Same Name Syndrome: Sergio Leone, Alan Berliner and Chris Ferguson

Whilst slumming at the People’s Cafe in Berkeley, a byline on the freebie library shelf caught my eye. The Monkey in the Rocket, a Mad Men-era tale of an American space chimp, credits its story to Jean Bethell and the pictures to Sergio Leone.

(The record needle scratch sound goes here.)

Wait, THE Sergio Leone? The filmmaker behind A Fist Full of Dollars and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly? Did the father of the Spaghetti Western have a sideline illustrating jingoist Space Race propaganda for kids?

As much as I wanted to believe this could be true, I haven’t found enough evidence to support this rather awesome notion. That said, I can’t prove it untrue either. However, I suspect that some poor illustrator just happened to share the same famous name as the man who reinvented America’s favorite film genre. Given the relative disproportion of their fame, I’m sure Leone the children’s book illustrator (he of Hooray for Henry, The Littlest Angel fame) was more often confused for the director than the director was for him. The possible awkward moments pile quickly in the imagination.

Let’s envision the illustrator at a cocktail party when some well-wisher says,

“Mr. Leone, I just have to say, I loved Duck, You Sucker!” and Leone panics and calls his agent, furious about those New York bastards who apparently changed the title of Uncle Wiggily’s Adventures without so much as a damn phone call!

It’s a wonder Leone didn’t change his name when his doppelnamen, if you will, released his breakthrough sword and sandal epic, The Colossus of Rhodes, in ’61 – an entire year before The Monkey in the Rocket was published.

Filmmaker Alan Berliner is no stranger to this phenomenon, which he dubbed “the same-name syndrome” in his documentary The Sweetest Sound. In it, Berliner laments “being mistaken for the Belgian filmmaker, Alain Berliner, and often congratulated for having made his film, Ma Vie en Rose…” among other issues. Berliner eventually musters a guest list of 12 others with the name “Alan Berliner” has them over for a dinner party. The ensuing conversation is like My Dinner with Andre to the third power, which is more engaging that it might read.

I’ve managed to inoculate myself from same-name syndrome with a prophylactic visit to the Superior Court of Sonoma County. Having once been a “Chris Ferguson,” I’m glad to say that I got my byline in order before confusion between me and Chris Ferguson the professional poker player or Chris Ferguson the famous astronaut could mess with my sense of self (the sordid details of how I became “Daedalus Howell” have been dutifully – and mostly accurately – reported on Wikipedia).

Chris Ferguson
Chris Fergusons.

I suppose it could be worse for the Sergio Leones, Alan Berliners and Chris Fergusons of the world – they could be Uomo senza nome, a.k.a The Man with No Name.