You ever wondered what famous actresses kept TV enthusiasts glued to their screens in the 90s? Who were The Angelina Jolie(s) of those days, and what did Hollywood or Bollywood bear resemblance to?
Well, the 1990s effortlessly go down as the most defining times in Hollywood’s evolution. This is a century that saw fiery actresses step up and claim their space in a male-dominated acting domain. They were loved for their incisive charm and perfect acting skills, and some of their records are still unbeaten.
From the likes of Katherine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, Marylyn Monroe, and Ingrid Bergman. The 20th century’s entertainment scene was graced by talented and electrifying female actresses who still imbue us decades later. This article acts as an entry point into the lives of the most famous actresses of the 20th century and recounts the lives and moments of some of these actresses. We look at their triumphs, their highs and lows, and why they were famous.
1. Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Houghton Hepburn breathed her first on May 12, 1907, in Hartford, Connecticut (US.) Proclaiming that Katherine was a talented actress would be an understatement, she was more than that.
She is profoundly remembered for the strength of character elicited in her movie characters, and for her sprightly acting career. Katherine Hepburn was catapulted to fame by a film called the Philadelphia Story and held an acting career that spanned 60 years. Some of her most remarkable movies include:
- On Golden Pond.
- The African queen
- Guess who’s coming to dinner.
- Adam’s rib.
- Morning glory.
Besides her incisive skill in acting and film, she was also breathtaking beauty. Although she appeared tomboyish, Katherine Hepburn still turned heads. Everything about Katherine was unique, starting from her speech pattern,
Her acting also earned her a stunning 12 Academy Awards nominations and 4 Oscars, a record which is still unbeaten. What makes her acting career even more distinctive was her strong, spirited personality. She is remembered for turning against what was deemed conventional for an actress. She refused to wear make-up and turned up in quirky dress codes.
She was part of the best comedy series in the 1930s, one of them being Bringing up baby in 1938.
2. Marilyn Monroe
She was one of those individuals who are deemed as multi-talented. How she juggled being an actress, a singer, and model and excelling in all of them, is a mystery we still strive to unveil.
Marilyn Monroe was born on June 1, 1926, in Los Angeles. She spent a better fraction of her childhood in foster care, encountered sexual abuse occasionally and had to drop out of high school. How Marilyn transcended such turbulent circumstances and turned out to be one of the world’s most prolific actresses is a story that has been re-told severally.
Her modelling talent was unearthed first, by a photographer, while she was working in a factory in California.
She ascended to towering altitudes in film, and thanks to her sassy figure, she became an international acting star. Her films attracted numerous accolades such as the Henrietta award and world film favourite in 1953.
Besides being a famous sex symbol she starred in movie hits such as Niagara, All About Eve, Gentleman Prefer Blondes and Blonde Bombshell.
She died from a drug overdose at her Los Angeles home, at only 36 years of age. Although she died young, her achievements have surpassed her age and are still recognized years later after her demise.
3. Greta Garbo
She was born on September 18th, 1905, in Stockholm, Sweden. Her natural inclination towards film and modelling sufficed as early as 13. On landing a sales job at a Swedish departmental store, at about 19, she got a chance to showcase her underlying talent. She was perfect in front of the cameras, and this earned her first film. This was a comedy called Peter Trump. She then enrolled at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Sweden to sharpen her skills. She went to America after featuring in two films called The Legend of Gosta Berling and Streets of sorrow. The latter caught the attention of Metro- Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) production.
Her first American film was The Torrent (1926). She starred in two other films that year, The Temptress and Flesh and the Devil, both of which were here thrust into international stardom.
Greta Garbo earned numerous Academy Award nominations for different films which she starred in. She was an electrifying actress who enthralled her audiences and revolutionized style and fashion.
4. Gloria Swanson
She was born on March 17th, 1899, in Chicago. At age 14, while touring the Essanay film studio, Gloria stumbled upon her first acting role. She was to be part of a scene crowd and fell in love with film from that point. She landed a couple of other roles as an extra. Her performance was impressive and she ended up landing two other roles in two-reel comedies.
She secured a job with Mark Senet studio in Hollywood and ended up being hired by Cecil B. DeMille. This was the hallmark in her thriving acting career and she later transformed into the queen of silent film.
Her rise to stardom was achieved with the help of a couple of popular films which she featured in. Some of these films were Don’t Change Your Husband (1919) and Madam Sense-Gene (1925)
Gloria Swanson soon realized that her ambitions for the film were too great and could not fit into a box. She shifted her focus to orchestrating her own production company and creating her own pictures. Her most memorable picture creations were Sadie Thompson (1928) and Queen Kelly (1929) which was also her first talkie.
She then took a detour from making films for a while and ventured into other businesses. Her inward fire for film production did not die, however, and she made a historic comeback in 1950.
Sunset Boulevard was an acclaimed film and commanded wide popularity and following. This further contributed to putting Gloria Swanson in the limelight and was one of the highlights of her acting career.
She spent her presumably evening years in theatre and film, published her autobiography ‘Swanson on Swanson, and died in 1983, in New York.
5. Simone Signoret
Simone Signoret was a renown French film star, born in Wiesbaden, Germany.
In the wake of her career in acting, Simone often landed roles as an extra in French films. This did not dim her shine. She eventually landed a grand role in the British film Room At The Top. Her remarkable performance in this film earned her an Academy Award, making her the secongGrench person to win an Academy Award. Her acting prospects were luminous.
She secured another Academy nomination for her stunning performance in Ship Of Fools. ( 1965). These were not the only distinguished honoraries she was accorded. Simone also took home other distinctions including three BAFTAS, an Emmy, and a Cannes Film Festival Award just to name a few.
Her untamed sense of sensuality led to performing impeccably in roles such as being a prostitute. While some of these roles often earned her both praise and backlash in equal measure, nothing could still her marching feet.
Films such as La Ronde (1950) and The Crucible drew a considerable amount of attention and propelled her farther into the limelight. Up until her demise in 1980, Simone featured in many admirable roles such as Madame Rosa, in which she is portrayed as a weary madame who curries favour with her paralyzed brother and falls irresistibly in love.
6. Lauren Bacall
She was born on September 16th, 1924 in New York City. Lauren was initially interested in dancing until the tides changed their course and changed gear towards acting. Upon completion of her studies at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, in New York, she found her footing in a few productions off-Broadway.
Besides her fledgling acting prowess, her beauty and looks were unmatched. She tested the waters of modelling and graced the covers of the esteemed Harper’s Bazaar magazine.
This further paved way for her career prospects and the cover happened to land in the right hands-the wife of director Howard Hawks.
Lauren took a screen test, and it turned out good. She secured a role in a thriller, ‘To Have And Have Not ‘ in 1944. Her performance was impressive and landed her other lucrative career deals. Besides that, it also paved the way for an envied Hollywood romance. She fell in love and married her co-star Humphrey Bogart, and appeared in innumerable films together.
They starred in several enthralling thrillers such as Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948).
She is remembered for her mystifying movie roles which always left her fans waiting with bated breaths for more. She also had a propensity for doing really well in comedies and TV shows. Her first comedy was in 1953, and she co-starred with the electrifying Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grabble. How To Be A Millionaire was explosive, and it aired in almost every cinema across America.
The death of her husband in 1957 served as a big blow both to her personal life and her acting career. She was on and off the film, but still had some remarkable comebacks. Shock Treatement (1964) and Sex In Single Girl (1964) were major hits. Lauren Bacall was relentless and pursued her passion even into old age. She ventured into theatre and enchanted her audiences with her incredible live performances.
She died in 2014, just five weeks to celebrating her 90th decade on planet earth.
7. Giulietta Masina
The Italian film industry is yet to behold another film actress as stunning Giulietta Masina. Born on 22nd February 1921, she rose to exceptional heights in film and was part of two films which bagged TheAcademy Awards.
Her unique talent in theatre performance was nurtured while living with an uncle and aunt who was inclined towards the same realm.
She graduated with a degree in Literature from the Sapienza University of Rome. While working as a radio and voice artist, she warranted a lot of attention. Her career in radio is what propelled her into the film industry, and landed her amazing film roles. She began as a theatre performer during World war II.
She starred in two of the most notable films in her career, La Strada and Nights of Cabiria, which both won Academy Awards. Her award and nominations entourage does nit end here. Giulietta was also nominated for two BAFTA film awards.
She died of cancer on 23rd March 1994, aged 73. Her final wish was that La Strada is played during her funeral by Trumpeter Mauro Maur.
8. Joan Crawford
Her original name at the time of her birth on March 23rd,1904 was Lucille Fay LeSueur. Her most famous films were Whatever happened to Baby Jane and Mildred Pierce. She was a terrific dancer at a young age.
Her mother’s second marriage to the theatre owner Harry Cassin was her entry point into the film, although the marriage was short-lived. She decided to pursue a dancing career after finishing school and got lucky. She ended up dancing in the Broadway show Innocent Eyes and started to work for MGM onscreen.
Her big break was being featured in a film Our Dancing Daughters in 1928, after which she came into the limelight. Subsequent to her stoic performance in this hit film, she landed over sixty film roles in her entire acting career. She was part of renowned films such as Hollywood Revue (1929) and Grand Hotel (1932).
She ditched MGM and sought collaboration with the Warner brothers. In 1945, she acquired a lead role in the film Mildred Pierce. The film pleasantly tells the story of a struggling mother who surpasses turbulent life circumstances and miniature beginnings to become a prolific restaurateur. Mildred pierce won two Academy award nominations, and Joan Crawford won for Best Actress.
Her other films, Possessed (1947) and the thriller Sudden Fear (1952) earned her two more Oscar nominations.
Her devotion towards her acting career imbued her fans, and she cultivated a wide fan base. Besides acting, Joan Crawford also became the first woman to join the Pepsi Board of directors in 1959.
9. Vivien Leigh
She was a British film and stage and film actress. She was born in India, on November 5th, 1913. While schooling in England she got inclined towards an acting career path as a result of inspiration from a friend, Maureen O. Sullivan.
She eventually enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art to study acting. In 1935, she made her acting debut by starring in the play The Bash. She was then cast in her first London play in the movie Things Are Looking Up.
She took up challenging roles in the course of her acting and even did Shake Spears plays.
One of the hallmarks of her career was landing a leading role in George Cukor’s Gone With The Wind. It ended up being one of the most anticipated Hollywood pictures of all time. The film performed astoundingly well and landed 13 Academy Award nominations and won 3. Vivian also secured one Academy award for the Best Actress slot.
Her career slowed down in the 1940s due to personal and health issues, but she picked up again in the late 1940s. She continued to take up more challenging roles and secured more awards. She took home the Newyork critics film award and another Best actress Academy award. Her performance in Street Car is still remarkable to date.
10. Bette Davis
On April 5, 1908, Ruth Elizabeth Davis was born to Harlow Morell Davis and Ruth Augusta in Massachusetts. She began acting while schooling at the Cushing Academic, She relocated to NewYork and joined the John Murray Anderson Milton School of Theatre.
After successful theatre auditions, she had her stage debut in The Earth Between and her first Broadway appearance was in the comedy Broken Dishes.
By the time of her death in 1989, she had appeared in almost 100 films. Some of her celebrated films include All about Eve and Dark Victory
She secured her first Academy Award nomination in 1935. This was for the film Of Human Bondage. She won two Academy Awards in the course of her acting career. These were for the films Dangerous and Jezebel (1938).
11. Ingrid Bergman
Ingrid Bergman had one of the most alluring faces Hollywood has ever seen. Born on August 29th, 1915.
During her entire acting career, she bagged 7 Academy award nominations and took home 3. These were for the films Gaslight, Anastacia and Murder For The Orient Express. While in school, she performed in various plays which helped sharpen her mastery in the art of film. She then enrolled in the Royal Dramatic theatre school in the early 1930s. Her first acting roles were in the Swedish language. The two films that shed light on her acting were Monkgrobreven and Intermezzo.
Her 1939 remake of the film Intermezzo was a great hit and it earned her a multiyear contract with film producer David. O. Selznick.
She played devoted roles in numerous films, some of them being Adam had Four sons, Rage in heaven, Casablanca, and For Whom the Bell Tolls.
She won her first Academy award in 1944 for her role in the movie Gaslight, which was largely celebrated. Her acting was not confined to Murder For The Orient Express. She also featured in thriller films such as Spell Bound (1945) and Notorious (1946.)
Her career tested some turbulent waters when she was involved in a scandal with director Rossellini. Despite this, her comeback in 1956 with the film Anastacia was remarkable. After being shunned by Hollywood for years, Ingrid Bergman proved to the world that not even damaging love scandals could dim her shine. This film earned her the 2nd Academy award.
Even when the clock of destiny seemed to be ticking out on her, Ingrid acting star still shone brightly. In 1969, she co-starred in the popular comedy Cactus flower. In 1974, she picked another Academy award for her supporting role in
She bowed out of the acting arena with her final Television movie, Golda in 1982.
Ingrid Bergman succumbed to heart failure on her birthday, August 29, in London.
12. Lillian Gish
Lillian Gish was the lady who transformed film into art. She later came to be known as The lady of the silent screen, after a stoic performance in films such as the British Nation. She was born on October 18th, 1893. She began acting not out of passion, but as a result of circumstance. She made her first stage appearance at a time when acting was not an acclaimed profession.
Her perfect skill showcased itself on a film tour in 1901. Her debut film was one called In convict Stripes. Despite not attending any Theatre school, or receiving any training in film, she still scaled impeccable heights in the acting scene.
At less than 8 years of she, she appeared in other films such as The Little Red Schoolhouse. Her acting life sort of disoriented her education, and her school work slumped a great deal. She, however, taught herself how to read, and this zeal for books lasted a lifetime.
Upon being introduced to Director D.W Griffith, her career took a turn for the better. She was hired after a successful screen test and was earning $5.00 a week. Together with Griffith, they spent 9 years performing artistic films that took the film to different levels. They did 40 films together. She took classes in dancing, fencing and visited insane asylums to work on her emotional and physical responses. This did her some good. Her subsequent film, The British Nation is still a success story and his been touted as the first film of modern cinema.
In 1920, she directed her own film called Remodeling Her Husband and the results were impressive. She stroke a deal with MGM in 1926, which boosted her career. She appeared in films such as The Wind and La Boheme in 1926.
She did more film in the 1940s and even moved to do guest posts on episodic shows. In 1969, she began lecturing about her roots with the help of her literary work called Lillian Gish and the Movies: The Art of Film (1900-28)
She was more inclined to supporting roles and did quite well in films such as Duel In The Sun in 1947.
In 1987, she won an Academy nomination for her role in the whales of August. She performed this role alongside Bette Davis, another remarkable actress.
13. Elizabeth Taylor
She is remembered for grabbing Academy awards for her films Butter Field 8 (1960) and Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1965). She was born in England, on February 27th, 1932. Her talent was already visible at a tender age 3. The young Taylor could eloquently perform dances and recitals. This prompted her parents to take her for a screen test, which turned her sprouting acting abilities into a thriving career.
At age 10, Taylor made her screen debut in the film There’s one born every minute. This role was followed by Lassie come home (1943) and The White Cliffs of Dover (1944). Her 1944 film, National velvet was defining for her acting career and catapulted her into fame. The film was very successful with total earnings of $4 million.
Even at age 12, Taylor proved that her age and her performance were mutually exclusive. She was able to take up more adult roles and pull them off perfectly. She delivered staggering performance for innumerable films, and her films had perfected the tendency of alluring audiences. Her most unforgettable performances were in the drama The Unforgettable sun.
She won her first Oscar in 1960, after a splendid performance in the film Butterfield 8.
Despite being in the spotlight for other reasons such as her entangled love scandals, she continued to excel in what she knew best. Even after her retirement from acting, her presence continued to be felt in various facets of life. She launched a HIV\AIDS foundation and received a lifetime achievement award in 1993 and was made the Dame Commander of the order of the British empire. She succumbed to cognitive heart failure in 20ll and left behind 4 children.
14. Marlene Dietrich
She first started out as a music artist, but later ditched this path to pursue acting. She was a film firebrand in the 1930s and 1940s and is fondly remembered for her feminine roles.
She attended Max Reinhardt’s and began to land various film roles. Her husband, a film professional, helped her secure her first film role. She found her footing in the German acting scene in the 1920s and her career eventually took off.
She was made part of Germany’s first talking picture Der Blaue Engel. It’s the English version, The Blue Angel was explosive and extended her fame into the United States.
On relocating to America in 1930, she again shined in the film Morocco, with Garry Cooper. Her work on the film was celebrated and recognized throughout the film industry. She received her first and only Academy award her Amy Jolly role in the widely acclaimed film.
Her bold sense of fashion and style was also one striking aspect of Marlene Dietrich. She redefined feminity and was always bold to dress tomboyish on and off the screen.
Being a radical cynic of the German Nazi government, her films were banned there, in her native land. She hence acquired US citizenship in 1942. She also made an impact during world war 2 by singing to entertain soldiers and troops. She made two more films after the war, both of which were successful. These were A foreign affair (1948)
As her acting career started to fade in the mid-50s, she launched a vibrant career as a singer.
15. Jane Wyman
Jane was born on January 5th, 1917, in St. Joseph, Missouri. She lost her father to divorce and was raised by her mum from the age of 8 years. After graduating, she attempted to venture into the film but was unsuccessful. She later went on to being a radio singer in 1935 that brought about her first name change from Sarah Jane Fulks to Jane Durell. Her second name change came in the following year when she signed a contract with Warner Bros. Pictures. She changed her name to the recent one Jane Wyman.
In Warner Bros., she appeared in Brother Rat and Baby Be Good. She later ventured into melodramas and comedies. This gained her popularity and fame in her participation in The Lost Weekend (1945). Her role as Max Baxter in The Yearling secured her a place in the nomination for the Best Actress Oscar Award. She won the Oscar Award in 1949 due to a role she played in Johny Belinda (1948).
She continued appearing in a number of prestigious films like Stage Fright (1950), Here Comes The Groom (1951), The Story of Will Rodgers (1952) among other famous films.
16. Anna Magnani
She was an award-winning Italian stage and film actress. Her presence in the Italian Film was felt for almost three decades. Her fans were fascinated by her prowess and her unique physical appearance. Once in awhile she was referred to as The living she-wolf of Italian cinema.
She was born on March 7th, 1908 in Rome, Italy. She attended a French convent school in Rome after which she enrolled at the Eleonora Duse Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She first started out as a singer, majoring in Roman folk songs, then she redirected her path towards acting and film.
In 1927, Anna took part in a silent film called Sampolo and was offered another film role in 1934. She also featured in a couple of Italian films, wit the main one being The blind woman of Sorento and ‘Tempo Masimo’.
Her first gound breaking film was ‘Rome, Open City.’ And it made her famous internationally.
Her explosively alluring film, Rose Tattoo was beyond celebrated. The film won five glamorous awards, namely an Academy Award for best actress, BAFTA award, Golden Globe and a Motion Picture Drama Award.
For her film, Wild is the wind ( 1955)she was accorded two grand accolades: A Silverbear for best actress and David di Donatello Award. This film also won Academy and BAFTA Awards nominations.
She also had numerous relationships with fellow film stars like Film director Goffredo Alessandrini and Roberto Rossellini. Anna Magnani died in 1973 from Pancreatic cancer and is still hailed as one of the best actresses in Italian film.
17. Grace Kelly
Grace Kelly came to life on 12th November 1929 to an affluent, Irish Catholic family. She spent her preliminary education days in private schools and convents. From a tender age, Grace Kelly harboured a strong conviction that she was designated for the film and acting industry.
In 1947, she enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Her time there shaped her into the stunning, award-winning actress that she was. Two years later she launched her career in August’s The Father. This was her breakthrough and she was cast in several television dramas, afterwards in the 1950s.
Another big break in her career happened in 1951 when she played a minor role in Fourteen Hours. Kelly’s path to stardom was illuminated in 1952 when Gary Cooper recognized her while acting in Fourteen Hours. High Noon was her breakthrough performance where she acted as Cooper’s young wife.
Her performance here opened her career doors and in 1953, she received her first Academy Award nomination for her performance in Mogambo.
Kelly progressed in her career performing in many other different films and plays. She achieved amazing feats in acting, including an Oscar for the best actress in 1954. This was for a role she took up as a frumpish wife of an alcoholic actor in The Country Girl. Kelly understood that film and elegance always coexist and she utilized her prime years. The 1950s were a remarkable period for her career and she wound up by featuring in the films The Swan and High Society in 1956.
Kelly then retired from film and married Prince Rainier. She permanently took a detour from acting and her American citizenship to become the princess of Monaco. The couple had 3 children,( caroline, Albert and Stephanie). On 13th September 1982, Grace suffered a stroke while driving at Cap-d’Ail in France, which caused her untimely death.
18. Barbara Stanwyck
Barbara Stanwyck was born on July 16th, 1907 in Brooklyn, Newyork. Her memories still lay heavy on our minds and our hearts as the leader of the Barkleys family that aired on Western Tv as The Big Valley in 1965.
Barbara’s journey took a different path when she went searching for dancing jobs while she was not working. This dream that kept her move from place to place in search of a platform to showcase her talent finally paid off. From a local telephone worker, being hired as a chorus girl for 40 dollars was a milestone for her at her tender age, 17 years. This created opportunities for her because with the experience and some skill perfected, she moved to Hollywood in 1928 to start off her film and acting career.
Due to her versatility in acting, she could fit anywhere leading her to feature in different movies with different roles. In 1932 she fitted perfectly in Forbidden and also did well in the same genre,(melodramas) in 1937 in Stella Dallas. One of the best films she ever performed was a thriller by the name Double Indemnity (1944). She also did a couple of genres like comedy in Remember The Night, As Mary Carson, she did a splendid performance in a min-series, The Thorn Birds that was a hit. This made her a familiar screen figure in the eyes of many who loved her films and acting.
Her excellence and hard work made allowed her to be nominated in four Academy Awards. She was not lucky to win in the nominated awards, however, in 1982 she received Academy awards for superlative creativity. Barbara is known to many as one of the best actors who never won the Oscars. She died on 20th January 1990, leaving behind a legacy that lived on for generations.
19. Romy Schneider
Out of a family of actors came an actor. Romy Schneider was born on 23rd September 1938 in Vienna, Austria. Her thirsty actor-genes that ruled their family knocked at her doors of life as early as 15 years of age. At this tender age, she made a debut that gave her a platform for her breakthrough two years later. 1955 was her breakthrough year when she acted in the very popular trilogy Sissi.
The popular movie, Sissi, brought her fame throughout Germany. She became a celebrity and her fame and popularity increased even further when the compilation of the film was released in the United States in 1962 as Forever, My Love. Her journey in the film industry in America went on quite well as she also participated in The Assassination of Trotsky and Cesar and Rosalie in 1972. Romy’s underlying talent in comedy came out in 1969 when she acted The Things of life. This was further brought out when she featured in A simple Story in 1978.
She fell in love with a co-actor Alain Delon moved in together in Paris but broke up later in 1964 without a child. Shortly after that in 1966, she married Harry Meyen and had a son together. Of all the things in life maybe Romy was not “talented” or blessed in terms of love and romantic ideals. She divorced Harry in 1975. She was then engaged to Daniel Biasini the same year of her divorce and they had a daughter together, Sarah Biasini.
She wasn’t contented with her personal life and she turned to drugs and alcohol. She seemingly had a way to manage her career and drugs since her career was still intact. She received an award in 1978 for her performance in A Simple Story. Romy died on 29th May 1982 a year after her son was impaled on a fence, something she never recovered from.
20. Merle Oberon
Merle Oberon Thompson was born on February 19th, 1911 in Bombay, India. Her journey in the film industry began at 17 years of age when she left India for London.
Some of the famous movies and films that made her the icon we know today are
- Men of Tomorrow (1932)
- The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)
- The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)
- The Dark Angel (1935)
- These Three (1936)
- Of Love and Desire (1963)
From London, Merle searched for greener pastures in the United States. In 1935 she was nominated in the Academy Awards for her performance in The Dark Angel. Merle was on and off the screen till 1973 when she did her last film, Interval.
She retired and led a quiet life until November 23, 1979, when she died in Malibu, California. Her death is speculated to be a result of a massive stroke. She died at the age of 68, and those who saw her acknowledged her beauty from her youth age to her death.