Similar names, appearances make identifying stars tough

Because of my job, I've always loved movies about newspapers and newspaper people. The 1930s and '40s, especially, were rife with exciting films about reporters and editors who solved crimes, outwitted spies, saved America and still had time to put the final edition out. There was one on TV the other day starring Jimmy Cagney.

No, wait. I believe it was Edward G. Robinson instead. I always get those two actors mixed up. Both were short, talked funny and played gangsters a lot. In my mind, they were the same actor, sort of an "Edward G. Cagney."

A lot of actors get confused in my brain. Maybe it's because they resembled each other (Roy Scheider and George C. Scott), or they played similar parts (Peter Sellers and early Alec Guinness), or they acted together in the same films (Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee), or I just never took time to nail down their identities (Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo).

Does that happen to you? For instance, today in Hollywood there are actors named Edward Norton and Edward Burns whom I can't tell apart; I guess it's because they both have the same first name. On the other hand, Amy Adams and Isla Fisher have totally different names, but they look exactly alike.

I like old movies, but I've never been able to tell Bette Davis from Joan Crawford. They played the same types of people and looked like sisters in the heavy makeup of their day.

Gary Cooper and Randolph Scott could have been twin sons of different mothers; they both played compassionate tough guys and had noble faces.

Henry Fonda and Glenn Ford, though totally different physically, acted in similar roles. Today, another Glenn -- actress Glenn Close -- could play the lead in the life story of Meryl Streep.

I cannot distinguish Ava Gardner from Rita Hayworth from Susan Hayward from Laraine Day.

Some pairs are so close I have to think twice: Gene Tierney and Veronica Lake; Claude Rains and Fredric March; Al Pacino and Robert De Niro; Claudette Colbert and Jean Arthur; Donald O'Connor and Danny Kaye; Erroll Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks; Peter Lawford and David Niven.

Thank goodness I never had any trouble differentiating the top singing cowboys of my youth: Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.

MOORE WORDS: Speaking of Gene Autry, I came across one of his Westerns the other day. Cowboys movies always had their share of colorful words, but when Gene told a particular troublemaker that no "bindlestiffs" were allowed to hang around, I had to mosey to the dictionary.

I had never heard that word before; have you?

I found out that it means a migratory worker or hobo. "Bindle" is related to "bundle," and one meaning of "stiff" is a hobo. And who carries a bundle as he travels about? Why, a hobo, of course.

Thanks for the good word, Gene.

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