Benay Venuta Needs No Latuda

Happy springtime, dear readers, and welcome back to the Blog of Funny Names! The glammed-up starlet in the 1930s Jean Harlowesque pose above is none other than Benay Venuta, our funny focus for the day. Thankfully, she was not “bland” like the recipient of this hairfingering headshot. Au contraire!

Born in San Francisco on January 27, 1911, little Benvenuta Rose Crooke grew up in California. We can assume her Swiss-Italian mother gave her the name Benvenuta, as benvenuto means “welcome” in Italian. Personally, it’s not so odd, as my great-grandfather was named Bienvenido (“welcome” in Spanish). Evidently, babies are welcome entities.

Venuta graduated from Hollywood High School and attended finishing school in Geneva. There she studied long enough to learn both French and Italian but subsequently dropped out (thereby not finishing Finishing School) and moved to London to work as a dancer. She returned to the States in 1928, continuing to pursue show business, and made her stage debut in The Big Parade.

“My father was dead, and I had to go to work,” she said in a 1935 interview. “You know the rest — nightclubs, radio, hoofing…”

Venuta explained how she changed her first name to enter show business (who can blame her for not wanting to go through life as Miss Crooke?) She “just added an ‘ay’ to Ben and the rest I guess you can figure.”

Benvenuta became Benay Venuta.

Her big break happened when she replaced the Big Vibrato, Ethel Merman, in Cole Porter’s hit Anything Goes in 1935. She not only gained great success, but a lifelong friend in Merman. Venuta followed up with equally flashy roles in more Broadway musicals through the next three decades, as well as roles in several B movies of the 40s and 50s, including Call Me Mister (1951) in which she joined stars Betty Grable and Danny Thomas in the song “Love Is Back in Business.”

In 1958, Venuta was cast as private eye Bertha Cool in a television pilot for a series to be called Cool and Lam, but it was not picked up. In 1966, she performed in the revival of Annie Get Your Gun with pal Merman at Lincoln Center. In the 80s, she played Jean Smart’s mother-in-law Ellen Stillfield in the sitcom Designing Women.

Married and divorced three times, Venuta’s othere creative outlets included painting and sculptures. During the 1970’s, her Plexiglas sculptures were sold at Bonwit Teller in Manhattan for $150 to $1,500.

Suffering from lung cancer, Venuta died at her home in Manhattan on September 1, 1995, at age 84. She will be remembered for her larger than life performances. (from “That Girl”)

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To Be Batman or Not to Be

Greetings funny names fans! For those of you who’ve been around for a while, you know I have a penchant for comics and their authors. I spent a wonderful weekend with my better half at the Emerald City Comic Con. Which is where I ran into this fine fellow, who also was one of the event speakers.

Batman and Friend ECCC 2017.png

“I am Batman.”

Or is he?

While doing some research for something else—okay, I was watching the “Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries” and didn’t know the exact location of Melbourne on the Australian continent—I discovered Batman’s pivotal role in the founding of Melbourne; Australia’s movie capital and most populous city.

Meet John Batman, Australian colonialist, born in Paramatta, Australia, (now part of Sydney) in 1801. He earned a controversial place in Australian history.

John Batman.png

John Batman.

Batman moved from Sydney to Tasmania and participated in a program to remove the indigenous population. The British government granted him lands for his successful removal of the aboriginals using aboriginals he knew from the Australian mainland. He could not cultivate the land but it was suitable for cattle grazing.

In hopes of getting more land, he lead an expedition out of Tasmania to the southern part of the colony of Victoria up the Yarra River.

Batman created a treaty with the Kulin peoples, the aboriginals native to central Victoria, for the land. He exchanged blankets, axes, knives, scissors, mirrors, handkerchiefs, flour and six shirts for the property. He named the settlement “Batmania”. To this day the treaty he negotiated is still a matter of historical debate.

The Governor of New South Wales, Sir Richard Bourke, claimed the treaty invalid and seized Batmania for the crown. He renamed it for the British Prime Minister of the time, William Lamb, Second Viscount Melbourne. It was officially declared a city by Queen Victoria, a close friend of the Viscount’s.

Batman was diagnosed with syphilis in 1833.

By 1835, Batman amassed more than 7,000 acres and cattle and buildings and a large number of hands to work the property.

Batman built a house in Melbourne in 1836 to house his wife, convict Elizabeth Callaghan (she passed a bad check and was shipped to the penal colony of New South Wales—in lieu of a death sentence—and she wound up in the stocks several times then she met Batman in Tasmania), and their 8 children. His wife left him. He was cared for by local aboriginals until he died.

When he died in 1839 at the age of 38, Mrs. Batman found out he left her £5. She contested the will unsuccessfully.

To be Batman or not to be.

Elizabeth married her husband’s former clerk, William Willoughby, shortly after Batman’s death.

The wife formerly know as Batman died in a bar room brawl 14-years later.

Tracy – Fannie Cranium’s Guide to Irreverent Wisdom



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Ransom Riggs Author of the Peculiar

A peculiar thing occurred on Monday and derailed my regularly scheduled post. I received a peculiar gift—a Santa hat skewered by a salmon—for Christmas and stuck on the top shelf of the closet. It fell on my head yesterday morning while searching for my winter hat.

Who doesn't wear a salmon skewered hat while making chili?

Who doesn’t wear a salmon skewered hat while making chili?

How could I say no? Today’s post is brought to you by my peculiar Christmas hat.

Meet Ransom Riggs, YA (young adult) author and creator of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Peculiar indeed.

Could you ask for a more fabulous name? Peculiar, I couldn't either.

Could you ask for a more fabulous name? Peculiar, I couldn’t either.

He and his wonderfully named, talented wife, and bestselling YA author, Taherah Mafi, live in Santa Monica, California, and finish each others sentences. There must be something wonderfully peculiar in the air in Santa Monica.

Mr. Riggs started his journey collecting old photographs, taking photographs, making home movies with his friends, and writing stories. Time marched, he honed his pen daily at Time well spent as it landed him the opportunity to write “The Sherlock Holmes Handbook.”

Fast forward to Tim Burton turning his peculiar book into a wonderfully peculiar movie, which he can tell you about it himself:

My peculiar recommendation for the day, let’s head out with the Bangles and “Walk like an Egyptian”.

Tracy – Fannie Cranium’s Guide to Irreverent Wisdom

 *  *  *

Photo Credit: Salmon Skewered Hat, Daniel Perkins

Photo Credit: Ransom Riggs, thesupermat






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Sol Hoʻopiʻi: Steel Guitar Virtuoso And 21st Child

Have you ever read those articles about birth order? You know, the ones that say things like this?

Frankly, I don’t think any of these would apply to today’s funny-named musician; Sol Hoʻopiʻi was born Child Numero 21 to his large Hawaiian family. TWENTY-ONE, y’all. That SURPASSES both the Duggars AND the Bates Family, who both only bore 19 total. I’d like to know if all his siblings had apostrophes in their names, too! What’s up with all the apostrophes?

Per, the ‘Okina is the apostrophe mark and is a glottal stop – or a brief break in the word… As an example, think of the English oh oh – the small break, or silence, between the first oh and the second oh is the same break you would make if an ‘Okina appeared in the word (for example… oh’oh).

All told, Solomon Hoʻopiʻi Kaʻaiʻai  has four breaks in his full name.

Born in 1902 in Honolulu, little Sol began to sing and play at an early age. By three, he was playing the ukulele, and added the Hawaiian steel guitar to his repertoire a decade later. Little did he know he would one day be considered the all-time best lap steel guitar virtuoso, among notable Hawaiian steel guitarist such as Joseph Kekuku, Frank Ferera, Sam Ku West and “King” Bennie Nawahi.

At age 17, Sol and two of his buds stowed away on the ocean liner Matsonia. They busked and charmed other passengers, who evidently took up a collection to pay their fares. After landing in San Francisco, the teens played a few clubs and headed to Los Angeles. Sol’s friends eventually returned to Hawaii, but Sol remained in The States. In 1924, he formed the Sol Hoʻopiʻi Trio with Glenwood Leslie and Lani McIntyre, performing at popular Polynesian-themed night venues.

78 Revoluciones -

78 Revoluciones –

From 1933-1938, he recorded his best-known Hawaiian hula and hapa-haole songs as Sol Hoopii’s Novelty Trio, Novelty Quartette and Novelty Five. Preferring the acoustic lap steel guitar, he switched to electric lap steel at the age of 33 and developed an original tuning, in addition to the open A or open G tunings commonly in use at the time.

In 1938, Hoʻopiʻi said sayonara to his secular career and joined the evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson on tour. See the video below of him playing hymns on his lap steel guitar, accompanied by Christian composer Phillip Stanley Kerr  on the piano. Kerr introduces him as “hope-y,” though it was pronounced “hoopy.” Cheeky wikipedia added, “Both prior to, and for years after, Hawaii’s attaining statehood, many mainlanders mispronounced the state’s name as How-Wah-Yah, leading to show biz jokes about the 50th state of “How Are Ya?” ). Didja know that?

Six months before Sol’s death, he and fellow Christian Hawaiian steel guitar player Bud Tutmarc recorded a live Seattle performance of Indiana March and other gospel medleys. Sol passed in November of 1953. Aloha.

Posted in funny names in music, humor, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 25 Comments

Rahsaan Roland Kirk

When we say someone plays a lot of instruments it usually doesn’t mean playing them at the same time. Unless it’s Rahsaan Roland Kirk (1935-1977).


Rahsaan Roland Kirk

But this wasn’t a street performer gimmick. Rahsaan was a legend, a prodigiously talented jazzman, an inspired and soulful performer, a one man reed section, and a tireless innovator, adapting not only music but also numerous musical instruments (many of them rare) to his needs. He was also a poet, a dreamer, an impromptu stage comic and political ranter.

Rahsaan often played with the greatest of the greats. For a sampler, here is Rahsaan with McCoy Tyner (piano), Stanley Clarke (bass), Lenny White (drums), and Quincy Jones (emcee) at a Downbeat poll awards concert in 1975.

Our faithful Wikipedia offers a commendable entry that follows Rahsaan’s life and assesses his music and legacy. Theodore Ronald Kirk lost his sight at an early age because of bad medical treatment. He was prompted in a dream to switch the “n” and “l” in Ronald, and later, in another dream, was induced to drop the Theodore, and adopt “Rahsaan” instead.

More from Wikipedia:

Kirk played and collected a number of musical instruments, mainly various saxophones, clarinets and flutes. His main instruments were tenor saxophone supplemented by other saxes, like two obscure saxophones: the stritch (a straight alto sax lacking the instrument’s characteristic upturned bell) and a manzello (a modified saxello soprano sax, with a larger, upturned bell). A number of his instruments were exotic or homemade. Kirk modified instruments himself to accommodate his simultaneous playing technique.

He typically appeared on stage with all three horns hanging around his neck, and at times he would play a number of these horns at once, harmonizing with himself, or sustain a note for lengthy durations by using circular breathing. He used the multiple horns to play true chords, essentially functioning as a one-man saxophone section. Kirk insisted that he was only trying to emulate the sounds he heard in his head. Even while playing two or three saxophones at once, the music was intricate, powerful jazz with a strong feel for the blues.

Yes, folks, Rahsaan played  stritch, manzello, and saxello.

Among his other achievements, Rahsaan was one of the great jazz flautists. You may know that without knowing you know; his is the brief flute solo in “Soul Bossa Nova,” the Quincy Jones’ arrangement that became the Austin Powers theme. Rashaan plays from 1:38, in his characteristic breathless style:

In my younger days I mostly listened to his live albums Bright Moments and Volunteered Slavery. In the latter he memorably quipped from the stage:

“I was totally blind when I came on here.”

You can hear it at 6:42 in this clip. The soul postlude that starts at 15:47 is also one of my favorite vamps.

If you’re still with me, let’s round this up with the title cut from Bright Moments, which includes some classic (and beautiful) poetic banter from Rahsaan:


Posted in funny names in music, Uncategorized | Tagged | 10 Comments