Top 12 Entertainers of 1998

    #5 Calista Flockhart

    ALLY McBEAL's top counsel was tried for crimes great (feminism's end) and small (a shrinking waistline). Perry Mason never had it so tough.

    It may not seem obvious on the surface, but it is without a doubt true that the anger, the annoyance, the sheer outpouring of spleen that has been directed this year toward Calista (Greek for "Most Beautiful") Flockhart, 34, and her on-screen alter ego Ally McBeal is in fact a testimony to the actress' great attractiveness and the deep appeal of her character. After all, nothing exasperates us quite as much as the people and things we love. And the more we root for, feel tenderly toward, or identify with the winsome, vulnerable title character of Fox's two-season-old hit, the more galling we find her inappropriately abbreviated skirts, her quivering, gaunt demeanor.

    As if that weren't enough, we then feel free to take issue with what we think this creation of a man -- exec producer David E. Kelley -- represents. Time held Ally McBeal as the symbol of young, modern, sexually liberated women who seem to want to distance themselves from feminism, and as the sad end product of the struggles of Susan B. Anthony and Gloria Steinem. A few months later, it was the real Flockhart who was under the microscope, or at least her too-prominent clavicle and scapula were, as the nation eagerly digressed from matters Lewinsky to debate the possibility of Flockhart's eating disorder and if she was presenting a poor role model for young women. These top-of-the-news discussions required a cover story denial from Flockhart, after which the great media beast turned its attention elsewhere.

    Like an island limned with bays and inlets and bordered with broad beaches, Flockhart's wide, undisguising eyes and sensual, tremulous mouth offer visitors easy points of access to the character's lively inner life. It must be hard playing a character so purposely unformed --though perhaps not harder than being scrutinized both for what you do and what your character does. Flockhart just tries to focus on the positives. "I feel very fortunate -- I get to come to work every day and act, and in a good part that has controversies and complexities. I don't worry about people liking Ally. The fact that some people like her and some don't gives me a lot of freedom as an actress to do what I want. It's a big playing field, and it's nice to know there are no rules." -- Jamie Malanowski