that long-lost "nickname" to waiting reporters eager to write another story. With this in mind, let's take a look at some of Hollywood's popular celebrities and see what nicknames they bore before traveling the bumpy road to stardom. Read on. 

Bucky Beaver - The childhood nickname of actress Jenna Elfman who starred as Dharma Freedom Finkelstein Montgomery, the free-spirited daughter of hippies on the sitcom DHARMA & GREG/ABC/1997+. While growing up in Los Angeles, the kids at Jenna's school gave her the nickname "Bucky Beaver" because of her overbite. But after three and a half years of orthodontia, Jenna [born Jennifer Mary Batula] now has a wonderful smile and a winning career as an actress. Jenna's earlier 1996 TV series was called TOWNIES where she played Shannon Canotis, one of three female friends who lived in an East Coast fishing community and who hoped one day to move to the big city.
Chinzo - During an interview segment of THE TONIGHT SHOW (3/31/98) the jut-jawed Jay Leno revealed that in school the kids nicknamed him "Chinzo." His guest Denise Richards (Wild Things, 1998) then informed Jay that she was called "Fishlips" in high school. Jay has poked fun of his own chin and even created a dim-witted physical fitness Guru with a huge chin called "Iron Jay." While Jay's chin may be prominent, his blue eyes are simply "beautiful" (at least that's what many female celebrities have said while on his show).
Great Wounder, The - Dennis Farina, who played Lt. Mike Torello on the police drama CRIME STORY/NBC/1986-88 was nicknamed "The Great Wounder" by his fellow police officers when he worked for the police department in the days before he took up acting as a career. During his eighteen years on the Chicago police force, every time he "pulled out his gun to shoot someone, he'd shoot them in the butt or the thumb" (TV Guide 2/6/88). Farina was born in the Italian section of Chicago. He left law enforcement in 1985 to pursue acting full-time. He was introduced to acting when his former supervisor, who had left the Chicago police to pursue a career in writing, got him a small role in the movie Thief (1981). He later was cast as an FBI agent in the Michael Mann film Manhunter (1986). Farina was fully self-taught actor. He later returned to TV in the fall of 1998 on the CBS series BUDDY FARO, as a 1960s gumshoe come out of retirement. See also - "Johnny Pizza"
Gunner - Personal nickname of actor Tom Arnold who starred on the sort-lived sitcoms THE JACKIE THOMAS SHOW/ABC/1992-93 and TOM/CBS/1994 and as loser Arnie Merchant during the 1989-1994 seasons on the sitcom ROSEANNE/ABC/1988-99. Tom earned his moniker when he worked at a meat packing plant in Ottumwa, Iowa. One of the jobs at the plant required that the arriving hogs be killed and hung up to drain out their blood. Tom's method of killing the hogs was a gun to the back of the head. Once he was in a rush to go to lunch so he killed eight hogs and left them on the floor without draining the blood out of them. Unfortunately, the Federal inspectors came by and condemned the meat. Tom, of course got in trouble for the incident. 
Joey Pants - The childhood nickname of actor Joe Pantoliano. Born on September 12, 1951, Joey spent an impoverished childhood in Hoboken, New Jersey where he picked up his "Joey Pants" moniker. Admittedly, this isn't to degrading a nickname but taken in the context of the Cosa Nostra, it's a great mob moniker. Today, Joey  smokes fine cigars and enjoys the notoriety he's gained after roles in 60 movies and guest shots on the WB's ROSWELL as Kal Langley and on HBO's THE SOPRANOS as mafia mobster Ralphy Cifaretto. 
Johnny Pizza - Real-life nickname of actor John Santucci who played Pauli Taglia, the dim-witted but brutal mobster on the crime drama CRIME STORY/NBC/1986-88. Born in Chicago, Santucci got involved in criminal activities at a young age. His street names were Johnny Pizza and Babe. He was eventually caught by the FBI for jewelry theft and sentenced to prison at La Tuna Federal Correctional Institution in Texas. Luckily, his 45-year sentence was reduced to three years (due to a technicality) and Santucci, now a changed man, went straight. Chuck Adamson, a former Chicago cop turned writer (he had arrested Santucci in the past) hired him as a technical consultant on a movie project and his later role on CRIME STORY. 
Mahavishnu - High school nickname of Kevin Eubanks, the bandleader on THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO/NBC/1992+. According to his 10th grade teacher Ms. Lynn Dixon (who made a surprise visit to the show) when Kevin Eubanks was in high school he wore a skull cap and called himself "Mahavishnu." Ms. Dixon said of him "He was very quiet, (with a Buddha-like presence), he never smiled and he always told the truth." 
Packy - Real-life family nickname of actress Sally Struthers who played Gloria, the scatterbrained daughter of the working class bigot Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor) on the sitcom ALL IN THE FAMILY/CBS/1971-83 and GLORIA/CBS/1982-83. When Sally was a child she was very chubby. Her sister decided to call her "Packy"...short for "pachyderm." 
Shannon - Personal nickname of actress Sharon Lawrence who played attorney Sylvia Costas-Sipowicz on the police drama N.Y.P.D. BLUE/ABC/1993+ and public relations firm employee Gwen Leonard on the sitcom FIRED UP/NBC/1997-98. Lawrence (born in Charlotte, North Carolina in June 29, 1961) reported that when she was little, she talked like journalist Barbara Walters and called herself Shannon Wawence. The Shannon nickname stuck. 
Squidhead - Dave Thomas, comedy veteran of SCTV NETWORK 90/NBC/1981-83 and THE DAVE THOMAS COMEDY SHOW/CBS/1990 was called "Squidhead" by his childhood schoolmates because he happened to have a head (7 3/4 XL) disproportionate to his body. As he said on the 6/18/90 segment of THE ARSENIO HALL SHOW his body was just a convenient vehicle for taking his head from place to place.
Unco - The childhood nickname of Australian born actress Lucy Lawless, apparently because she was a "uncoordinated" [a klutz] as a kid. In her later years, however, Lawless put any rumors of her ability to move effectively aside when she starred as an athletically agile, mighty warrior and healer on the action adventure series XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS/SYN/1995-2001.


  After they became famous, these Celebrities earned their own personal nicknames. 
Booty - The personal nickname of actress Holly Robinson Peete given to her by husband Rodney Peete. When asked "What does the name mean?" Holly just says "I don't want to expand on it."Holly's nickname was revealed on a 1997 Valentine's Day "Girlfriends" segment of the syndicated talk show THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW/SYN/1986+. Holly Robinson Peete was the co-star of the police drama 21 JUMP STREET/FOX/SYN/1987-91 and the sitcom HANGIN' WITH MR. COOPER/ABC/1992-97. Holly and her singer girlfriend Terry Ellis (from the female singing group En Vogue) nicknamed each other Stupid and Dumb. "I'm Stupid. She's Dumb. She's Stupid. I'm Dumb," they laughingly interjected. 
Conan - The personal nickname of celebrity Alyssa Milano. Alyssa is also called Lyssa and Lyss. Born December 19, 1972 in Brooklyn New York, the 5' 2" brown-haired Sagittarian has starred in a number of successful venues. They included the starring role in the Broadway play Annie at age eight; the perky Samantha "Sam" Micelli on the sitcom WHO'S THE BOSS/ABC/1984-92 and a lusciously desirable witch named Phoebe Halliwell on the fantasy series CHARMED/WB/1998+. Alyssa is not only a talented actress but a singer. She had five platinum albums released in Japan. They were titled: Alyssa, Look In My Heart, Best in the world, Locked In a Dream, and Do You See Me? In addition, a picture of Alyssa was used as inspiration to create the underwater heroine "Ariel" in the classic 1989 Disney movie The Little Mermaid. Besides collecting kudos for her acting and singing career, Alyssa has collected a number of tattoos on her body. 
Monster - Personal nickname of actress Tea Leoni (real name Tea Pantleoni) given to her by her non-showbiz friends. The slender blond actress is also called "T-bone." Tea Leoni starred on the sitcoms FLYING BLIND/FOX/1992-93 and THE NAKED TRUTH/ABC/NBC/1995-97. She is now married to actor David Duchovny of THE X-FILES.
Negro - The personal nickname of celebrity Oprah Winfrey revealed on a 1997 Valentine's Day segment entitled "Girlfriends" on her syndicated talk show THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW/SYN/1986+. It seems that both Oprah Winfrey and her best friend Gayle King had nicknames for each other. Oprah was called Negro and Gayle was called Blackie. Both women first met years ago when Gayle stayed overnight with Oprah during a snow storm. Since then they have become close friends. Oprah jokingly reported rumors that Gayle was the reason she was avoiding marrying Steadman (Oprah's beau); and Gayle quipped that Oprah was the reason she got divorced. Their friendship was earlier featured on an April, 1989 special "Just Between Friends." 
Reenie - Irene Ryan who played Daisy Moses (a.k.a. "Granny Clampett") on the sitcom THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES/CBS/1962-71 was affectionately called Reenie by her close friends. The slender actress Nancy Kulp who appeared as Miss Jane Hathaway on the sitcom THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES/CBS/1962-71 was nicknamed "Slim" by fellow actor Raymond Bailey who played the Milburn Drysdale, the banker. 
Swamp Thing - Actress Faith Ford, who costarred on the sitcom MURPHY BROWN/CBS/1988-96 was nicknamed "Swamp Thing" by her cast members because she always told childhood stories about hunting the swamps and bayous with her father. Faith left her home of Pineville, Louisiana to try modeling in New York City. Her acting credits included the NBC soap opera ANOTHER WORLD; ABC's THIRTYSOMETHING; and finally CBS's MURPHY BROWN. 
Three Hookers, The - Tongue-in-check moniker given to the female cast of the sitcom THE PETTICOAT JUNCTION/CBS/1963-70. During the quiet time in between shooting schedules, three of the female cast Linda Henning (Betty Jo), Meredith MacRae (Billy Jo) and Lori Sanders (Bobby Jo) routinely circled up in a nice cozy corner of the set and hooked rugs to pass the time, hence their dubious nickname. 
Wizard, The - Wayne Rogers (real name: William Wayne Mcmillan Rogers III), the former star of the military comedy M*A*S*H/CBS/1972-83 who played Capt. John McIntyre (a.k.a. "Trapper John"), is known in real-life to his friends as "The Wizard" because of his shrewd business sense and his ability to make money.

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