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Kirk Douglas

Morgan Freeman joins the company of his screen idols

Morgan Freeman believes that actors are the key figures in movies — the ones who make characters grab audiences by the lapels and invade their dreams.

He thinks movies become classics when a star like Gary Cooper in "High Noon" pumps his own lifeblood between the lines until a written role becomes a living symbol, like Cooper's strong, righteous, heartrendingly weary Marshal Will Kane.

"Gregory Peck and Gary Cooper and Humphrey Bogart — those guys" are his favorite performers, he once said. They're the ones he grew up with. They're the ones who clarified his perception of what a movie actor could be.

Last week, the American Film Institute put...