I'd argue that the early recipients felt more deserving because they really were trailblazers and giants of their fields, especially the film and TV people, who were the first generation of great stars in their media.
Did Olivia de Havilland turn down the offer?
Jackie Gleason probably would have been honoured had he lived a bit longer. Same for Ingrid Bergman.
And if they'd been around in 1978 I am sure Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Harold Lloyd, Mary Pickford, Bing Crosby, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart.
Just realising that Sid Caesar never got one! Huge omission!
And Mary Tyler Moore! By the early 90's I'd say she due.
And Betty White! Perhaps she is now not up to the ceremony?