No one did glamour quite like the old Hollywood studio system. Right or wrong they had filmmaking down to an art as well as a highly efficient business. One of the things the studios did exceptionally well was discovered raw talent and then honed and polished their stars until they displayed a sheen of perfection.

“The idea of a star being born is bushwah. A star is created, creatively and cold-bloodedly, built up from nothing, from nobody. We could make silk purses out of sow’s ears any day of the week.” Louis B Mayer (1) pg 30

For female stars, this included lessons in posture and diction as well as acting. Actresses were often put on diets as well as certain surgical procedures to meet the physical requirements expected by the studio. The final touch was the glamorization process of hair, makeup and wardrobe. The whole process could take months, sometimes even years, before an actress was considered worthy of casting in an A-list picture. It is precisely this system which produced some of the most beautiful and poised women ever to grace the screen.

The movie studios really owned their stars. They could decide if you needed plastic surgery, if and when you were going to get some time off. – Joan Wester Anderson

After recently publishing a list of the most handsome classic film actors, I decided it was the women’s turn.

RELATED: Man Candy – 26 of the Most Handsome Classic Film Actors

Today’s list includes some of the most glamorous old Hollywood actresses of the classic film era. Though there are many more beautiful and accomplished actresses, this list focuses on those whose images attracted the world’s attention, some even being named as sex symbols.

Twenty-Eight Glamorous Old Hollywood Actresses

(in no particular order)

List: Twenty-Eight Of The Most Glamorous Old Hollywood Actresses 1.  Lana Turner

Popular/Famous Films: Peyton Place, The Postman Rings Twice, The Three Musketeers, The Bad and the Beautiful, Johnny Eager, Honky Tonk

“From the moment I walked down the street in that first picture, They Won’t Forget, I evidently was a so-called sex symbol -to everyone except myself. For quite a while I was ashamed to face people.” Lana Turner (2) pg 28-29

List: Twenty-Eight Of The Most Glamorous Old Hollywood Actresses2.  Gene Tierney

Popular/Famous Films: Laura, Leave Her to Heaven, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Razor’s Edge

“The word actress has always seemed less a job description to me than a title.” Gene Tierney

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses3. Ava Gardner

Popular/Famous Films: The Night of the Iguana, Mogambo, The Killers, Showboat, The Barefoot Contessa

“I was never ambitious for stardom, it just came to me. If this turns (55 Days in Peking) out to be my last film, it will not worry me personally.” Ava Gardner (1) pg 194

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses 4.  Elizabeth Taylor

Popular/Famous Films: Giant, Cleopatra, National Velvet, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, A Place in the Sun, Father of the Bride

“I don’t want to be a sex symbol. I would rather be a symbol of woman, a woman who makes mistakes, perhaps, but a woman who loves.” Elizabeth Taylor (3) pg 53

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses5.  Grace Kelly

Popular/Famous Films: To Catch a Thief, Rear Window, High Society

“I loved acting. I loved working in theater and pictures. I didn’t particularly like being a movie star. There’s a big difference.”

Grace Kelly (4) pg 94

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses6.  Vivien Leigh

Popular/Famous Films: Gone With the Wind, A Streetcar Named Desire, Waterloo Bridge

“Actual beauty -beauty of feature is not what matters, it’s beauty of spirit and beauty of imagination and beauty of mind.”

Vivien Leigh (5) pg 137

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses7. Gloria Swanson

Popular/Famous Films: Sunset Boulevard, Sadie Thompson, Queen Kelly

 “I have gone through enough of being a nobody. I have decided that when I am a star I will be every inch and every moment the star! Everybody from the studio gateman to the highest executive will know it.” Gloria Swanson 

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses8. Hedy Lamarr

Popular/Famous Films: Algiers, Ziegfeld Girl, Boomtown, Samson and Delilah

“Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.” Hedy Lamarr

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses9.  Ingrid Bergman

Popular/Famous Films: For Whom the Bell Tolls, Casablanca, Notorious, Spellbound, Gaslight

“I’ve never sought success in order to get fame and money; it’s the talent and the passion that count in success.” Ingrid Bergman (6)

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses10.  Rita Hayworth

Popular/Famous Films: Gilda, Cover Girl, The Lady from Shanghai, Strawberry Blonde, Blood and Sand

“I’m an actress. I have depth. I have feeling. But they don’t care. All they want is an image.” Rita Hayworth

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses11.  Maureen O’Hara

Popular/Famous Films: The Quiet Man, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, How Green Was My Valley, Miracle on 34th Street, The Parent Trap, Jamaica Inn

“Every star has that certain something that stands out and compels us to notice them. – As for me, I have always believed my most compelling quality to be my inner strength, something I am easily able to share with an audience. I’m very comfortable in my own skin. I never thought my looks would have anything to do with becoming a star. Yet it seems that in some ways they did.” Maureen O’Hara

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses12.  Lauren Bacall

Popular/Famous Films: To Have and Have Not, Designing Woman, How to Marry a Millionaire, The Big Sleep, The Shootist

“I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that.” Lauren Bacall

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses13. Greta Garbo

Popular/Famous Films: Queen Christina, Ninotchka, Anna Christie, Flesh and the Devil, Camille, Grand Hotel

“Miss Garbo at first didn’t like playing the exotic, the sophisticated, the woman of the world. She used to complain, “Mr. Thalberg, I am just a young gur-rl!” Irving tossed it off with a laugh. With those elegant pictures he was creating the Garbo image.”

Norma Shearer (7) pg 70

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses 14.  Natalie Wood

Popular/Famous Films: Splendor in the Grass, Inside Daisy Clover, Miracle on 34th Street, West Side Story, Rebel Without a Cause

“This is a tough and hotly competitive business, and it is particularly hard on women. Your ego is constantly on the line when your every mood, pound, and inch is scrutinized by experts every day. Part of the bargain is being exploited, misunderstood, and occasionally misled… It’s a unique business. In what other profession can you become successful because someone likes your looks, or smile or figure?” Natalie Wood (8) pg 205

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses15.  Ann-Margaret

Popular/Famous Films: Bye Bye Birdie, Viva Las Vegas, Cincinnati Kid,

“I always tried to be the perfect little girl. Always tried to have the perfect little manners. Never wanted to displease my parents. But you’re setting yourself up.” Ann-Margaret

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses16.  Carole Lombard

Popular/Famous Films: My Man Godfrey, To Be or Not to Be, Nothing Sacred, Twentieth Century

“Personally, I resent being tagged ‘glamour girl’. It’s such an absurd, extravagant label. It implies so much that I’m not.” Carole Lombard

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses17.  Marilyn Monroe

Popular/Famous Films: The Misfits, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How To Marry a Millionaire, Some Like it Hot

“An actress is not a machine, but they treat you like a machine. A money machine. First, I’m trying to prove to myself that I’m a person. Then maybe I’ll convince myself that I’m an actress.” Marilyn Monroe (9) pg 38

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses18.  Audrey Hepburn

Popular/Famous Films: Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Charade, Funny Face, Love in the Afternoon, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, My Fair Lady

“As a child, I was taught that it was bad manners to bring attention to yourself, and to never, ever make a spectacle of yourself … All of which I’ve earned a living doing.” Audrey Hepburn (10) pg 8

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses 19.  Merle Oberon

Popular/Famous Films: The Scarlet Pimpernel, Wuthering Heights

“I couldn’t dance or sing or write or paint. The only possible opening seemed to be in some line in which I could use my face. This was, in fact, no better than a hundred other faces, but it did possess a fortunately photogenic quality.” Merle Oberon

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses20.  Jane Russell

Popular/Famous Films: The Outlaw, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Tall Men, Paleface

“Except for comedy, I went nowhere in the acting department. The truth is that, more often than not, I’ve been unhappy about the pictures I’ve been in.” Jane Russell

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses21.  Dorothy Malone

Popular/Famous Films: Written on the Wind, The Big Sleep, Too Much Too Soon, Young at Heart

“She (her character in Written on the Wind) is a strumpet of the first order, “It certainly will be talked about. And there’s nothing an actress needs more, inside of Hollywood and out, than to be talked about — for a performance, I mean.” Dorothy Malone

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses22.  Dorothy Dandridge

Popular/Famous Films: Carmen Jones, Island in the Sun, Porgy and Bess, Bright Road

“America was not geared to make me into a Liz Taylor, a Monroe, a Gardner.” Dorothy Dandridge

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses23.  Dolores del Rio

Popular/Famous Films: Flying Down to Rio, Journey Into Fear, What Price Glory? Ramona, Bird of Paradise

“Take care of your inner beauty, your spiritual beauty, and that will reflect in your face. We have the face we created over the years. Every bad deed, every bad fault will show on your face. God can give us beauty and genes can give us our features, but whether that beauty remains or changes is determined by our thoughts and deeds.” Dolores Del Rio

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses24.  Joan Crawford

Popular/Famous Films: Mildred Pierce, Sadie McKee, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Grand Hotel

“I played the star Joan Crawford, not the woman Joan Crawford, to the hilt. Partly because of the image thing. Partly because I felt that I photographed better than I actually looked, so I tried desperately to make sure my makeup and wardrobe lived up to the image on screen.” Joan Crawford (11) pg 50

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses25.  Kay Francis

Popular/Famous Films: Trouble in Paradise, Jewel Robbery, Mandalay

“I not only do not enjoy seeing myself on the screen, but I don’t even see myself any more when I look in the mirror at home. Even the pleasures of a woman’s vanity, the fun of ‘prinking’ are mine no longer. It has all become mechanical, impersonal, and boring. I look in the mirror, and I know there’s a face there. And it’s probably mine. I know that I must go through the motions of pulling it together, and I do, but I have no personal pleasure or interest in the process.” Kay Francis (12) pg 107

List: Glamorous Women in Classic Film26.  Constance Bennett

Popular/Famous Films: What Price Hollywood?, Topper, Merrily We Live

“I have no desire to grow old acting in motion pictures. I look on my profession as a business and I give it my best efforts, but I don’t want to give it my entire life.” Constance Bennett (13) pg 152

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses27. Marlene Dietrich

Popular/Famous Films: The Blue Angel, Morocco, Shanghai Express, Witness for the Prosecution, Blonde Venus, Destry Rides Again

“Glamour is assurance. It is a kind of knowing that you are all right in every way, mentally and physically and in appearance, and that, whatever the occasion or the situation, you are equal to it.” Marlene Dietrich

List: Glamorous Classic Film Actresses28.  Jean Harlow

Popular/Famous Films: Hell’s Angels, Red Dust, Dinner at Eight, Red Headed Woman

“I was not a born actress. No one knows it better than I. If I had any latent talent, I have had to work hard, listen carefully, do things over and over and then over again in order to bring it out.” Jean Harlow

References:

  1. Kendra Bean with Anthony Uzarowksi, Ava Gardner:A Life in Movies by Kendra Bean (2017)
  2. Cheryl Crane with Cindy De La Hoz Lana -The Memories, the Myths and the Movies (2008)
  3. Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor:My Love Affair with Jewelry (2002)
  4. Mary Mallory, Living with Grace, Life Lessons from America’s Princess (2018)
  5. Kendra Bean,Vivien Leigh, An Intimate Portrait (2013)
  6. The Last Word – A Treasury of Women’s Quotes, by Carolyn Warner (1992)
  7. Mark A Vieira, Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince (2009)
  8. Manoah Bowman with Natasha Gregson Wagner Natalie Wood; Reflections On a Legendary Life (2016)
  9. Ms. Magazine Article (August 1972)
  10. Melissa Hellstern, How to be Lovely‎: The Audrey Hepburn Way of Life (2004)
  11. Annette Tapert, The Power of Glamour; The Women Who Defined the Magic of Stardom (1998)
  12. Lynn Kear & John Rossman, Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career (2006)
  13. Brian Kellow, The Bennetts: An Acting Family (2004)

Photos: Public Domain

There are many more beautiful Old Hollywood actresses. Who would you add to this list?

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