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TCM's 'Under the Stars' fest in August spotlights a variety of actors

Who rates as a "star" today?

In this 21st century age of superstars/megastars -- maybe even uber-stars -- it's getting hard to figure.

That's why each annual Summer Under the Stars festival from Turner Classic Movies seems increasingly vexing.

Yes, it's August -- the dog days of tube viewing -- and we're desperate for something/anything special to watch. So here comes an entire month (starting Saturday) that promises a 24-hour tribute to a different Hollywood movie star every single day.

Yet some of those "stars" are named Mae Clarke, Adolphe Menjou, Virginia Bruce or Monty Woolley.

Say what?

Beyond obvious legends like John Wayne or Katharine Hepburn, some of TCM's 2015 Summer "stars" are downright inscrutable -- even given the channel's bent toward the Hollywood "golden age" actors whose films come from the 1930s-1960s studio-era library the channel owns outright.

No disrespect intended. Alan Arkin, Teresa Wright and Lee J. Cobb built decades-long careers for good reason. They were dependable performers. Warren Oates is a god among indie lovers. Rex Ingram was a pioneering black actor of substance when Hollywood didn't allow many. And Ann-Margret still makes male hearts flutter, 50 years later.

But no Chaplin? No Keaton -- Buster, Michael or Diane? No Cagney or Bogart? No Bette Davis, or Bette Midler? How many film fans even know that Saturday's kickoff honoree Gene Tierney is a woman? And, by the way, where's that guy's-guy Gene Kelly?

It's an annual debate. Who belongs? Who doesn't? Maybe TCM should just repeat the "true" greats of cinema, year after year. Like Orson Welles and Judy Garland. Or should that be Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts?

Generational disputes, yes. Mainstream vs. cult. Even as TCM unreels everything from indie oddities to century-old silents, from documentaries to foreign films, it can never satisfy every cinephile.

At least this August, TCM continues its weekly showcases -- The Essentials (must-know classics Saturdays at 8 p.m.) and TCM Movie Camp (family films Sundays at 8). So what if "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (this Sunday at 8) spotlights the vigor of Errol Flynn, yet airs during the day of co-star Olivia de Havilland? "East of Eden" (Aug. 8 at 8) is known for star James Dean, but is included due to on-screen dad Raymond Massey. When Gene Kelly does show up in "Singin' in the Rain" (Aug. 23 at 8), it's only because of young love interest Debbie Reynolds.

Sometimes, it doesn't pay to quibble. Better to just watch. And enjoy.

The August Schedule

1 Gene Tierney

2 Olivia de Havilland

3 Adolphe Menjou

4 Teresa Wright

5 Fred Astaire

6 Michael Caine

7 Katharine Hepburn

8 Raymond Massey

9 Robert Walker

10 Joan Crawford

11 Rex Ingram

12 Robert Mitchum

13 Ann-Margret

14 Groucho Marx

15 Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

16 Patricia Neal

17 Lee J. Cobb

18 Vivien Leigh

19 John Wayne

20 Mae Clarke

21 Alan Arkin

22 Marlene Dietrich

23 Debbie Reynolds

24 Warren Oates

25 Virginia Bruce

26 Greta Garbo

27 Monty Woolley

28 Ingrid Bergman

29 George C. Scott

30 Gary Cooper

31 Shelley Winters

The schedule

Summer Under the Stars 2015 on Turner Classic Movies (Titles/times at

Festivals start at 6 a.m.

Aug. 1 Gene Tierney

Aug. 2 Olivia De Havilland

Aug. 3 Adolphe Menjou

Aug. 4 Teresa Wright

Aug. 5 Fred Astaire

Aug. 6 Michael Caine

Aug. 7 Katharine Hepburn

Aug. 8 Raymond Massey

Aug. 9 Robert Walker

Aug. 10 Joan Crawford

Aug. 11 Rex Ingram

Aug. 12 Robert Mitchum

Aug. 13 Ann-Margret

Aug. 14 Groucho Marx

Aug. 15 Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Aug. 16 Patricia Neal

Aug. 17 Lee J. Cobb

Aug. 18 Vivien Leigh

Aug. 19 John Wayne

Aug. 20, Mae Clarke

Aug. 21 Alan Arkin

Aug. 22 Marlene Dietrich

Aug. 23 Debbie Reynolds

Aug. 24 Warren Oates

Aug. 25 Virginia Bruce

Aug. 26 Greta Garbo

Aug. 27 Monty Woolley

Aug. 28 Ingrid Bergman

Aug. 29 George C. Scott

Aug. 30 Gary Cooper

Aug. 31 Shelley Winters

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