20 Meme Redux: Actors


By Marilyn Ferdinand

Whether this is an official meme or not, I thought it only fair to give the masculine disciples of Thespis their day in the sun. I found out something interesting that piggybacks on something I read last night in Molly Haskell’s From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies: “It is only recently that men have come to monopolize the popularity polls, the credits, and the romantic spotlight allocating to themselves not just the traditional male warrior and adventurer roles, but those of the sex object and glamor queen as well. Back in the twenties and thirties, and to a lesser extent the forties, women were at the center.” When I look over my choices for favorite actors, I see fewer from the Golden Age than I had among the actresses I chose.

If I’m honest, a number of the actors were included for the “hottie” factor, though I also think they’re good at what they do. You’ll also see that I have an inordinate fondness for chubby guys, no doubt an Oedipal connection to my rotund father. I’m somewhat surprised by some of my choices as well—where are Bogey, Grant, Tracy, Newman? Sorry, boys, you lack that je ne sais quoi for me. Choosing photos, I discovered that posing men with cigarettes was quite the thing, so if you’re a man who smokes, you may have been inordinately influenced by the movie image of masculinity.

Once again, here are my favorites in alphabetical order.


Daniel Auteuil is a prolific French actor who just seems to get better and better. He’s in a lot of the films I see, lending a certain unspoken sadness to each of them. I’m particularly fond of his work in the very touching The Eighth Day and the film from which the above picture was taken Girl on the Bridge. As long as he keeps making pictures, I’ll keep watching them.

Antonio Banderas is absolutely gorgeous, but so are a lot of actors. He makes the list for that and for having a brilliant sense of humor to go along with his swoonworthy qualities. He makes every film he’s in a little better.


James Cagney is a fave rave of mine from way back. When I was young, I’d set my alarm clock to wake me when one of his movies was on TV in the middle of the night. Time has only shown me that he was more than a schoolgirl crush. He was one of the best actors we’ve ever seen.

Lon Chaney created dozens of amazing characters, undertaking physical distress to play the Hunchback of Notre Dame and the armless carney in The Unknown, and covering his face completely in The Phantom of the Opera. How he managed to make monsters sympathetic under all the make-up is beyond me, but he changed cinema forever by doing so.


Gary Cooper is the stand-up guy of cinema. Whether he’s playing a humble war hero, a dying ballplayer, or a friendless sheriff, he shows inner strength and courage better than anyone I can think of. I adore him.

Russell Crowe is my swashbuckler for the new millennium. His turn in Master and Commander cemented his stature in my eyes, becoming mythic in a realistic performance. I look forward to basking in his aura for years to come.


Johnny Depp first became a presence for me on 21 Jump Street. He wore his hair long in front so you couldn’t see his eyes. The network probably made him do that because his gaze is definitely too sexy for prime time. He’s become a fine actor with a particular talent for fantasy and imagination.

Keir Dullea has a quiet intelligence in his best roles. Watching him match wits with HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey is truly suspenseful, but I really fell for him in The Lathe of Heaven, where he could literally dream a different world.


Charles Durning is the first of my chubby guys. He’s a wonderful character actor who makes his presence felt wherever he appears, stealing his scenes with Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie. I particularly like him as Charley in Death of a Salesman, truly being the only friend Willie Loman (Hoffman again, can’t that guy catch a break?) says he is. What a gentleman.

Bruno Ganz is a fantastic actor and will cause me to watch a film just because he’s in it. His most memorable role was the angel in Wings of Desire, but I can name so many films that are elevated because he’s in them. Truly a great actor of our time.


Gregory Hines is another of my hotties. I could watch him dance all day and night. Even just standing around in a cashmere sweater, he seems in magnificent motion. Tap has a place of honor in my film collection.

Boris Karloff has become a favorite of mine ever since I got a chance to see his work in such films as Bedlam and Targets. The latter film especially shows what an elegant, generous actor he was.


Klaus Kinski was the modern Lon Chaney, as out there as they get. One of the best things about our times is that a guy like Kinski could have a career playing something other than gunsels, though he did that, too.

Marcello Mastrioanni has attained legendary status based on his work with Fellini, but he’s so much more than that. His brilliant comic performance in Divorce, Italian Style showed me a new side of him. I love him. I really do.


Joel McCrea is an actor who has displaced others I used to admire. His performance in Sullivan’s Travels is fabulous, but it was Ride the High Country that really put him on my radar screen. I’m finding out more about him all the time, and I like what I’m finding.

Eduardo Noriega is the handsomest man alive, and yet, he played against that fact in Open Your Eyes. He was chilling in The Devil’s Backbone. He’s one of Spain’s finest.


Eugene Pallette is a wonderful character actor who created some indelible characters—Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood, Papa Bullock in My Man Godfrey, a political boss in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. He made a ton of films in the studio system, so I’m constantly pointing delightedly while watching some obscure silent or 30s film and saying, “Eugene Pallette!”

James Stewart is one of the most versatile actors in motion pictures. His inherent likeability and a certain ardent romanticism made his performance in Vertigo both shocking and believable. If we have an everyman in films, he’s it.


Rudolph Valentino has a small shrine in my office so I can gaze on his magnetic eyes whenever I want to. He jumps off the silent screen with the presence of Garbo, yet he also has a wonderful sense of humor that comes through in such films as The Eagle and Son of the Sheik. I worship him.

Anton Walbrook makes the list on the basis of two performances: Svengali-like Lermontov in The Red Shoes and German officer Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. His range and his intensity are amazing, particularly in the latter film in which he ages 40 years and moves from open youth to sad disillusionment. He’s a wonder.

  • Miranda Wilding spoke:
    24th/12/2008 to 12:34 pm

    Now THIS is a list, Marilyn…
    It’s just as refreshing and unique as your feminine take on your twenty favorites.
    There is one thing that many of these gentlemen have in common and it’s rather fascinating. A certain percentage of them can move like black silk on a hot summer day. Something tells me that it’s no coincidence that many of these fellows are terrific dancers.
    So I’ll just go randomly…
    Charles Durning is a superb character actor that I have a great fondness for.
    I loved old classic films growing up and used to watch them on late night TV when I was a kid in the 80s and 90s. There was always something about James Cagney. Didn’t bother me that he was short. He had a brash masculinity about him in some roles that was immensely attractive. Usually when he was doing something bad. But I can still remember how adorable he was in THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE with my adored Rita Hayworth. He was something else.
    Antonio Banderas has always seemed mysterious to me – in the way that the film stars from the 30s and 40s were. But he certainly has depth and a ton of charisma. He’s more than just good looking.
    Considering that 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is one of my all time favourite motion pictures, how did I ever forget Keir Dullea? Wonderful actor. He has the most glorious eyes, too.
    Johnny Depp just missed my Top 20. It almosst killed me not to include him. He’s a breathtaking combination of beauty and talent.
    We actually have Russell Crowe in common. Likely for many reasons that would make a great deal of sense to us both. Maybe we could share him, Marilyn?
    Very impressive…

  • Marilyn spoke:
    24th/12/2008 to 12:47 pm

    Thanks, Miranda. This one came a lot easier to me because, I think, it was a lot easier to see actors in many different roles. You get a sense of them that is missing with a lot of actresses. Plus, there is the “crush” factor that keeps a man in your mind long after you see a film. I’m a little surprised that Astaire wasn’t on the list, but I’ve really moved on from his style of dancing. Believe it or not, Charles Durning was a dance instructor. So was Valentino.

  • bill r. spoke:
    24th/12/2008 to 4:52 pm

    Nice list, Marilyn. I particularly love the inclusion of Karloff and Kinski. I’m not sure — correct me if I’m wrong — that Kinski did much good work when he wasn’t with Herzog, but those films alone easily cement his status. And Karloff, iconic as he is, doesn’t get his due. Love, love, LOVE Targets!
    Oh, and merry Christmas!

  • Peter Nellhaus spoke:
    24th/12/2008 to 5:27 pm

    My ex grudgingly went to see Master and Commander with me. She didn’t like it. Too much of a “guy” film for her. I’m glad to know you enjoyed it.

  • Rick Olson spoke:
    24th/12/2008 to 7:41 pm

    Fab list, Marilyn, especially, as bill says, Kinski. And happy holidays!

  • Marilyn spoke:
    24th/12/2008 to 8:15 pm

    I’m glad you liked my list, Rick and Bill. I love a good wild man actor, and there’s none better than Kinski. Fitzcarraldo and Vampyr are fabulous.
    Peter, I liked M&C so much that I saw it twice at full price in a theatre. I NEVER do that. It is a superb film in every detail. Not too much of a guy picture in my opinion. I know other women who like it, too.

  • Rod spoke:
    25th/12/2008 to 1:04 am

    Why the pic of Harrison Ford’s shadow from Crystal Skull and no Harrison Ford?

  • Marilyn spoke:
    25th/12/2008 to 8:21 am

    Is that who that is? I just looked for the shadow of a man. Ford is NOT one of my favorites.

  • Jonathan Lapper spoke:
    25th/12/2008 to 11:10 am

    I love Anton Walbrook. I did a whole post last on his performance in Colonel Blimp alone. I was so impressed I felt it needed its own writeup. What an amazing performance! I’m so glad to see you chose him. His intensity is on display in Queen of Spades too, especially in his scene with Edith Evans.
    As for everyone else on your list, great choices all. And I’m with you on Ford. I like movies he’s been in but his range of emotions travels from lowercase “a” to Capital “A.” He doesn’t even make it to “B.”

  • Matches Malone spoke:
    26th/12/2008 to 10:50 am

    Great stuff!!! Consider me a new fan.

  • Gloria spoke:
    1st/01/2009 to 2:32 pm

    I love Cagney and Walbrook, too, They’d be on my own list if I hadn’t got to stick to twenty (http://allthisandtigernutstoo.blogspot.com/2009/01/twenty-actors.html) but then you have made a great choice of enjoyable actors. I’m pleasantly surprised at finding two Spaniards on the list (I thought we were largely ignored in the rest of the world, LOL)

  • Marilyn spoke:
    1st/01/2009 to 2:42 pm

    Not by this American, Gloria. I happen to think you’ve got the most attractive actors on the planet, as well as many of the most talented.

  • ted spoke:
    29th/08/2009 to 6:41 pm

    Mastrioanni and Charles Durning! Absolutely. I adore Charles Durning.

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