Zero Mostel

Greetings funny names fans. Today we’re traveling in the “Not-so-way-back-machine” to a time when the world was in black and white, if you watched television, to visit with one of the greatest comedians of the 20th century.

If this man represents zero, we may have to rethink the numbering system.

If this man represents zero, we may have to rethink the numbering system.

Born Samuel Joel Mostel, his mother, Cina “Celia” Druchs Mostel, nick named him Zero allegedly trying to inspire him to do better in school so he wouldn’t amount to zero. It must have worked be was able to speak four languages, English, Yiddish, Italian and German, helping him reach more of New York’s audiences.

Zero was also a prolific painter. While still in school his mom would dress him up in a velvet suit and send him to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to practice copying masterpieces. He painted John Alexander White’s “Study in Black and Green” everyday, entertaining the museum visitors.

Mostel didn’t adopt the name Zero until press agent, Ivan Black, created the stage name for him when he started his career as a nightclub comic at the age of 27—because the nightclub owner didn’t think Sam Mostel was a good name for a comedian.

As with most comedians, life was not always easy. He was drafted by the Army in 1943 then discharged from service five months later for an unnamed physical disability. So he entertained service men through the USO until 1945.

Then the dark years when he was blacklisted and forced to testify before Congress and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) for his activities with the Communist Party. He was no longer allowed to perform, for the USO or professionally on stage or in the movies.

His testimony made the Congressmen look foolish and won him the admiration of the Blacklist community because he did not name names and stood up for his right to privacy of his personal political beliefs.

Because of the Blacklist, his family struggled through the 1950’s with little income. By 1957, Toby Cole, a New York theatrical agent who opposed the blacklist, contacted Mostel and asked to represent him. It revived Mostel’s career.

By 1959, the power of the blacklist faded.

Zero hit his heights in the 1960 being cast in the role of Tevye in the original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof. He created the cantorial sounds made famous in songs like, “If I Were a Rich Man.” Then Mel Brooks, via the aid of Mostel’s wife, Kate, convinced Mostel to take the original role of Max Bialystock in The Producers, both on stage then film. If you were to see the original version with Zero then the performance reprised by Nathan Lane, you will see Lane’s homage to Mostel in his creation of the character, right down to the hairdo.

Zero’s career ended in 1977 when he was preparing for the role of Shylock in a re-imagined version of The Merchant of Venice. Always a large man, he went on a starvation diet and lost nearly 100 pounds for the role. One day he passed out in his dressing room and was sent to the hospital with pulmonary distress. His prognosis was for recovery, however, he died a few days later from an aortic aneurysm.

Author Arnold Wesker wrote a book about the ordeals besetting the show ending in Zero’s death called, “The Birth of Shylock and the Death of Zero Mostel.

And so Zero, cheers to the man who made something out of nothing.

Tracy – Fannie Cranium’s Guide to Irreverent Wisdom.




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Dong Dong: A Chinese trampolinist we hope bounces to Rio

With the Summer Games about to heat up in Rio, the news will not stop.

Dirty water.

Dreaded disease.

Potential terrorism.

Representation from a certain nation disqualified for doping the last get-together.

The committee for that nation appealing said disqualification down to the last minute.

A treasured and challenged gold medal winner from that last get-together set to watch this one from jail, where he sits sentenced at last for murdering his girlfriend.

Yay, sports.

And yet there’s still room for BoFN to shoulder its way in with this, um, enchanting name from the world of gymnastics.

It’s a Chinese trampolinist who has, indeed, been mentioned here twice in Olympic News roundup stories.

Dong Dong, center, shows off his. Gold Medal.

Dong Dong, center, shows off his. Gold Medal. (Photo from WikiPedia)

But now Dong Dong, gold medalist in the 2012 Olympic Games in London, has his own WikiPedia page. And it includes that colorful photo above.

So now the diminutive Chinese gentleman, a distinguished member of the squad able to bounce back to perform against stiff competition in two straight Olympic Games, has his own post.

With Olympic qualification news out of China scarce, I’m unsure if Dong Dong will stand up for China on the podium this time.

Did I just write that about a world-class athlete? Respect, Mark. Aw, heck. Over here, Dong Dong would be flush with sponsorships. Ding Dong snack cakes. Ring-a-Ding doorbells. King Kong action figures. Don King Co.-produced boxing matches. Viagra or Cialis?

Posted in funny names in sports | Tagged , | 14 Comments

Val Doonican Rocks In A Non-Threatening Way

Today we fondly remember Irish easy listening star, Val Doonican, who–according to The Guardian, a British daily newspaperhad “an easygoing, homely charm that enchanted middle England.” Such high-ish praise! A relaxed crooner, he was oft-called the Perry Como of the UK.

Could he be more chill?

Val is not a common male name; it brings to mind Valerie, either Bertinelli or the Steve Winwood song. In truth, the only other masculine Val with which I’m familiar is Mistah Val Kilmer, whose name is not short for anything. In today’s case, however, it’s short for Valentine.

Michael Valentine Doonican was born to a musical family on February 3 (the day the music died, but hadn’t yet), 1927 in Waterford, Ireland. His musical career began by playing in his school band at the age of six, then performing as a duo with buddy Bruce Clarke in 1947. I imagine he was called a hooligan, as it rhymes so easily with his surname.

He appeared in a summer season at Courtown Harbour, County Wexford and was featured on Irish radio and in Waterford’s first-ever television broadcast. In 1951, he moved to England to join the Four Ramblers, touring and performing on BBC Radio shows and on the Riders of the Range serials.

While on tour, Doonican met dancer Lynnette Rae, whom he married in 1962. As women do, she pressured him to leave his group and go solo. And as often happens, she was right to do so. Soon he had his own radio show and concert dates.

His last name lent itself to confusion, as concert-goers yelled, “Doonican! Doonican!” which sounded curiously close to “Do it again! Do it again!” Thus, unintended encores could send a concert into overtime.

Not really.

In the 60s and 70s, Doonican could be seen on TV in a cardigan, singing songs that sound so Irish, they almost sound made-up. Examples include:

  1. “Paddy McGinty’s Goat”
  2. “Delaney’s Donkey”
  3. “O’Rafferty’s Motor Car”

During the summer of 1971, The Val Doonican Show premiered in the US, airing on ABC on Saturday evenings and paving the way to enchant Middle America as well!


Val Doonican Rocks, But Gently. That is the real name of his album, y’all. And it looks like he’s in a rocker. Get this: It reached Number 1 in the UK Albums Chart in 1968 and knocked the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper off the top of the chart. Take that, Fab Four.

In total, he recorded over 50 albums. The 1966 single release “Elusive Butterfly” reached a UK chart peak of #5 and #3 in Ireland. Anyone remember it?

The Guardian continued its assessment of Doonican with more high praise, as “a perfectionist who knew his limitations but always aimed to be ‘the best Val Doonican possible.'” And isn’t that all we can ask?

Last July, Val Doonican passed at a nursing home in Buckinghamshire at the age of 88.  According to daughter Sarah, “Until 87, he was as fit as a flea. It was just old age, I’m afraid — the batteries ran out.” Perhaps they did. But his records? Still going…


source: wikipedia

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Edgar Rice Burroughs

School’s, school’s, school’s out and our local library kicked off its summer reading program including the “Teen Challenge”. Which in no way influenced this post. Wink, wink.

I wonder how long it took the parrot to steal the cracker?

I wonder how long it took the parrot to steal the cracker?

Let’s talk about Edgar Rice Burroughs, first of all, I’ve always wondered how rice burrows, but that’s a different topic. Back to Mr. Burroughs, born in 1875, he was one of the most prolific authors of the last century, writing almost 80 novels.

Before he wrote novels, he was short on greenbacks and long on time, so he sold pencil sharpeners and read pulp fiction magazines. In the vein of planting a seed and watching it grow, he decided in 1911 he could write as well or better than the writers he was reading in the pulp fiction magazines. In this case I think the rice burrowed and kick started the magic bean stalk.

Burroughs gave us John Carter and his adventures on Mars—before science fiction even existed. He gave us 26 books about Tarzan. He was the first to publish through multimedia—when everyone said at the time it wouldn’t work. Besides the novels he did comic strips, movies and merchandise. The first Tarzan movie, staring Elmo Lincoln, the first film ever to gross over $1,000,000.  Perhaps he greased the skids for George Lucas? Only speculating.

A staunch advocate for authors’ rights, he was the first author to incorporate to protect his works.

He married twice, divorced twice, and had two children. His daughter, Joan, and one year later his son, Hulbert, named for his mother’s maiden name. Hulbert Burroughs, it just rolls off the tongue.

Eventually Edgar moved from Chicago to California, bought an estate, re-named it Tarzana after his beloved character, Tarzan, and the folks that lived in the area adopted it as the name of their fair city.

When he was in his late 60’s he was living in Honolulu, Hawaii, when the Japanese attacked. He applied for and became a war correspondent, making him one of the oldest U.S. war correspondents during WWII.

After the war he moved back state side, he landed in Encino, California, and died in bed reading the Sunday comics. He is buried in Tarzana, California.

For a guy whose books sold over a hundred million copies in multiple languages, he one said, “I write to escape . . . to escape poverty”. I think we’re all happy he did.

Tracy – Fannie Cranium’s Guide to Irreverent Wisdom







Posted in fictional funny names, Funny Names in Literature | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments

Couldn’t somebody build Ward Wellington Ward another name?

There’s are two phrases I might shout out when I hear somebody come down the road of life saddled with a certain sort of name.

Yes, I did this even before I wrote for BoFN.

Say baseball player like Henry Aaron comes strutting to the plate. From me in the stands, or my recliner, would come: Get a last name!

Or if I were in a different mood:

Get a first name!

It does depend on how you look at it, doesn’t it?

So what do we make of Ward Wellington Ward, an architect who designed houses 100 years ago that are still quite famous in my hometown of Syracuse today.

Get another name! just doesn’t quite do it justice.

Ward W. Ward (From

Ward W. Ward (From


Ward Wellington Ward moved from New York City to Syracuse, New York, in 1908 to practice architecture. During the next eighteen years, he designed over 200 private residences in upstate New York. Most of these works stand today as eloquent testimony to Ward’s talent and show him to be a figure of historical importance within the Arts and Crafts movement in America.

And from WikiPedia:

Twenty-six homes and two other buildings designed by Ward and located within the city of Syracuse were listed on the National Register of Historic Places on February 14, 1997.

He was influenced by, and contributed to, the Arts and Crafts movement in architecture. Ward’s work is in varying styles, but the houses most typically include crafts-like details such as decorative cutouts in shutters. His designs almost always include garages, gateways, and other small structures like gazebos.

Yet somebody had to give this poor guy the same first name as his last name. At least his middle name is a mouthful in the middle of that Ward sandwich.

I came across a Ward Wellington Ward house during Liverpool Village Walking Tour at work last week.

Now that's a Triple W house.

Now that’s a Triple W house.

It sits a couple blocks from the Liverpool Public Library, and really is quite striking.

My great and longtime friends Theresa and David live in a Ward Wellington Ward house, brought back to a most beautiful state by their loving care.

But I can only imagine what it was like to live with that name.

Ward Ward all through school? Kids don’t use middle names, do they?

Ward Wellington Ward lived to be just 57, and spent the last six years of his life in a hospital. What ward did they have to go to visit Ward Ward?

Wonder if it all would have went down differently if his parents had named him William.

Posted in Funny Names in Architecture | Tagged , , | 31 Comments