BetteBack October 27, 1977: What Becomes A Legend Most?

Provo Daily Herald
Legends of Show Business Disappear
October 27, 1977

HOLLYWOOD (UPI) – The death of Bing Crosby brings into focus the inexorable disapp e a r a n c e of show business giants, legends the likes of whom may never again dominate the entertainment world. One by one they have taken their final curtain calls.

Groucho is gone, as are Elvis, Roz Russell and Jack Benny. And who is there to fill the void?

The measure of the legendary heroes and heroines who strode the stage and screen is in the continued reruns of their performances on television – Gable, Garland, Cooper, Crawford, Tracy, Monroe, Bogart. They were larger than life in the flesh as well as in their work.

A precious few remain to evoke the spark of exc i t e m e n t by their presence alone. But they are growing old.

There’s Bob Hope. Bob is 73. Big Duke Wayne is 70. Henry Fonda, 72, Jimmy Stewart, 69, Fred Astaire, 78, Lucille Ball, 66, George Burns, 81, and Katharine Hepburn, 68, still set pulse rates pounding wherever they appear.

F r a n k S i n a t r a , a relative youth as he approaches 62, remains peerless among troubadors.

Their names and faces are known from Zambia to the Lesser Antilles. All are stars in the strictest sense of the word. People still stand in line to pay to see them perform, to get a glimpse of them in person. Their careers are measured in decades, their achievements and honors manifold.

Perhaps their longevity can be attributed to the fact that they were established superstars before the advent of television, the great leveler.

In 1977 the word “star” is applied to unknown faces of mediocre talent with a single hit record or a 13-week television series. There are prospects for the future, to be sure. There always are. But who among them will become legends in their own times?

Will Barry Manilow fill Crosby’s shoes? Is it possible Bette Midler will touch the hearts of three generations as did Garland?

Will Buddy Hackett make the world forget Jack Benny?

Can Al Pacino and Robert de Niro rise to the heights of Bogart and Gable?

Will Farrah Fawcett reach the legendary s t a t u s of M a r i l y n Monroe? Perhaps, but public adulation has become a transitory thing in these days of revolving door television shows. Ask Mack Davis, Raymond Burr or Jackie Gleason.

The gods and goddesses, by and large, escaped overexposure. They also attained stardom before the era of the affluent society, when the masses could identify vicariously with the glamour and the mystery of their idols.

Today public identity is reflected in the popularity of, say, “Laverne and Shirley” and “All In The family,” The slobs have replaced the elegant.

Grandeur has given way to the commonplace. The bon mot has been exchanged for vulgarity. Still, there are some legendary stars in the making. Most may never attain heroic stature because heroes and heroines, like hula hoops, are out of style.

Marlon Brando, as m u c h for his eccentricities as for his talent, may one day be as venerated as Cary Grant. Steve McQueen, Clint E a s t w o o d , B u rt R e y n o l d s, C h a r l e s Bronson, Warren Beatty, in their 40s and 50s, have made their starts.

In mid-career Paul Newman is a superstar. So is Robert Redford.

Among the ladies there are Liza Minelli, Jane Fqnda and Barbra Streisand. On their deaths will the newspapers of foreign countries headline their passing? Will services be said for them in great cathedrals?

The public held Crosby and the other legends in a curious personal affection. They became a part of everyone’s family. Such is not the case with the younger crop of stars.

Unlike the giants of the past, today’s, big stars appear not to foster emotional response. For whatever reason, they are not beloved. And for the most part, they don’t want to be.

The d o m i n a n t philosophy among today’s stars is that they owe the public a performance and that is all. They are not inclined to establish legendary images.

Perhaps the country is less romantic than it was. Maybe it is a sign of national cynicism or simpie maturity.

But there remains much to be said for sentimentality and public affection. All one need do is listen to Bing sing “White Christmas.”

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