Hollywood again asks 'who's No. 1?'
Let's face it: A lot of America is star struck. That's no secret. They want the "dish" on the people they see on television and in the movies: the good, the bad, the ugly, the whole rhinestone-clad inside story. America also wants to know who's No. 1. Top dog. Numero uno. Hence sports championships like the Super Bowl and college basketball's Final Four draw millions of viewers when they settle the argument. For the moment. MTV has melded the two in a bizarre show called "Celebrity Death Match" in which, say, "Tom Hanks" squares off against "Harrison Ford" in a boxing ring. You can be sure the animated clay versions of the stars will take a pounding, body parts will fly, and the teen audience the show aims at will be endlessly amused. Keep the celebrities and "who's No. 1?," move up a few steps in sophistication, and you have a new poll from the American Film Institute. Last year the AFI named the 100 best movies of all time. It anointed "Citizen Kane" No. 1, setting off a run on the film at video stores and a lot of debate about which films should be on the list. Now AFI wants to name the 50 greatest "American screen legends," 25 women and 25 men whose careers began before 1951 or who are deceased. The winners of the poll of 1,800 Hollywood insiders will be announced in June. The criteria include not only the stars' acting talents, but their "star quality" and "popularity," making the whole selection process essentially subjective. A perusal of the list of 500 actors AFI offers as nominees shows the hopelessness of deciding the "greatest." Just to hint at the can of worms here: I liked "Animal House" and "Continental Divide" as much as anyone, but John Belushi nominated as an all-time "legend"? And voters will also have to sort film careers from celebrity in other roles. Jack Benny, Frank Sinatra, Will Rogers, and Ronald Reagan, for example, all left huge legacies, but were they through film roles or through radio and TV shows, musical recordings, or political office? We know that a bunch of legendary leading men like John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and Clark Gable will make it. But surely a few slots must be allotted to great villains like Vincent Price, Claude Rains, George Sanders, Lionel Barrymore, and Sydney Greenstreet. The voters have until Jan. 29 to choose. Maybe they could pair 'em in playoffs to make the decision: It could be Gene Kelly vs. Grace Kelly in the first round. Janet Leigh would take on Vivien Leigh. Van Heflin vs. Van Johnson. Maureen O'Hara dueling Maureen O'Sullivan. Eleanor Powell meets Jane Powell. Farley Granger against Stewart Granger. But, then, how could you choose between "Gabby" Hayes and Helen Hayes? Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org