Anne Shirley
circa 1940: Portrait of American actor Anne Shirley  Jack Albin—Getty Images

The Craziest Publicity Stunt for Anne of Green Gables

Nov 30, 2015

You'd think a name like "Dawn O'Day" would have been enough, but it wasn't enough for the starlet who went by that moniker in the 1930s. After being cast as the lead in the 1934 film of Anne of Green Gables—based on the novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery, who was born on this day, Nov. 30, in 1874—she decided to do more than just play the part of Anne Shirley on screen, as TIME reported that December:

Although it lacks the high-powered sentiment that made Little Women one of the box-office hits of 1933, Anne of Green Gables would probably have been able to impress itself on the public without the aid of banal publicity tricks like the one whereby Dawn O'Day, the obscure actress who plays the lead, got a Los Angeles court to change her name to that of the heroine in the picture because "Anne Shirley has always been my favorite fiction character."

But, even though the trick may have been called "banal," it worked. By 1936, TIME was calling the switch "an improvement that deserved but did not get an Academy Award"—and the movie was a hit.

The actress Anne Shirley managed to make the name work until her retirement in her 20s, after starring in movies like Stella Dallas and Murder, My Sweet. Shirley wasn't the only star to take the name of a character during that period of the Hollywood studio system; a few years later, the actor Byron Barr became Gig Young after playing that role in The Gay Sisters.

Read the full story from 1934, here in the TIME Vault: The New Pictures

newsletter
History NewsletterStay on top of the history behind today’s news. View Sample
TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.