1920's

 

Greta Garbo, whose real name was Greta Gustafsson, was born in Stockholm, on September 18, 1905 and died in 1990. She had a poverty-stricken upbringing. In the early 1920's, director Mauritz Stiller dreamt of creating a new kind of woman, sophisticated, scornful, and superior, but beneath the glittering surface, he wanted her to be warm and vulnerable. He had already chosen the name 'Garbo", when he spotted his protégeé amongst a bunch of extras and cast her as the second lead in "The Atonement of Gosta Berling" in 1924. In 1925, he accompanied her to Hollywood and MGM, although unimpressed by her, cast her in "The Temptress" and "The Torrent" in 1927. Her last silent film was "The Kiss" in 1929. A lot of care was taken over her introduction to sound.

Best known films:

  • Anna Christie (1930), Academy Award nomination
  • Romance 1930), Academy Award nomination
  • Queen Christina (1933)
  • Anna Karenina (1935)
  • Camille 1937), Academy Award nomination
  • Ninotchka (1939), Academy Award nomination

 

Lillian Gish was born in Springfield, Ohio, on October 14, 1896 and died in 1993. Like Mary Pickford, Lillian made her stage debut at the age of five, joining a touring theatre company with her sister Dorothy and her actress mother. In 1912, 'Little Mary' introduced the Gish family to D.W. Griffith. The same day, the two sisters found themselves in their first film, "An Unseen Enemy". She was a perfect Griffith heroine, a combination of virginal purity and spiritual strength and starred in more of his films than any other actress. She gave one of the great silent performances in "The Scarlet Letter" in 1926. Her first talkie was "One Romantic Night" in 1930.

Best known films:

  • The Birth of a Nation (1915)
  • Sold for Marriage (1916)
  • Hearts of the World (1918)
  • Broken Blossoms (1919)
  • Way Down East (1920)
  • The Scarlet Letter (1926)
  • One Romantic Night (1930)
  • Duel in the Sun (1946), Academy Award nomination

 

Mary Pickford, whose real name was Gladys Smith, was born in Toronto, Canada, on April 8, 1893 and died in 1979. As five year old Gladys Smith, she made her stage debut in Toronto in 'The Silver Key'. The success of 'Baby Gladys' pulled her widowed mother, brother and sister into show business, in a touring show the whole family was hired for $20 a week. In 1907, she opened on Broadway in 'The Warrens of Virginia'. When the show closed in 1909, little money drove the family to star as extras in D.W. Griffiths Biograph film studios in New York. Griffiths thought she was too little and too fat, but she was soon earning over $100 a week. In "The Little Teacher" in 1910, the subtitles identified 'Little Mary' for the first time and was soon deluged with requests for more of her films. In 1918, she was earning $675,000 a year. In 1919, she joined D.W., Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks to form United Artists, the following year she married Fairbanks. Her first talkie was "Coquette" in 1929.

Best known films:

  • Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1917)
  • Poor Little Rich Girl (1917)
  • The Little Princess (1917)
  • Pollyanna (1920)
  • Rosita (1922)
  • Little Annie Rooney (1925)
  • Sparrows (1926)
  • Coquette 1929), Academy Awards winner for Best Actress

 

Norma Shearer, whose real name was Edith Shearer, was born in Montreal, on August 10, 1900 and died in 1983. Silent films accounted for more than half of her films. She had a pushy mother whose persistence secured her extra work in "The Flapper" and "Way Down East", both in 1920. She was rewarded with a leading role in "The Man Who Paid" in 1922. In 1923, she signed with MGM, but
had to wait until her success as Consuela in "He Who Gets Slapped" in 1924, when she began to get the star treatment.

Best known films:

  • The Divorcee (1929), Academy Awards winner for Best Actress
  • Her Own Desire (1929), Academy Award nomination
  • A Free Soul (1930), Academy Award nomination
  • Strange Interlude (1932)
  • Smiling Through (1932)
  • The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934), Academy Award nomination
  • Romeo and Juliet (1936), Academy Award nomination
  • Marie Antoinette (1938), Academy Award nomination

 

Gloria Swanson was born in Chicago, Illinois, on March 27, 1897 and died in 1983. She began as an extra and then starred with Bobby Vernon in a series of silent romantic comedies. In 1918, she played dramatic roles in eight films. In 1919, she signed with Paramount and starred in six more
films, including "The Affair of Anatol" in 1921, by now she was an international star. Her first talking was "The Trespasser" in 1929.

Best known films:

  • The Great Moment (1921)
  • Beyond the Rocks (1922)
  • Sadie Thompson (1928), Academy Award nomination
  • The Trespasser (1929), Academy Award nomination
  • Music in the Air (1934)
  • Father Takes a Wife (1941)

  • Sunset Boulevard (1950), Academy Award nomination

1930's

 

Claudette Colbert, whose real name was Claudette Chauchoin, born in Paris, on September 13, 1905 and died in 1996. Her parents came to America when she was six, and she made her stage debut in 'The Wild Westcotts' in 1923. By the late 1920's, she was a leading Broadway actress with one silent film to her credit, "For the Love of Mike" in 1927. The coming of sound and her stage background, secured her a contract with Paramount, for whom her first film was "The Hole in the Wall" in 1929. In 1934, she was loaned to Columbia to play the runaway heiress in Frank Capra's "It Happened One Night". She stayed at the top for the next 10 years and in 1938 was listed as the highest paid Hollywood star at a salary of $426,944 a year.

Best known films:

  • Manslaughter (1930)
  • The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)
  • The Man From Yesterday (1932)
  • It Happened One Night (1934), Academy Awards winner for Best Actress
  • Imitation Of Life (1934), Academy Award nomination
  • Private Worlds (1935),
  • Since You Went Away (1944), Academy Award nomination
  • The Egg and I (1947)

 

Joan Crawford, whose real name was Lucille Le Sueur, was born in San Antonio, Texas on March 23, 1904, and died in 1977. She started as a dancer and was spotted in the chorus line of a Broadway musical by an MGM producer. Placed under contract, she made her screen debut doubling for Norma Shearer in "Lady of the Night" in 1925. As Lucille Le Sueur, she appeard with Jackie Coogan in "Old Clothes" in 1925 and then MGM launched a publicity campaign to find her a new name. Transformed into Joan Crawford, she dieted ferociously to give her face the angularity which became the foundation of her enduring stardom.

Best known films:

  • Our Dancing Daughters (1928)
  • Possessed (1931),
  • Dancing Lady (1933)
  • The Shining Hour (1938)
  • Mildred Pierce (1945), Academy Awards winner for Best Actress
  • Humoresque 1946)
  • Possessed (1947), Academy Award nomination
  • Sudden Fear (1952), Academy Award nomination
  • Johnny Guitar (1954)
  • Female on the Beach (1955)
  • Whatever Happended to Baby Jane? (1962)

 

Bette Davis, whose real name was Ruth Elizabeth Davis, was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, on April 5, 1908 and died in 1989. She studied acting at the John Murray Anderson School, she was fired from her first job by director George Cukor. She went on to a big success in 'Broken Dishes', failed a Goldwyn screen test, and was then signed by Universal who put her in "Bad Sister" in 1931. She was the mousy little good sister in the film, and this condemned her to a string of goody goody roles. She received her first big break when she starred in "Of Human Bondage" in 1934, she had begged for the role, and her performance as the ruthless waitress who enslaves Leslie Howard won universal praise.

Best known films:

  • Of Human Bondage (1934)
  • Dangerous (1935), Academy Awards winner for Best Actress
  • The Petrified Forest (1936)
  • Jezebel (1938), Academy Awards winner for Best Actress
  • Dark Victory (1939), Academy Award nomination
  • Juarez 1939)
  • The Letter (1940), Academy Award nomination
  • The Great Lie (1941)
  • The Little Foxes (1941), Academy Award nomination
  • Now Voyager (1942), Academy Award nomination
  • Mr. Skeffington (1944), Academy Award nomination
  • All About Eve (1950), Academy Award nomination
  • What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (1962), Academy Award nomination
  • Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

 

Olivia de Havilland was born in Tokyo, in 1916. She was the elder sister of Joan Fontaine, born of British parents, who separated when she was six. She was brought up by her mother in California and while still a student, was chosen to play Hermia in the Hollywood Bowl production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' and in the subsequent Warner Bros. film, which the studio had signed her to a seven year contract and her first film was "Alibi Ike" in 1935. She starred with Errol Flynn in a series of classic swashbucklers and action movies, including "Captain Blood" in 1935, and "The Adventures of Robin Hood" in 1938, as the most captivating of Maid Marions.

Best known films:

  • Captain Blood (1935)
  • The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
  • The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
  • Gone With The Wind (1939), Academy Award nomination
  • Dodge City (1939)
  • They Died With Their Boots On (1941)
  • The Strawberry Blonde (1941)
  • Hold Back the Dawn (1941), Academy Award nomination
  • To Each His Own (1946), Academy Awards winner for Best Actress
  • The Snake Pit (1948), Academy Award nomination
  • The Heiress (1949), Academy Awards winner for Best Actress

 

Marlene Dietrich, whose real name was Maria Magdalene von Losch, was born in Berlin on December 27, 1901 and died in 1992. She was 28 and a mother, when Josef von Sternberg spotted here in a Berlin play, 'Two Neckties', and cast her as Lola Lola in "The Blue Angel" in 1929, the promiscuous dance hall singer. In 1930, she starred in "Morocco", the film was a huge hit and America was swept by a craze for the mannish suits and slacks she wore.

Best known films:

  • The Blue Angel (1929)
  • Morocco (1930),
  • Academy Award nomination
  • Shanghai Express (1932)
  • Blonde Venus (1932)
  • The Devil Is A Woman (1935)
  • Desire 1936)
  • Angel 1937)
  • Destry Rides Again (1939)
  • Kismet (1944)
  • A Foreign Affair (1948)
  • Judgement at Nuremberg (1961)

 

Janet Gaynor, whose real name is Laura Gainor, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 6, 1906 and died in 1984. After graduating from high school, she went to Hollywood in the early 1920's, where she worked as an extra for four years, before appearing in Hal Roach comedy shorts and two-reel westerns. Her first feature was "The Johnstown Flood" in 1926 for Fox, and soon became one of the studios biggest stars in the late 20's and early 30's. She has the distinction of being the first winner of a Best Actress Oscar for her.

Best known films:

  • Sunrise (1927), Academy Awards winner for Best Actress
  • Seventh Heaven (1927), Academy Awards winner for Best Actress
  • Street Angel (1928), Academy Awards winner for Best Actress
  • Sunny Side Up (1929)
  • Delicious (1931)
  • Daddy Long Legs (1931)
  • A Star is Born (1937), Academy Award nomination

 

Jean Harlow was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 3, 1911, and died 1937. Her dress catches in a taxi door, in "Double Whoopee" made in 1929, and is whipped off to reveal her delicious rear view and a terrific pair of legs. For many movie goers this brief sequence in an early Laurel and Hardy short introduced them to a young starlet who shot to stardom in three years, but was to die tragically and unnecessarily only five years later. In her early pictures such as Howard Hughes's "Hell's Angels" in 1930, she was type-cast as a tough, brassy, blonde. In 1932, MGM purchased her contract from Hughes and this marked a major turning point in her career.

Best known films:

  • Hell's Angels (1930)
  • The Public Enemy (1931)
  • Red Dust (1932)
  • Hold Your Man (1933)
  • Bombshell (1933)
  • Dinner At Eight (1933)
  • Libelled Lady (1936)
  • Saratoga (1937)

 

Katharine Hepburn was born in Hartford, Connecticut on November 9, 1907 and died in 2003. From her first appearance on the screen co-starring opposite John Barrymore in "A Bill of Divorcement" in 1932, it was clear that a new star had arrived in Hollywood. She burst onto the screen like a breath of fresh air. Tall and slim, with high cheekbones, clean-cut features and aristocratic bearing, she was not conventionally attractive, but more than made up for it through her talent as an actress, and her personal distinctive style. Her first film, along with "Morning Glory" and "Little Women" both made in 1933, as well as "Alice Adams" in 1935 were all box office hits.

Best known films:

  • A Bill of Divorcement (1932)
  • Morning Glory (1933), Academy Awards winner for Best Actress
  • Little Women (1933)
  • Alice Adams (1935), Academy Award nomination
  • Bringing Up Baby (1938)
  • The Philadelphia Story (1940), Academy Award nomination
  • Woman of the Year (1941), Academy Award nomination
  • Adam's Rib (1949)
  • The African Queen (1951), Academy Award nomination
  • Summertime (1955), Academy Award nomination
  • Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), Academy Award nomination
  • Long Day's Journey Into Night (1962), Academy Award nomination
  • Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), Academy Award winner for Best Actress
  • The Lion in Winter (1968), Academy Award winner for Best Actress
  • On Golden Pond (1981), Academy Award winner for Best Actress

 

Carole Lombard was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on October 6, 1908 and died in 1942. First spotted playing baseball on the street by a director, she was given her first film part at the age of 12. Thus began the movie career of the actress who was to develop into the leading Hollywood comedianne of the 30's and who, although stunningly attractive, never entirely lost her tomboyish qualities.

Best known films:

  • No Man of Her Own (1932)
  • My Man Godfrey (1936)
  • Nothing Sacred (1937)
  • To Be Or Not To Be (1942)

 

Myrna Loy, whose real name is Myrna Adele Williams, was born in Raidersburg, Montana, on August 2, 1905 and died in 1993. She was trained as a dancer, but the chorus line at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, had driven her into the movies. She played an assortment of gypsies, slave girls, spies and due to her almond shaped eyes, got her more than her fair share of playing Orientals, which included the daughter of Fu Manchu. During the years of 1926 through 1932, when she appeared in "The Mask of Fu Manchu", she averaged nine films a year. In 1932, when she signed with MGM, her roles improved. The turning point in her career came in 1933, when she starred opposite Clark Gable and William Powell in "Manhattan Melodrama". She was then reteamed with Powell in "The Thin Man", in 1934. And thus began an acting partnership, which flourished for 10 years.

Best known films:

  • Manhattan Melodrama (1933)
  • The Thin Man (1934)
  • After the Thin Man (1936)
  • The Great Zigfield (1936)
  • Libelled Lady (1936)
  • The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
  • Cheaper by the Dozen (1950)

 

Ginger Rogers was born in Independence, Missouri, on July 16, 1911 and died in 1995. From early childhood she was groomed for stardom by her divorced mother. At the age or 15 she began singing and dancing on the vaudeville circuit, later with her first husband Jack Pepper, billed as Ginger and Pepper. She started in pictures playing wise-cracking blondes for various studios in such films as "Gold Diggers of 1933". She got the role in "Flying Down To Rio" only because another actress got married rather than dance with the relatively unknown Fred Astaire. Despite her success in musicals, she was anxious to prove herself as a serious actress in which she did in such films as "Fifth Avenue Girl" in 1939, "Primrose Path" and "Kitty Foyle" were both made in 1940.

Best known films:

  • Flying Down to Rio (1933)
  • The Gay Divorcee (1934)
  • Top Hat (1935)
  • Swing Time (1936)
  • The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939)
  • Kitty Foyle (1940), Academy Awards winner for Best Actress
  • Lady in the Dark (1944)
  • Monkey Business (1952)

 

Barbara Stanwyck, whose real name was Ruby Stevens, was born in Brooklyn, New York, on July 16, 1907 and died in 1990. She had a difficult childhood, orphaned at the age of five, she was brought up by an elder sister who also introduced her to show business. She became quite successful on the stage as a dancer and made the transition to straight acting roles during the late 1920's, first on the stage and then in films. Fiercely independent, even at that early stage in her career, she refused to sign an exclusive contract, but mainly worked alternately between Columbia and Warner Bros. She was excellent in the title role in "Night Nurse" in 1931 and in "The Bitter Tea Of General Yen" in 1932.

Best known films:

  • Illicit (1931)
  • Ladies They Talk About (1933)
  • Stella Dallas (1937), Academy Award nomination
  • Golden Boy (1939)
  • Remember the Night (1940)
  • Meet John Doe (1941)
  • Ball of Fire (1941), Academy Award nomination
  • Double Indemnity (1944), Academy Award nomination
  • The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)
  • Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), Academy Award nomination

 

Shirley Temple was born in Santa Monica, California, on April 23, 1928. She made her first screen appearance before she was four in a series of one-reelers called
'Baby Burlesks', imitating Marlene Dietrich and other stars. With the ambitious mother behind her, she was signed by Fox, making an impression singing 'Baby Take a Bow' in "Stand Up And Cheer" in 1934. She soon became a national institution and after her first year in movies, she
received a special Oscar in grateful recognition of her outstanding contribution to screen entertainment during the year 1934.

Best known films:

  • Stand Up and Cheer (1934)
  • Bright Eyes (1934)
  • Curly Top (1935)
  • Stowaway (1936)
  • Wee Willie Winkie (1936)
  • Little Miss Broadway (1938)

 

Mae West was born in Brooklyn, New York, on August 17, 1892, and died in 1980. She started on the stage at the age of six in Hal Clarendon's stock company. By 1914, she was a vaudeville star billed as 'The Original Brinkley Girl'. She invented the 'shimmy' dance, and in the 1920's began to write, produce and direct her own plays. The first of them, 'Sex' in 1926, earned her a 10-day jail sentence on an obsenity charge. Her first film was Paramount's "Night After Night" in 1932. She was fourth billed but earned $5,000 a week for 10 weeks work and wrote her own lines. Paramount increased her salary to $8,500 a week and turned her loose on "She Done Him Wrong" in 1933, a screen version of her play 'Diamond Lil', set in her favorite stomping ground, the gay 90's. Her next film "I'm No Angel" in 1933, grossed $3 million and saved Paramount from bankruptcy.

Best known films:

  • She Done Him Wrong (1933)
  • I'm No Angel (1933)
  • Belle of the Nineties (1934)
  • My Little Chickadee (1939)

 

Loretta Young, whose real name is Gretchen Michaela Young, was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on January 6, 1913 and died in 2000. She was one of four sisters, all whom were put to work as extras by their mother. Her first acting role came by chance, when she stood in for her sister Polly Ann in "Naughty But Nice" in 1927. She was adored by Lon Chaney in "Laugh Clown Laugh" in 1928, and then was signed by Warners, for whom her first starring role was in the all-talking "The Squall" in 1929.

Best known films:

  • The Life of Jimmy Dolan (1933)
  • The House of Rothschild (1934)
  • Ladies in Love (1936)
  • The Doctor Takes a Wife (1940)
  • The Stranger (1946)
  • The Farmer's Wife (1947), Academy Awards winner for Best Actress
  • Come to the Stable (1949), Academy Award nomination