Birches and maples reach toward the sky, shading campers in Peninsula State Park, Wisconsin.
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…
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I wish this book would have given me more information than “a man ties packages to an elephant as people watch.” That elicits a fourth grade, “Well, no duh” from me. If I have to guess a year, I’d say circa 1920s. We can’t even be certain whether the burdened beast was named Dumbo or Jumbo. I’d say Jumbo, as the Disney movie wasn’t released till 1941. P.T. Barnum’s original Jumbo was killed in a train accident in 1885, so this not that Jumbo.
That Jumbo stood 12 feet tall and weighed 7 tons–the largest elephant anyone had ever seen. He liked “Scotch whiskey, which he was given regularly” during an Atlantic crossing after he left London. Though he died at only age 24, a life-size statue of his likeness was erected in 1985 in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada to commemorate the centennial of the elephant’s death.
Incidentally, the name Jumbo spawned the word we use today to mean large in size, not the other way around. So the next time you buy a jumbo-sized beverage or candy bar, think fondly of an elephant.