What’s in a Name? Remembering the Late, Great Rip Torn (1931-2019)

Strangely enough for an actor who came to prominence in the 50s, Rip (Larry Sanders, Men in Black, Dodgeball, Cincinnati Kid) Torn’s  name was not a contrived creation of an agent. No, he was born Elmore Rual Torn Jr. with the family name of Rual shortened by tradition to ‘Rip’. When Elmore Rual “Rip” Torn passed away in July aged 88, he was best known for his roles in Men In Black (boss Zed) and The Larry Sanders Show (producer Artie). But he was also notable for his experiences with the likes of Dennis Hopper. Jack Nicholson took over from him on the set of Easy Rider (1969) after Torn and Hopper got into an argument, where the latter pulled a knife.
A similar incident happened on the set of Norman Mailer’s Maidstone (1970), where Torn got into a hammer-wielding brawl with the director, an event captured on film:

Despite his formidable screen presence, he appeared quieter behind the scenes.


“I think most actors are shy. I really do,” he once told Esquire Magazine. “The greatest actors can disappear. I had friends call me the Blend-In Man.”

Contrast this kind of authenticity with the plethora of hokey ‘beefcake’ names that were invented (mainly by Hollywood talent agent Henry Willson) in the 50’s/60’s including:
  • Rock Hudson
  • Tab Hunter
  • Troy Donahue
  • Chad Everett
  • Rory Calhoun
Hollywood talent agent Henry Willson pictured with Rock Hudson
And of course Orson Whipple Hungerford Jr, who was later renamed Ty Hardin….
Other actors whose rather odd real names were changed for perceived public acceptance: Marion Morrison (John Wayne), Maurice Micklewhite (Michael Caine), Diana Fluck (Diana Dors), Issur Danielovitch (Kirk Douglas) and Frances Ethel Gumm (Judy Garland).
And lastly, Albert Einstein later changed his name to Albert Brooks. That’s right, Brooks was born Albert Lawrence Einstein into a Jewish show business family in Beverly Hills, CA in 1947.
When Brooks was asked about why he changed his name, his answer was simple “Do I even have to answer that?”
In January 2011 he told Esquire magazine, “I was on the defensive as soon as I got to the first class where they took roll. ‘Albert Einstein?’ All the kids would be snickering. It’s one of the three most famous names on the planet. You might as well be called Jesus Christ. Or Moses. The thing is, I liked the name Albert. I just couldn’t use it with Einstein. So I changed the last name when I thought I could really accomplish something, and I didn’t need that name to be funny.”
“Never think you’re better than anyone else, but don’t let anyone treat you like you’re worse than they are.” — Rip Torn. Rest in Peace, RIP.

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Stephen Arnell

Culture Comment Content Provider. Portrait courtesy of artist Darren Coffield. 'Non satis me tempo'