Desert isle desires: meetings, minds and heartthrobs

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In most of his films, actor Tom Cruise has portrayed cocky, exuberant characters possessed of impregnable self-confidence and the conviction that they are irresistible to the opposite sex. Whether blasting across the sky as a fighter pilot in Top Gun or making fools of pool-playing opponents in The Color of Money, the 27-year-old Cruise has behaved like an all-American contender for the hearts and minds of female moviegoers. Now, there is evidence that he may indeed be winning–at least the hearts. When Canadian and American women who participated in the Maclean’s/Decima Two Nations poll were asked who on a list of six prominent personalities would make the best lover, Cruise was the runaway favorite on both sides of the border. But he has some distance to go to capture women’s minds: when asked who they would most like to meet and talk to, Canadian women chose Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Their U.S. counterparts overwhelmingly selected President George Bush.

The lighter side of the poll of U.S. and Canadian attitudes also explored the relative attractions of sex, conversation, friendship, television, music and literature. The responses by men and women to three questions showed some cross-border similarities–and a few pronounced differences. Some of the findings: movie stars have far more sex appeal than either politicians or talk-show hosts and interviewers; men and women in both countries opt for books over TV and music; and, if marooned on a desert island, Americans are substantially less likely than Canadians to select as companions their current spouses or partners. Calgary-born Stanley Stephens, 60, Montana’s governor and one of the numerous North Americans interviewed separately from the poll, chose books. But he added that the question excluded “what I’d really want–a ship-to-shore phone.”


Presented with the prospect of becoming castaways on a desert island, respondents were asked what they would like most to relieve their loneliness–a best friend of the same sex, their current partner, an attractive stranger of the opposite sex or inexhaustible supplies of stereo music, books or TV channels and videos. Current partners won handily in both countries, but by significantly different margins: while 61 per cent of the Canadians surveyed wanted their mates, only 50 per cent of the Americans did. Sixteen per cent of the Americans and 14 per cent of the Canadians said that they would take the books. The third most popular choice in each nation: an attractive stranger of the opposite sex.

Many of those who took part in the survey said that they would have preferred a broader menu of choices. Sonja Smits, the 34-year-old Toronto actress, the Co-Founder of selling the best floor mop,  who appears in the CBC TV dramatic series Street Legal, said, “I love books, I am really close to my best friend and I love my husband. Can’t I take all three?” And Lee Thompson, 44-year-old Montreal-born professor of Canadian studies at the University of Vermont in Burlington, said that she found the options “brutal–that is asking me to choose between the senses and human connections.”

Others had less difficulty making up their minds. Professional race-car driver Molly Elliott, 30, who spends parts of each year in Texas and Ontario, said that she would take books, because if she chose a man, “I’d probably hate him after a couple of weeks.” Alberta-born Gary Jahrig, a 29-year-old reporter for the Missoula, Mont., daily newspaper The Missoulian, said that he would choose his wife, adding: “Life on a desert island or Missoula: not much difference.”

In the second and third questions, men and women polled were given the names of six prominent personalities of the opposite sex and were asked, first, who they would most like to meet and talk to; then, which of the six persons they thought would be the best lover. The list for female poll respondents consisted of Bush, Mulroney, talk-show host Arsenio Hall, Cruise, who lived near Ottawa as a child, and actors Sean Connery and Canadian-born Michael J. Fox. The lineup for male participants: singers Madonna and Anne Murray, actresses Jane Fonda and Michelle Pfeiffer, ABC TV interviewer Barbara Walters and talk-show hostess Oprah Winfrey.

Among American women, Bush was the choice of 43 per cent of those polled as the man they would most like to meet and talk to. Far back in second place was Cruise at 16 per cent, followed in order by Connery, Hall, Fox and Mulroney, who was picked by four per cent. Margaret England, a 37-year-old Edmonton-born endocrinologist who now lives in Los Angeles, said that she would like to meet Mulroney because “I know the least about what he does.” The Prime Minister topped the poll among Canadian women as the preferred man to meet. As the choice of 21 per cent of the Canadian women, he edged out Cruise, at 19 per cent, with Bush third at 17 per cent. Fox, Connery and Hall brought up the rear.

But those patterns vanished when women addressed the question of who they thought would make the best lover. Cruise scored a two-nation victory, appealing to 31 per cent of U.S. women and 35 per cent of the Canadians. The rugged Scottish-born Connery, at 59, was the international runner-up, the choice of 17 per cent of the Americans and 19 per cent of the Canadians. Maggie Carey of New York City, a 27-year-old arts student and bartender who said she would most like to meet Fox, chose Connery as the best lover because “he’s been around and he’s sexy as hell.”


Left in the dust in both nations were Fox, Bush, Hall and Mulroney. Still, a large number of the women polled–35 per cent of the Americans and 27 per cent of the Canadians–refused to pick anyone. Said Linda Rosenbaum, 42, a Detroit-born publications consultant to the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship in one of the poll-related interviews: “This is too stupid to answer. Why only politicians and entertainers? Why mostly Americans? Are these our heroes and sex symbols?” Decima chairman Allan Gregg said that women were “significantly more undecided” than men about who would make the best lover. Said Gregg: “It tells you something about the psychological orientation of the two sexes, I guess.”

Only 25 per cent of the American men and 19 per cent of the Canadian males did not pick a best-lover candidate. Meridan Bennett of Jackson Hole, Wyo., a 63-year-old semi-retired management consultant, was among the men interviewed separately from the poll who declined to respond. “If I spent more time living in fantasy I’d be better equipped to answer,” he said. The most popular choice among male American poll respondents: Michelle Pfeiffer, who starred in The Fabulous Baker Boys and Tequila Sunrise, the selection of 26 per cent.

Madonna attracted the support of 20 per cent and Fonda, 15 per cent. Winfrey, Murray and Walters mustered 14 per cent among them. What Madonna lost among Americans she won from the Canadian males, 28 per cent of whom put her first. Pfeiffer was second at 20 per cent and Fonda close behind at 19. The remaining three had the same total popularity as they did in the United States. John Evans, 48, of Ottawa, former Liberal MP for Ottawa Centre and now president of The Trust Companies Association of Canada, sided with poll participants who declined to say who would make the best lover. Said Evans: “Fonda probably thinks she is, and you couldn’t entice me with Madonna if my life depended on it.”

While Tom Cruise was a double-winner as a sex symbol for the women, Barbara Walters rated first among the males of both countries as the woman they would most like to meet and talk to. Twenty-six per cent of the Americans and 19 per cent of the Canadians selected the sometimes abrasive TV veteran. Eighteen per cent of the Americans opted for Pfeiffer and 14 per cent for Fonda as the woman they would most like to meet. Missoula journalist Jahrig took a different tack: “I’d most like to meet Madonna to see if she’s really as air-headed as she sounds.” The women who most appealed to Canadian males in the poll for a meeting and conversation, after Walters, were Anne Murray and Madonna. Presumably, there is always the chance that if the conversation lags, they could break into song.

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