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Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

They've kept you smiling, sobbing and singing along. They're the 100 greatest entertainers of the last 50 years, according to a list compiled by the editors of the magazine Entertainment Weekly.

You'll see their faces on newsstands everywhere starting next Monday. Entertainment Weekly's assistant managing editor, Mary Kaye Shilling, gave The Early Show a preview of the top 10 on the list.

As millennium fever gathers force, the staff at Entertainment Weekly has worked overtime putting together four issues celebrating popular culture over the last century.

This is the last special issue before the millennium and it focuses on the 100 greatest entertainers of the century's second half. (The other three dealt with television, music and the movies.)

"It was [the] impact and influence on other artists that determined if it made the list. It was the longevity of their careers and the quality of their product throughout their careers," Shilling says.

"But mostly it was just kind of that sort of gut instinctual sense of what they wanted to do. I mean, they changed pop culture in some way, and the people in the top 10, especially, made it in their own image," she adds.

Originally the list included 400 people. Pretty much all the staff was involved in the selection process, says Shilling. "Once they all voted, we went to the editors of each section, and asked their opinions.

"It was a constant back and forth between our specialists and general staff," she adds.

Among the 100 people chosen are, for example, Joni Mitchell, who changed the way female singers were perceived, Shilling says.

The Beatles had it all: phenomenal success, changing the pop music scene, changing the way people dressed, changing everything, she notes.

Another one on the list, Clint Eastwood, created a new kind of hero, in Westerns and crime dramas. Gary Cooper made his own contributions but Eastwood took it to a whole new level. There were people who followed and imitated him, but you can point to him as the original, she says.

"One thing we did want was some surprises in this issue," Shilling says. And they certainly achieve that. For example, you will find Julia Roberts but not John Travolta.

"She is a woman like Mary Pickford, America's sweetheart. They love her, especially in romantic comedies," Shilling explains, adding that even though Travolta is in two seminal movies of this decade, the bulk of his work was more commonplace.

The list is also primary Anglo. "I think our culture is very white. There are many black performers on the list. But mostly musicians I would say," Shilling adds.

Some may also be surprised that The Simpsons were in the top 10. But for 10 years, the series has been just about the favorite show for everyone in their 20s and 30s, Shilling notes.

It broke the mold and the way viewers see animation now is as a result of that, she adds.

The following is the rundown of the magazine's top-10 list and Shilling's reasons:

Mary Kaye Shilling noted that the black performers cited were mostly musicians.
1. The Beatles: They changed all of pop culture. They have touched everything that's come after them, from dress to how fame has been perceived. The Beatles made celebrities as big as anything did.

2. Elvis: He continues to live. He is royalty in this country, empowered with godly qualities. And since this country doesn't have a unified religion or royalty, we make celebrities items of worship. Elvis was worshiped, and continues to be worshipped.

3. Marilyn Monroe: She's the modern sex symbol. There's no one else that anyone thinks of for that. She appealed to men and women, which is hard to do. And she was also a great comedian.

4. Steven Spielberg: In addition to creating the modern blockbuster, which he did with Jaws, he's been able to go from big movies to profound movies, and found different ways to get under the skin of people and affect them. He can pinpoint what people will respond to.

5. Madonna: She's not really a singer per se, but she created the whole idea of a pop icon marketing herself. She's the epitome of the modern entertainer, knowing that the modern attention span is minuscule.

6. Frank Sinatra: He started the whole idea of fan worship, of girls going crazy. He's the greatest singer of the century. He was also a really good actor. His lifestyle became that of the nation, the rat pack, the lounge lifestyle. He became identified as the male of the century. Sinatra also invented the comeback.

7. Saturday Night Live: It has shaped a generation or two of humor and spawned more brilliant comedians than any place in history. Lorne Michaels stood up to NBC, when it wanted Candice Bergen to host every show, and he said he wanted guest hosts. He broke the mold. It's now become very traditional to us now, but back then, it was new.

8. Michael Jackson: MTV wasn't even putting black artists in rotation until he came along. Any blacartist would say they could be mainstream because of him. And he's been performing even since he was a child. That saying "born to perform" applies to him; he knew in his gut how to do it and not that many people know that. (Now, says Shiller, he may be so eccentric he may no longer be able to rise above it.)

9. Lucille Ball: Ball created the modern sitcom. She was the first woman in television to be powerful. She set up recipes for modern TV. Her persona was so different from that of any other woman on TV.

10. The Simpsons: This show set the tone of humor for the 1990s. It still puts out great episodes consistently, stellar episodes. It will be 10 years old in February, and is still relevant.

"We worship celebrities now. The scope and breadth of their fame couldn't be dismissed. They were very awkward of their power, in the reactions of people towards them, and they boldly embraced their fame," adds Shilling.

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