16 Gorgeous Old Hollywood Actresses
The “Golden Age of Hollywood” was a time of glitz and glamour that gave birth to the first true movie stars. Occurring between the 1920s to 1960s, it was a time when the narrative and visual style of filmmaking came to the fore and the studio system ruled movie lots across Los Angeles. Actors and actresses would work for certain studios and churn out genre pictures that became box office hits, turning them into instant stars. It was during this time that old Hollywood actresses became the toast of Tinseltown and established themselves as acting greats.
Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Maureen O’Hara were some of the big names to come out of that era. These gorgeous and talented actresses captivated millions of people around the world and helped define classic Hollywood cinema. In celebration of these fabulous women, here are 16 gorgeous old Hollywood actresses who made their mark in the movie business.
16 Gorgeous Old Hollywood Actresses
1. Audrey Hepburn
Born Audrey Kathleen Ruston, Audrey Hepburn dominated the screen during her four-decade career. The beautiful and talented actress remains one of only 17 people to have won an Academy Award, an Emmy Award, a Grammy Award, and a Tony Award.
Born in Belgium, the actress and fashion trendsetter studied ballet as a teen before making the transition to film. She had small roles in a few motion pictures until breaking out with the romantic comedy Roman Holiday in 1953. She would go on to star in some of the biggest flicks of the 50s and 60s, including Sabrina, The Nun’s Story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Charade, and My Fair Lady.
Hepburn semi-retired from acting at the end of the 60s, choosing to spend time bringing up her children and doing humanitarian work. Sadly she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 1992 and passed away less than a year later at the age of 63.
2. Marilyn Monroe
The blonde bombshell who is still being talked about today was one of the sexiest women alive during her time in the spotlight. Marilyn Monroe rose to fame in the 50s and 60s thanks to her striking looks and comedic timing shown in movies like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, The Seven Year Itch, and Some Like It Hot.
Unlike many of her peers, Monroe faced a storm of criticism throughout her short career. She posed for Playboy, had nude photos leaked, had high-profile marriages with baseball star Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller that both ended in divorce, and struggled with substance abuse.
This proved to be her downfall, with the 36-year-old Monroe dying from a drug overdose in 1962. While authorities believed it to be a suicide, there are many conspiracy theories surrounding her death, with some claiming she was murdered due to her affair with the then-President of the United States John F. Kennedy.
3. Greta Garbo
Greta Garbo is another of the old Hollywood actresses who got her start in silent films. The Swedish actress came to America in 1925 at age 20 and quickly established herself as a captivating actress in the Hollywood system. She had great success in silent films before talkies made her a worldwide star in the 30s, with Anne Christie and Romance smash hits. 1936 hit Camille is recognized as her greatest performance, but after following it up with several box office bombs, Garbo’s career tailed off as the critics turned on her.
Garbo retired at age 35 having made just 28 films. She withdrew from public life and became an art collector, spending her days walking the streets of New York and holidaying overseas. Despite her short time in the spotlight, Garbo is revered by film critics for her work and is loved by fans to this day.
4. Mae West
Before Marilyn Monroe set the screen alight with her sexuality, Mae West was leading the charge. The New York-born West was a vaudeville before moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film at the age of 39. Although extremely unusual for a woman of that age to try and become an actress, West’s charisma and beauty propelled her to stardom.
Movies like I’m No Angel, Sexette, She Done Him Wrong, and Belle of the Nineties played on her sexuality and helped the blonde-haired beauty become one of the biggest names of the 30s and 40s. Although her film career was short, West continued to forge a successful career in the entertainment world, appearing on Broadway and releasing several albums and books, including her best-selling 1959 autobiography Goodness Had Nothing To Do With It.
5. Elizabeth Taylor
A child actress who evolved into one of the great old Hollywood actresses, Elizabeth Taylor lived an extraordinary life. She was a big star in the 50s, making her presence felt in the movies A Place in the Sun, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly, Last Summer, and BUtterfield 8, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actresses.
Caught up in controversy when her affair with Richard Burton became tabloid fodder during the filming of Cleopatra in 1961, Taylor and Burton didn’t let that impact them. The two married and starred in 11 movies together including The Taming of the Shrew and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Taylor’s career soured in the late 60s as her private life became more interesting, with the Brit’s eight marriages to seven different men the talk of the town. Taylor dedicated the latter part of her life to her philanthropic efforts while suffering from several health complaints before her death in 2011 at 79.
6. Rita Hayworth
Rita Hayworth made an incredible 61 movies during a 37-year career that saw her become a screen idol of the 40s. Only Angels Have Wings, Blood and Sand, Pat Joey, and You’ll Never Get Rich are just some of the blockbusters she starred in that helped her capture the public’s imagination.
An actress and dancer like so many women during that period of time, Hayworth went through a period of decline that saw her popularity wane but she kept on acting. Alcohol abuse didn’t help her cause, and Hayworth’s last leading role came in 1972s The Wrath of God. She continued to battle her addictions and passed away at age 58 in 1987 after struggling with Alzheimer’s disease.
7. Judy Garland
She might have passed away over half a decade ago, but Judy Garland is still held in high regard by many. An actress, singer, and dancer, Garland is best known for her role as Dorothy Gale in the 1939 smash hit The Wizard of Oz. She appeared in the original Star is Born and worked frequently with Mickey Rooney and Gene Kelly during her career.
Along with her triumphant movie career, Garland found success as a singer, releasing seven studio albums and becoming the first woman to win the Grammy Award for Album of the Year for her 1961 live recording titled Judy at Carnegie Hall. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing, with Garland struggling with personal demons that had a negative impact on her mental and physical health. She used drugs and alcohol as a way to deal with these problems, leading to her death from an accidental overdose at the age of 47.
8. Bette Davis
With a career spanning more than 50 years that included two Academy Award wins, Hollywood actress Bette Davis was another great from the “Golden Age of Hollywood.” Davis got her early experience on Broadway before moving to LA at 22 and finding early success in the drama Of Human Bondage alongside Leslie Howard.
Davis dominated Hollywood thereafter, with her domineering personality and intense acting style helping her become a great actress revered by many. She was never far from the spotlight and continued acting right up until her death from breast cancer in 1989.
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9. Joan Crawford
Rivaling studio colleagues Norma Shearer and Greta Garbo as the best actress of the 1930s, Joan Crawford is another beautiful old Hollywood star who made it big in the industry. Crawford was known for playing hardworking women on screen and was one of the most popular and highest-paid actresses in the post-depression years.
A string of failures saw her labeled as “box office poison” at the end of the 30s, but after two years off, Crawford returned with the 1945 film noir Mildred Pierce, going on to win Best Actress at the Academy Awards for her role in the film. She continued to act both on the big screen and on television throughout the 50s and 60s before retiring in 1970.
10. Anna May Wong
Not only was Anna May Wong the first Chinese American actress to gain worldwide fame, but she was also a fashion icon who set the trends during the 20s and 30s. Coming up during the silent era of filmmaking, Wong had notable roles in movies such as Daughter of the Dragon, Java Head, and Shanghai Express, but soon found herself only being offered stereotypical Asian roles.
She took a break from Hollywood and spent time in China reconnecting with her culture before coming back to the States in the early 30s where she was rewarded with roles that showed Asian people in a positive light. In 1951 Wong was the first Asian American to star in a TV show, The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong. She passed of a heart attack at the age of 56 in 1961.
11. Katharine Hepburn
Not to be confused with Audrey Hepburn, Katharine Hepburn was another hugely successful actress during the old Hollywood days. A leading lady for over 60 years, Hepburn played headstrong women and had much success with the films Little Women, Morning Glory, The African Queen, and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?
She forged a 26-year on-screen partnership with Spencer Tracy that spawned nine films as well as a long-lasting relationship that only ended after Tracy’s death in 1967 from a heart attack. Not one to conform to social norms, Hepburn hated being a celebrity and tried her best to lead a quiet and private life. She acted up until the age of 87 and battled several health complaints before passing at the ripe old age of 96 in 2003.
12. Ava Gardner
The gorgeous and talented Ava Gardner was another huge star during the “Golden Age of Hollywood.” Breaking out in the 50s, she appeared in movies like Mogambo, The Killers, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and On the Beach. Her success continued throughout the 60s, 70s, and even into the 80s when she had a re-occurring role on the soap opera Knots Landing.
Gardner was involved with many famous men during her life, marrying and divorcing Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra, while also being close with Howard Hughes, Ernest Hemmingway, and bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguín. She passed away at her home in London in 1990 at age 67.
13. Sophia Loren
Of all the actresses on this list, Sophia Loren is still alive and kicking. Well into her 80s, the Italian actress has continued to act sporadically over the past three decades after slowing down in the 80s. Known for her roles in Two Women, A Special Day, Grumpy Old Men, The Pride and the Passion, Sunflower, and many more, Loren has a filmography many can only dream about.
The recipient of seven David di Donatello Awards, five Golden Globes Awards, a BAFTA Award, a Grammy Award, a Laurel Award, and an Academy Award, there isn’t much Loren hasn’t accomplished in the movie world. Along with acting, Loren has released several albums and spends most of her time in Geneva, Switzerland, where she is enjoying her final years.
14. Dorothy Dandridge
Dorothy Dandridge was the first African American to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in the movie Carmen Jones. Although she didn’t win, the critical acclaim helped Dandridge cement her place in the pantheon of Hollywood actresses.
Dandridge was also a singer and dancer who performed at the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater. She released several albums and singles during her time in the spotlight. Dandridge is often mentioned as being one of the women responsible for helping establish African American actresses in Hollywood and opening the doors for future stars in the industry.
15. Rita Moreno
Along with Sophia Loren, Rita Moreno is still out there getting it done. The Puerto Rican actress, dancer, and singer has done it all, from starring in hit movies and TV shows to performing in musicals and theatre productions. First coming to American audience’s attention in the 60s, Moreno began her career as a child actress in the 40s before graduating to lead roles in the 60s and 70s, when she was at her peak.
Moreno has won just about every award on offer and continues to appear in films despite her age (she is now 90). She is so well respected that a 2021 documentary about her life, Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It, was released to critical acclaim.
16. Shirley Temple
You can’t have a list of old Hollywood actresses and not include child sensation Shirley Temple. The curly-haired charmer made her screen debut at age three in 1931, quickly going on to dominate the decade with roles in movies like Curly Top, Heidi, Dimples, and Poor Little Rich Girl.
Temple managed to cash in on her child actress success, selling various forms of merchandise before her career petered out during her teens. She retired from acting at 22 in 1950 but returned in 1958 and appeared in several movies and TV shows over the course of the next decade. She did a 180 in 1969 when she began a career as a diplomat, serving as the American ambassador to several countries up until her retirement in the early 90s.
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