"Level 1" celebrity crushes are those you fantasise about pleasurably.
"Level 2" crushes are those you cry over, because you realise they're unattainable.
I have only ever had one Level 2 celebrity crush, at the age of 16 - Audrey Hepburn.
Film and TV Actresses:
I saw 'Airport' sometime in 1970 or shortly thereafter. Since I was born in 1963, I wouldn't have been more than 7 or 8 at the time. I don't remember much about this movie except that the stewardess was unbelievably beautiful. Jacqueline Bisset imprinted my still-developing male mind with a model of female beauty that remained with me for a very long time. For years after I saw 'Airport', girls with bob cuts would always get a second look from me.
2. Smita Patil
I probably saw more English movies than Indian language ones when I was growing up, but I did have access to magazines devoted to Bollywood movies, such as Filmfare and Star & Style. One particular issue featured a numbered list of the most beautiful Bollywood heroines of the time, and the caption under the photo of Smita Patil said, "Those smouldering eyes can set the night on fire."
Growing up in Bangalore gave me the chance to see a number of Kannada movies, many of which starred the reigning matinee queen of the day, Aarathi. She could be chirpy and mischievous, and also a tragic heroine. The characters she played were the whole package any guy could ask for.
4. Prema Narayan
From the pages of the same Bollywood film magazines, I became acquainted with the face of Prema Narayan. I saw her in a few movies later on, and to this day I cannot understand why she didn't become a major star. I wasn't earning then, but if I had, I would have paid good money to buy tickets to her movies.
5. Cybill Shepherd
Sometime in 1981 (when I was 18), I saw 'Taxi Driver' at a film show organised by my hostel. I found it a weird movie and didn't understand it, but some scenes in it were memorable (Robert Di Niro's "You talkin' to me?"). Cybill Shepherd played an unforgettable character - an older, sophisticated woman who was simultaneously intimidating and desirable.
6. Brooke Shields
Surprisingly, I never saw Brooke Shields in any movie. (No, not even 'The Blue Lagoon'.)
But she was there on posters on the wall of virtually every guy's room in my hostel at IIT Madras. I learnt most forcefully then that thick eyebrows don't hurt a girl's looks one bit.
7. "Fatafat" Jayalakshmi
I saw "Fatafat" Jayalakshmi in the Tamil movie 'Aval Oru Thodarkathai'. Jayalakshmi wasn't even the main heroine in that movie, but she was the one who caught my eye. That was incidentally the movie which gave her that nickname, because she used to keep saying "Fatafat!" throughout.
8. Elizabeth Montgomery
I saw some episodes of 'Bewitched' when I was a student, and remember being struck by the looks of the good witch Samantha. Her mischievous cousin Serena (also played by Montgomery) had a different but equally powerful appeal.
I saw a fair number of Tamil movies on TV during my 5 years at IIT Madras, and some of them starred Suhasini. She was not glamorously beautiful like many others, but there was something very wholesome and appealing about her. Also, although I am a Tamilian, I have never thought of Tamil as a particularly nice-sounding language. But Suhasini could make Tamil sound incredibly pleasant to the ear, a superpower she shared with Sridevi.
10. Setsuko Hara
In 1987-88 when I was working in Bombay, I had the chance to see many Japanese movies as part of a Japanese film festival in the city. One of them ('Banshun', or 'Late Spring') was a sweetly innocent story of a girl who doesn't want to get married because she doesn't want to leave her widowed father alone. He has to pretend that he is planning to remarry in order to get her to accept the guy who wants to marry her. Setsuko Hara plays the endearing Noriko in this movie, and I don't believe any guy can watch this movie without her doing something to him.
11. Amala Akkineni
During the same period that I was in Bombay, a group of young guys from my project team at work decided to go see a movie together. It was the latest Tamil hit 'Agninakshatram' and it starred a stunningly cute girl called Amala. She was so different from the heroines one usually saw in South Indian movies. Her looks were more Westernised and modern, and she was anything but demure. She made quite an impression on all of us.
12. Sybil Danning
'Streethawk' was a favourite SF serial of mine in the early nineties, featuring a dashing motorcycle cop (Jesse Mach, played by Rex Smith) who rides a superbike, and a nerdy genius (Norman Tuttle, played by Joe Regalbuto) who manages everything at the back-end with his computer skills. Sybil Danning appeared in the episode 'Vegas Run', and the nerdy Norman Tuttle was besotted by her, yet completely tongue-tied. The scene where she takes off her shirt before him and the poor guy almost goes to pieces is one of my favourites. I can fully empathise.
13. Shannen Doherty
I watched quite a number of episodes of 'Charmed', until it started getting really silly. My favourite among the three sisters was Prue Halliwell, played by Shannen Doherty.
14. Sarah Michelle Gellar
'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' was what I graduated to after 'Charmed', but I stopped watching after it got dark. Some vampire-fighting mixed with romance and humour would have been the right mix for me, so I only hung around as long it maintained that light-ish tone.
I loved the way this cute, petite girl kicked ass.
15. Freema Agyeman
I became a fan of 'Doctor Who' when the new series started with Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper. In Series 3, the Doctor (now played by David Tennant) was joined by a new companion, Martha Jones. This character was played by Freema Agyeman, whose mother was from Iran and father from Ghana. Agyeman's looks were striking, and provided another data point to my theory that people of mixed race inherit the best traits of both.
16. Rani Mukerjee
The new wave of Bollywood movies began, in my opinion, with Karan Johar's "K3G" ('Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham'), which cast Rani Mukerjee in a minor but memorable role. Thereafter, I watched a few movies that starred her in the main role, notably 'Chalte Chalte' and 'Paheli'. She had a peculiar kind of smile that hit you somewhere.
That established her as one of my favourites for quite a few years.
The one unattractive thing about Rani Mukerjee was her voice. A film blog even referred to it as "strep-infected". Her cousin Kajol didn't have that negative, but Rani Mukerjee overshadowed her in my mind. It was only when I saw Kajol in 'Fanaa' that I realised she was breathtakingly beautiful herself.
Like with Brooke Shields, I realised once again that thick eyebrows (even those that threaten to form a unibrow) don't detract at all from a girl's looks.
18. Teri Hatcher
I had seen Teri Hatcher in episodes of 'Lois and Clark', and also in that famous episode of 'Seinfeld', but that was after she had had multiple rounds of plastic surgery. Years later, I saw her in her earlier avatar as the scatterbrained Penny Parker in many episodes of 'MacGyver', when she was more innocent-looking. Those episodes of 'MacGyver' where she appeared were something to look forward to.
19. Rachael Taylor
Not too many women have knocked me off balance once I developed into a jaded, middle-aged man, but when I started watching Australian movies, I came across the jaw-dropping Rachael Taylor. Those who have watched only Hollywood (not Australian) movies may remember seeing her in the first 'Transformers' movie. (No, not Megan Fox. The other good-looking one.) I've seen her in the Australian movies 'Any Questions for Ben' and 'Red Dog'.
20. Gal Gadot
Next up is Gal Gadot. You could say Gadot got a bit of a free ride because the fictional character she played (Wonder Woman) has been a crush of mine since my childhood, and almost any woman who played the part could have waltzed into my heart. It didn't hurt that Gadot projected the same innocently idealistic persona that had always endeared Wonder Woman to me.
Like Gal Gadot, Jessica Alba also got a bit of a free ride from her character (Sue Storm, the Invisible Woman) because I have always liked that character from the Fantastic Four comics, so all that Alba had to do was continue to act nice. Which she did.
22. Rachael Harris
The serial 'Lucifer' was an off-beat one, and the most impressive woman for me was Dr. Linda the psychiatrist, played by Rachael Harris. She was smart and sensible, and her glasses lent her an extra air of intelligence and gravitas. As far as I was concerned, Rachael Harris edged out all the other (very attractive) women on that show.
This is my list of celebrity crushes who were not actresses but models. I saw them in print and TV ads.
23. Karen Lunel
Most Indian guys who grew up in the 70s and 80s would remember the ads for Liril soap featuring a girl under a waterfall. That was Karen Lunel, who must have launched a billion male fantasies.
24. Kitu Gidwani
Another popular model of the 80s was Kaushalya (Kitu) Gidwani. She had a bit of the Jacqueline Bisset look, I think, and that must have been part of the reason she appealed to me.
25. Sophie Falkiner
Soon after I arrived in Australia, I began to see ads on TV for "Neutrogena Pore Refining Cream". I thought the product was silly (who wants to refine their pores?), but the model promoting it was a knockout. I was almost tempted to buy a couple of tubes of that silly product.
26. Megan Gale
Another mixed-race person (English father and Maori mother) with striking looks who appeared in Australian ads around the year 2000 was Megan Gale. There is definitely something to be said for mixed-race unions.
27. Kylie Minogue
I saw one of Kylie Minogue's songs ('She Did It Again') on TV in the UAE a few months before I migrated to Australia, and then discovered she was Australian! That was a nice welcome to the new country.
And then there were some singers who captivated me with their voices alone. Try not to be distracted by the visuals in the links below. Just listen to the audio.
28. BK Sumitra
'Veena Ninageko Ee Kampana' - This was one of the first Kannada songs I heard on the radio in Bangalore, and it was sung by BK Sumitra. I wasn't even 10, and I found myself having romantic fantasies about this unseen woman.
29. Mayte Mateos and María Mendiola (Baccara)
In my teens, I got hooked onto Western pop, and often turned on the radio to listen to the hits of the day. When I heard 'Ay Ay Sailor', I literally had goose pimples. Those voices were haunting and sweet as syrup. As the lyrics of the song would say, they "sure done something to me".
30. Karen Carpenter (The Carpenters)
I've always loved Karen Carpenter's voice, and a couple of her songs gave me goose pimples when I heard them on the radio. One was 'Yesterday Once More', and the other was 'Sweet Sweet Smile'. There was something extra special that she put into those songs.
31. Prabha Atre
Ever since I discovered Hindustani Classical Music at the age of 22, it has been my favourite genre of music. Of all the songs I heard on the many audiocassettes I collected, 'Tan Man Dhan Tope Varun' in Raag Kalavati has been special. There's something about Prabha Atre's voice in this song that hits me more than any other song in the entire genre.
I don't watch a lot of sports, so I haven't had as many crushes in this area as in movies and music. But there have been a couple.
32. Wu Jiani
In 1982, the Asian Games were held in New Delhi, and we managed to see the games in all their glory, since colour TV became available in India just in time for that event.
I remember watching graceful gymnasts from all over Asia, and the one who got the most medals and applause was Wu Jiani from China. She was spectacular, and I wasn't even 20. It wasn't because of her medal count that hers is the only name I remember from those games.
33. Marion Jones
At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, the US track and field athlete Marion Jones won a number of medals as well as hearts. Unfortunately, she was later found to be a drug cheat and stripped of her medals. But I won't forget her grin.
That's quite a number of celebrity crushes for one lifetime. I wonder if there will be more.
[Related post: The Most Attractive Women of Star Trek TNG]