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CYBURBIA

Six Degrees of Bacon Separation

June 18, 1996|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Who is the best connected Hollywood star?

Is it Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Tom Cruise or maybe a veteran, such as Paul Newman? No way. The correct answer is: Kevin Bacon.

He may not be the best-known, highest-paid or most bankable of actors, but to movie trivia buffs who are playing the "Kevin Bacon Game," alternatively known as "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," he is the center of the known Hollywood universe.

The game, which has become a popular party game, especially on college campuses, seeks to show that a connection can be made between Bacon and any other actor who has ever appeared in an American movie, with rare exceptions.

Here's how it works, using Elvis Presley as an example. One of Presley's films was "Viva Las Vegas" (1964), which also featured Ann-Margret. Ann-Margret appeared in "Carnal Knowledge" (1971) with Jack Nicholson. And Nicholson was in "A Few Good Men" (1992) with Bacon. It took three films to make the connection, so Presley can be said to have a Bacon number of 3.

But there is a more elegant solution. It can be found on an Internet site created by a couple of graduate students at the University of Virginia.

For their source material they used the online "Internet Movie Database," an advertising-supported site that lists credits for almost half a million film actors around the world. The students devised software to generate a Bacon database and they put it online as the "Oracle"--http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~bct7m/bacon.html. I go to the site, type in "Elvis Presley" and a few seconds later it tells me that the true Bacon number for the king of rock 'n' roll is 2. He was in "Change of Habit" (1970) with Edward Asner, and Asner was in "JFK" (1991) with Bacon.

"The information to do this was all online; we just put it together for fun," said Brett Tjaden, 26. "Our conjecture was that no performer who has appeared in an American film had a Bacon number greater than 4."

How about Stan Laurel? He was in "Bonnie Scotland" (1935) with Vernon Steele, who was in "Dolores Claiborne" (1994) with Jennifer Jason Leigh, who was in "The Big Picture" (1989) with Bacon. Laurel is a 3.

Let's get a bit more esoteric. Ann Dvorak, who played Paul Muni's sister in the classic "Scarface" (1932), was in "Three on a Match" (1932) with Humphrey Bogart, who was in "The Wagons Roll at Night" (1941) with Eddie Albert, who was in "The Big Picture."

You get the idea. Tjaden said the database can now pinpoint more than 170,000 actors who have a Bacon connection. "Bacon was a good choice for the game because he appeared in movies with big casts and a lot of well-known actors," Tjaden said.

Still, some of the connections are amazing. The most expert trivia whiz could be excused from not knowing the name of Dmitri Vasilyev, a Russian actor who appeared in only one film, the 1928 silent "Plenniki Morya." But Vasilyev has a Bacon number of 6.

Vasilyev doesn't have the highest number on the list; there are currently 17 at level 7. One is Grace Ariyawimal, who appears in the Sri Lankan film "Visidela" (1994).

Tjaden said he and his buddy Glenn Wasson have gotten some negative e-mail from people accusing them of ruining the game by providing an easy way to find answers. But the reaction has mostly been positive. "There were a few people out there," Tjaden added, "who saw the site and offered us jobs."

* Cyburbia's e-mail address is david.colker@latimes.com.

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