Bob Dylan and other entertainers with ties to North Dakota who changed their names

Born Robert Zimmerman, Dylan went by Elston Gunnn when he lived in Fargo — and plenty of other North Dakotans changed their names before making it in the entertainment industry.

Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan performs at Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth, Minn., on July 9, 2013.
Forum News Service file photo
We are part of The Trust Project.

FARGO — Many of the biggest stars in the entertainment industry lived in North Dakota, and of that group, some of them either changed their name or were best-known by a stage name.

In this article, I have included a number of those entertainers. One person who you might think is missing from my list is Angie Dickinson . Angeline Brown was born and raised in Kulm. In 1952, prior to becoming an actress, she married Gene Dickinson. Therefore, she did not change her name when she became an actress.

Angie Dickinson as Pepper Anderson in "Police Woman" as seen in 1974.
Contributed / Columbia Pictures Television / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

I make no claim that this is a definitive work on North Dakota entertainers who changed their names or used pseudonyms. I will appreciate emails about any celebrities who I may have missed.

Read more "Did You Know That" columns from Curt Eriksmoen to learn something new about notable and interesting people with ties to North Dakota.

Don Bleu is the name, Rick Kelleher, from East Grand Forks, Minn., used while working at radio stations KILO in Grand Forks and KQWB in Fargo. He then became a popular radio personality in Minneapolis, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Bleu is perhaps best-known as the host of "The Gong Show" when the show was revived on television in 1988.

Virginia Bruce was the name adopted by Helen Briggs, who grew up in Fargo . Bruce was the leading lady in a number of movies in the 1930s and then played supporting roles in films during the '40s and '50s.


Helen Virginia Briggs, who gained fame as actress Virginia Bruce, was born Minneapolis and grew up in Fargo.
Helen Virginia Briggs, who gained fame as actress Virginia Bruce, was born Minneapolis and grew up in Fargo.
Contributed / Public Domain

Shirley Buchanan often appeared on dramatic shows on television in the 1950s and is best-remembered as the page girl on "Queen for a Day" from 1956 to 1959. She was born Shirley Mae Quickstad in Hettinger.

Lane Chandler was the name of the actor who starred in movies from 1927 to the early 1930s. Robert Oakes, who grew up on ranches in Walsh and Ramsey counties, was the real name of the actor who went by the name of Chandler in motion pictures . After Paramount Pictures decided to use Gary Cooper as their star actor in Western movies in 1932, Chandler became a popular character actor, appearing in over 300 movies and countless television shows.

Lane Chandler
Lane Chandler.
Contributed / Public Domain

Chief Flying Cloud was the name used by Frank Zahn in motion pictures in the late 1930s and early '40s. Zahn was born in a Cannon Ball teepee in 1891, and after he retired from making motion pictures, he returned to the Standing Rock Agency where he served on the tribal council, operated a popular museum and presided as the senior judge on the reservation.

Bob Dylan is deservedly acclaimed as one of the greatest singers/musicians/composers of all time. Dylan’s birth name is Robert Zimmerman, and during the summer of 1959, he lived and performed in the Fargo area as Elston Gunnn . One of the groups Gunnn played with while in Fargo was the Shadows , fronted by Robert Veline, later known as Bobby Vee .

Dave Elman was a noted radio host, lyricist, comedian, writer, instructor and hypnotist who, during World War II, assisted the FBI in capturing Nazi spies. From 1939 to 1948 he was the host of the popular radio program "Hobby Lobby." Elman’s real name was David Koppelman. He was born in Park River and grew up in Fargo.

Eminem, whose real name is Marshall Mathers III, is a popular rapper, songwriter and record producer and “is critically acclaimed as one of the greatest rappers of all time.” Mathers spent much of the first two years of his life in Williston , but after the acrimonious relationship between his parents became intense, the couple got a divorce and his mother took Mathers with her to live in Missouri.

Rapper Eminem spent most of the first year of his life in northwestern North Dakota.
TNS file photo

Tony Fontane was a popular singer and entertainer from the late 1940s to 1957, performing in Las Vegas clubs and on nationally aired television and radio programs. After becoming the victim of a serious automobile accident , he became one of the nation’s most beloved gospel singers. Fontane, whose real name was Anthony Trankins, was raised in Cando and Grand Forks.

The cover for Tony Fontane's "The Hymns My Mother Sang" as seen on the album's Discogs page.
Contributed / Special to The Forum

Michael Forest began his prolific movie and television career in the mid-1950s, and he is still active in the entertainment industry. His birth name is Gerald Charlebois, and he was born in Harvey in 1929 . Forest is of Chippewa ancestry and was a leading man on daytime television and has appeared in scores of movies and television shows. He has also dubbed over 500 Italian movies into English and produced voices on countless American and Japanese cartoons.


Michael Forest
Michael Forest was born in Harvey, N.D.
Contributed / Public Domain

When Robert Ivers began to star in motion pictures in the latter 1950s, movie critics predicted he would be a big success. However, he is best remembered as the sidekick of Elvis Presley in "G.I. Blues" and his role in the Jerry Lewis movie "The Delicate Delinquent." When movie and television roles began to dry up, Ivers decided to become a television newsman, and he accepted the position of news director and principal anchor at the television station KTHI (now KVLY) in Fargo . Ivers moved to West Fargo with his wife and two young daughters in 1968. Ivers’ wife, Marcia Henderson, had been a star on Broadway and a leading lady in movies. Ivers, whose real name was Robert Prestlien, resigned from KTHI in 1972.

Robert Ivers
Robert Ivers.
Special to The Forum

Ken Kennedy was a local celebrity in Fargo where he was an on-air radio and television personality on WDAY for over 40 years . His real name was Kenneth Sydness and he is most often remembered for convincing singer Norma Egstrom to change her name to Peggy Lee.

Ken Kennedy, shown in this undated photo
Ken Kennedy as seen in an undated photo at WDAY in Fargo.
Contributed / Special to The Forum

Boris Karloff was covered in last week’s article .

Boris Karloff as Frankenstein.
Contributed / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Wiz Khalifa is a well-known rapper, singer, songwriter and actor. Khalifa’s real name is Cameron Thomaz, and he was born in 1987 in Minot where his father was stationed at the Minot Air Force Base. Besides appearing in several television specials, Khalifa has also had roles in four motion pictures.

Peggy Lee was the name adopted by Norma Egstrom while singing on the radio station WDAY in Fargo . Egstrom was born in Jamestown in 1920 and grew up in Nortonville and Wimbleton. While in her teens, she sang on radio stations KOVC in Valley City, KRMC in Jamestown and WDAY in Fargo. After changing her name to Peggy Lee, she sang initially with the Will Osborne Orchestra, and in 1941 she became the featured singer with Benny Goodman’s band. In addition to recording many hit songs and appearing in a number of television specials, Lee also appeared in five motion pictures. In the movie "Pete Kelly’s Blues," she was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actress.

Peggy Lee
Peggy Lee around the time she would have been singing on WDAY Radio and at the Powers Hotel.
Forum file photo

Next week we will conclude our series about well-known and/or interesting North Dakotans who used pseudonyms or changed their names.

“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at

Curt Eriksmoen has been writing a weekly history column for The Forum since 2004. He has taught at both the high school and college level and served as social studies coordinator for the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction for 13 years. He is the author of nine books and is know for inventing barroom team trivia in 1974. Reach him at or calling 701-793-8508.
What to read next
In The Callisto Protocol, players take on the role of Jacob Lee, portrayed and voiced by Minot native Josh Duhamel.
Concert will be iconic musician's fourth show at Fargodome.
The Minnesota State High School League changed its rules, allowing boys to compete on dance teams for the first time starting in 2019. Now 14-year-old Salman Masood no longer has to learn the Austin High School Dance Team's routines in solitude — he's one of the dancers.
The tour dates were announced Monday morning, Dec. 5.