*Updated February 2021. Once upon a time, I cared about the Kennedy Center Honors. I've grown disillusioned with the entire system since I originally posted this essay. As I revisit past essays, I will keep as much as I think necessary while correcting any spelling, grammar or factual mistakes. This is the first set of recommendations for the Kennedy Center Honors, one of a series of essays on the subject.
Every year, a group of artists in the fields of film, television, music, theater and dance are trotted out and given a big "Thank You" from the United States, a nation not known for great culture. Some of their choices have been right on the money: Fred Astaire, Lucille Ball, Bob Dylan. Some I find to be a bit, well, curious: Roger Daltrey & Pete Townshend. Here, I present a list of artists, in alphabetical order, who have not been so honored. They may have been approached and declined (Doris Day and pianist Vladimir Horowitz come to mind), but if not, they should be there, at least in my view.
Finney has had wide acclaim for his performances since his debut in Saturday Night & Sunday Morning, but really entered into the world's mindset as the rakish Tom Jones. Since then, think of his films: Under the Volcano, The Dresser, Murder on the Orient Express, The Browning Version, A Man of No Importance, Miller's Crossing, The Gathering Storm, Erin Brockovich, The Bourne Ultimatum, and even Annie. Five Oscar nominations, a continuing career on the stage, a true actor.
Few American composers have earned the respect that Glass has. His minimalist music, a term Glass rejects, has also been highly influential in modern classic music. His scores for such films as Kundun, The Hours, and Dracula have exposed him to a wider audience. Finally, his work for the cause of the Tibetan nation should be applauded.
It's a rarity to have a great beauty who is also a great actress. Sophia Loren is both. It is her Neapolitan features that lure us in, but her performance in Two Women focuses on the suffering of ordinary people in war, stripping away any loveliness of her face or body. Some of her best work is in Italian: Two Women, A Special Day, and Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow but she has had great success in English-language films such as El Cid, The Pride & The Passion, and even Grumpier Old Men. Loren is not just physically gorgeous but she has graduated to one of the truly great actresses.
The original "buttoned-up" comic, his deadpan humor has been his hallmark, one that has gotten him not one but two successful television series. The Bob Newhart Show and Newhart have been placed as some of the best and funniest series on television. There is no argument I know that disputes the ending of Newhart being among the greatest of all time.
Betty White is one of the last pioneers of television still working, making her television debut in 1949. Along with Lucille Ball, White is one of the first females to have control of her first series, Life With Elizabeth. Her acting skills are showcased by the two wildly different characters of man-hungry "Happy Homemaker" Sue Anne Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the perpetually naïve Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls. She is still going, and is instantly recognizable. Finally, her work for animals has been at the forefront of humane treatment for God's other creatures.
Of course, these are all suggestions, and there will be more coming. These performers are legends because of their hard work. I therefore submit their names for consideration.
*February 2021 Update: Albert Finney died on February 7, 2019 at age 82. Philip Glass was honored in 2018. The others named, still living as of this update, have not received a Kennedy Center Honor.
*July 2023 Update: Betty White died on December 21, 2021 at age 99. Loren and Newhart (89 and 94 respectively) have yet to be selected. LL Cool J and Queen Latifah, however, have.