I came across this AFI list the other day:
The greatest stars in the eyes of AFI: 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
Here's my take on it:
-Marlon Brando should be higher, #3 at most
-It's hard to compare Charles Chaplain to the others, when Chaplain the writer and Chaplain the director has as much to do with the success of the picture as anything else. Even if you attribute all of Chaplain's success to his acting, it's hard to justify putting him above Gary Cooper
-Orson Welles should be in the top 10, I think
-Fred Astaire at 5 is a humongous stretch. He's about even with Kelly, who was a better singer. I think people liked Astaire's off-screen personality vs. Kelly who was more abusive to his costars. That might have figured into it
-Orson Welles should be higher. Part of the genius of Orson Welles was that he was such a brilliant actor. You can't take your eyes off of him.
-Some were critical of Grant as nothing more than a pretty face and I think 2 might be high but putting him high up there's not that bad of an idea
-I see AFI is promoting the cult of James Dean. The guy was only in 3 films, for god's sake. I don't know. It also put Rebel without a Cause and Giant in its top 100 films list. Giant, I can understand but Rebel without a Cause was mostly a James Dean vehicle
-Gable might be a little high. He didn't have the charisma of Grant or the everyman quality of Fonda, Cooper, or Stewart in my opinion. He just made a lot of money and was popular. He also didn't really have any competition during his day. Except Gary Cooper, none of the above stars were big in the 1930's and many of the silent stars didn't carry over to the sound era.
-I'll refrain from judging Tracy until I've seen more of him. I've seen Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, 30 Seconds over Tokyo and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. That might be it.
-Kirk Douglas is an interesting and unconventional choice, one I support. Ditto for Edward G Robinson and William Holden
-Robert Mitchum and Burt Lancaster: Overrated
-William Holden is certainly deserving and I think he bridged so many eras: the Golden Age, the waning studio system, the counter-cultural films of the 60's and 70's (i.e. Wild Bunch, Network, etc) that it's hard to really place him anywhere. I don't think he was ever THE STAR of any one era
-The Marx Brothers and Buster Keaton: Again the list is trying to just raise awareness for the silents, not actually compare actors. Maybe Buster Keaton should be there, but the Marx brothers were just funny. Not "Actors" in any sense of the word. And there's more than one of them. That's cheating.
Missing from the list:
-Robert De Niro