Sometimes people ask me if "Lindy West" is a pseudonym. They wonder if I made it up so that I could make fun of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson with impunity. Or they think I'm a fictional character invented by The Stranger. Or that my real name was something so ridiculous that I came up with Lindy West as a savvy PR move.
Usually I say, "Oh no, ha ha," or "Get away from me, please," but once in a while I remember that that last part is actually kind of true.
My paternal grandfather was an old-timey radio producer—Burns and Allen, Gene Autry—and in the 1940s, when he took a job at CBS, it was suggested that he change his name from the unwieldy (and, perhaps, uncomfortably Austrian) "Rechenmacher" to the more radio-appropriate "West." My dad became Paul West Jr. and now I am Lindy West. My name was foisted upon me by CBS radio, Kunta Kinte–style (except, you know, minus the slavery and the LeVar Burton). The nerve.
Seventy or eighty years removed, my grandparents' Old Hollywood party-time existence seems impossibly glamorous to me. I never knew either of them, but I imagine loud laughter and natty suits. Hats on heads, hats in hat boxes. Whiskey in the winter, gin in the summer. Grandma Winnie was a singer. When my dad was a little boy, in the '30s, she worked in movies, dubbing the vocal parts for leading ladies who couldn't sing.
It's difficult—especially if you don't try very hard, like me—to find information about classic movie dubbing: The studios kept it quiet, and most of the singers went uncredited. But I found a website compiled from "more than forty years of compulsive- obsessive data-gathering" that lists hundreds of movie roles and the invisible voices who dubbed them.
Grandma Winnie was on there three times (under her real name and her professional name, Mona Lowe): International Settlement (1938) for Dolores del Rio; Ready for Love (1934) for Marjorie Rambeau; and White Woman (1933) for Carole Lombard. Two more seconds of Googling, and I found two of them for sale on another website.
Both movies (White Woman and International Settlement) are entertaining if insignificant melodramas about feisty ladies and restless natives. In White Woman, Carole Lombard's eyebrows are insane. Charles Laughton makes a magnificent jungle ham. International Settlement stars George Sanders, famous for his 1972 suicide note ("Dear World, I am leaving you because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool—good luck.").
But my parents and I were just watching them for the singing. "That's her!" my dad said, as Dolores del Rio vamped on a Shanghai stage, her voice a dark, purring alto. "That's definitely Mother. That's her." I still have goose bumps.