Institute to tap top screen legends for Eye spec

The American Film Institute is looking to the stars.

Building upon the success of last year’s “AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Movies,” which had industry savants voting on the top 100 American films and spawned controversy and a highly rated CBS special, the institute is planning “AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Stars.”

This selection will also be made into a three-hour CBS television special. Airing in June, the show will feature 50 of today’s stars paying tribute to the 50 greatest American screen legends. As with the previous special, it will be sponsored by General Motors and Blockbuster.

“While we do make money from this, we don’t make so much money,” said AFI chairman Tom Pollock. “What’s more important is we accomplish our mission, which is to celebrate film history. And we get to do it in front of a national television audience.”

For the purposes of this list, AFI defines an “American screen legend” as “an actor or a team of actors with a significant screen presence in American feature-length films whose screen debut occurred in or before 1950, or whose screen debut occurred after 1950 but whose death has marked a completed body of work.”

Touching a nerve

AFI director/CEO Jean Firstenberg said she felt this list would touch the same nerve the film list did because “America’s relationship with its screen legends has exactly the same passion as people have with the movies.”

The voting will be done by 1,800 “leaders from across the film community” who will receive ballots this week asking them to select the top 25 male and top 25 female legends from a list of 250 nominees.

Voters have been asked to consider star quality, craft, legacy (the actor’s body of work), popularity and historical context in making their decisions. “The criteria is not just who’s the most popular,” said Pollock, “but whose legacy in its historical context has impacted on us the most.”

The results will not be revealed until broadcast of the taped CBS special presentation, which will be executive produced and directed by Gary Smith and executive produced for AFI by former AFI Board Chairman Frederick S. Pierce.

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