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George Spelvin, Georgette Spelvin, and Georgina Spelvin are traditional pseudonyms used in programs in American theater. The reasons for the use of an alternate name vary. Actors who do not want to be credited, or whose names would otherwise appear twice because they are playing more than one role in a production, may adopt a pseudonym. Actors who are members of the AFL-CIO trade union of professional actors known as Actors' Equity Association, but are working under a non-union contract and wish to avoid the significant penalties ranging from substantial fines to revocation of union membership that could result from working under non-union contracts, also use pseudonyms.
In some plays, this name has appeared in cast lists as the name of an actor (or actress) portraying a character who is mentioned in the dialogue but never turns up onstage: with the role credited to "George Spelvin", the audience is not forewarned that the character never makes an entrance. The name is said to have first appeared on a cast list in 1886 in Karl the Peddler, a play by Charles A. Gardiner. The 1927 musical play Strike Up the Band by George S. Kaufman and George and Ira Gershwin features a character named George Spelvin. The name can also be used when one actor is playing what appear to be two characters, but is later revealed as being one person with two names or identities. Because of the pseudonym, the audience is not clued-in that the two seemingly separate characters are meant to be the same person. This is especially useful in murder mysteries.
"Georgina Spelvin" has fallen out of general use since it was adopted as a screen name by pornographic actress Shelley Graham, who was credited by that name in The Devil in Miss Jones (1973) and her subsequent films.
Another example of the name being used occurred in Players de Noc's production of The Full Monty, about a group of men who try their luck as male strippers. A member of the production's orchestra, not wanting members of his church to find he was involved with such a risqué play, had his name credited as George Spelvin.
The one-act play The Actor's Nightmare by Christopher Durang features a main character named George Spelvin, and the January 27, 1942, episode of Fibber McGee and Molly ("The Blizzard") features a visit by a stranger calling himself George Spelvin (played by Frank Nelson).
The columnist Westbrook Pegler used this name in his writings; one of his books of collected columns is titled George Spelvin, American.
The name was used in the I Love Lucy episode "Don Juan is Shelved", in the Mama's Family episode "Fangs A Lot, Mama" as the author of a book called A Nun's Life, and as the name of a character villain voiced by Peter Serafinowicz in the "Tragical History" episode of Archer.
The name may also be used for a character who never delivers a line, and thus any member of the stage crew might be filling in the role. For example, a person makes a delivery to a character onstage: the doorbell rings, the delivery is made, and the delivery carrier disappears, with no words spoken.
- Cushman, Carla. ":The Life and Times of the Uniquitous George Spelvin" Stage Whispers
- Freud, Ralph (October 1954) "George Spelvin Says the Tag: Folklore of the Theater" Western Folklore
- Pesner, Ben. "George Spelvin: Is he man or myth" TDF Theatre Dictionary
- "George Spelvin" Encyclopædia Britannica