Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Hollywood Knights

      For every Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley, there's a John Cleese, David Bowie and Albert Finney. That is: for every actor/celebrity who has accepted a British civil honor (such as Knighthood) for exceptional achievement or service to the nation, there's another who has flat out rejected it. The reason given is typically the same. Like David Bowie's plainly stated public response to his CBE (Commander of the British Empire): "It's not what I spent my life working for" or John Lennon regarding his MBE (Member of the British Empire): "Your Majesty, I am returning this in protest against Britain's involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against Cold Turkey slipping down the charts. With Love, John Lennon of Bag."

The Queen actually has very little to do with the whole sticky process, other than presenting the prestigious title herself in a biannual ceremony. Anyone in the UK can nominate a living subject, but it's usually up to selection committees comprised of civil servants working from nominations channeled through the Prime Minister's office who decide. The Queen does get to choose a few though. In the days of olde (specifically the 13th Century), Knights were actually required to do military service. So many people refused the honor that King Henry VIII began to impose a fine upon anyone who declined. I often wonder if "Sir Tony" Hopkins would have been so readily accepting if that were the case today.

I began to wonder: what if there were a similar system for honoring great acting or exceptional contributions to the stage and screen in the U.S. (other than the copious industry award shows held every year)? What would a list of American celebrity Dames or Knights look like? Of course, they must have been awarded the honor while still living, so we'll have to suspend our disbelief a bit more and imagine these performers having been bestowed the title in his or her own lifetime. For time and space constraints, I've chosen 15 imaginary recipients, in no particular order. Please feel free to list any ideas of your own (living or dead) in the comments section. At any rate, on with the bestowed...

Dame Katharine Hepburn
walked a brisk six miles to the gala in full makeup and heels, then had to excuse herself for smelling "gamey"

Sir James Stewart
thanked everyone profusely, then helped clean up after the awards ceremony

Dame Bette Davis
gratefully thanked her fans, her Country and her What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? co-star Joan Crawford for providing motivation for the ultimate psycho-biddy she played to perfection, on and off camera

Sir Spencer Tracy
accepted rather dubiously, grumbling: "I guess now you'll have to make Bogart one too"

Dame Carole Lombard
the great platinum haired beauty, and richest star in Hollywood, sizzled in her elegant formal wear; Orson Welles offered to take her out to an all night buffet after the ceremony but she told him she was having her eyebrows waxed instead

Sir Lon Chaney, Sr.
accepted his honor disguised as an authentic Chinese immigrant with a hump and one leg; never breaking character

Sir Buster Keaton
reluctantly accepted in his twilight years, adding the disclaimer: "the applause is nice, but too late"

Dame Judy Garland
tearfully accepted her award, after arriving at the ceremony two hours late and having a hissy fit in front of the valet parking attendants

Sir Humphrey Bogart
lost his ceremonial ribbon afterwards during happy hour at Musso & Frank; while commiserating with Spencer Tracy

Sir Marlon Brando
was not in attendance so it's unclear whether he actually approved of the honor or not; he sent a telegram only wanting to know if he could play the part as a bagel

Sir John Wayne
insisted that he still just go by "Duke" or "Sir John" using his stage name in lieu of his actual name "Sir Marion"; as it was too close to "Maid Marion", a childhood nickname that still haunted him

Sir Richard Pryor
accepted by thanking: "all the motherfuckers who made this possible"

George C. Scott
refused the Knighthood, as well as the nomination

Groucho Marx
declined; so not to belong to any club that would have him as a member

Sir Paul Newman
accepted only to one-up box office rival Steve McQueen

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