The Famous 50
1. MERYL STREEP: Streep’s portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady is already on most people’s short lists, sight unseen (the film opens Dec. 16), for a 17th Best Actress nomination. But a win? Not so fast: A lot depends on director Phyllida Lloyd, who’s much esteemed in British theater but whose only big-screen bow was the critically reamed Mamma Mia!—and most prognosticators assume that if the statuette doesn’t go to Viola Davis for The Help, it may just go to Connecticut native Glenn Close for her transgender turn as Albert Nobbs. Anyway, next year we’ll be talking about Great Hope Springs, shot in various locations in Connecticut, and featuring Streep in another It’s Complicated-style ensemble, this time with Steve Carell and Tommy Lee Jones.
2. JOHNNY DEPP: Gotta say, it took so long for The Rum Diary to get released that when the film finally made it into theaters in October, we checked to make sure Hell hadn’t frozen over. And the pop-culture work ethic is strong in this one: He took a cut in pay to realize his dream of playing Tonto to the Lone Ranger; his next big big-screen splash will be as Barnabas Collins in Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows. Depp also has a special cameo in the feature version of the TV show that started it all for him, “21 Jump Street,” the one project he used to say he’d never, ever do again. But Pirates of the Caribbean notwithstanding, foolish consistency has never been one of his vices.
3. PAUL SIMON: Talk about getting your mojo back. Mr. “How Very Strange to Be 70,” who just turned that magical age, is currently on another U.S. leg of his critically hosannaed tour for his acclaimed 2011 CD, So Beautiful or So What. He’s planning to welcome 71 with another tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of Graceland, which will be re-released as a box set next spring, complete with a documentary about Simon’s July 2011 return to South Africa (and an intimate show he played there with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Hugh Masekela). At this rate, we don’t know whether to be sad or relieved that he’ll have till 2015 to rest up for the 40th-anniversary Still Crazy After All These Years blowout.
4. SCOTT RUDIN: King of the world, ma! Broadway producer Rudin had a terrific 2011, thanks to Best Musical Tony-winner The Book of Mormon (a big-screen version is planned for 2014, which is about as long as you’d have to wait for tickets anyway) and Best Play nominees Jerusalem and The Motherf---er with the Hat. Movie producer Rudin looks poised for an even livelier 2012, beginning with the already-in-theaters Moneyball (starring Brad Pitt) and the soon-to-be released The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Daniel Craig), Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock), Moonrise Kingdom (Bruce Willis) and The Dictator (Sacha Baron Cohen). You can add TV producer to the list: Look for a movie based on Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and a new, to-be-renamed Aaron Sorkin series, “More as This Story Develops,” both for HBO.
5. BRIAN WILLIAMS: As we went to press, it was too early to tell whether Williams’ new TV newsmagazine show “Rock Center” would be a go or a no, but the signs were all good—particularly with the hiring of Ted Koppel as special correspondent, who Williams (breaking out the baseball analogies) called “a consensus Hall of Famer” in the news business. If the show strikes out, BriWi certainly doesn’t have far to fall, unless his “NBC Nightly News” anchor/managing editor berth (with a reported 8 million and growing viewership) can be called bush league.
6. JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: Life was pretty much a good news-bad news sitch for J.T. this fall. On the plus side, he was honored for his commitment to green living at the Environmental Media Association Awards in October, due to his eco-friendly Memphis golf course Mirimichi. But at the same time he was hacked by that celebrity-obsessed guy in Florida, revealing some not-so-platonic emails between him and Friends with Benefits co-star Mila Kunis; Indy 500 racer Dan Wheldon was killed in a car sponsored by his William Rast clothing line; and critics began laughing at the trailer for his current flick, In Time. Heavy sigh.
7. LAURA LINNEY: Like Oliver Platt, her future was cliff-hanged at the end of Season 2 of “The Big C”; unlike him, we expect she’ll be back. As for news from the Odd Couple Dept., Linney’s been paired with Bill Murray in the feature film Hyde Park on Hudson: He’s F.D.R.; she’s the distant cousin, Daisy (Margaret Suckley), with whom he has an affair.
8. MATT LAUER: This fall, the redoubtable “Today” host—on the job for 14 years—earned his more than 5-million-daily viewership by getting tough with Republican politicos, getting flirty with chef Paula Deen and reviving “Where in the World Is Matt Lauer?,” a feature that brought him to Laos, Australia and Istanbul when he last hit the road in 2008. “Today”’s best ratings day since the 2008 Beijing Olympics: April 29, when the show covered the Prince William/Kate Middleton nuptials to the tune of 9.6 million viewers.
9. STEPHEN SONDHEIM: The theater world’s Sondheim lovefest continues unabated; last month, the 81-year-old, most Tony-winning composer in the history of Broadway received the Handel Medallion, New York City’s highest honor for achievement in the arts. Part Two of his memoir, Look, I Made a Hat, has just hit bookstores (The New York Times included Part One, Finishing the Hat, among its 10 best of 2010).
10. CONAN O’BRIEN: Looks like Team Coco and TBS are getting along just fine—in October, O’Brien sold the network a sitcom titled “Fat Chance” (reminding us how NBC once evaluated the likelihood of his success at the Ted Turner-owned station). In a similar spirit of entrepreneurial camaraderie, Conan recently rented out his TV studio on Airbnb.com, choosing three lucky female retirees from Mexico over thousands of other applicants for a three-night stay. And during a week of shows in New York City, he celebrated his first anniversary with TBS by officiating an on-air gay wedding.
11. JIM NANTZ: The lead CBS sportscaster remains a calm, and calming, voice in what has become an across-the-dial sea of noise and hype. He can get a little schmaltzy from time to time, especially at The Masters, but his basketball and football work rarely calls attention to itself.
12. PHILIP ROTH: He won the 2011 Man Booker International Prize, honoring a lifetime of literary achievement (which he didn’t collect in person, though the committee was hotly divided over the choice), and as we go to press, Nemesis is on the Wellcome Book Prize shortlist, awarded for the outstanding portrayal of medicine in literature. Nope, still no Nobel, and his staunchest fans are now hyperventilating on the Internet (Google “An Open Letter to the Swedish Academy” at the website The Millions and The New Yorker blog The Book Bench for some hand-wringing over Roth’s biological clock).
13. KEITH RICHARDS: His recent memoir Life has already earned “Keef” this year’s Norman Mailer Prize for Distinguished Biography (presented to him by ex-prez Bill Clinton), and at press time, he was also on the shortlist to receive a Galaxy Book Award. Critics are raving about his guitar work on Tom Waits’ lauded Bad As Me. But we’re guessing he’s most pleased about the portraits of him painted by good friend Johnny Depp—in one, he’s surrounded by Rizla rolling papers.
14. BARRY LEVINSON: In what may be our favorite news of the celebrity year, Levinson is reportedly collaborating on a musical version of his 1984 film Diner with pop chanteuse Sheryl Crow; Tony Award-winner Kathleen Marshall will direct. His own slate of movie-directing projects is experiencing the usual ups and downs: His eco-horror film The Bay was scheduled to hit theaters this fall—but work on Gotti: In the Shadow of My Father, with John Travolta and Al Pacino, has ground to a halt. (His take on Philip Roth’s The Humbling, the math-prodigy film Charlie Irish and HBO’s Fatty Arbuckle biopic, The Day the Laughter Stopped, are all in pre-production.) Meanwhile, he’s co-executive producer of HBO’s upcoming Phil Spector biopic as well as two historical TV series: Showtime’s “The Borgias” and BBC America’s “Copper.”
15. JASPER JOHNS: The Papa Bear of all Neo-Dadaists received a 2011 Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama—joining the select list of other visual artists so honored, including Andrew Wyeth, Willem de Kooning, Alexander Calder, Georgia O’Keeffe and Norman Rockwell. Like all true greats, he has a becoming sense of humor about his reputation: Does anyone else remember when he portrayed himself on “The Simpsons” as a kleptomaniac?
16. RON HOWARD: As both producer and director, he’s been behind three recent resounding critical/commercial flops (which all looked promising in development, we’re sure): The Dilemma, Cowboys & Aliens and Restless. At press time, his best shot at redemption for 2011 was as co-producer of director Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar—a warts-and-all look at the FBI’s iconic head man, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Howard is said to be angling for a chance to direct DiCaprio himself in a recently optioned bio of math genius Alan Turing. Meanwhile, his current big project is Under the Banner of Heaven, based on the book by Jon Krakauer, which began filming last month.
17. KYRA SEDGWICK: With “The Closer” series finale around the corner, Sedgwick is back on the big screen in two January releases: The Possession, a horror-thriller, and the old-school thriller-thriller Man on a Ledge. Along with a number of other environmentalist celebs (from Mark Ruffalo to the Dalai Lama), she’s also publicly protesting the proposed Keystone Pipeline expansion.
18. OLIVER PLATT: We think they killed him off in “The Big C” (on TV, one never knows), but now he’s an immortal—Apollo, that is—in Marc Turtletaub’s loopy, much-anticipated Greek-deities-in-modern-New-York-City farce Gods Behaving Badly. He also has a recurring role on HBO’s “Bored to Death,” which firmly places him in our Hip Hall of Fame.
19. HARVEY WEINSTEIN: His The King’s Speech and The Fighter bested movie-producing rival Scott Rudin’s The Social Network at the 2011 Oscars, but the rest of this year has been pretty much a clunker, from Scream 4 to I Don’t Know How She Does It (his strongest contender going into awards season 2012 is My Week with Marilyn, starring Kenneth Branagh and Michelle Williams). When it comes to aggravating people, he’s reportedly still No. 1: Former Miramax protégé Kevin Smith (Clerks) famously demanded Weinstein “shut the f--k up” during an altercation at the Sundance 2011 screening of Smith’s latest, Red State. And the long shadow he casts is allegedly the reason Barry Avrich’s documentary Unauthorized: The Harvey Weinstein Project morphed from scandalous tell-all to awkward love letter.
20. DUSTIN HOFFMAN: Dusty’s far from the first veteran actor to turn to cable TV for a steady paycheck, but he’s the only one whose series bears the fates-baiting title of “Luck” (it debuts in January). Focused on the down ’n’ dirty aspects of horse racing, it has a good pedigree: It’s produced by Michael Mann for HBO and written by David Milch, who created the network’s once beloved “Deadwood.”
21. TOMMY HILFIGER: Connecticut’s most famous brand name snapped up a $31 million manse in Greenwich and saw Tommy Hilfiger Corp. sold for $3 billion to PHV Group (he’d sold out his share earlier). His designing work continues to draw attention, but that’s apparently not enough. He now says he’d also like to design and manufacture furniture and buy a luxury hotel.
22. GARRY TRUDEAU: He’s got a juicy new site (doonesbury.com), hosted by Slate, that links you to every “Doonesbury” strip ever published (and even incorporates “Bull Tales,” The Yale Daily News’ still lovingly remembered precursor). “Doonesbury” also raised a new brouhaha this year by revealing material from Joe McGinniss’ Sarah Palin bio, The Rogue, that had been embargoed by daily newspapers across the country.
23. CHRIS BERMAN: The voice, the energy and the sense of fun are still strong in this ESPN mainstay. And he’s never gotten so big for his britches that he’s stopped showing up for fundraisers, charity outings and other local events all across Connecticut.
24. GRETCHEN CARLSON: Since Glenn Beck’s departure from Fox (and Nutmegland), she’s the No. 1 Connecticut target of political media snarkmeisters, from “The Daily Show” to Gawker, which called her “a bewigged slab of fried rice pudding” in response to her dissing of the Obama administration’s healthier school-food initiatives. But she’s still cherished by more than one million dedicated Fox News viewers, who wake up with “Fox & Friends” daily.
25. CHRISTOPHER WALKEN: You say you’ve got a fever and the only prescription is more Walken? Well, we’d bet you’re gonna get saved this year, as everyone’s favorite onscreen character has seven—count ’em—new movies in various stages of production, including: Gods Behaving Badly (he’s Zeus), A Late Quartet (with Philip Seymour Hoffman), The Boom Boom Room (with Shirley MacLaine) and the comedy Seven Psychopaths (with Colin Farrell and Mickey Rourke). It’s only his spirit that lives in the recent YouTube homage, a parody of AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” in which a worldwide virus turns people into not zombies, but Walken impersonators.
26. DENIS LEARY: After seven seasons as lead visionary of “Rescue Me,” he’s in The Amazing Spider-Man? Really? Not that he seems out of place in the Tiffany-caliber cast—Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Campbell Scott—of this reinvented franchise, set to launch next Fourth of July weekend. But unless there’s something we don’t know, playing the police captain father of Peter Parker’s doomed true love Gwen Stacy sounds, er, pretty marginal. Perhaps he just wanted the “stupid money” from this and the Ice Age sequel to fund his production company Apostle’s ongoing projects—including the TV shows in development for his “first-look” deal with CBS Networks.
27. ROB ZOMBIE: Now, here’s a director we’ll salute: He’s assembled a pretty rad cast for 2012’s The Lords of Salem—beloved E.T. mom and current “scream queen” Dee Wallace, former Tim Burton regular Lisa Marie, Bruce Dern, even 1980s horror movie legend Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond)—given that the budget’s a tidy $1.5 million.
28. DANIEL DAY-LEWIS: The reluctant thespian has re-entered the limelight (that’s a capital “L”) for the first time since Nine to star in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, due in theaters in December 2012. Then he’ll reunite with Martin Scorsese for the historical epic Silence, concerning the travails of 17th-century Jesuit priests who traveled to Japan to spread Christianity.
29. MARLO THOMAS: That girl is currently treading the Broadway boards—after nearly 20 years away—in Relatively Speaking, a trio of one-act plays by the winning combination of Ethan Coen, Woody Allen and Elaine May. And she’s a regular columnist for The Huffington Post.
30. MAURICE SENDAK: It’s rare that you admire an author of children’s books for being “uncompromising,” but the description fits octogenarian Sendak to a “T.” It may cost him readers among the junior set—and there have been reports that bookstores and libraries are more reluctant to stock his latest, Bumble-Ardy, than 2011 book releases by Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein—but his dark, outlandish humor is why no one we know has claimed to outgrow him.
31. CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER: Having not received his first Oscar nomination until 2009 (after a half-century onscreen), Plummer is expected to walk away with a 2012 Best Supporting Actor award for Beginners, in which he played a terminally ill 70-something who comes out to his family. The awards are piling up, in fact: He’s already been honored at October’s Hollywood Film Fest and received this year’s lifetime achievement award from Ontario’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival (he plans to return there next year with his one-man show, A Word or Two). We only wish he’d get an award for being Connecticut theater’s biggest supporter, but we’ll settle for cheering him one in one of the year’s highest profile movies, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, opening Dec. 21.
32. 50 CENT: He may seem like the eight-zillionth rapper-turned-actor/producer, with the usual slate of urban thrillers and crime dramas in the works—but he could do a lot worse than scoring co-stars like Meg Ryan, Nicolas Cage, John Lithgow, John Cusack, Bruce Willis and Robert De Niro. And his image is growing ever kinder and gentler with his commitment to hunger relief (recently expressed in his determination to feed one billion African children over the next two-and-a-half years) and his renouncing of his rough ’n’ tumble youth in a new book, Playground: The Mostly True Story of a Former Bully.
33. JUDITH SHEINDLIN: You say “Judge Judy” is tacky? We say being the star of the top-rated show in all of syndicated TV—and arguably the medium’s strongest feminist role model—is nothing to sneer at. With a total of 13 Daytime Emmy noms and a daily viewership of 10 million (75 percent of whom are women), she’ll be on the bench through 2015, her 19th season.
34. TOM BERGERON: You couldn’t build a more genial TV emcee than Bergeron, onetime comically unflappable host of “Hollywood Squares” (which won him a Daytime Emmy, fergoshsakes), who has long presided over ABC’s “America’s Funniest Home Videos” (AFV) and “Dancing with the Stars” (DwtS). The more we watch every pratfall, gross costume, false turn and bad decision on display—and this is AFV we’re talking about—the more we’re convinced he’s too good for this shtick. We suspect he knows that, too, but to his credit, never lets on.
35. KEVIN BACON: We loved him in the small-but-key part of clueless “other” man David Lindhagen in Crazy, Stupid, Love., and are only sorry that we’ll have to wait till 2013 to see him in director Billy Bob Thornton’s Jayne Mansfield’s Car (with John Hurt and Robert Duvall) and R.I.P.D.—a crime comedy with Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds—in which he plays an undead cop. Meanwhile, The Bacon Brothers, his musical “side project” of almost 20 years with composer brother Michael, tours on.
36. DON IMUS: Say what you will about the crusty I-Man—he still surprises us, most recently for his wholehearted support of Occupy Wall Street (and sharing those views with Harvard intellectuals like Doris Kearns Goodwin, as well as endorsing the arguments of diehard lefties like journalist Matt Taibbi). Then again, his comments on the Sarah Palin-Glen Rice controversy were a little too “nappy-headed ho” for comfort. What the heck—he’s clearly a free-speech kind of guy, and more power to him.
37. CHRISTINE BARANSKI: Continues to brighten CBS’ “The Good Wife” as Stern, Lockhart & Gardner litigator Diane Lockhart, a role that has won her Emmy nominations in 2010 and 2011. She’s also used her celebrity clout in support of the Connecticut Farmland Trust.
38. A.R. GURNEY: It’s been a quiet period overall, but off-Broadway’s Actors Theatre Company recently revived Children, an early Gurney play loosely based on a John Cheever story, for the first time in 37 years. Of course, classics like Love Letters, The Dining Room and Sylvia remain perennial regional favorites.
39. STEPHEN SCHWARTZ: 2011 has been a big year for celebrating the Schwartz—a revival of Godspell has opened on Broadway, where Wicked just marked its eighth anniversary, and an honest-to-God revue of his songs, titled Snapshots, was recently mounted in Chicago (actually, it’s based on an idea attempted at the Westport Country Playhouse in 1996). We thought musical lovers felt nostalgia only for Sondheim.
40. BRIAN DENNEHY: The Big Year turned out to be no big whoop, but Dennehy continues to dedicate himself to live theater, most recently at this year’s Stratford, Ontario Shakespeare Festival and in the production of Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape currently running at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre. Time will tell if it’s Broadway-bound.
41. CYNDI LAUPER: The live CD/DVD combo To Memphis, with Love showed her true colors—an enduring love for the blues—and she’s following it up with a crazy quilt of projects, including penning the score for Broadway’s upcoming Kinky Boots, creating a reality show and writing a memoir. A onetime Emmy winner for her guest shot in “Mad About You,” she’s keeping her acting career afloat too, in the future flicks The Last Beat and Section B.
42. MICHAEL J. FOX: Though he calls himself a “reluctant poster boy” for Parkinson’s disease, Fox has been making the campus-speaker rounds of late, most notably at Rochester Institute of Technology’s homecoming weekend. In October, his Michael J. Fox Foundation awarded $1.5 million to the Vienna-based biotech company AFFiRiS AG to be used for the development of the first Parkinson’s vaccine.
43. HARRY CONNICK JR.: He’s followed the huge box-office success of Dolphin Tale with a starring role in the Broadway revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, opening this month.
44. CANDACE BUSHNELL: Now that The Carrie Diaries—a literary prequel series to Sex and the City, focusing on Carrie Bradshaw’s high school years and early New York life—will be adapted for a TV series on the CW, it’s only fitting that Bushnell has published a sequel to the prequel (or, if you prefer, a “midquel”) about Carrie’s life just before she reaches legend status: Summer and the City. Meanwhile, the author’s real-life Mr. Big, Charles Askegard, has retired from the New York City Ballet to start his own dance company, Ballet Next.
45. GRAYDON CARTER: New York magazine’s snarky October profile dished on the Vanity Fair editor’s recent extramarital affair and divorce, his obsession with Hollywood, his “spectacularly curvilinear” coiffure, his un-Spylike hypocrisy—even his status as amateur magician, watercolorist and puppeteer. At least the Hollywood-fixation charge has legs: Carter has produced his second documentary on movie mogul Robert Evans, which he hopes to premiere at Cannes, and will have a featured role in Nicholas Jarecki’s Arbitrage (starring Richard Gere) as an out-of-control Wall Streeter.
46. ROZ CHAST: In addition to her new children’s book for adults, What I Hate from A to Z, brilliant longtime New Yorker cartoonist Chast is also well-represented in The Best of the Rejection Collection: 293 Cartoons That Were Too Dumb, Too Dark or Too Naughty for The New Yorker and Nursery Rhyme Comics: 50 Timeless Rhymes from 50 Celebrated Cartoonists, in which she illustrates “There Was a Crooked Man.” Feast away.
47. SAM WATERSTON: Now, here’s an actor we’ve been hoping would get an HBO series gig, but figured that after 16 years on “Law & Order” . . . Wait! He does have an HBO gig! Or so reports the Internet Movie Database, noting that he’s in the pilot cast of the Scott Rudin/Aaron Sorkin project, “More as This Story Develops.” He’s also been keeping one foot in the theater world, most recently playing King Lear at the off-Broadway Public Theater in November.
48. JIM CALHOUN/GENO AURIEMMA: They’re hardly a real tandem, of course; in fact, it seems they don’t talk much to each other. But when they talk to us, they usually have something interesting to say, and their teams over the years have given us one thrill after another.
49. GIANCARLO ESPOSITO: We can’t guess how long people will be buzzing about Gus’s explosive (literally) exit from AMC’s “Breaking Bad” this year (in an awesome display of network cross-promo, Esposito’s final on-camera “look” was designed by the makeup guys at “The Walking Dead”). We do know that in addition to his guest shots on ABC’s new series “Once Upon a Time,” he’ll star in the big-screen movie thrillers Adele and I, Alex Cross.
50. MARY TYLER MOORE: Thanks to TV Land, a very young MTM is turning the world on with her smile again in reruns of “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” which celebrated the 50th anniversary of its premiere on Oct. 3. Meanwhile, present-day Mary continues to work tirelessly on behalf of shelter animals—she hosted her 13th annual “Broadway Barks” adoption event in July with co-founder Bernadette Peters—and finding a cure for diabetes, as international chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.