No one did glamour quite like the old Hollywood studio system. Right or wrong, they had filmmaking down to an art and a highly efficient business. The studios did exceptionally well discovering raw talent and honing and polishing their stars until they displayed a sheen of perfection, bringing us some of the most glamorous and accomplished Old Hollywood actresses.
“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 posture, diction, and acting lessons. Actresses were often put on diets and specific surgical procedures to meet the physical requirements expected by the studio.
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The final touch was the glamorization process of hair, makeup, and wardrobe. The process could take months, sometimes even years, before an actress was considered worthy of casting in an A-list picture.
This system 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.
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Today’s list includes some of the most glamorous and beautiful old Hollywood actresses of the classic film era (and a little later into the 1960s).
Though there are many more beautiful and accomplished classic actresses, this list focuses on those whose images attracted the world’s attention, some even being named as sex symbols.
GLAMOROUS OLD HOLLYWOOD ACTRESSES
(in no particular order)
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
2. 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
3. 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
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
5. 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
6. 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
7. 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
8. 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
9. 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)
10. 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
11. 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
12. 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
13. 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
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
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
16. 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
17. 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
18. 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
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
20. 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
21. 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
22. 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
23. 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
24. 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
25. 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
26. 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
27. 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
28. 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
EVEN MORE OLD HOLLYWOOD ACTRESSES WITH THAT OLD HOLLYWOOD GLAMOUR (#29-50)
*This section was updated for 2022
Numerous old actresses from Old Hollywood starred on the big screen, and there are too many to list. However, we thought adding a few more of our favorite Old Hollywood stars would be fun!
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In parentheses, we included one of their most prominent roles.
- #29 Anna May Wong (The Thief of Baghdad)
- #30 Barbara Stanwyck (Double Indemnity)
- #31 Bette Davis (Now, Voyager)
- #32 Betty Grable (How to Marry a Millionaire)
- #33 Debbie Reynolds (Singin’ in the Rain)
- #34 Diahann Carroll (Julia)
- #35 Ginger Rogers (Kitty Foyle)
- #36 Janet Leigh (Psycho)
- #37 Jayne Mansfield (The Girl Can’t Help It)
- #38 Joan Fontaine (Rebecca)
- #39 Judy Garland (The Wizard of Oz)
- #40 Katharine Hepburn (The Philadelphia Story, Summertime)
- #41 Lena Horne (Cabin in the Sky)
- #42 Loretta Young (The Farmer’s Daughter)
- #43 Lucille Ball (I Love Lucy)
- #44 Mae West (She Done Him Wrong)
- #45 Mary Pickford (Coquette)
- #46 Olivia De Havilland (Gone with the Wind)
- #47 Rita Moreno (West Side Story)
- #48 Shirley Temple Black (The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer)
- #49 Sophia Loren (La ciociara)
- #50 Veronica Lake (I Married a Witch)
There are many more beautiful Old Hollywood actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Age and beyond. Who would you add to this list?
Photos: Public Domain
- Kendra Bean with Anthony Uzarowksi, Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies by Kendra Bean (2017)
- Cheryl Crane with Cindy De La Hoz Lana -The Memories, the Myths and the Movies (2008)
- Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair with Jewelry (2002)
- Mary Mallory, Living with Grace, Life Lessons from America’s Princess (2018)
- Kendra Bean, Vivien Leigh, An Intimate Portrait (2013)
- The Last Word – A Treasury of Women’s Quotes, by Carolyn Warner (1992)
- Mark A Vieira, Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince (2009)
- Manoah Bowman with Natasha Gregson Wagner Natalie Wood; Reflections On a Legendary Life (2016)
- Ms. Magazine Article (August 1972)
- Melissa Hellstern, How to be Lovely: The Audrey Hepburn Way of Life (2004)
- Annette Tapert, The Power of Glamour; The Women Who Defined the Magic of Stardom (1998)
- Lynn Kear & John Rossman, Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career (2006)
- 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?
46 thoughts on “50 Of the Most Glamorous Old Hollywood Actresses”
The Picture of Dorothy Dandridrige is Actually Lena Horn
No actually thats Dorothy I lover her.. they were close in beauty
DONNA DOUGLAS from the BEVERLY HILLBILLIES???!!!
Definitely the hottest black/actress singers ever:
Eva Marie Saint – On the Waterfront, opposite Marlon Brando, plus many others….
What about beautiful Susan Hayward?
What about Barbara Stanwick or Jean Simmons or Jean Seeberg or Bridgette Bardo or Donna Reed or Virna Lissi or there are so many others.
There are so many! We could definitely create a longer list. 🙂
Sad days in Hollywood, to forget these women .
Claudette Colbert!!!! She was Edith Head’s chosen body model. And, she was so funny on top of being glamorous. Can’t believe you left her off….
Where is DORIS DAY? She was a great actress, singer and animal activist. She should definitely be on this list!
You are totally right. We LOVE Doris Day! 🙂
Why not Doris Day?
No big reason other than she slipped my mind in the update. There are so many beautiful actresses we love.
Jean Arthur. One of if not my favorite actress.
Lucille Ball—-who started as a model before becoming an actress.
A Night at the Opera, 1935
One of my favorites is Teresa Wright! Got to have her on the list!
Where is Susan Hayworth
Another great one!
So many great ones! She’s amazing too. 🙂
Myrna Loy, Ann Miller, Leslie Caron, Lupe Velez, Greer Garson, Cyd Charisse, Clara Bow, Eve Arden, Ginger Rogers, Lillian Russell, Jeanette Macdonald, Frances Farmer, Judy Holiday, Esther Williams, Diana Dors, Sylvia Sydney, Mary Astor, Irene Dunne, Carmen Miranda, Shirley Jones, Jane Fonda
Ah such selective choices. As was expected. Guess your research didn’t include Hazel Scott, Eartha Kitt, Diahann Carroll, Louise Beavers, Ruby Dee, Pearl Bailey or other talented actresses and stars who paved the way but hey at least you managed to get Dorothy Dandridge in there.
It is a list of only 50. Of course, there are many more.
Where’s June Haver, a true beauty
Faye wray. Beautiful and great actress.
Nancy Kwan, France Nguyen, Francine Everett, though she wasn’t an actress Joyce Bryant, Mitzi Gaynor, Leslie Caron, Marpessa Dawn, Sallie Field, just to name some more.
Rita Moreno? Anna May Wong? Mary Pickford? Really?
Where are Marion Davies, Kim Novak. Miriam Hopkins, Ann Miller, Shirley MacLaine, Anne Bancroft, Lizabeth Scott, Mae Murray, Alice White, Sylvia Sidney?
They’re all great too! There are so many.
I’m always disappointed that Merna Loy isn’t more recognized for her beauty. She was stunning and had a HUGE career.
Rosalind Russell Miriam Hopkins Claudette Colbert and Greer Garson are significant omissions and rank above some of the actresses you listed
I know you will not mention GALE STORM because she wasn’t a big MOVIE STAR but was a TV STAR and RECORDING STAR that walked away from a top recording star position to save her marriage. NEVERTHELESS, she was only changeller LUCILLE BALL had till CAROL BURNETT.
Thanks for including Harlow in the first group. She may have been the first Natalie Wood had she lived another ten years.
Harlow, as most of you know, died at the age of 26 of kidney failure. She was just blooming into a serious actress in “Wife vs Secretary”. She was already a delicious comedienne and as quick with a wisecrack, both on the screen and real life, as anybody.
It’s easy to picture her as Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind” and as Natalie Wood’s character in “Splendor in the Grass”. I can see her as Maggie the Cat and even Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”.
Thanks for including Harlow in the first group. She may have been both the first Lucille Ball and the first Natalie Wood had she lived another ten years.
Sorry about the duplicate. I thought at first the click didn’t take so I added some words and did it again.
I tend to be annoying and short tempered with stuff which doesn’t work.
It’s true! She was wonderful.
Might not have many fans; but I’ll add these three, in no particular order: Janet Gaynor, Jean Parker and Paulette Goddard.
Where is SUSAN HAYWARD one of the beautiful and talented of all.