It’s hardly controversial to name the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and Frank Sinatra among the best entertainers of the last century — ranked, respectively, 1, 2, 3, and 6 — but other inclusions, and omissions, in Entertainment Weekly’s “100 Greatest Entertainers” collectors issue are open to debate.
First of all, the list screens out anything pre-1950. (Hard luck, Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo fans.) Still, the mag manages to sneak in indirect tributes to vintage stars by claiming Bette Davis as the “kindred spirit” to Jane Fonda (46), for example, or “America’s Sweetheart” Mary Pickford as the most obvious predecessor for Julia Roberts (48).
But “entertainer” is a pretty broad category, open enough to include singers (Aretha Franklin: 19), rock stars (Bruce Springsteen: 35), screen legends (James Dean: 41, Clint Eastwood: 27, Audrey Hepburn: 16, Elizabeth Taylor: 18, John Wayne: 17), directors (Steven Spielberg: 4), TV icons (Lucille Ball: 9, Mary Tyler Moore: 22, James Garner: 97), writers (Stephen King: 21, Michael Crichton: 75, John Grisham: 83), and all-around entertainers (Sinatra: 6, Barbra Streisand: 13, Madonna: 5, Cher: 58, David Bowie: 55).
Also making the cut, influential TV series The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live, and The X-Files, and, that mother of all cult series, Star Trek, although the show’s creator Gene Roddenberry isn’t singled out. Those TV producers and series creators with more than one hit to their name, such as Aaron Spelling, Norman Lear, and Steven Bochco, found their way onto the list.
The only bands on the list are the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, Run DMC, and the Sex Pistols. Solo artists and frontmen named include Garth Brooks, James Brown, Eric Clapton, Elvis Costello, Kurt Cobain, Chrissie Hynde, Joni Mitchell, and Prince.
The crème de la crème of actors features Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Harrison Ford, Jodie Foster, Tom Hanks, Dustin Hoffman, and Meryl Streep. What, no Arnold Schwarzenegger?
And, according to EW, the worthiest of directors include Spielberg, James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola , Spike Lee, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, and … James L. Brooks? We hope that’s for his Simpsons-producing, not for films like Terms of Endearment.
Media mogul Oprah Winfrey made it, as do talkers Johnny Carson and David Letterman, and launcher-of-a-thousand careers Ed Sullivan.
Class clowns include Jim Carrey and Robin Williams (yes, we know they’re also serious actors), Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld, Richard Pryor, Carol Burnett, Bob Newhart, and comedy troupe par excellence Monty Python.
Athlete Michael Jordan landed on the list, but the “The Greatest,” Muhammad Ali was relegated to an unnumbered “trailbrazers” list. In a category of their own, but still in the Top 100 are choreographer Bob Fosse, Muppet master Jim Henson, and trumpet great Miles Davis.
Impresarios like George Lucas and Bill Gates wound up on a non-numbered “show business” list of movers and shakers. Conspicuous by their absence: John Travolta, Elton John, Roseanne, Jerry Lewis, and, oh my gosh, Leonardo DiCaprio’s nowhere to be found. We demand a recount.