The Beginning of Buff

mike wallace, buff cobb, 1950s, television

Here’s a curious one: Buff. It appeared in the SSA data in the middle of the 20th century as both a boy name and a girl name — but slightly more often as a girl name. The female usage was entirely in the 1950s:

  • 1960: unlisted
  • 1959: 5 baby girls named Buff
  • 1958: unlisted
  • 1957: unlisted
  • 1956: 6 baby girls named Buff
  • 1955: 15 baby girls named Buff
  • 1954: 10 baby girls named Buff
  • 1953: 6 baby girls named Buff
  • 1952: 5 baby girls named Buff [debut]
  • 1951: unlisted

What was the influence here?

An actress with an intriguingly gender-neutral name: Buff Cobb.

She was born Patrizia Chapman in Italy in 1927 to American parents. When she decided in her teens to become a film star, she created the stage name “Buff Cobb” from her mother’s nickname, Buffy, and her maternal grandfather’s surname, Cobb. (He was writer/humorist Irvin Cobb.)

While Buff’s film career didn’t pan out, she did tour with a company putting on Noël Coward’s play Private Lives in the late ’40s. During a stop in Chicago, she was interviewed for a radio show by a young reporter named Mike Wallace — most famous today for his work as a 60 Minutes correspondent from 1968 to 2006.

She and Mike got married in 1949 and began co-hosting a Chicago radio show, which led to two New York City TV shows (both live):

  • Mike and Buff (1951-1953), originally entitled Two Sleepy People, one of television’s first talk shows. “[T]he couple would engage in heated debate over a different topic each day, then try to settle their differences after interviewing experts.” One of Mike’s catchphrases on the show was: “Smarten up, Buff!” The show was sponsored by Pepsi and guests included Harry Belafonte and Mickey Spillane.
  • All Around the Town (1951-1952), an interview show typically broadcast from different parts of New York City.
mike and buff

A year after Mike and Buff was cancelled, the real Mike and Buff were also cancelled — they divorced in 1954. Buff appeared regularly on just one more TV show after that: the ’50s game show Masquerade Party, from 1953 to 1955. Usage of the (female) name Buff was highest during these years.

Do you like the name Buff for a baby girl? Do you like it more or less than Buffy and Buffie (both of which also debuted during the first half of the ’50s)?

Sources:

Image: Clipped from page 12 of the December 1952 Radio-TV Mirror.

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