HOLLYWOOD, April 8 (UPI) -- Age is a many splendored thing except in Tinseltown, a burgh dedicated to young audiences and servile to youthful talent.
Yet seldom in the 100-year history of motion picture production in Southern California have so many performers over the age of 50 been so visible as now.
Many of the silver screen's icons of the past century can still be seen at industry events and chic parties, though certainly less frequently found in movies.
This year, 2002, will see scores of former stars and dozens of recent ones popping up in character roles and at such affairs as the annual Academy Awards, as did gaffers Sidney Poitier, 75, Woody Allen, 67, and Robert Redford 65 this year. All three are old-timers being honored for their contributions to motion pictures over the years. They were accorded standing ovations at the Oscars last month.
But they are striplings compared to some of the other great stars of the past who are still alive and kicking. Foremost among them is Bob Hope who celebrates his 99th birthday soon. He is a versatile comedian/emcee who starred in vaudeville, on Broadway, in radio, movies, TV and toured the world entertaining American troops during three wars.
Of all the great stars in Hollywood history, Hope is perhaps the most beloved, certainly by all the grateful branches of the American military service.
Not far behind the beloved Hope is Katharine Hepburn who has won four Academy Awards in her long and distinguished career. She soon will be 95.
Another screen icon, Gregory Peck, celebrates his 86th birthday this year. Fellow Academy Award-winner Ernest Borgnine reaches 85, as do Lena Horne, Isabel Sanford, Joan Fontaine, Ossie Davis and Phyllis Diller.
Most of the octogenarians are in good health and enjoying life and so are a handful in their 90s, among them TV personality Art Linkletter.
Several of the movies' great beauties continue to lead happy, productive lives, including Elizabeth Taylor and Debbie Reynolds who will turn 70 in 2002. Doris Day will be 78 and Rhonda Fleming remains absolutely stunning as she approaches her 70th birthday.
Somewhat more ancient than most are Glenn Ford and Kirk Douglas, both 86 this year, not to forget Olivia de Havilland, 86. Jack Klugman, Betty White and Carl Reiner will find 80 candles on their birthday cakes in 2002.
A healthy group of stars will have gracefully reached their 70s. Janet Leigh is one of them, anticipating her 75th. Shirley Temple will be 74.
Among others are Paul Newman, reaching 77; Charlton Heston, soon will be 79. Marlon Brando hits 78. Robert Wagner will be 72 as will Ellen Burstyn, Joanne Woodward, and Robert Vaughn, Richard Dawson and Dabney Coleman -- most of whom continue to work from time to time.
Male stars for whatever reason work longer and later than their female counterparts, perhaps because audiences -- male and female alike -- seem to prefer younger women on the screen.
Is it possible Brigitte Bardot is aging, too? Yes, of course, the blonde French bombshell is 68 and living quietly in the south of France.
But there is no shortage of titian sex kittens. There never is.
Today the public clamors for skinny blondes in their teens and 20s: J.Lo, Calista Flockhart, Jennifer Anisten, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sarah Jessica Parker, Britney Spears, Reese Witherspoon, Cameron Diaz, Renee Zellweger and other girlies for whom thong bikinis are designed.
There are exceptions, to be sure: Julia Roberts, 35, and Sandra Bullock, 38. Both brunettes look good in scanty wardrobes -- for now. Apparently in a class by herself is Nicole Kidman who at 35 combines facial beauty, statuesque body and a willingness to appear in her scanties when called upon.
But when it comes to casting mature women in technically difficult and demanding roles, Hollywood can always count on the talent-laden actresses of Britain.
At this year's Academy Awards England's Judi Dench, 68, and Australia's Kidman were nominated for Oscars for best actress, along with Helen Mirren, 57, and Maggie Smith, 68, for best supporting actress.
No one knows or cares how they look in their underwear because they know how to act superbly and that's what Oscars reward and audiences enjoy most.