MADISON, Wis. — I write my wife a daily picture postcard. Today's image was a classic still from the movie Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, depicting Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in full chorus-line regalia.
As I appreciated the photo, it occurred to me that very few brunettes in history could have stood in the glow of Marilyn Monroe without disappearing entirely. Ms. Russell, who had created a sensation with her debut performance as a smoldering sexpot in The Outlaw, was a notable exception.
Inevitably, my mind wandered next to my least edifying intellectual pastime: compiling and revising my list of the Five Greatest Dream Lovers of All Time. This diversion originated with the character Ross in the TV sitcom, Friends, who kept a laminated list of the five contemporary gorgeous women whom he reserved the right to have sex with, regardless of his marital status.
Makin' a list
Following Ross's example, my wife and I compiled our own top fives. I did girls, she did guys. For us, however, being older than Ross, the more interesting way to compile the list is to go back in time (although not as far as Helen of Troy). If you introduce this exercise to a group, the arguments can go on for hours, or months, revisited over and over again -- especially if drinking is involved (and when wouldn't it be?).
The hard part is keeping yourself down to just five.
How do you keep your picks to a precious few?
Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell (left); Ryan Gosling (right).
The big, bouncy issue that often comes up in dream-lover discussions is Marilyn Monroe. Some say her personal flaws and tragic end (she died in an ugly way) disqualify her. But really! Anybody who even thinks of leaving Marilyn off the list has forgotten (or never saw) her on that couch with Tony Curtis in Some Like it Hot, or hasn't watched that scorching tape of Marilyn singing "Happy Birthday" to JFK. Marilyn Monroe doesn't just belong: She's the reason for every such list that's ever been written.
My other absolute lock for All-Time Dream Lover (female version) is Grace Kelly. Every time she appeared on screen, the audience froze with awe. She was so perfect that she seemed literally untouchable -- a taboo that Hitchcock deftly shattered with Kelly's hands-on roles in Rear Window and Dial M for Murder.
After Marilyn and Grace, the Top Five list becomes more a matter of personal taste -- where the arguments begin. For me, Sophia Loren is as much a no-brainer as Marilyn and Grace. The only difference is that, unlike Marilyn and Grace, we have seen Ms. Loren, not only in her magnificent prime, but in her old age.
Now, with two places left on the list, I reserve one for beauties of the past and one for contemporary traffic-stoppers. My candidates in the former group include Garbo and Dietrich, Greer Garson, Gina Lollobrigida, Raquel Welch, the hugely underrated Janet Leigh, and the gasp-inducing Rita Hayworth.
But the winner? Ann-Margret. The first time I saw her on-screen -- singing the title song in the opening credits of Bye Bye, Birdie -- I underwent a combination of instant puberty and religious epiphany that almost blinded me. I just kept muttering, "Oh my God! Oh my GOD!"
Finally: Is there, among today's stars, a dream lover worthy of the Hall of Fame?
Arguments rage. Many skeptics say things like, "They don't make women (or men) the way they used to make 'em." The simple retort to such ignorance is a glimpse of Salma Hayek -- the only woman in showbiz today who can wear a peasant blouse as convincingly as Jane Russell.
Because this is my list and I can do whatever I want with it, I have Ms. Hayek in a three-way tie for my last spot, with Halle Berry and Tyra Banks.
Ah, I hear the grumbling already. Halle Berry rather than Angelina Jolie, or Nicole Kidman? And how in God's name could I leave out Audrey Hepburn (irresistible but too skinny), Maureen O'Hara (wonderful, but only the fourth greatest redhead in history), Paulette Goddard, and Michelle Pfeiffer (I love them both, but...)?
By the way, in the male version of this game, names that seem to appear most often are Cary Grant, Paul Newman, Sean Connery, James Dean, and Robert Redford -- although there's a lot of support for Elvis, John Wayne, Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Tyrone Power, Steve McQueen, Harry Belafonte, Harrison Ford, George Clooney, Antonio Banderas, and Sean Cassidy.
So, who's on your list?