One hundred years ago, 1916, the United States had not yet entered the conflict that would later be known as World War I. The Chicago Cubs played their first game at a stadium later called Wrigley Field. In other cub-related news, Lord Robert Baden-Powell wrote a guide outlining the organization that later became the Cub Scouts. And throughout the year, people were born whose exceptional influence in art and entertainment could not have been predicted but would still be felt decades later — ten decades, to be exact.
Here are ten filmmakers, actors, and writers who would have turned 100 this year. Two of them are still with us and, we hope, will mark that rare milestone. In 2016 help celebrate these centenarians and would-be centenarians by watching one of their top-ranked Flickchart titles.
Masaki Kobayashi, February 14
Samurai meet for battle in Masaki Kobayashi's HARAKIRI
Born in Japan's far north, director Masaki Kobayashi was always a bit of an outsider. When much of Japan went to war in the 1930s and '40s, the pacifist Kobayashi kept a low profile. His Human Condition trilogy (1959-61) recalled the war from the perspective of a socialist, a political slant nearly as unpopular in Japan during the Cold War as it was in the West. Later, when peers like Akira Kurosawa were finding international success with stylish samurai movies, Kobayashi found a way to make an equally stylish anti-samurai movie: the bloody yet moralizing Harakiri, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes. 1964's Kwaidan was an equally-successful anthology film, and Japanese film scholar Donald Richie has used the phrase "Kobayashi's rebellion" to describe the anti-establishment, anti-patriarchal slant of 1967's Samurai Rebellion. Kobayashi died in 1996 at the age of 80.
Masaki Kobayashi's top five Flickchart titles:
Jackie Gleason, a big-boned, heavy-drinking, sour-faced comedian equally at home on television and film, was among the most recognizable character actors of the twentieth century. He came to fame in the early 1950s as half of the bickering Kramdens on TV's The Honeymooners, and later had his own successful variety show. Rather than fade away when tastes changed in the 1960s and '70s, Gleason's star only seemed to rise: as Minnesota Fats he brings gravitas to a small but significant role in the brooding billiards film The Hustler, and he arguably reached a career high as the chaw-spitting, "sumbitch"ing sheriff Buford T. Justice in Smokey and the Bandit. Unfortunately, the sequels to that quintessentially 70s film (see our piece about its historical context here) could not be saved even by Gleason's presence. He died in 1987.
Jackie Gleason's top five Flickchart titles:
Gregory Peck's own image became conflated with that of his most beloved character, Atticus Finch. Though he did "take part in activities that I believe in," lending his voice to various liberal causes well into the 1990s. Peck did not consider himself a "do-gooder." To Kill a Mockingbird and the Oscar-winning Gentleman's Agreement see Peck tackle racism in America, but some of his most interesting film roles — like his collaborations with J. Lee Thompson and Alfred Hitchcock — are the ones in which he is colder, more cynical, or placed in compromised positions. The Guns of Navarone has him managing a hodgepodge of crack saboteurs with an iron fist, and in The Omen he must kill his own child when he learns that he has adopted the Antichrist. Even Roman Holiday, the classic romance, is driven by the self-serving fame-grubbing of Peck's reporter character. Peck died in 2003 aged 87.
Gregory Peck's top five Flickchart titles:
Linda Blair as Regan in THE EXORCIST; Mercedes McCambridge provided the voice
If you haven't seen her, you might have heard her: Mercedes McCambridge provides the voice of Pazuzu the demon in The Exorcist. Those are her filthy words coming out of little Linda Blair's mouth. She wasn't just a profane voice actor, though: in addition to numerous radio roles, McCambridge received an Oscar for her part in All the King's Men. She also worked with Orson Welles, who admired her, on Touch of Evil and the unreleased The Other Side of the Wind. (Welles would have celebrated his 100th birthday last year; see our selection of 1915 birthdays here.) McCambridge died in 2004.
Mercedes McCambridge's top five Flickchart titles:
Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian in THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD
The last surviving cast member of Gone with the Wind, Olivia de Havilland was in some of the biggest, most colorful, and most enduring movies of the 1930s. Her frequent collaborations with Errol Flynn, especially Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood, are the gold standard in swashbuckling. She won two Best Actress Oscars for work in the late 1940s, To Each His Own and The Heiress, but she reportedly had a rocky relationship with her sister Joan Fontaine that worsened when they were both nominated for the award in 1942. (Fontaine won that year and died in 2013 at the age of 96.) De Havilland currently lives in Paris.
Olivia de Havilland's top five Flickchart titles:
Like A.A. Milne and J.R.R. Tolkien before him, the British writer Roald Dahl survived wartime service to become a successful author of children's fantasy. He married into Hollywood, wedding actress Patricia Neal in 1953, and became a screenwriter in the 1960s when he adapted two of fellow Brit Ian Fleming's novels. From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Fantastic Mr. Fox to Matilda, Dahl's own imaginative novels have inspired a number of colorful and beloved films. He passed away in England in 1990.
The top five Flickchart titles written by Roald Dahl or adapted from his stories:
It was Peter Finch who uttered one of the most immortal lines in moviedom: "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this any more!" He said that, repeatedly, as a call-and-response with a slavering crowd in the media satire Network. His character, TV anchor Howard Beale, had reached the end of his rope, and unfortunately Finch had reached the end as well; he passed away just a few weeks before the Academy Awards ceremony for 1976 and became the first actor to win a posthumous Oscar. Finch was Australian, and coindentally so was Heath Ledger, the only other actor to win the award after death. Finch had a lot of fine roles, but it's his media-bashing clip from Network that will be shown again and again as long as there's a media to bash.
Peter Finch's top five Flickchart titles:
Bill Melendez directed A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS and voiced Snoopy
Born José Cuauhtémoc Meléndez in the state of Sonora, Mexico just south of California, animator "Bill" Melendez cut his teeth on big Disney classics like Dumbo and Fantasia before eventually starting his own studio. Peanuts creator Charles Schulz picked Melendez to adapt his comic strip for the screen, and Melendez directed most of the classic Charlie Brown movies as well as providing the voices of Snoopy and Woodstock. He died in 2008 at the age of 91, but his recorded vocal work was used in 2015's The Peanuts Movie, making him the member of this list with the latest credit.
Bill Melendez's top five Flickchart titles:
Star of some of the most critically-acclaimed movies of the 1950s, Kirk Douglas is also one of the last surviving actors of his era. As a young man he was strikingly good-looking, with a chin to end all chins at a time when deep clefts and firm jaws were considered desirable in a man. Just as important, he had talent. He brought a cerebral intensity to his darker pictures and a saucy charm to his lighter ones. His eldest son, actor Michael Douglas, inherited not only his looks but his acidic, insinuating New York/New Jersey inflection. Douglas lives in California with his wife of over 60 years.
Kirk Douglas's top five Flickchart titles:
Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, and Betty Grable in HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE
Adornment of many a WW2 soldier's pin-up board, Betty Grable was not just a pretty face and a good set of legs. She was a triple threat, singing, dancing, and acting in some of the most crowd-pleasing pictures of the Golden Age. Grable took over a part originally intended for singer Alice Faye in 1940's Down Argentine Way, the first of several Technicolor musicals to her name. Before that she had filled small but eye-catching roles behind the likes of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Grable's "Million Dollar Legs" were frequently referenced in other works long after her retirement in the 1950s and even after her death in 1973 at the young age of 56.
Betty Grable's top five Flickchart titles:
David has a Ph.D. in history from the University of Texas at Austin. He loves foreign films, westerns, war flicks, and has read nearly every word J.R.R. Tolkien ever wrote. David lived in Japan for three years and is always eager to talk about it. Follow him on Twitter at @davidaconrad or email him at email@example.com.