The Beanstalk


by David N. Townsend


September 22, 1999
(Happy Bilbo's Birthday)


The Top 100 Everything of the 20th Century (Pt. 3)

Well, the responses have started pouring in, from all corners and crevices, and well over 1% of them have been favorable.  To quote just a few (actual quotes):

". . . I laughed . . ."

". . . the most . . . of all time . . ."

"Oh . . . you are . . . stunning . . ."

". . . Don't make me hurt you, Dave."

But naturally, a few highly opinionated fans have taken issue with some of the entries in the List of the Century, and I would be remiss if I didn't give equal time to these opinions.  In fact, I agree with some of them.  For example, I somehow spelled a few names wrong, such as Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Mao Tse Tung should be Mao Zedong.  Marie Curie, it was pointed out, is usually referred to as "Madame".  I bow to the greater wisdom.

By some curiosity, I thought that Katherine Hepburn had been in "A Star is Born", and more than one astute reader pointed out that I was woefully mistaken (it was Judy Garland).  But wait!  I'm not a complete fool, after all!  Upon further research, it turns out that the movie I was thinking of was "Morning Glory", only Hepburn's 3rd film in1933, for which she won her first Best Actress Award.  The story is largely the same: a young, aspiring actress meets disillusionment on her climb to stardom.  So there.

There were conflicting responses over some of the list members.  Webber, for example, was denounced as the equivalent of Muzac, and not in the same league with Stephen Sondheim for 20th century musical theater.  My reply is that I bet Sondheim would gladly trade bank accounts, but it's a matter of opinion, at least.  Some people questioned Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Lindbergh, and Mao himself. 

I'll mention a few changes that I would probably make, in retrospect: I'd consider substituting Teng Tsioping for Mao, as the latter actually helped spur China's tremendous growth of late, while the former was, well, a rotten communist.  I think my choice of LSD was too narrow; if you put all illegal narcotics in there, now that's a major theme of the century.

But enough of this nitpicking.  You'll have far more to moan about as we propel forward, to the next group of winners, down to No. 26.  Here they are:


Yet Again More of the Top 100 Everything of the 20th Century

50.    Batman.  Launched the comic book genre, the Superhero concept, a popular TV show, several blockbuster movies . . . and above all, if it weren't for him, the Joker would have taken over Gotham years ago.

49.    Nuclear energy.  Mildly controversial way to light things up.  Can also blow them up, if handled improperly.  Read instructions on reactor carefully.

48.    John Maynard Keynes.  The economist who has been both the most acclaimed and decried of the century.  Depending on your bias, he either: (1) rescued us from the Depression, or (2) caused the bloating of Big Government and high taxes.  He did, however, prove the truth of his most insightful economic observation: "In the long-run, we'll all be dead."

47.    Tampons.  Some female readers have suggested that this may be the single most valuable invention of the entire century.   Period.

46.   Jean-Paul Sartre.  It doesn't get any deeper than his depth.  Killed God, among other accomplishments.  If Hell is Other People, then his massive funeral procession in Paris in 1980 (I was there) was the Inferno in the extreme.

45.   Woodstock.  Music, peace, love.   Get it?.

44.    Benny Goodman.  The King of Swing, paved the way for all dance music to come (which doesn't, however, mean that we can blame him for Disco).

43.    Treaty of Versailles.  Ended the War to End All Wars.  Yeah, right.

42.    Michael Jordan.  Tall, bald man.   Jumped very high.  Kids in the Kenyan bush have been found wearing his No. 23 jersey.

41.   Satellites.  They watch over us.   Everywhere.  They listen, too.  But they also let us watch 250 channels, talk to each other across the planet, and keep an eye out for nasty nuclear missiles -- so we put up with them.

40.    Shopping Malls.  Natural habitat of the teenager, which itself is a 20th century invention.  The earlier manifestation of the Mall was the Department Store, which eventually lost out because there was no room for the kids to ride their skateboards down the halls.

39.    Salvador Dali.  Surrealist, genius, real weirdo. "Not one day goes by that I don't ride, 'til the infinite, the horse of my imagination" (1939).

38.    AT&T.  Was once the biggest corporation on earth, with it's fingers stretched into virtually every American home and office.   Ma Bell, they called her.  Then Ma gave birth to seven little babies, which proceeded to stick their own fingers all over the place, while Mommy sat back and laughed.   These days, the whole gang, and all their cousins, are about 20 times fatter than ever, still grabbing and sticking.

37.    Monopoly.  No, not a repetition of the previous entry; I mean the granddaddy of all board games.  It has taught capitalism to children everywhere better than any textbook could (not to mention the streetmap of Atlantic City).

36.    Nelson Mandela.  The last Great Hero if the 20th Century.

35.    Clark Gable.  There have been movie stars and leading men, and then there has been Clark Gable.  Feel free to swoon.

34.   Landing on the Moon.  One giant leap, indeed.   What do you think?  Is this the greatest technological achievement of the human race, or an almost totally irrelevant indulgence?  I guarantee that the answers will be 100% correlated with the number of Star Trek episodes respondents have watched.

33.   Eugene O'Neill.  Call me biased, but I rank him ahead of any other playwright of the century.  Okay, you can stop calling me biased, now.  (By the way, speaking of Hepburn, the nexus of her with O'Neill in the film version of "Long Day's Journey into Night" is possibly the most stunning piece of drama ever performed.)

32.   Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Does the era make the man great, or does his greatness define the era?  Discuss.

31.   Babe Ruth.  The first Superstar, the man who set the standard for all superstars to come.  Does he belong ahead of FDR?  When a reporter pointed out that he made more money than the President, Ruth replied, "Well, I had a better year."

30.   Sigmund Freud.  Discovered, defined, or documented, among other things: Personality, Sexuality, Psychosis, the Unconscious, Ego, etc.  Never cured anybody of anything.

29.    "The Honeymooners".  Defined the Situation Comedy TV Show, which all others have tried and failed to equal over 5 decades.   Spawned millions of couch potatoes for generations to come.

28.    Mother Teresa.  The century's Saint.   Earns the honor despite the fact that she never won an Oscar, had a No. 1 hit, or appeared on Oprah.

27.    Bikinis.  Immeasurably significant impact on men and women.  Helped launch the diet industry, for one thing.  The West Coast real estate boom?  The Beach Boys' careers?  Would you believe, Nair?

26.    Alfred Hitchcock.  With a name like that, it's no wonder he grew up to create such frightening and menacing movies.  He was probably getting back at all the schoolkids who used to tease him.  Go ahead, argue that anybody else, Coppola or Scorsese or Spielberg, is a greater director.  They'll all tell you that Hitchcock was their inspiration. (Okay, maybe not Woody Allen.)


Are we getting excited now?  What lies ahead?   Some hints: The top 25 include 6 individual persons, a few groups of people, some more technology and arts, a bit of history, and a couple of icons of popular culture.   What would you rank at the top of the century?  (Sex doesn't count; it was invented in the 1800s, I think.)


Recent ramblings:             

Over the hill and far away (2/28/99) The Top 100 Everything of the 20th Century (Pt.1) (8/31/99) The Top 100 Everything of the 20th Century (Pt.2) (9/8/99)
I have the humble honor of reporting to you from the far side of my 40th birthday, which occurred a week ago . . . You've seen the lists, the tributes, the polls, endlessly and everywhere as we approach the false bottom of the Millenium. Here, now, is  the second installment in this List of Lists, the Inter-continental Awards Ceremony that has everyone buzzing (well, the flies in my room, anyway).

(Click Elsewhen for the complete list)

  1999 David N. Townsend

The Beanstalk grows out of my head, so to speak, but I welcome
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