Lists. Our lives are constantly inundated with lists. Whenever I see lists that wax nostalgically about the past, invariably they are incomplete and about as culturally flavorful as milquetoast. Thus, when I read the list, written and complied by Pat Gallagher, “Celebrities Who Are Alive and Well – Post 80,” on the Huffington Post, my expectations were met wholeheartedly.
I am normally one not to cast aspersions on anyone else’s childhood memories, especially Babyboomers. As a Gen X-er and the offspring of Boomers, I sincerely believe there are those who are not included on this list of 27 people, who rank far higher up the “celebrity” scale than say, Rance Howard, James Best, and Betty Lynn. This is not to belittle these celebrity careers, but to point out glaring omissions made by Ms. Gallagher, who I think meant well, but simply has a narrow point of view.
I admit it is great seeing Doris Day, Tony Bennett, and Jim Nabors, and others on this list, which could have been longer and more open in its selection. I am not just speaking of people of color.
Efram Zimbalist, Jr., Clint Eastwood, Jerry Lewis, Mel Brooks, Martin Landau, and Robert Wagner all come to mind as well. But, in this era with President Obama in the White House and Gabby Douglas winning gold at the Olympics, there is a serious opportunity missed by not being more inclusive.
While Ms. Gallagher does mention Fats Domino, with a photo of Chubby Checker, and Chuck Berry, I wonder why the list lacks any other celebrities of color, who are also over 80.
Just for starters, here are some other celebrities over 80, I think Ms. Gallagher could have mentioned on her list:
Sidney Poitier is the first African-American to win an Academy Award as an actor. He was broke the color barrier in the types of roles portrayed by black actors. He paved the way for the likes of Denzel Washington, Will Smith, and Jamie Foxx.
Ruby Dee is a cultural icon of stage and screen. She with her late husband Ossie Davis, entertained and fought injustice during the Civil Rights Movement. She was second oldest person nominated for an Academy Award at the age of 83.
Rita Moreno is an entertainment powerhouse, who happens to be Latina. She is a true EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony). Surely her performance in “West Side Story” should be a favorite for any card-carrying member of the Boomer Generation.
B.B. King is still making music today. With more than 90 albums to hi credit and his guitar Lucille, have been thrilling audiences around the world. He is a member if the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He has earned the titled King of the Blues.
Harry Belafonte has done it all and is currently living history. He too is over 80 and has done more in his lifetime as an entertainer and social activist than many of us far younger. He also broke barriers in stage, television, and music.
All had far reaching and culturally impactful careers than some of this list. There are others I am sure.
Perhaps growing up in an African-American community, the idea and concept of “celebrity” is filtered through a different lens. Perhaps, Ms. Gallagher wanted to create a list that was seemingly not offensive, thus lack of people of color.
Many of these entertainers stood for something during their careers and fought for others. So, I get it, perhaps she wanted to stand clear of controversy. Yet, Mickey Rooney, during his illustrious career, created one of the most offensive Asian characters on film in ‘Breakfast at Tiffanys.’ And sadly, even Chuck Berry did time in prison. And, although I did watch the “Dukes of Hazzard,” once I realized the subtext of the show, Roscoe P. Coltrane is not a fond memory.
I would argue that by not including more people of color, Ms. Gallagher, inadvertently offends those of us who see a list 27 people, which marginalizes our childhoods and memories.
When I think of these celebrities, a smile comes to my face and I am certain for Boomers of color, they too have fond memories of these entertainers as well.
Darryl Wharton-Rigby is an award-winning filmmaker and professor. He taught film for Morgan State University’s Screenwriting and Animation Program. He wrote and directed the feature film, “Detention,” and wrote for NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Street." He is working on two books, “Suspicious,” an anthology of stories about racial profiling and “The Lazy Filmmakers Guide: Creating Cinematic Capital,” which discusses independent filmmaking strategies with personal anecdotes. His latest short film “Obon,” shot in a tsunami ravaged town in Japan premiered at the 2012 Pan-African Film Festival and his film “Prodigal,” screened at this year’s Cannes Short Film Corner. He is currently living in Fukushima, Japan with his wife and three children and working on the documentary, ‘Don Doko Don: The Yamakiya Taiko Club Story.’