Legends of Hollywood

12:05 AM PST 12/16/2010 by THR staff

From cultural icons to today's industry pioneers, The Hollywood Reporter toasts eight decades of extraordinary achievement.

JAMES EARL JONES

Age: 79

First Gig: 1963, Look Up and Live

Why He's a Legend: A Golden Globe, an Oscar nom, two Tonys, nine Emmy noms (two wins), the voice of Darth Vader in Star Wars and now on Broadway in Driving Miss Daisy.

Defining Moment: “When I realized I could get married and raise a family as an actor. That was a big decision. There was a time when I didn’t know I could be a professional actor. A wheat farmer knows he can raise a family, but does an actor ever know he can feed a family? No. Not until you have the experience.”

Role Models: “Sidney Poitier established how high we could go if you were not of the majority culture, but Marlon Brando before him established for all Americans that you didn’t have to be a member of the Barrymore family [to make it].”

Current Obsessions: “I watch Boardwalk Empire every weekend because I’m waiting for Mad Men to come back. Jimmy [Michael Pitt] is so good-looking and scary. I wonder what’s going to happen to him. He’s going to kill more people!”

ED ASNER

Age: 81

First Gig: 1959, syndicated series Decoy

Why He's a Legend: Seven Emmys, five Golden Globes, a TV fixture on shows from The Mary Tyler Moore Show to the upcoming CMT series Working Class, voice in Disney’s Oscar-winning animated feature Up.

Big Break: “I went in to read for Mary Tyler Moore and they said, ‘That’s a very intelligent reading,’ which to me meant it wasn’t funny. They asked for ‘no constraint,’ and I didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. So I read it like a meshugeneh. That’s how we made history.”

The Role That Got Away: “[Playing Doyle Lonnegan] in The Sting. The film’s producer, Tony Bill, submitted me for it. It never went anywhere, but Robert Shaw did a commendable job.”

Hollywood Today: “It’s hurry-up-and-no-wait. There’s no pondering: ‘Is it good? Can it grow?’ It’s, ‘Feed it to the lions as quickly as possible.’ Only on cable can shows be developed with tender loving care, as they were supposed to be.”

BETTY WHITE

Age: 88

First Gig: 1945, Time to Kill

Why She’s a Legend: Five Emmy wins, four Golden Globe noms, a spontaneous Facebook campaign that landed her a ratings-busting Saturday Night Live hosting gig, TV Land’s hit series Hot in Cleveland.

Biggest Change: “When I started in television, I did the first TV show on the West Coast, and everybody was so mind-boggled by this little box. Now the audience has heard every joke and knows exactly where the show is going from the first word you say. That’s a hard audience to write for.”

She Loves Lucy:  “Lucy [Ball] and I were dear friends. She would have me over to her house to show me how to play backgammon. She was an expert, and I never played. So I’d throw the dice, and she’d say, ‘You take this, and you do this.’ Finally, I said: ‘Lucy, you’re playing yourself. Let me figure out what to do!’ ”

Favorite Hollywood Memory: “My husband had my 49th birthday party at Chasen’s. He surprised me with 49 of our dearest friends, including Mary Tyler Moore and Lucy. It was like he cast them from central casting.”

MICKEY ROONEY

Age: 90

First Gig: 1927, Mickey’s Circus

Why He's a Legend: Two Oscar wins, two Golden Globes, one Emmy; leading ladies from Judy Garland to Elizabeth Taylor; next up in 2011’s Night Club with Ernest Borgnine, 93.

Big Break: “Being born. I’ve been on [the screen] since the age of 2, when Hollywood Boulevard was a dust trail. I’ve done 361 pictures and five shows. I say inspire, don’t retire.”

Proudest Moment: “Being a veteran of the Second World War and being decorated by General Patton.”

His Legacy: “You can’t take this business for granted. … When I hear ‘legend,’ I think of somebody who’s out of work.”

Unsung Heroes:  “There are a lot of good people who are in the business that you don’t even hear about: the cameramen, electricians.”

ANGELA LANSBURY

Age: 85

First Gig: 1944, Gaslight (for which she earned an Oscar nomination)

Why She's a Legend: Three Oscar noms, 18 Emmy noms, 15 Golden Globe noms (six wins), five Tony Awards and starred for 12 seasons on CBS’ Murder, She Wrote.

Before Hollywood: “My mother and I lived in a one-room apartment. It cost about $28 a month. I slept on a pull-down bed in the kitchen, and she slept on a pull-down in the living room.”

First Splurge: “A house off Sunset Boulevard. It cost $18,000.”

Best Hollywood Memory: “Growing up, I was blown away by the glamour of musicals. To find myself later around the making of them were my greatest years. I used to watch Gene Kelly rehearsing in the halls. It was an amazing training ground.”

Best Fan Moment: “I met Paul McCartney, and he gave me a hug and told me his daughter watches Bedknobs and Broomsticks every day. Paul was my favorite Beatle because people used to say we looked alike. We have the same English face.”

DEBBIE REYNOLDS

Age: 78

First Gig: 1948, June Bride

Why She's a Legend: One Oscar nom, five Golden Globe noms, one Emmy nom,
in Lakeshore Entertainment’s upcoming One for the Money alongside Katherine Heigl.

Big Break: “I did Singin’ in the Rain [1952] with Gene Kelly. I was only 17 years old and had never danced before, so Gene had a lot to teach me. I didn’t know anything about show business. Sixty-one years later, I look back and wonder who that little girl was. How did she keep up when she never danced before? I’m rather proud of that accomplishment.”

First Splurge: “I was under contract for $65 a week, and I thought that was a great deal of money. I bought a 1932 Chevrolet for $15. It was all broken down, but my dad redid it. In the end, it cost me $50. At the end of 15 years, I was making $750 a week.”

Best Party: “We usually had private parties, and we’d all entertain. Judy Garland, Harry Belafonte and I would sing. During one party I gave, Ann Miller dove off my roof and into the pool. So we all dove in, floating around in our formal clothes. Lana Turner wouldn’t because her dress was too expensive, so I shoved her in.”

LARRY HAGMAN

Age: 79

First Gig: 1957, syndicated series Decoy

Why He's a Legend: Four Golden Globe noms, two Emmy noms, star of Dallas for its 14 seasons, once the highest-paid actor on TV at a reported $100,000 an episode.

Precedent: “All the Friends kids came along, and they got $1 million a show! I wouldn’t get anywhere near that, of course, but I think they ought to give me 10 percent because I started the trend.”

International Reach: “Restaurants in Arab countries and Israel used to shut down when Dallas was on. So I was a peacemaker for an hour.”

First Splurge: “When I joined I Dream of Jeannie, I bought a house in Malibu for $125,000. I took out a mortgage at 7.25 percent and went to bed for three days saying, ‘I will never get out from under this mountain of debt.’ I sold it to Sting 15 years ago for $6.5 million. Best investment I ever made.”

JERRY STILLER & ANNE MEARA

Ages: 83 and 81, respectively

First Gigs: For Stiller, a 1956 role on CBS’ long-running series Studio One in Hollywood; for Meara, playing Harriet on 1954’s NBC series The Greatest Gift.

Why They're Legends: As the successful comedy duo Stiller and Meara, the pair was a popular fixture on 1960s and ’70s TV; Stiller also earned an Emmy nom for his role as Frank Costanza on Seinfeld. Meara garnered four Emmy noms and one Golden Globe nom for her work on such shows as Archie Bunker’s Place and Rhoda.

Defining Moment:

Stiller: “We were in L.A. in the early ’70s, and we got a call saying, ‘Groucho Marx would like to have dinner with you.’ So we walk into his house, and he says, ‘I always liked you people.’ ”

Meara: “He was very sweet. It was such a compliment to have somebody of that iconic nature welcome us into his home.”

Stiller: “Actually, what he said when we walked in was, ‘How long you two been married?’ I said, ‘20 years, Groucho.’ He said, ‘Why?’ ”

Best Ed Sullivan Memory:

Meara: “To get on the stage, you had to step over the vomit. People were throwing up with nerves! It was scary. This was live from New York before Saturday Night Live.”

Stiller: “But he took a liking to us.”

Meara: “He scared the shit out of me. He was like some eighth-grade nun standing over there in the corner.”

Stiller: “To me, he was a rabbi.”

Hollywood Heroes

Stiller: “I was a Mickey Rooney person.”

Meara: “He was terminally joyful, Mickey Rooney. Do you think he was on drugs in those days?”

Stiller: “They didn’t have drugs in those days. He could’ve taken a puff on a Pall Mall.”

Meara: “Oh, get a life, will you please? Jerry’s like a Catholic schoolgirl.”

On Show Business:

Stiller: “Every day we read about people we worked with who are no longer here. I think the thing that keeps us alive is that we’re still able to perform. We’re doing a show on Yahoo right now.”

Meara: “I’m happier at 81 than I was at 41. And I love working with Jerry now more than I ever did.”

EVA MARIE SAINT

Age: 86

First Gig: 1947, TV’s A Christmas Carol

Why She's a Legend: An Oscar win for 1954’s On the Waterfront, five Emmy noms and a win for the 1990 NBC miniseries People Like Us, landing the female lead in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959).

Big Break: “They picked me up in the car [for the first day of filming On the Waterfront], and I was crying. I said, ‘I’ve just never made a movie, and I don’t really know the story.’ I cried in the beginning, and then I cried again because I didn’t know it was my last day. Because of that, I learned to look at the schedule and see when my last shot was.”

Famous Co-Star: “Dancing and kicking up my heels and singing with Bob Hope [in 1956’s That Certain Feeling] was just so fun. He couldn’t have any close-ups after 5 p.m.; I was younger, so I’d do it at 12 midnight or whenever. I loved that in his contract.”

Starting Pay: “I think I made $10 and my dress was $20, so I was in the hole for $10.”

GENA ROWLANDS

Age: 80

First Gig: 1956, Broadway’s Middle of the Night, opposite Edward G. Robinson

Why She's a Legend: Two Oscar nominations, three Emmy wins, two Golden Globes.

Favorite Role:  “A Woman Under the Influence [1974]. I loved that. It was all about acting, the emotion. What really makes acting a nice profession is that you’re not stuck with yourself. You get to play lots of people.”

First Splurge: “My first husband [John Cassavetes] and I put everything we made into our movies, so we were broke a great deal of the time. But we got to do the movies we wanted to do, and there’s nothing like that.”

Her Idol: “Bette Davis was my girl. She was so independent at a time when women were not independent. When I was young, I was fascinated with her.  I’m sure she influenced what many women did.”

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