Just Above Sunset
May 15, 2005 - The Greatest American of All Time

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

In the middle of 2002 the British, via the BBC, got to vote on the Greatest Briton of All Time.  Earlier this year the French, via France-2 television, got to vote on Le plus grand Français de tous les temps - no need to translate that.


And now it is our turn.

If you check with the BBC you can see how they voted.

From the BBC top 100 these were the winners:

- Winston Churchill - 456,498 votes (28.1%)
- Isambard Kingdom Brunel - 398,526 votes (24.6%) And that would be this fellow (the son of a Frenchman!)
- Diana, Princess of Wales - 225,584 votes (13.9%)
- Charles Darwin - 112,496 votes (6.9%)
- William Shakespeare - 109,919 votes (6.8%)
- Isaac Newton - 84,628 votes (5.2%)
- Queen Elizabeth I - 71,928 votes (4.4%)
- John Lennon - 68,445 votes (4.2%)
- Horatio Nelson - 49,171 votes (3%)
- Oliver Cromwell - 45,053 (2.8%)

Surprised?  It was a popular vote, not a poll of historians after all.

For a jaundiced view of the French vote this year, The Guardian (UK) see this –

French baffled by list of national heroes
Jon Henley in Paris - Wednesday March 16, 2005 - The Guardian (UK)


Victor Hugo, Molière, Marie Curie and Charles de Gaulle are still in there fighting. But Alexandre Dumas, Jean-Paul Sartre and Belmondo and even - bit of an upset, this one - Napoleon are sadly out of the running.

… France's top 100 contained some surprises. "What the hell were they thinking of?" asked Le Parisien, noting that the anti-globalisation activist José Bové (87) and film director Luc Besson (91) were deemed to have contributed more to Gallic glory than Jean-Paul Sartre (96) and Simone de Beauvoir, who did not even make the list.

The full list contains 90 men and 10 women. Sixty-eight of the candidates are dead, and 32 alive. Even in a country which turns philosophers into household names, the world of show business comfortably tops the French poll with 44 representatives, while the arts and literature muster 22, politics 17 and sport just eight.

The top 10 contains few major upsets, with the possible exception of the anarchic comic and one-time presidential candidate Coluche, and the legendary comedian and actor Bourvil, who starred in 55 films and recorded 300 songs.

France's favourite priest, the Abbé Pierre, who founded the Emmaus charity for the poor and homeless, is in there, as are undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau, two-time Nobel prizewinner Marie Curie, General de Gaulle, the great romantic poet and novelist Hugo, the 17th-century dramatic genius Molière, groundbreaking chemist Louis Pasteur and singer Edith Piaf.

Among the notable also-rans, the late president François Mitterrand (24) trounced the incumbent, Jacques Chirac (42). However, the diminutive Corsican emperor who created modern-day France could only manage an undistinguished 16th - while the show's two hosts, TV presenters Michel Drucker and Thierry Ardisson, both made the top 70.


Yeah, whatever.

Just Above Sunset’s Paris columnist, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, in his "Our Man in Paris" columns reported on this for our readers.

See March 20, 2005 - France Picks Its Nose


The hit British TV reality show 'Great Brits' has been given a Gallic scent of garlic, amusing offshore news organizations somewhat more than the French, who have seldom wondered who among them is most popular national hero because Charles de Gaulle snared the top spot between periods of being a traitor and the ex-President of France.

Despite the heavy advance promotion by France-2 TV for last Monday night's 'Le plus grand Français de tous les temps,' I easily managed not to watch it. I have nothing against diverting television entertainment but French TV is usually too silly to be diverting, even though veteran host Michel Drucker is not a total jerk. For Monday's amusement he was back-stopped by Thierry Ardisson, who used to pretend to drink jars of whisky in the Palace disco on Saturday night TV.

To compound my error, I failed to read Le Parisien's account of the show on Tuesday. …


And that was followed by April 17, 2005 - Runners-Up - with the results –


This Frenchman contest only yielded two TV broadcasts. A poll in September of 2004 selected the '100 greatest Frenchmen of all time,' and after the first broadcast 10 remained in the running. With no suspense for the top spot in France, the vote's real interest fell on the nine runner-ups.

The scientist Louis Pasteur was chosen as the number two 'greatest Frenchman of all time.' Pasteur developed pasteurization, vaccines, and invented the science of microbiology. Hardly a random choice, because Marie Curie landed in the fourth spot.

Born in Warsaw, she discovered radium and won Nobel prizes in 1903 and 1911.

Between the two, a very old but living Abbé Pierre was chosen for the third spot. Since the end of World War II he has been saying that some people are poorly housed in France. He is a popular and longstanding moral force even if people are still poorly housed.

It's a surprise to see the dead comedian Coluche edge out Victor Hugo, but not such a surprise to find the writer in the sixth place. But the consistency holds with another comedian, Bourvil, in seventh spot, followed by Molière the playwright, who died during the fourth performance of 'Le Malade Imaginaire,' in 1673.

In ninth place it's back to science again with the selection of the undersea's Jacques-Yves Cousteau. In the tenth place, the list is completed with name of another entertainer, Edith Piaf.

This adds up to one statesman, three scientists, a moral leader, two comedians and a singer, one writer and one playwright - that the French have chosen to be the 'greatest Frenchmen of all time.' If they were all attending a party, it would probably be an interesting evening, French style.


Yes, it would be, non?


And The Nose won – Charles De Gaulle, of course.

Now it is our turn.  The Discovery Channel and AOL are teaming up on this one - seven hours in primetime to be telecast this summer.  The idea is to make our choice for “the person who has most embodied the American dream, having the biggest impact on the way we think, work and live.”

Is the American dream to rip off another BBC television show?  Well, All in the Family with its quintessential American, Archie Bunker, worked our for Norman Lear.  Any number of American movies have been adaptations of French movies – Renoir’s son made "Boudu sauvé des eaux" in 1932 and we got “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” forty years later.  This might work.  Some of us think AOL is a really crappy service, but millions use it.  And the Discovery Channel often runs pretty amusing stuff – this weekend you can watch “Who Killed King Tut?: Case Reopened” for example.  The butler did it.

As for the Greatest American of All Time, the top one hundred (so far) can be found here, and the show itself premieres Sunday, June 5 at eight in the evening.


Millions of Americans nominated their choices via AOL to create a list of 100 candidates. Each candidate will be profiled in the four-part weekly primetime series. After learning more about the candidates, viewers will have the chance to make their voices heard through several forums including online voting through AOL, telephone voting and text messaging. After each show, they'll narrow down the candidates until only one great American remains.


As they say in Chicago, vote early, vote often.

Of course there is a web log that accompanies this – an AOL promotional affair and hardly independent and cutting edge.  Since March 15 it shows around 18,000 hits.  There you can read AOL members arguing the case for their choices.  And the stirring prose so far has suggested one of these is clearly the Greatest American of All Time:

- Michael Jackson
- Howard Hughes
- Bob Hope
- Thomas Jefferson
- Hugh Hefner
- Tom Hanks
- Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Walt Disney
- Elvis Presley
- George W. Bush
- Lance Armstrong

And to think the Brits had fun ragging on the French and their choices.

Other things to do on June 5 should you not want to watch?  As it is the anniversary of the first public balloon flight - and that would be Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier in 1783 – you could get high.  Or think about other June 5 events – in 1968 Robert F. Kennedy was shot at the Ambassador Hotel down on Wilshire, and in 1888 the Democrats nominated Grover Cleveland for president.  Or you could celebrate the birthday of famous people on June 5 - Adam Smith (1723), Federico García Lorca (1898), Francisco "Pancho" Villa (1877).

Or you could watch the show, and vote for…?

Mark Twain is one of the finalists.  So is Rush Limbaugh.

But so is Bobby Kennedy.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....