Gus Sun Time

       Gus Sun was the unlikely name taken by circus juggler Gustave Klotz (born 1868, died 1959) who developed a booking agency that epitomized Small Time Vaudeville. At one time, his circuit included as many as 275 theaters.

       As the name suggests, Small Time vaudeville paid less than Big Time, and it required more work. But it was the starting point for many performers who made it to Big Time and beyond, ultimately to movies, radio, and television.

       Like who? Well, Bob Hope got his start with Gus Sun. So did the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Eddie Cantor, Fanny “Funny Girl” Brice, Mae West, and many, many more. Most of the theaters Gus booked were located in small towns in the Midwest.

       It was said that Gus was so cheap, he sent all his telegrams collect, making his clients pay to hear from him about bookings and schedule changes. No one dared complain.

       Here’s a typical route for a performer in 1919 (all in Ohio): Cleveland, Lima, Mansfield, Canton, Portsmouth, Newark, and Marion. Gus also  booked theaters in small towns in Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and even Canada.

The Name Game

       Silent film actors often gave themselves a new name, something more memorable, more alliterative, more modern than the one bestowed upon them by their parents. For example, one casting director advised a handsome young extra named Frank Cooper to change to a first name that sounded tougher. She suggested Gary after her rough-and-tumble hometown of Gary, Indiana. “Coop” took her advice. When little Gladys Smith got her first part in a David Belasco play, the famous New York director insisted she change her humdrum name. Together they settled on Mary Pickford. She became one of the country’s most famous film actresses, known all over the world as “Little Mary” or “Our Mary.” Her siblings were all too happy to piggyback on Big Sis’s fame. They change their names as well, from the almost comically boring John Smith to Jack Pickford, and from Charlotte Smith to Lottie Pickford.

       Foreign-born actors needed something less—well, less foreign, so that American audiences could pronounce and remember their names. So Greta Lovisa Gustafsson became Greta Garbo, the famous vamp. Wong Liu Tsong became Anna May Wong, the first Chinese-American film star. My favorite? Get a load of this: Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Piero Filiberto Guglielmi who became Rudolph Valentino, the Latin Lover.  Here are a few more silent movie name changes:

 Mary Astor – Lucile Vasconcellos Langhanke

Joan Crawford – Lucille Lesueur

Lon Chaney – Leonidas Chaney

Douglas Fairbanks – Douglas Elton Ullman

W. C. Fields – William Claude Dunkinfield

Buster Keaton – Joseph Frank Keaton

Stan Laurel – Arthur Stanley Jefferson