HOLLYWOOD, May 30 (UPI) -- Try to imagine John Wayne, Clark Gable or Henry Fonda discussing their marriages on "Entertainment Tonight." What about Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis or Gloria Swanson walking the Academy Awards' red carpet in gowns with necklines plunging to their navels and exposing their breasts?
Or how about Spencer Tracy, James Stewart, Greta Garbo or Norma Shearer spilling their sexual indiscretions to Larry King in an intimate television interview? Would you believe Greer Garson, Grace Kelly and Ingrid Bergman competing on "Hollywood Squares?" Could "Extra Extra" have offered backstage peeks of Mary Pickford, Charles Boyer or Paul Muni discussing George W. Bush's foreign policy?
No. Of course not. Absolutely impossible even if the tabloid gossips and game show atrocities had existed in their time. These individuals were more than world famous movie stars. They were exalted celebrities with private lives who knew the difference between fame and familiarity.
Certainly, they were humans with faults, shortcomings and difficult personal problems, which they strove to keep to themselves.
Wayne, Fonda and Gable were men who made their livings as actors. That did not give the public access to their innermost convictions and sexual activities. God knows Kelly, Bergman and Hepburn had peccadilloes aplenty, but they kept their indiscretions to themselves.
These women led separate public and private lives, much to their credit. By and large movie stars of yesteryear rarely confused their acting roles with the reality of their personal lives.
In this era of rampant exhibitionism so-called stars allow themselves to be exploited, urged on by ambitious press agents, revealing personal convictions that are nobody's business.
Take Barbra Streisand, Cher, Alec Baldwin, Sean Penn and the flood of blondes who in years past were identified as "starlets" appearing regularly on the tube to show off, giggle, reveal their bods as well as their romantic entanglements.
Who gives a damn, you ask?
Evidently millions of TV viewers who seem fascinated by J-Lo's latest beau, Britney's lingerie, Jennifer's diet secrets and Leonardo's current squeeze.
Their frequent egotistical appearances on TV are supplemented by weekly tabloids which further exploit (not too accurately it should be noted) their so-called private lives.
Like TV gossip shows -- which commonly follow network news shows -- tabloid magazines specializing in lurid headlines are snapped up at supermarkets in record numbers.
The same names and faces appear repetitively, building the fiction that the individuals are superstars whereas, in truth, they mostly are the flavor of the month doomed to the revolving door of transitory fame.
There are, however, some exceptions among today's leading performers who maintain a personal sense of dignity and who seldom fall prey to King or Barbara Walters. Most of these genuine stars are men who refuse to pander to avid hustlers who would exploit them for gossip-hungry audiences.
First and foremost among them is Hanks, a two-time Academy Award-winner for best actor. A versatile performer who plays drama and comedy equally well, Hanks appears on TV almost solely to promote a new film or good cause.
While he is neither hostile nor complaisant to the media, this $20 million-per-picture superstar maintains his dignity at industry events and gives every appearance of being happily married and a devoted parent.
Ford, too, maintains his dignity, even in the face of a recent divorce and a romance with -- wait for it ... -- Calista Flockhart, of all people.
But Ford cannot be found babbling to TV vultures or anyone else about his relationship with the skinny TV star or announcing marriage plans or revealing other trivia.
Gibson, like Hanks and Ford, protects his privacy. He believes he owes the public the best performances possible, but asks the media to keep its collective nose out of his personal life.
Connery makes his home in Spain and in keeping with his native Scotland, plays more golf on more courses than touring professionals. His wife, and those of the others, are ladies not given to flamboyance and exhibitionism; none conduct televised tours of their homes. These four stars will discuss their new movies to help stimulate the box office, but they know where to draw the line.
Few people know their political preferences. There is no general knowledge of family problems nor media releases regarding their finances or how they feel about tattoos on their leading ladies.
They share a sense of good taste and understand the difference between their screen images and who they really are away from the cameras. The public doesn't know exactly where they live. They do not court attention. They shield their youngsters from glaring TV lights, and snooping paparazzi's hounding questions and strobes. That's why they are the biggest stars of all.