When exploring film history and its contributors, it is hard to pick a favorite actor let alone actress. The men and women of classic cinema bring such an array of talents and characteristics to the screen that it is hard to decipher which are the most meaningful. For me, each individual holds a special place in my heart for a very different reason. The following will focus just on the actresses for right now. Otherwise this entry would turn more into a novel than a blog 🙂
Number 10: Ava Gardner
Gardner was essentially the perfect ‘femme fatale.’ She was gorgeous, and even won the affections of the infamous Frank Sinatra, whom she referred to as the ‘love of her life.’ Her on and off screen charms made her the admiration of millions. Ava brought to life characters that were often flawed, but that innately possessed a desire to change. Ava often felt that due to the roles that she played, the public often got the wrong idea of the type of person she was off of the screen. “Because I was promoted as a sort of a siren and played all those sexy broads, people made the mistake of thinking I was like that off the screen. They couldn’t have been more wrong.”
Number 9: Rita Hayworth
Known to millions as the ‘Love Goddess,’ Rita stole people’s heart time and time again with her films. She could dance and act with exceptional grace. Many people often overlook the fact that she was of Spanish descent. Rita became the ultimate figure of desire with her role in “Gilda.” With that one film, she solidified her star status and would remain an iconic figure. As she once stated, “Every man I knew went to bed with Gilda… and woke up with me.” Another little known fact was that she was one of the first celebrities to publicly announce that they had Alzheimer’s disease.
Number 8: Barbara Stanwyck
Barbara was a fabulous actress, whose most powerful roles encompass those of the dramatic genre. One of her most memorable roles for me is that of the treacherous wife in “Double Indemnity.” She put her all into her work and loved being involved in pictures. Stanwyck continued to make a name for herself in films, long after she had reached the ‘prime’ of her life. The intensity, truthfulness and depth that she brought to the characters that she played cannot be duplicated. Every emotion that she felt can often be seen on her face. A few times, she took comedic roles, but I personally love the raw intensity that she brought to the screen in her dramas.
Number 7: Lucille Ball
The ‘First Lady of Comedy,’ obviously has to make this list. She was a comic genius and brought laughter to millions of people throughout the world. Her life was filmed with ups and downs, and yet she never let the hardships break her. To watch her films or television shows, one can not help but become absorbed by her. She brings an indescribable amount of life and energy to the screen. Lucy is my favorite comedienne of all time, as those close to me know, but in this list I was focusing on those whose primary focus in life was films. Granted Ball became known as the “Queen of B Pictures,” I unfortunately tend to equate her more with television, as that is where she experienced her greatest success.
Number 6: Thelma Todd
Known as ‘Hot Toddy,’ Thelma was known a gifted film comedienne, who got her start from the Hal Roach Comedy shorts. She is another example of an actress whose star was snuffed out too soon. Unfortunately, much of her film legacy has been overshadowed by the mysterious circumstance of her death at the mere age of 29. It is largely theorized that the murder was the result of Charlie “Lucky” Luciano’s orchestration. Todd is not a star whose name comes up in public acknowledgement much, but she deserves to be. She showed much promise as she was transitioning from her shorts to actual films. In her short, her ability to do physical comedy is tremendous, and her ability to deliver witty lines is unmatched by the majority. It’s a shame that we can never know how far her star power would have reached.
Number 5: Claudette Colbert
Claudette is a French-born, American film actress whose major rise to fame came from a movie that no one held high expectations for. The movie to which I am referring of course is “It Happened One Night,” in which Clark Gable costarred. It has become a known fact that studio head Louis B. Mayer wanted to punish Gable and put him in his place, so he loaned him out for this picture (thinking it would be a major flop). However, with the combined talents of these two, it became a big success, winning the oscar for best picture of the year in 1934. Her success in films continued, and she continued to make memorable films, proving she was a box office success.
Number 4: Lauren Bacall
A spunky film actress who still remains active to this day. Lauren starred in her first film EVER with none other than Humphrey Bogart. She was a mere nineteen when she met Bogie compared with his forty-five years. However, the obviously believed in the saying that age is nothing but a number, for they got married not long after. Lauren was known for giving a specifically sultry pose for the cameras, which became her trademark and was dubbed, ‘The Look.’ She made several films with Bogart, along with other notables such as Henry Fonda, Charles Boyer, Gary Cooper, Tony Curtis, etc. Lauren was always known for speaking her mind, and that was evident when she spoke out against the witch-hunt in Hollywood that resulted from the misguided preachings and actions of Senator McCarthy.
Number 3: Jean Harlow
The original ‘Blonde Bombshell,’ Jean lived only 26 short years, but left behind her a legacy that still continues to this day. She was the first platinum blonde star, which required painful, weekly procedures to keep up her trademark look. Besides being deemed the sex symbol of her era, she was universally referred to as ‘The Baby.’ Her role often called for her to portray tough, often scandalous women, and yet the true nature of her personality was exactly the opposite. She was content to spend time with friends and loved ones, and was very optimistic about finding true love. Certain authors and films have tried to exploit her memory by creating outlandish tales. However, those who knew her best, consistently state that she loved her work, but longed for a quieter side to life. She was coming into her own, getting better roles in movies, when she succumbed to uremia; a life and legend taken much too early.
Number 2: Myrna Loy
Known to many in the film industry as ‘The Perfect Wife,’ and ‘The Queen of the Movies’ for several years, she was a woman of many talents. Not only was she beautiful, but she possessed a great intellect as well. When she was not making films, Myrna was actively involved in politics and war efforts during World War II. She was able to play dramatic roles, and found her niche as the comic partner for some of the most popular leading men of her day. Both men and women were drawn her on-screen presence. Due to her comic genius and her unending generosity to causes that she believed in, she won the honorary Academy Award in 1991.
Number 1: Carole Lombard
She was known as the ‘Profane Angel’ and the ‘Hoosier Tornado.’ Beloved among her peers, Carole was the reigning prankster of Hollywood. When she wanted to she could become the very vision of grace and elegance, yet at heart she was much more of a tomboy with a complete zest for life. Though several hardships plague her during her life, she never let the experiences taint her love for everyday moments; the kind that many of us take for granted. Unfortunately, she would only be 33 when she was taken from the world. Her films leave behind her legacy; that of a screwball comedy queen who had the potential to play the dramatic roles she so desired.