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How do you get from Alda to Zetterling? (Oracle of Bacon)

From Toronto Star
November 28, 2001

By Peter Howell
Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Never mind your six degrees of separation. The celebrity-obsessed computer boffins at the University of Virginia are using the Internet to prove that when it comes to Hollywood, virtually every star is just two or three degrees away from every other star.

You've probably heard of the Oracle of Bacon (http://www.cs.virginia.edu/oracle/), the weird Web game created by the university's computer science department, in which links are made between the ubiquitous Kevin Bacon and other stars in the Hollywood cosmos. The Oracle has received more ink that Bacon himself.

Now comes Star Links (oracleofbacon.org/oracle/star_links.html), an Oracle offshoot that uses the Internet Movie Database to link luminaries, with or without Bacon. The object of the game is to connect any actor or actress — the weirder, the better — with other actors and actresses in the smallest number of links. A match is made if they've been in a movie together or have been regulars — not guests — in a TV series.

For example, there's just two degrees of separation between Bob Hope and Bob Dylan. Hope was in Casanova's Big Night (1954) with Vincent Price. Price was in Catchfire (1989) with Dylan.

Madonna and Mae West are likewise two links away. Madonna was in Dick Tracy (1990) with Mike Mazurki. Mazurki was in Belle Of The Nineties (1934) with West.

Play this addictive game and you'll quickly realize the real trick is not finding the smallest number of links, but the largest number. It's a comment on the incestuous nature of the entertainment industry that almost any celebrity can be matched with almost any other in just two or three links.

The Oracle says the current record for the most number of star links is 14 — it didn't give any names — but I couldn't get beyond three. Even when I tried the most outrageous pairs imaginable, they still ended up being closer than I'd ever imagined.

Who'd have figured that there's just three degrees of separation between comic hustler Martin Lawrence and, uh, comic hustler W.C. Fields? Lawrence was in House Party 3 (1991) with William Schallert. Schallert was in Gunslinger (1956) with John Ireland. Ireland was in MGM's Big Parade Of Comedy (1964) with Fields.

Similarly, there are only three degrees of separation between Toronto-born Mary Pickford and Georgia-born Julia Roberts. Roberts was in The Player (1992) with Dean Stockwell. Stockwell was in Won Ton Ton, The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976) with Walter Pidgeon. Pidgeon was in Anniversary Party (1963) with Pickford.

I figured that to beat the Oracle, you'd have to pick the most unlikely pair imaginable. And could you think of an odder couple than Buster Keaton and Spike Lee? The Oracle can, making the connection in just three links. Lee was in Clockers (1995) with Keith David. David was in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001) with Donald Sutherland. Sutherland was in Buster's Bedroom (1990) with Keaton.

That one is a bit of a cheat. It was Keith David's voice, not David himself, in the animated Final Fantasy. And Keaton's appearance in Buster's Bedroom was 24 years after his death using archival footage.

Still, it makes you realize that the Hollywood community is a lot smaller than anyone had imagined. Try the Oracle for yourself, and if you can top that 14-link record, let me know.

KILLER B's: The popular cult movie site B-Movie Theater (http://www.B-Movie.com) has had a recent overhaul that has made it even more jam-packed with vital obscurities. The site also recently admitted new films and faces Blair Witch Project, El Mariachi and A Fistful Of Dollars, and such actors as Jackie Chan, Lon Chaney Jr. and Peter Cushing.

Hey , I wonder how far apart Jackie Chaney and Lon Chaney are on the Oracle? Just two links, it turns out.

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