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Entertainment Weekly is a most entertaining weekly.

In fact, it's arguably the most enjoyable magazine about show biz on the stands these days. I always get a kick out of Jim Mullen's sarcastic Hot Sheet, and EW's reviews of books, music and videos, as well as movies and television, provide a nice quick-read way to keep up with what's what and who's who in pop culture.On the downside, however, the magazine has a penchant for "best" lists - a penchant that is, to say the least, over the top. And it drives me nuts!

Now comes the most ridiculously over-the-top example yet - an entire "special collector's issue" (at a cost of 4 bucks!), devoted entirely to "The 100 Greatest Movie Stars of All Time."

Naturally, I couldn't wait to buy it, open it up and start complaining about who's listed and who's not. Would they go back to the silent era for Lillian Gish and Lon Chaney? Would both Chaplin and Keaton be listed? How about Laurel & Hardy and the Marx Brothers? Would they dare to include the likes of Jim Carrey or Demi Moore or Sharon Stone or Bruce Willis or Julia Roberts . . . as if box-office revenue equals talent?

Then, before I even opened the magazine, it struck me - they've already hedged their bets, right there on the cover in the magazine's title. That word, "greatest." It might not necessarily refer to talent. Or box-office draw, for that matter.

In fact, it's such a subjective term that it could mean anything. (Come to think of it, Jackie Gleason's nickname was "The Greatest." True he was a TV star, with a fairly conservative film output - but he also co-starred in "The Hustler." Would he be listed?)

In the magazine's opening essay, EW further hedges, explaining that the 100 stars were chosen "not necessarily because they are the greatest actors, or made the best movies, or stayed the longest. . . . Each is here because he or she created a unique personality, bigger than any single film."

OK, that explains Marilyn Monroe dominating the cover. (This would be her 102,501,767th magazine cover, by my count.)

What it does not explain, however, is why they chose to rank the 100 stars.

To try to ward off complaints about these rankings - which are sure to rankle readers whose favorites are relegated to a lower rung - the magazine lists the stars by decade. Smart move.

But it also gives each star a number - from No. 1 (Humphrey Bogart) to No. 100 (Susan Hayward), which work outside the decade parameters. Dumb move.

Using EW's criteria, it's hard to argue with Bogie as No. 1. And maybe with Susan Hayward as No. 100. But when you get into the middle ground, look out.

The top 10 - even the top 20 - isn't too bad. In descending order, beginning with No. 2, they are Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, Bette Davis, Liz Taylor, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Newman, James Cagney, Spencer Tracy, Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson, Gary Cooper, Fred Astaire and Laurence Olivier.

But it starts getting a little goofy as we slip into the next 10 and beyond. For example, Greta Garbo is positioned at No. 25, followed by Tom Hanks and Grace Kelly. Then we have Jack Lemmon (No. 33) sandwiched between Rudolph Valentino and Robert De Niro. Or, how about Arnold Scharzenegger (No. 53), directly below Charlton Heston and directly above Barbra Streisand.

Schwarzenegger above Streisand?

But wait. He's also above Robert Mitchum (61), the Marx Brothers (62), Woody Allen (84), Sophia Loren (85) and Brigitte Bardot (95).

Once in awhile, there's also a ranking that provokes a smile - for some reason I was amused to see that right after Bardot, at No. 96, is Julie Andrews.

As to my pre-reading speculation, yes, Chaplin and Keaton are both here (Chaplin ranked higher, of course), along with Lillian Gish, Lon Chaney, Laurel & Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Sharon Stone, Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts.

Surprisingly, the highest-paid male and female superstars - Jim Carrey and Demi Moore - didn't make the cut.

But then, neither did Jackie Gleason.

So, in the end, no serious complaints about people who were left out. Oh, I might have liked to see a few personal favorites, but, realistically, Angie Dickinson probably doesn't belong here.

But when you seriously scan those who made the list, there are some interesting observations to be made.

First, let's digress long enough to explain that the bulk of the magazine is devoted to brief biographical sketches, each waxing eloquent about a star, and accompanied by glamor shots, mostly portrait photographs.

Then, at the back of the magazine, is the "greatest hits" section, a decade-by-decade list of the "best or most emblematic of the star's work."

Consider Charlie Chaplin's eight titles. Since only two of his many shorts are included, his list could be twice as long.

Similarly, Buster Keaton's six titles could easily be expanded.

Even Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart's "greatest hits" - nine each - could include a few more titles - as could those for James Stewart or Cary Grant or Bette Davis . . . well, you get the idea.

Now compare them with the contemporary stars. These "greatest hits" lists are shorter . . . and many could be shorter still.

Sharon Stone's list is three movies long - "Total Recall" (in which she had a supporting role!), "Basic Instinct" and "Casino."

That list could be shortened by three.

And Schwarzenegger's four-film list is made up of "Pumping Iron," "Total Recall" and the two "Terminator" movies.

Kevin Costner's six-picture list includes "Tin Cup" and "Fandango"! And among six listed for Michelle Pfeiffer are "Into the Night" and "The Russia House"! And how about four Faye Dunaway choices including "Mommie Dearest"!

Granted, this is subjective stuff. But "Mommie Dearest"!

Oh, well.

Jane Fonda's list includes "Barbarella" and Al Pacino's has "Scarface" and "Rambo" is on Sylvester Stallone's - so maybe there's a reason to include movies that have become shorthand jokes in the modern American lexicon.

But are they really "greatest hits"?

In some cases, even the stars duck and cover when these titles are brought up.

Anyway, the lesson here is obvious: Complain about the old repressive studio system if you must - and modern filmmakers often do - but they knew how to make great movies back then. And plenty of them.

More importantly for this discussion, however - they also knew how to make great stars.