Wednesday, March 25, 2009

May Wynn, meet May Wynn

So I took my own advice and started rereading Herman Wouk's "The Caine Mutiny." Just as fabulous as I remember.

But a short ways into the book, Willie Keith meets his girlfriend -- May Wynn. In my "Reeling Backward" review, that's the name I used for the actress who appears in the movie version. I thought I'd made a mistake, and used the character's name rather than the actress'. So I logged on here to fix it.

Wanna hear something really screwy? The actress' name is May Wynn.

In something that could only happen in Golden Age Hollywood, her name was changed to the name of her character in the movie, which was going to be her big break-out role.

After a little digging, I learned that big-wheel producer Stanley Kramer decided that the name of Donna Lee Hickey just wasn't going to cut it as a movie star. So he had her take the name of her character in the movie!

It does have a nice ring to it, with those two short syllables. Kramer liked it because it was impossible to mispronounce. Plus it has a positive connotation since it sounds like, "May win."

It's actually not the real name of the character, either. When Willie tells her he likes her name, she says, "That's good. It took me a long time to think of it." Turns out her real handle is Marie Minotti, and she's using May Wynn as her stage name.

So let me just lay out this scenario again: A fictional character gives herself a stage name, an actress is hired to play her in the movie, and the studio makes her change her real name to that of the character's made-up name. So May Wynn is a triple-fake name, or something.

Isn't that screwy? Imagine if in 1977 Carrie Fisher was forced to change her name to Princess Leia Organa. Or if Indiana Jones was played by a guy named Han Solo.

Anyway, May Wynn made quite an impression on me in the film, even though it's a small role. We first see her singing in a nightclub wearing this red dress that's really va-voom for the era. She had short, dark hair -- unusual for female stars of the time, long and blonde being the thing in the 1940s and '50s. She actually resembles my mother when she was a youngster ... very Freudian, I know.

Anyway, May's showbiz career was pretty short. She did a bunch of television for a few years after "Caine Mutiny," but lists no credits for her after 1959. She's still alive, reportedly living quietly in California. I'd be very curious to know: Does she still go by the name bestowed on her by a studio honcho 55 years ago?


  1. She had a terrific singing voice in "Caine." Did she have a recording career?

  2. It appears that the voice actually belonged to Jo Ann Greer (formally of the Les Brown band).

  3. She actually came to speak at my high school a few years back. She goes by her real name, I think. May Wynn was always just a stage name. Btw, I got an autographed picture of the scene you described- singing in the red dress. The photo is black and white, but amazing!

  4. She was just lovely and it's a shame that she did not have better chances to prove she was very good as an actress too. After all she's been tested for Lorene's role in the perfect From Here To Eternity.

  5. She goes by her real name but add to that the fact that she's been married more than once since "May Wynn" was bestowed upon her. She's a lovely lady, w/wonderful stories about days past. She 1st married Jack Kelly, of TV's "Maverick," & they were considered the perfect Hollywood couple for less than a decade.

    I've interviewed her multiple times for an upcoming bio on Jack Kelly, "A Maverick Life: The Jack Kelly Story." The book will, of course, have a good amount of this intriguing woman in it.

    ~ Linda J. Alexander

  6. She does go by the name of Donna, not May Wynn...I know her very well and she is still beautiful and young for her age.

  7. Anyone who knows her wanna her give her my e-mail address? I'd love to interview her.

    1. I don't know her email address but she is my father's first cousin and they grew up together in NYC. Her name is not Marie Minotti. It is Donna Lee Hickey or really as my father said , her real name is Agnes Hickey., when she worked at the Copacabana as a show girl she went by the name Donna Lee Hickey and she's no where near Italian. Both of her parents were Irish.

  8. She is my father's first cousin and I will never forget this particular beautiful picture of her because my grandmother (her mother's sister) had it on her bureau forever and ever. When I went to my grandparents house I would pose like her and make believe that it was me! I wish!

  9. Gosh was she gorgeous! She was every bit as beautiful as the greatest beauties of her era. I only know her from the Caine Mutiny and boy did she make an impression on me. It would have been nice to see her in more movies. I hope she is happy and wish her well.

  10. May Wynn was my great aunt and what an incredible woman she was. I knew her always as ‘Aunt Dolly’ but she went by Donna Lee Hickey. She was my grandfathers sister. Aunt Dolly was truly extraordinary and a true beauty. Even in her 80’s she was still flawless. I could sit for hours hearing her stories about her days at the Copacabana and her days in Hollywood. I am so thankful to have all the memories I have of her.