A star by any other name . . .

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 July, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 July, 1994, 12:00am

WOULD Arnold Schwarzenegger be as popular today if his name were, say, Lance Blade or Slash Logan? If the Austrian-born superstar had burst on the scene 30 or 40 years ago he assuredly never would have seen either of his names on theatre marquees.

Thanks to Arnold Stang, the name Arnold implied ''wimp''. And the moniker Schwarzenegger would have been unthinkable.

Studios insisted on Anglo-Saxon names. They were relatively safe from ethnic taint. Even the Irish could scrape by using their real handles.

But God help the actor with Italian, Spanish, Jewish or German surnames. Prejudice was the rule, not the exception. Racial and ethnic bias were common.

Even a name that was peculiar or ''funny'' was changed by studio fiat. Ergo, Lily Chauchoin became Claudette Colbert. The brass wanted ''American'' names.

Thanks to World War I, when Americans changed the appelation for ''hamburger'' to ''victory steak'', a Teutonic name such as Schwarzenegger would have been anathema to movie-makers.

Even Schwartz was a bit too German and/or Jewish 40 years ago. As everyone knows, Bernie (another no-no) Schwartz became Tony Curtis.

Until World War II name-changing was almost de rigueur for Hollywood newcomers who had not already established themselves in the theatre.

Some performers were forced to change their professional names when established members of the Screen Actors Guild already were registered under a desired name. For instance, Stewart Granger adopted his surname because there was a well-know star on the books called James Stewart.

Glamour was the key reason actresses changed their names.

In 1938 Meryl Streep would almost certainly have been called by another name. Greta Gustafsson was switched to Greta Garbo.

But it's not just old-timers who ditched their family identification. Tom Cruise was born Thomas Mapother. Madonna's last name is Ciccone. Winona Ryder started out as Winona Horowitz.

Italians, Germans and Jews historically have changed their names more than other ethnic groups in Hollywood, doubtless to minimise bias.

For instance, the comedy team of Dino Crocetti and Joseph Levitch made a double switch to Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis to enjoy the last laugh.

Among Italian-Americans: Connie Stevens was Concetta Ingolia. Alan Alda was Alphonso D'Abruzzo.

Those changing their Jewish names included Yves Montand from Ivo Levi. John Garfield ne Julius Garfinkle. Judy Holliday, nee Judith Tuvim. Michael Landon, ne Eugene Orowitz. Rodney Dangerfield, ne Jacob Cohen.

Perhaps a star by any other name would twinkle as brightly. Then again, maybe Arnold might have better luck in the Oscar race by changing his name to Laurence Olivier or Anthony Hopkins.