`Legends' list names 50 as top film stars

Movies: The American Film Institute has selected 25 men and 25 women who meet its criteria as screen `legends.' It's hard to argue with these choices, but the list could be longer.

June 16, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

What, no Lassie?

The American Film Institute's list of the Top 50 "screen legends" of all time -- 25 men, 25 women -- was released with considerable hoopla on CBS last night, with 50 of today's stars paying tribute to their predecessors. And apart from the omission of America's favorite collie, just about all the big names made the cut.

Among the men, there's Humphrey Bogart atop the list (putting the AFI in tune with Entertainment Weekly, which named him the top movie star of all time), followed by Cary Grant, James Stewart, Marlon Brando and Fred Astaire.

Four-time Oscar winner and legendary free spirit Katharine Hepburn topped the list of women, followed by Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn (making Hepburn the most golden name in Hollywood history), Ingrid Bergman and Greta Garbo (an impressive double-whammy for Sweden).

The list was voted on by a bunch of people who allegedly know about movies -- artists, historians, critics. To be among the 500 stars considered, an actor had to have appeared in his or her first film no later than 1950, or be dead.

The AFI, a repository for film history, figured it would be fairest to consider only actors whose body of work was essentially complete.

Which leads to one major flaw in the list: While the AFI has taken pains to explain this is a ranking of screen legends, most of the world is going to see this as a list of Hollywood's greatest actors and actresses.

And any such list with rules that exclude Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Jack Nicholson and Jodie Foster, while allowing for Rock Hudson and Jayne Mansfield -- both of whom made the list of 500 -- has a strike against it going in.

Also, by restricting the list to just 50 stars, it's hard to get beyond the usual suspects (speaking of "usual suspects," where's Claude Rains, who first uttered that memorable catch phrase in "Casablanca"?). At least with its earlier list of the 100 greatest films, there was room for some delightful surprises (like "Frankenstein").

Of course, the list has to have Henry Fonda (No. 6) and John Wayne (No. 13) among the men, Elizabeth Taylor (No. 7) and Vivien Leigh (No. 6) among the women. But a larger list might have been able to encompass such major stars as W.C. Fields, Susan Hayward, Fredric March (hey, the guy won two Oscars!), Clara Bow and Mickey Rooney -- or maybe even a few minor stars, such as Rains, Peter Lorre, Paulette Goddard and Merle Oberon.

As for egregious omissions: where's Olivia de Havilland, another double Oscar winner? Boris Karloff? Bob Hope or Bing Crosby?

Douglas Fairbanks, the first great adventure hero?

Gloria Swanson, one of the few stars to shine in both silents and talkies?

And if not Lassie, couldn't the AFI have worked Rin Tin Tin in someplace?

Then again, it's tough to argue with a ranking that includes both the Marx Brothers (No. 20) and Buster Keaton (No. 21), Marlene Dietrich (No. 9) and Claudette Colbert (No. 12).

And personally, I was all ready to get huffy about the omission of Mary Pickford, but there she is at No. 24. She should have been higher, but

The list even includes some marvels of longevity; who knew Brando, Sidney Poitier (No. 22) and Sophia Loren (No. 21) had careers that dated back to 1950?

Like any ranking, the screen legends list exists primarily to jog your memory and maybe start a few arguments. And while I suspect the AFI has dipped into this particular well once too often (I doubt the legends list is going to generate the sort of water-cooler discussion the movies list did), anything that helps regenerate interest in the careers of Edward G. Robinson (No. 24) and Carole Lombard (No. 23), and maybe gets a few of their movies onto the shelves of the local Blockbuster, is OK in this man's book.

50 screen legends

The American Film Institute's list of the 50 top screen legends:


1. Katharine Hepburn

2. Bette Davis

3. Audrey Hepburn

4. Ingrid Bergman

5. Greta Garbo

6. Marilyn Monroe

7. Elizabeth Taylor

8. Judy Garland

9. Marlene Dietrich

10. Joan Crawford

11. Barbara Stanwyck

12. Claudette Colbert

13. Grace KellyK

14. Ginger Rogers

15. Mae West

16. Vivien Leigh

17. Lillian Gish

18. Shirley Temple

19. Rita Hayworth

20. Lauren Bacall

21. Sophia Loren

22. Jean Harlow

23. Carole Lombard

24. Mary Pickford

25. Ava Gardner


1. Humphrey Bogart

2. Cary Grant

3. James Stewart

4. Marlon Brando

5. Fred Astaire

6. Henry Fonda

7. Clark Gable

8. James Cagney

9. Spencer Tracy

10. Charles Chaplin

11. Gary Cooper

12. Gregory Peck

13. John Wayne

14. Laurence Olivier

15. Gene Kelly

16. Orson Welles

17. Kirk Douglas

18. James Dean

19. Burt Lancaster

20. The Marx Brothers

21. Buster Keaton

22. Sidney Poitier

23. Robert Mitchum

24. Edward G. Robinson

25. William Holden

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