The Most Glamorous Stars Of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
By David Cohea, ReMIND Magazine
Hollywood has always been a dream of possibilities, but glamour often was how those dreams got their gossamer gold wings.
As studios became movie production powerhouses in the 1920s, they needed to get their main attractions — the stars — out in full force in order to keep movie theaters packed.
And so the face of stardom became all. Studio photographers toiled endlessly to drape leading Hollywood men and women in heavenly light.
Faces of luminous beauty began to emerge — Clara Bow, Joan Crawford, Myrna Loy.
But the studio pose was just the beginning. After the shoot, masters of the portrait then went into the darkroom to bathe and swathe and dodge and filter, lifting the final product to view. It was in a bath of hydroquinone and phenidone that pretty girls transformed into goddesses.
Studio publicity departments flooded the market with these images, sending them out with fan mail to hundreds of thousands of adoring fans, as well as to newspapers and magazines across the country.
Publicity stills — these were the photos of a movie as it was being filmed — were another essential product of the Hollywood glamour machine. Back in the days of silent film, actors were told to stand still for one minute as the photo was taken — hence, “still.” These were supplemented with studio portraits of actresses in their roles. Stills were used in posters, lobby cards and advertising.
Film fan magazines played a major role in broadcasting portraits and stills. With Photoplay in 1911 and later Movie Mirror, Picture Play and Hollywood, these magazines gloried in Hollywood glamour as portrayed by the latest celestial appearing in the local movie house. A lush illustration of a star usually graced the cover, and inside were interviews, reviews, profiles, fashion spreads and, of course, oodles of glamour portraits and stills. Turns out the appetite of fans for celebrity news was matched only by the zeal of Hollywood moguls for box-office sales — a match made in heaven.
Eventually candid photos replaced the portrait as the image fans wanted to see most, so in the ’50s you got pictures of stars boarding airplanes and boats, out on the town or relaxing at home. The paparazzi slowly replaced the studio photographer, and the age of Hollywood glamour passed into the fan magazine celebrity snap.
Much of the gold has faded, but the faces on the following pages are eternal.
Some of the most angelic portraits were those of Greta Garbo. The pale-eyed vixen was the star of such classics as The Kiss, Romance and Mata Hari. And yet as beautiful as she was, the empyrean face that launched a thousand movie posters was more the product of endless hours of hard work posing for photographers like Clarence S. Bull and George Hurrell.
One of the most photographed actresses from Hollywood’s golden age, the alluring and seductive Ava Gardner had memorable screen appearances in The Killers, Mogambo and The Barefoot Contessa. Her endless photo shoots were feasted on by the fan press, and she became well known for stunning entrances to awards shows as well as offscreen romances with the likes of Artie Shaw, Mickey Rooney and Frank Sinatra.
One of Hollywood’s greatest glamour icons, Lana Turner was a perfectionist who caused many a dressmaker to storm out during fittings. She would buy her shoes in every available color, at one time amassing 698 pairs. Turner was discovered at age 16 buying a soda at the Top Hat malt shop in Hollywood. After a few bit parts, she was soon a leading lady, playing the sultry ingenue in movies like Ziegfeld Girl (1941), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) and Peyton Place (1957), for which she received a Best Actress Academy Award nomination. Tinseltown’s glitter found its perfect reflection in her.
She had iconic blond looks, but Grace Kelly’s beauty was more prim than the blond bombshells of the 1950s. “The girl in white gloves,” as she was called, was widely recognized as the most glamorous actress of her time. Kelly was originally a star of the stage and early television. She enjoyed a short career in Hollywood in the mid ’50s, appearing in High Society, Rear Window and To Catch a Thief before retiring, at age 26, to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco.
While Jean Harlow may not have had that “it” girl look we often associate with starlets, she was the reigning platinum blond bombshell of Hollywood’s early talkies era. Harlow put the silver in screen classics like Dinner at Eight (1933) and Suzy (1936). Photographers said of Harlow that she was carefree and bold for the lens (often aided with a stiff drink beforehand), and used lighting and other effects to turn plain looks to gossamer.
The British actress is best remembered for her portrayal of two unforgettably stunning Southern belles — as Scarlett O’Hara facing off with Clark Gable in Gone With the Wind, and Blanche DuBois opposite Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire. When looking to cast the role of Scarlett, original director George Cukor said, “The girl I select must be possessed of the devil and charged with electricity.” Vivien Leigh proved to be just that and more.
Up until the late 1940s, Norma Jean was simply a model and aspiring actress. But once she became Marilyn Monroe, radically transforming herself into the face of Hollywood glamour — a blond bombshell with long, prominent brows, heavy-lidded eyelashes and trademark red lipstick — the rest was history. Photographers loved her almost more than the red-blooded American male. Twentieth Century Fox photographer Frank Powolny took this publicity still of Monroe in 1953 prior to the release of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. (Powolny also had snapped the iconic photo of Betty Grable.) They became friends and he photographed her many times, including the last known still photos of Monroe before her death in 1962. Another photo from the 1953 session, a headshot of Marilyn by Powolny, which was signed by Monroe, sold at auction in 2016 for $24,959.
If there is one star who used jewelry to take Hollywood glamour to another level, it was Elizabeth Taylor. The star of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Cleopatra collected jewels with the same fervor as husbands (she had seven), amassing some of the world’s most famous diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and rubies. With her dark, lustrous brows, violet eyes and ample bosom, the gleam of a ruby lent her persona a supercharged star power. At awards shows and celebrity events, a Liz Taylor entrance was biblical, like the parting of the Red Sea.
Ginger Rogers is best remembered for musical comedies of the ’30s, dancing opposite Fred Astaire in nine movies that decade including Swing Time and Top Hat. Partnering with Astaire in a glittery gown and high heels was no small feat, but Rogers’ true gift was that she could dance and act; of all of Astaire’s partners, she knew best how to carry the movie. And look fabulous.
The star of classics like Algiers (1938) and Sampson and Delilah (1949), Hedy Lamarr possessed a face so flawless that photographers were often speechless. Lamarr remained humble about her stunning looks. “Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid,” she once said. The thing for which she wished to be recognized was her mind, as she was a serious inventor. Though her frequency-hopping technology was initially rebuffed by the military, it went on to become the basis for the wireless communication we use today.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “Joan Crawford is doubtless the best example of the flapper, the girl you see in smart night clubs, gowned to the apex of sophistication, toying iced glasses with a remote, faintly bitter expression, dancing deliciously, laughing a great deal, with wide, hurt eyes.” It was an impression she made on her legion of fans as well. Crawford was one of the leading ladies of 1930s Hollywood, often playing glamorous, wealthy women in distress or hardworking gals who manage to score both love and success. In 1946, Crawford won the Academy Award for Best Actress in Mildred Pierce and later received Best Actress nominations for Possessed (1947) and Sudden Fear (1952).
A writer said of Carole Lombard that she had “a heart-shaped face, delicate, impish features and a figure made to be swathed in silver lamé.” Lombard was one of the most popular actresses of the 1930s, appearing in screwball comedies like Twentieth Century (1934) with John Barrymore and My Man Godfrey (1936) with William Powell. She was briefly married to Powell before settling down with Clark Gable, and soon the two were Hollywood’s greatest power couple. Returning from a war bonds tour in 1942, Lombard’s plane crashed, killing her (she was just 33) and all aboard. Despite remarrying twice, Gable chose to be buried next to Lombard after his death in 1960.
She had a face so perfectly chiseled that no door in Hollywood ever closed to her. The star of classics like Heaven Can Wait, Leave Her to Heaven and the haunting Laura, Tierney’s image was everywhere — on magazine covers, movie posters, in fashion magazines, in ads. While a goddess on the screen, life, however, was far more difficult. “I had no trouble playing any kind of role,” she once said. “My problems began when I had to be myself.”
Known for her exotic looks and glamorous persona, Marlene Dietrich was exceptionally loved by the lens and was one of Hollywood’s leading fashion icons. Yet she maintained a cool reserve. “I dress for the image,” she once said. “Not for myself, not for the public, not for fashion, not for men. … If I dressed for myself, I wouldn’t bother at all.” The German American actress played a cabaret singer in the German film The Blue Angel (1930), wowing Hollywood producers so much that she was soon appearing in American talkies like Blonde Venus (1932) and Desire (1936).
Originally a Spanish dancer, Rita Cansino started acting in “exotic” roles, but her looks limited her to bit parts. A studio executive convinced her to change her name, color her hair red and do some cosmetic tweaks on her face; soon Rita Hayworth was ascending to plum leading roles, dancing with Fred Astaire in You Were Never Lovelier (1942) and Gene Kelly in Cover Girl (1944), and burning the screen up with sultry glamour in the noir classic Gilda (1946). A 1941 photo of Hayworth wearing just a negligee and a smile became one of the most popular pinups of World War II. Nothing like Rita to welcome our brave troops home.
She brought to Hollywood glamour a brilliance as intelligent as it was beautiful. Swedish-born actress Ingrid Bergman was perhaps the greatest film actress of her generation, starring in many American and European movies, plays and TV movies, including Casablanca (1942) opposite Humphrey Bogart and Notorious (1946) with Cary Grant. She won three Academy Awards as well as two primetime Emmys and a Tony.
Fiercely independent, athletic and scorning fashion norms, Katharine Hepburn was truly Hollywood’s “modern woman.” Her film career spanned six decades, with some of the best pairings in classic Hollywood — Bringing Up Baby (1938) with Cary Grant, Adam’s Rib (1949) with Spencer Tracy and The African Queen (1951) with Humphrey Bogart. Along the way she would pick up four acting Academy Awards (a record) and 12 Best Actress nominations. Hepburn began the trend of women wearing trousers, and in 1986 was recognized by the Council of Fashion Designers of America with a lifetime achievement award for her influence on fashion.
Intensely aware of her public image and always dressed to perfection, Natalie Wood entered stardom young — by age 8 she had costar billing in Miracle on 34th Street (1947), and while still a teenager, she picked up her first Academy Award nomination for supporting actress in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Director Elia Kazan once said of Wood that “she clings to things with her eyes.” Wood had defining roles in ’60s movies like West Side Story (1961), Gypsy (1962) and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969). A tragic and mysterious drowning accident in 1981 took her from us at age 43.
Italian actress Sophia Loren was encouraged to take acting lessons after entering a beauty contest in her teens. With high cheekbones, burning eyes, full lips and an even fuller figure, Loren was the pinnacle of Italian beauty and soon proved she had the talent to match. She was the first foreign-language actor to receive a Best Actress Academy Award, for Two Women (1960), and appeared in such classics as Houseboat (1958) and Marriage Italian Style (1964). After starting a family in 1968, she made few film appearances, but notably starred in Grumpier Old Men (1995) and Nine (2009). Now 85, Loren is one of the last surviving stars of the golden age of Hollywood.
With her natural red locks, emerald eyes and alabaster skin, Maureen O’Hara was the real McCoy, an Irishwoman trailblazing the American screen. O’Hara delivered breakout performances in How Green Was My Valley (1941) and The Black Swan (1942), but it was the advent of Technicolor that brought her luminous beauty into full view. Who can forget her in Malaga (1954), or sporting about her native Ireland in The Quiet Man (1952) opposite John Wayne? O’Hara eschewed glamour for hard work, often performing her own stunts and refusing to sit for pinup shots.
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