liz penn, franklin g othic

On March 8, I posted at some length about The High Sign, the newish and very fine movie review site. I also broke out my minimal journalistic skills to investigate the true identity of the site’s proprietor. (To summarize: The site’s author claims to be named Liz Penn and claims to write under the “bland WASP pseudonym” Dana Stevens. The preponderance of evidence, however, indicates her true name is Dana Stevens and that Liz Penn is the pseudonym.)
For the record, I don’t have a problem with the switcheroo. After all, on the Internet no one knows you’re a dog. Proud tradition, Lewis Carroll, O. Henry, authorial license, etc.
And heaven knows there are plenty of bloggers out there using false identities. For a long time, I didn’t put my full name on this site in false hopes that it wouldn’t show up on a Google search for my name. (Yeah, fat chance.)
Anyway, several other blogs linked to my findings, among them edrants.com. (We will forgive, without flogging, his reference to this web site as “Crabtree.”) While Dana/Liz chose not to comment directly on my original post, she did leave these words at Ed’s site:
remember that scene in ‘spartacus’ when the romans are trying to identify spartacus, the rebel leader, among a whole crowd of escaped slaves, so they can capture and kill him? in answer to the centurions’ questioning, one by one each and every member of the crowd stands up and says, “i’m spartacus.” “i’m spartacus!” “no, i’m spartacus!” in addition to being a great scene about loyalty and solidarity, it’s a great scene about names. are spartacus’ followers lying when they claim to be him (since, in some sense, they’re embodied, represented by him, part of the same cause)? at the moment that the “real” spartacus (kirk douglas) stands up and chimes in, “i’m spartacus,” is he lying or telling the truth? if he were to deny that he was spartacus, he would of course be revealed and delivered to the enemy. what does it mean to hide behind your own name?
there are a million reasons for a writer to use another name (to dissimulate her gender, like the brontes; to free his voice, like westlake/stark; to smuggle a script past the commie hunters, as in the movie; or, in the case of someone like the portuguese poet fernando pessoa, for the pure play of it.) but when literature’s innate propensity for lying meets up with the endless labyrinth of the
internet, what’s amazing to me is not that there are some names out there that seem to elude capture, but that there are any that don’t.

We’ve already established that Dana, from her previous academic life, is a Pessoa scholar, so I’m inclined to think the “pure play” example is at work here. (Last time I checked, there weren’t many commie hunters in Brooklyn.)
One Friend of Crabwalk.com runs a prominent blog under a false name. He/she prefers to use one name for his/her writing life and one for regular life. I can understand that. At least I can understand it better than splitting one’s self into Dana who reviews TV shows and Liz who reviews movies. But to each his/her own.
True confession: I have written under a pseudonym.
When I was an editor at the Herald, we’d occasionally be short of writers on production night. If some small bit of news broke near our production deadlines, I’d get stuck writing a short last-minute story. For some reason, I didn’t want to use my own name on those stories.
The Herald used three basic fonts for layout: HeraldHeadlines for headlines (a custom face created by none other than Glenn Fleishman), Times Roman for body text, and the wonderful Franklin Gothic for captions and subheads. I always liked the name Franklin Gothic. So I decided my pseudonym would be Franklin G. Othic.
Franklin’s work still survives: Here are six examples. (Later, a female colleague started using “Francesca Othic” as her pseudonym. But sadly, it appears none of Francesca’s work persists online.)
Eventually, my Herald editing days came to a close and Franklin died a little-noticed death. But in 1997, I got an email from a gentleman named Gene Othic:
Is Mr. FRANKLIN G. OTHIC, author of the article pertaining to the Khmer Rouge, still there? Found his name and article while searching for possible relatives. If he is still there, or if anyone knows how to contact him, please respond to…”
I explained the situation to Gene, who took the news well enough. “I honestly believe I can find a limb for the honored FRANKLIN G. OTHIC to perch upon in the family tree,” he wrote back. “It might be the one reserved for the notorious and such.”

4 thoughts on “liz penn, franklin g othic”

  1. this comment (posted yesterday on Liz’s review of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) complicates things further:
    Hey Liz Penn. My name’s Dana Stevens and I’m a screenwriter (City of Angels. For Love of the Game). Did you pick your pseudonym at random? I love your reviews, but what if someone thinks they are written by me? Or maybe Liz Penn is a pseudonym too. Down the wormhole like Charlie we go. Best, Dana
    how’s that for pure play??

  2. You know, I did come across that Dana Stevens in my detective work. (Here’s her IMDB entry.) But I figured thehighsign’s Dana might have been too young to be the screenwriter Dana (who has acting credits going back to 1982 — although the age gap is probably no more than a decade).

  3. nice catch, blinky. still, i think we can assume the two danas are in fact distinct. (if only because our dana is an aggressively lowercase commenter.) unless there’s much weirder stuff going on than i’d imagined…

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