Category Archives: ACTOR – DIRECTOR

Actor: Will Ferrell

Will Ferrell in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, perhaps his funniest role. Or maybe that would be Ricky Bobby. Hard to say, the man is a great comic talent. Uploaded by

I don’t think anyone will be comparing Will Ferrell’s acting ability with, say, Robert DeNiro anytime soon. I hope they never do, because the whole reason we love Ferrell is that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Bill Murray is an example of a funny man who proved that he could move into more substantial roles. I hope Will Ferrell never tries. Just be funny, Will. Just be funny.

Uploaded by

Ferrell had his break on Saturday Night Live (Great American Things, April 9, 2009), where he created some memorable impressions (George W. Bush, Harry Carey, James Lipton), some great characters (Cheerleader Craig Buchanan), and one of the show’s most memorable skits (“More cowbell”). He stayed on SNL for seven years before devoting his career to films.

Ferrell’s movies include:

  • Old School (2003)
  • Elf (2003)
  • Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
  • Bewitched (2005)
  • Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
  • Step Brothers (2008)

Will Ferrell hasn’t won any major acting awards, and it’ll be an upset if he ever wins one. But he currently commands $20 million per picture, and that will  buy a lot of Oscars on eBay.

Actress: Lucille Ball

With Desilu, Lucy became the first female head of a production studio. Desilu produced The Untouchables, Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, and I Spy. Not bad. Uploaded by

I love Lucy. Everybody loves Lucy. With her husband Desi Arnaz, she virtually invented the situation comedy, a genre that has thrived on television for 60 years. But Lucy enjoyed a successful career both before and after her iconic show.

Uploaded by

Lucy began making movies in 1933, and appeared uncredited in more than two dozen films before finally getting a credit in Chatterbox (1935). Many would have (and probably did) give up Hollywood dreams after such a difficult stretch. But Lucy persevered, though never achieving true star status on the big screen. She had some success on radio, especially the show My Favorite Husband, in which she created the role of a wacky housewife. CBS asked her to develop it for television, and Lucy insisted on performing with her husband, Desi. CBS wasn’t sure, but eventually gave the go-ahead to I Love Lucy (Great American Things, May 12, 2009). I expect they were glad, don’t you?

As if appearing in one of America’s all-time favorite shows wasn’t enough, Lucy had other career distinctions. At Desilu, she became the first woman to head a production studio. She had two more successful sitcoms, The Lucy Show (1962-1968) and Here’s Lucy (1968-1974). And she appeared in several successful films, including Yours, Mine and Ours with Henry Fonda and Mame. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously from President George H.W. Bush.


Person: Bill Cosby

Bill Cosby has excelled in so many segments of the entertainment industry. Stand-up comedian, actor, author - and citizen. Uploaded by

Which Bill Cosby do you like best? Maybe the stand-up comedian, who broke ground with memories of his childhood – Rudy, Mushmouth, Russell and Fat Albert (“Hey, hey, hey!”). And who put the story of Noah into a perspective it hadn’t been told before (“Riiight…what’s a cubit?”).

Maybe you like Bill the serious actor, from his stint as the first African-American to co-star in a dramatic series (I Spy), movies (Let’s Do It Again, Uptown Saturday Night, Mother, Jugs and Speed),  situation comedies (The Bill Cosby Show and, of course, The Cosby ShowGreat American Things, June 20, 2009) .

Uploaded by

Or perhaps it’s Bill Cosby the outspoken citizen, who has urged the black community to pay less attention to sports and rap music, and more to raising strong families and focusing on education.

Cosby is beloved by Americans of all ages and races, as his honors reveal. Professionally, he’s won three Emmys and nine Grammys. He’s received honorary doctorates from major universities. And he’s been awarded both the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2002) and Kennedy Center Honors (1998).

All this, and we haven’t even talked about Jell-O…

Actor: Kevin Costner

With Tin Cup, Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, and For Love of the Game, Kevin Costner stakes his claim to being the best actor of all time in sports movies. Uploaded by

Kevin Costner is the greatest sports movie actor of all time. Now, that in itself may not be enough to secure a place on a list like this. But he’s had enough success in other genres to supplement his sports movie success to make me comfortable with the selection. Most of all, I just like the guy.

Costner almost had his breakthrough role in the hit The Big Chill – except his scenes were famously cut from the finished film. It would be two more years, in his twelfth picture, before Silveradohelped bring him to the public’s – and Hollywood’s – attention. Here are some of his most notable movies:

Uploaded by

  • Silverado (1985)
  • The Untouchables (1987)
  • No Way Out (1987)
  • Bull Durham (1988)
  • Field of Dreams (1989)
  • Dances With Wolves (1990 – Nominee, Actor; Winner, Director)
  • Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
  • JFK (1991)
  • The Bodyguard (1992)
  • Wyatt Earp (1994)
  • Tin Cup (1996)
  • For Love of the Game (1999)

In my opinion, Bull Durham is the best baseball movie ever. And Field of Dreams is in my top 10 all-time favorite movies. Both have rightfully found a place on this blog. Costner carried them both, and was entirely believable. He’s not always made the best choices – in fact, his last decade is almost entirely forgettable – but the above list includes some terrific movies. So Kevin, as a voice one time said: Go the distance.

Actress: Doris Day

Doris Day began her career as a big band singer, and had a huge hit with "Sentimental Journey," recorded with Les Brown and His Band of Renown. Uploaded by

Here’s a fact that may surprise you. I admit, I was completely shocked: Doris Day is the number one female box office star of all time. All time. And she’s tied for number six for both men and women. She was the number one star in 1960, 1962, 1963, and 1964, and made the top five in three other years.

Doris began her career as a big band singer in the 1940s, and had eight hit singles during her career, the biggest being her first, “Sentimental Journey” with Les Brown’s Band of Renown. But she’s remembered as the queen of romantic comedies, and was popularly paired with Rock Hudson, though they made only three pictures together. Among her best-loved movies:

Uploaded by

  • April in Paris (1952)
  • Calamity Jane (1953)
  • Young at Heart (1954)
  • The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 – introduced the song “Que Sera, Sera”)
  • The Pajama Game (1957)
  • Pillow Talk (1959 – w/ Rock Hudson, Oscar nomination)
  • Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960)
  • Lover Come Back (1961 – w/ Rock Hudson)
  • That Touch of Mink (1962)
  • Send Me No Flowers (1964 – w/ Rock Hudson)
  • With Six You Get Eggroll (1968)

Doris also had a moderately popular TV series, The Doris Day Show, which ran from 1968-73. As of this writing, she’s still with us and living in California.

Director: Rob Reiner

When Harry Met Sally is typical of Rob Reiner's films - hugely popular with audiences, not critically acclaimed. See Misery, The Princess Bride, The Bucket List. Only A Few Good Men received an Oscar nod. Uploaded by

It’s kind of sad that after all he’s accomplished as a writer and director, my first thought of Rob Reiner is to call him “meathead.” That role on All in the Family gave Reiner the credibility he needed to make his move in show business. (Being the son of the great Carl Reiner didn’t hurt, of course.)

Uploaded by

His directorial debut came with the brilliant This Is Spinal Tap (Great American Things, November 21, 2010), which he also co-wrote.  Among the movies he directed:

  • Stand by Me (1986)
  • The Princess Bride (1987)
  • When Harry Met Sally (1989)
  • Misery (1990)
  • A Few Good Men (1992)
  • The American President (1995)
  • Ghosts of Mississippi (1996)
  • The Bucket List (2007)

As an actor, he won two Emmy Awards for his part in All in the Family. He’s maintained his acting skills, performing mostly character roles in such movies as Postcards from the Edge, Sleepless in Seattle, and The First Wives Club. Most of his movies resonated more with audiences than critics, though I’m not sure Reiner would appreciate that point of view. Even so, only one of his films (A Few Good Men) has been nominated for an Oscar. But that filmography demonstrates conclusively why he belongs in the list of Great American Things.

Actor: Tim Conway

Simply put, Tim Conway was the funniest man on one of the funniest programs in television history, The Carol Burnett Show. Uploaded by

Tim Conway had a successful run on a very popular sitcom as Ensign Charles Parker on McHale’s Navy (1962-66.) He had leading roles in several movies (including The Apple Dumpling Gang with Don Knotts, 1975). He even had his own sitcom (The Tim Conway Show) and variety hour (The Tim Conway Razzle Dazzle Hour). But you can pretty much ignore all that. Because what took Tim Conway into the Comedy Hall of Fame is his eleven years as the funniest person on one of America’s all-time funniest programs: The Carol Burnett Show.

Uploaded by

The show taped twice on Friday nights. Usually, Conway would play it by the script for the first take. But on the second taping, he’d ad lib and improvise, and the rest of the cast was helpless with laughter. Especially Harvey Korman, who often played Conway’s straight man. Their interactions remain some of the funniest moments in television history.

Conway’s most memorable character was probably the long-suffering Mr.

Uploaded by

Tudball, who had to endure the hopeless Mrs. Wiggins. These performances were chief among the reasons Conway won four Emmy for the show (he’s since won two more for guest appearances on Coach and 30 Rock).  In fact, Conway is the reason that someone had to invent YouTube. His performances are captured there, and you can easily watch them all night. Like this improvised bit on elephants, possibly the funniest skit ever on an all-time classic show.

Actress: Barbara Stanwyck

Barbara Stanwyck was a true pro, and the best directors loved her, including Frank Capra, William Wellman, Cecil B. DeMille, John Ford, King Vidor, Preston Sturges, and Howard Hawks. Uploaded by

Barbara Stanwyck had a long career in films, then followed that with success in television. She made an amazing 85 movies in 38 years, then turned to TV and earned three Emmy Awards for three different programs.

“Barbara Stanwyck” was certainly a more stageworthy name than Ruby Stevens, her real name. To appreciate the span of her career, she actually began in silent films back in 1928. The girl from Brooklyn achieved such success that by 1944 she was the highest-paid woman in America.

Uploaded by

Stanwyck worked with some of Hollywood’s best directors, including William Wellman, Frank Capra, John Ford, King Vidor, Cecil B. DeMille, Preston Sturges, Howard Hawks, and Billy Wilder. And with some of its leading men: Clark Gable, Joel McCrae, Henry Fonda, Gary Cooper, and Fred MacMurray.

Among her more noteworthy films:

  • Ladies of Leisure (1930)
  • Forbidden (1932)
  • Stella Dallas (1937 – Nomination)
  • The Lady Eve (1941)
  • Meet John Doe (1941)
  • Double Indemnity (1944 – Nomination)
  • Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
  • Sorry, Wrong Number (1948 – Nomination)

In television, her own The Barbara Stanwyck Show only lasted for a season, but earned her an Emmy Award. Then from 1965-69 she played the matriarch in The Big Valley, for which she earned three Emmy nominations, winning one. Finally, she earned another Emmy for her role as Mary Carson in The Thorn Birds miniseries.

Director: John Huston

John Huston was a talented director, having produced films such as The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. But he was also an outstanding actor and screenwriter. Uploaded by

With the ease of editing using today’s technologies, it’s not unusual for directors to shoot a lot of scenes, a lot of takes per scene, and then to make the movie in the editing suite. That’s not how John Huston worked. He sketched each scene before shooting it, placed the actors deliberately, and made his movies as he was filming them. His pictures usually came in under budget as well.

Uploaded by

From his first movie in 1941 to his last in 1987, he set a standard for excellence. Among his films:

  • Maltese Falcon (1941 – writer)
  • The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948 – writer)
  • Key Largo (1948 – writer)
  • The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
  • The African Queen (1951 – writer)
  • Moulin Rouge (1953 – writer)
  • The Misfits (1960)
  • The Night of the Iguana (1964 – writer)
  • The Man Who Would Be King (1975 – writer)
  • Prizzi’s Honor (1985)

In addition to his direction duties, Huston also wrote many of his films. He won the Oscar for Best Director and Best Screenplay for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. He was a skillful actor as well, having parts in several dozen films. Huston received the Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 1983.

Actor: Jack Lemmon


Jack Lemmon starred in more than 60 films, and earned both a Best Supporting Actor and a Best Actor Oscar. Uploaded by

There are some actors who are just fun to watch on the screen. That’s how I always felt about Jack Lemmon. He had his own way of expressing himself, and he did it in a career that spanned 50 years and included more than 60 films.

Lemmon had some reliable partnerships during his lifetime. One was eleven movies with actor Walter Matthau, most notably as Felix Ungar in The Odd Couple. Another was with director Billy Wilder, for whom he starred in seven pictures. Here’s a summary of some of Lemmon’s more notable films:

Uploaded by

  • It Should Happen to You (1954)
  • Mister Roberts (1955 – Oscar, Supporting Actor)
  • Some Like it Hot (1959 – Oscar Nomination)
  • The Apartment (1960 – Oscar Nomination)
  • Days of Wine and Roses (1962 – Oscar Nomination)
  • Irma la Douce (1963)
  • The Odd Couple (1968)
  • The Out-of-Towners (1970)
  • Save the Tiger (1973 – Oscar, Best Actor)
  • The Front Page (1974)
  • The China Syndrome (1977 – Oscar Nomination)
  • Tribute (1980 – Oscar Nomination)
  • Missing (1982 – Oscar Nomination)
  • Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
  • Grumpy Old Men (1993)

Lemmon’s intelligence always seemed to come through in his roles, which is no surprise considering he graduated from Harvard. His career ranked him the 33rd Greatest Movie Star of All Time by Entertainment Weekly, and 45th by Premiere Magazine. He once said, “It’s hard enough to write a good drama, it’s much harder to write a good comedy, and it’s hardest of all to write a drama with comedy. Which is what life is.”

Here’s a wonderful look at the man, accepting the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award:

And here he is in one of his earliest, best roles:

Director: Stanley Kubrick


Many of Kubrick's films, like Dr. Strangelove, made comments on the times, and were often dark and challenging. Uploaded by

Kubrick didn’t make all that many films during his lifetime – just 16 according to IMDb, and only 13 of those were features. But he made them count. Almost all of his films were thought-provoking, intelligent, and sometimes challenging. He began working in the early 1950s, but you’d have to be a Kubrick biographer to have heard of any of his early films. The decade of the sixties saw him break out, and his first major hit was Spartacus, starring Kirk Douglas.

Uploaded by

Kubrick not only directed, but also wrote the screenplays for most of his films. When he worked, he wanted to control everything. That’s not unusual for a director, you say? True…but when his movies went to foreign markets, Kubrick reshot scenes with newspaper headlines for each language of its release. Control.

Here are the movies that put Stanley Kubrick in the pantheon of America’s greatest directors:

  • Spartacus (1960)
  • Lolita (1962)
  • Dr. Strangelove (1964 – Oscar Nomination)
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968 – Oscar Nomination)
  • A Clockwork Orange (1971 – Oscar Nomination)
  • Barry Lyndon (1975 – Oscar Nomination)
  • The Shining (1980)
  • Full Metal Jacket (1987 – Oscar Nomination)

Film historian John Baxter said this about Kubrick’s technique:

Instead of finding the intellectual spine of a film in the script before starting work, Kubrick felt his way towards the final version of a film by shooting each scene from many angles and demanding scores of takes on each line. Then over months… he arranged and rearranged the tens of thousands of scraps of film to fit a vision that really only began to emerge during editing.

Actress: Elizabeth Taylor


All those husbands. All those diamonds. All those rumors. All those Oscars and nominations. Uploaded by

Elizabeth Taylor lived such a tumultuous life that she attained a larger-than-life reputation. Married eight times to seven husbands (Richard Burton won the lottery twice), one of the highest-paid actresses of her time, a friend of man-child Michael Jackson – oh, and one of the finest screen performers of all time.

Taylor was born in England of American parents, so he had dual citizenship. After appearances in several mostly forgettable movies (well, who can forget Lassie Come Home), she became a true child star with her role as Velvet Brown in National Velvet. That was in 1944.

Uploaded by

During the next decade she made the transition from adolescent actress to Movie Star. Though most of the movies made during that time were forgettable, she broke through as an adult in Giant in 1956, a film remembered best as the last screen appearance of James Dean.

Among the memorable films of her long career were Little Women (1949), Father of the Bride (1950), A Place in the Sun (1951), Raintree County (1957 – Nomination), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958 – Nomination), Suddenly Last Summer (1959 – Nomination), BUtterfield 8 (1960 – Oscar), Cleopatra (1963), The Sandpiper (1965), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966 – Oscar), The Taming of the Shrew (1967).

Taylor received the Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 1993, and a Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild in 1997.

And she had violet eyes.

(Ms. Taylor died March 23, 2011. Originally posted August 13, 2010)

Actor: Buster Keaton


When Keaton was a boy, he performed in a vaudeville act with his father. He loved doing the act, but noticed he got fewer laughs when he showed his enjoyment, more when he showed no expression. He carried that knowledge into his films. Uploaded by

Is Keaton an excellent actor who could also direct, or an excellent director who could also act? I think of him first as an actor, whose stoic visage is second only to Charlie Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” as an icon of the silent film era. But he’s revered among film cognoscenti as a director, not just one of the best of his age, but of all time.

Photo by Ruth Harriet Louise.

Keaton had writers for his films, but conceived of most of the comedic bits himself. Working without a stuntman, he often took great physical risks. In one memorable scene in the movie Steamboat Bill Jr., Keaton had to stand in an exact spot. Then, the several-ton façade of a building fell on him, leaving Keaton uninjured because he stood where an open window landed. It was a huge risk with an incredibly small margin for error, but typical of the physical comedy he loved.

Keaton’s masterpiece was The General, a comedy/drama set during the Civil War. It didn’t perform that well at the box office, because people were still uncomfortable laughing at the Civil War – and because many of its good guys were Confederates. Even so, a 2002 poll by the British film magazine Sight & Sound named The General as the 15th best film of all time. And in an interview, no less of an expert than Orson Welles called the movie the best comedy of all time, and maybe the best film. Entertainment Weekly named Keaton the seventh-best director of all time, and the American Film Institute placed him as 21st on its list of the greatest male actors of all time.

Watch these clips. Brilliant.

Actor: William Holden


While he had the good looks of a leading man, William Holden's specialty was playing disaffected loners trying to find their way through life's complications. Uploaded by

William Holden was what some people call a “man’s man.” Not in the John Wayne shoot-em-up kind of way, but in a solid, securely masculine way. He seemed to dominate any scene he was in, which must be the highest compliment a movie star can receive. Yet he often wasn’t a “hero”; he frequently played cynical or detached men who fought against established forces. He made some terrific movies, and was one of the leading actors of his time.

He made two dozen movies before his breakthrough part came in Sunset Boulevard. His memorable films include:

Uploaded by

  • Sunset Boulevard (1950 – Nomination)
  • Born Yesterday (1950)
  • Stalag 17 (1953 – Academy Award)
  • Sabrina (1954)
  • The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954)
  • Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955)
  • Picnic (1955)
  • The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
  • The Wild Bunch (1969)
  • Network (1975 – Nomination)

Looking at that list, the obvious omission is Holden not receiving an Oscar nod for The Bridge on the River Kwai. (His co-star Alec Guiness earned Best Actor.) In the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Years…100 Stars, Holden appeared at number 25.

Check out this charged dance scene (of all things!):


Actress: Greta Garbo


Garbo is noted for her quote, "I want to be alone." In 1954 she won an honorary Oscar for her screen career, but didn't show to get the statue. I guess she really did want to be alone. Uploaded by

Few actors or actresses made the transition from silent films to talkies while maintaining their popularity. Greta Garbo was a clear exception. Born in Sweden as Greta Gustafsson, she made several hugely popular silent movies, including Flesh and the Devil (1926) and A Woman of Affairs (1928). She feared her Swedish accent would be her undoing with sound, but she needn’t have worried. The publicity campaign was “Garbo talks!”, and she became the queen of MGM throughout the 1930s.

Uploaded by

Did she ever say, “I want to be alone”? Yes, in the 1932 film Grand Hotel. The American Film Institute voted it the 30th most popular movie quote of all time. Though she was certainly a private woman, she disputed the characterization of her by the press as an eccentric . “I never said, ‘I want to be alone,'” she explained. “I only said, ‘I want to be let alone.’ There is all the difference.”

Garbo was nominated for four Academy Awards (Romance, 1930; Anna Christie, 1930; Camille, 1938; and Ninotchka, 1940) but never won. She did receive an honorary Oscar in 1955 for her lifetime of performances. (She didn’t show up to receive the award.) Daily Variety voted her Best Actress of the Half Century in 1950. And the AFI named her number 5 in its list of Greatest Screen Legends. Garbo, who worked in the USA most of her life and lived in New York after retiring from films, became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1951.

Actor: Al Pacino


Twenty years elapsed between Al Pacino's first Academy Award nomination (The Godfather) and his first Best Actor (Scent of a Woman). Uploaded by

Some actors get better with age. Witness a couple of men on this list, Tom Selleck (January 7, 2010) and Paul Newman (May 17, 2009). They were stars as younger men, but acquired a certain world-weariness that made their later characters memorable. I mention this to say that I can’t see that happening with Al Pacino. I don’t think he’s nearly as sharp as in his younger years. But those years, those characters, those performances were so wonderful, he definitely has earned his place as a Great American Thing.

Uploaded by

As an Italian-American from New York City, Pacino has had more than his share of gangster roles. And no one has ever done them better, and that’s a high compliment. But he’s also had movies where he’s been a policeman, detective, lawyer. Here’s a list of some of the excellent movies he’s made:

  • The Godfather (1972 – Nomination)
  • Serpico (1973 – Nomination)
  • The Godfather Part II (1974 – Nomination)
  • Dog Day Afternoon (1975 – Nomination)
  • …And Justice for All (1979 – Nomination)
  • Scarface (1983)
  • Dick Tracy (1990 – Nomination)
  • The Godfather Part III (1990 – Nomination)
  • Glengarry Glen Ross (1992 – Nomination)
  • Scent of a Woman (1992 – Academy Award)
  • Carlito’s Way (1993)
  • Donnie Brasco (1997)

In addition to these Academy Award nominations, Pacino has been honored many other times for his work. He has received three Golden Globe, two Emmy, and two Tony Awards. Entertainment Weekly named him the number 41 movie star of all time, and his performance in Dog Day Afternoon was voted by Premiere Magazine as the number 4 performance of all time, and his Sonny Corleone in Godfather Part II is number 20.

Writer: David Mamet


David Mamet won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for his play/screenplay, Glengarry Glen Ross, a tour de force of brilliant and often profane dialogue. Uploaded by

David Mamet is one of the all-time masters of film/stage dialogue. His preference for natural conversation, in which characters often interrupt each other and sentences are left unfinished, has come to be known as “Mamet speak.” He has written fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, and stage plays. He has written and produced. And though his isn’t a household name, he is well respected for his diverse talents.


Alec Baldwin was brilliant in Glengarry Glen Ross. Uploaded by

You’ll recognize a few of Mamet’s works, though they aren’t blockbusters. He received the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for the adult play Glengarry Glen Ross, which waas also a remarkable movie. He also received Oscar nominations for The Verdict (Great American Things, Sept. 18, 2009) and Wag the Dog. Other movies he’s responsible for (as screenwriter) include The Untouchables, Ronin, and Hannibal. He’s also directed a couple of small gems: The Spanish Prisoner and State and Main.


I love this description of Mamet from his biography on

Mamet makes few distinctions between working on the stage and the screen; He believes both involve putting the material on its feet and seeing how it plays. With movies, that’s done in the editing room or sometimes on the set. With plays, it’s done during rehearsals. In neither case does he see himself handicapped by being both the writer and the director. “There are two stages,” Mamet says. “First I write the best script I can and then I put on my director’s hat and say, ‘What am I going to do with this piece of crap?'”

Actress: Jean Arthur


Jean Arthur's three films with Frank Capra -- "You Can't Take It With You," "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" -- established her as one of the greatest comedic actresses of all time. Uploaded by

I’ll readily admit that Jean Arthur isn’t as well known today as some of her contemporaries. But during the 1930s and 1940s she reigned as one of Hollywood’s leading leading ladies, especially in the comedy genre. Robert Osborne, host on the network where you can still see Jean Arthur’s films (Turner Classic Movies), called her “the quintessential comedic leading lady.”

While she made a couple of dozen films during the Twenties and early Thirties, her breakout role came when Frank Capra cast her as a tough newspaper reporter who fell in love with a country bumpkin. The country bumpkin was Gary Cooper (Great American Things, April 28, 2010) and the film was Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Capra loved her distinctive voice and pretty girl-next-door

Uploaded by

looks, and cast her in two more hits, both with Jimmy Stewart (Great American Things, April 8, 2009): You Can’t Take It with You and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Arthur also made several comedies (Only Angels Have Wings and The Talk of the Town) with Cary Grant, who was considered more of a comic actor than a leading man early in his career. She was nominated for an Academy Award for 1944’s The More the Merrier. Arthur all but retired after that year, only appearing in two more movies, one of which was the classic Shane.

Arthur eventually taught drama, first at Vassar College (where Meryl Streep was one of her students), then here in Winston-Salem at the North Carolina School of the Arts. One of the skills she stressed with her classes was the art of being natural on stage and film. She said, “I had to learn that to appear natural on the screen requires a vast amount of training, that is the test of an actor’s art.”

Directors: The Coen Brothers

With movies like The Big Lebowski in their past, the Coen brothers' pictures are almost like cult films. But you don't get Academy Awards for Best Picture - as they did for Fargo and No Country for Old Men - if you're directing cult movies. Uploaded by

I have both brothers down as Directors, because they’ve shared those duties, though until recently only Joel Coen received directing credit. Brother Ethan typically received credit as producer, the brothers shared writing credits, and they also edit their own films, using the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes. They are informally known in Hollywood as “The Two-Headed Director.”

You’d almost consider their movies as cult films, except cult films don’t win Academy Awards. But there’s no question that certain of their pictures have achieved cult status, most notably The Big Lebowski. And the brothers have developed a loyal following. From their first movie, Blood Simple, in 1984 to the upcoming (as I write this) release of the remake of True Grit, there’s a special buzz among movie lovers when “a new Coen Brothers movie is coming.” For me, it’s the writing, which is inevitably memorable. O Brother is one of the most quotable movies of all time.

True Grit will be their 15th movie. Some have already received recognition as Great American Things: Raising Arizona (January 31, 2010), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (June 5, 2009 – 2 nominations ), and Fargo (July 16, 2009 – 7 nominations, won Best Picture). Among their other outstanding films: Miller’s Crossing * Barton Fink – 3 nominations * The Hudsucker Proxy * The Man Who Wasn’t There – 1 nomination * No Country for Old Men – 8 nominations, won Best Picture * A Serious Man – 2 nominations.

Actor: Gregory Peck


Gregory Peck received four Best Actor nominations during his first five years in films. But it wasn't until almost twenty years later that he won -- for To Kill a Mockingbird. Uploaded by

Sometimes one role can capsulize an actor’s career, regardless of how many excellent films he makes. For Gregory Peck, that part was Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (Great American Things, May 21, 2009). Here, Peck’s integrity was on full display, and he endowed Finch with a strength of character few other actors could have accomplished. The role earned Peck his Academy Award for Best Actor.

Uploaded to Flickr by sailtheship.

Of course, he had a long and excellent film career which began in 1944 and concluded in 1993. Among his most memorable films:

The Keys of the Kingdom (1944 – Nomination) … Spellbound (1945)… The Yearling (1946 – Nomination) … Duel in the Sun (1946)… Gentleman’s Agreement (1947 – Nomination)… Twelve O’Clock High (1949 – Nomination)… The Gunfighter (1950)… The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952)… Roman Holiday (1953)… Moby Dick (1956)… The Guns of Navarone (1961)… Cape Fear (1962)… To Kill a Mockingbird (1962 – Academy Award)… MacArthur (1977)… and The Boys from Brazil (1978).

Among the many honors Peck earned were the Presidential Medal of Freedom (awarded by Lyndon Johnson), the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, the Motion Picture Academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, and the AFI Life Achievement Award.