10 Most Iconic Actresses From Hollywood’s Golden Age (And Their Best Role)

Netflix series 2020, Hollywood, aimed to highlight the “unjust systems and biases related to race, gender and sexuality” of Hollywood’s Golden Age. At this time, between the 1920s and the early 1960s (roughly), it was the American actresses whose very presence in major films challenged the status quo of the industry.

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These iconic women boast countless awards and nominations, credits in Hollywood’s many box office hits, and have broken down barriers in an industry underrepresented by gender and race. Iconic might be an understatement, but actresses like Joan Crawford, Ava Gardner, Hattie McDanielclaim a legacy from Hollywood’s Golden Age that remains a staple of entertainment culture even today – it’s the roles that cemented that legacy.

Joan Crawford (Mildred Pierce)


Crawford enjoyed early success in the 1920s and 1930s, but his popularity waned soon after (the rise and fall of stars was common in those days, after all). But her triumphant return to film came after taking on the lead role in Mildred Pierce (1945) where she won the Oscar for best actress the same year.

Much like today’s trends, the methods of filmmaking and storytelling in Hollywood’s Golden Age continue to fade. The noir style of films came and went after World War II, Crawford’s depiction of a struggling single mother in Mildred Pierce is considered one of the best film noir of all time. Over the years, acting has remained a family career, with Crawford’s granddaughter, Kaia Gerberrecently featured in the final season of american horror story.


Nina Mae McKinney (Alleluia)


Nina Mae McKinney, singer, dancer and one of the first African-American actresses on Broadway and in film. She led the all-black cast as “city girl” Chick in the 1929 musical, Alleluia which touched on the themes of racial stereotypes, religion and American history.

At the beginning of Hollywood’s Golden Age, African-American representation was rare. Alleluia aimed to portray the African-American experience in an authentic light, and won praise for being able to do just that (for its time). McKinney only wanted to act and couldn’t get many roles in the United States, so she moved to Europe in the 1930s and starred in many international productions. From Harlem to Hollywood to France, McKinney became the first African-American woman to star in a mainstream movie.

Catherine Hepburn (raising baby)


From American westerns to romantic dramas to interpretations of Shakespeare, Catherine Hepburn was known for his roles in many genres. But it’s raising baby (1938) who showed that she really understood the craft. Although the film was a box office failure, it enjoyed popularity during the latter part of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Much like Hepburn, slapstick comedy was simply ahead of its time.

Over her 60-year career, Hepburn has stood up for her rights as an actress, taken on roles with deliberation, and was later named the American Film Academy‘s number one female screen legend of the era. classic Hollywood. Her legacy goes beyond the many roles she played in film, television and on stage, and she has become known as a “modern woman” of her time.

Bette Davis (All About Eve)


When Bette Davis starred in the 1950 American drama, All about Eve, it almost served as a looping moment for the actress. Davis initially got her start as a Broadway actress, but moved to Hollywood in search of feature film roles. Two decades later, she will play Margo Channing in All about Evean aging Broadway star whose stage career was coming to an end.

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Davis won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her portrayal of Margo and earned herself an Oscar nomination. It wasn’t her first award (or nomination) and wouldn’t be her last, and she became the first person (regardless of gender) to earn 10 Oscar nominations.

Hattie McDaniel (carried away by the wind)


Although she has held many titles – actress, singer, comedian, McDaniel is best known for being the first African American to win an Oscar in 1940. The award was given for her supporting role as Mammy in carried away by the wind – a film whose problematic themes transpire in real life – where McDaniel was unable to attend the Atlanta premiere due to Jim Crow laws.

McDaniel faced racism within the industry, due to prevailing laws and prejudices, but that didn’t stop her from continuing to pursue endless “firsts.” His contributions to the industry are widespread, in part backed by – not one – but two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, documentaries, poems and honors in his name.

Ava Gardner (Show boat)


The late Gardner was a nominated actress and singer. She came from humble beginnings in the American South and, until the 1950s, appeared on screen in only small (but many) roles.

Gardner’s most notable performance was in Show boatthe third film adaptation since 1929. Still, the 1951 version of the hit musical was perhaps the most successful, in part due to the involvement of Gardner’s name. Show boat became the third-highest-grossing film of that year, grossing over $7 million at the box office.

Judy Garland (The Wizard of Oz)


Almost 70 years after the release of The Wizard of Oz – and 50 years later Judy Garland‘s death – the powerful biopic, Judy, has hit theaters. The true mark of an icon comes from imitation, and Renee Zellweger portrays Garland’s final years with an authenticity that’s both an ode to the Golden Age actress and a tragic tale of child stardom.

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Garland was just 16 when she was cast as The Wizard of Oz, and her role as Dorothy Gale in the classic 1939 film resulted in a 40-year career. She went on to win Oscars, Grammys, and even a Tony Award while dealing with personal issues at the same time. Yet (and because of it), Garland will always be remembered for dreaming up “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as the face of an American namesake on and off screen.

Marilyn Monroe (Men prefer blondes)


Marilyn Monroe came from humble beginnings and had a difficult childhood, from being a ward of the state of California to a short-lived marriage as a teenager. After being discovered through modeling, she raked in over $200 million (about $2 billion today) for her many movies. Monroe’s name quickly became associated with all things glitz, glamor and scandal, as her legacy transcended the entertainment industry and into all aspects of mid-century culture.

Monroe’s presence – and her notorious sex appeal at the time – morphed Gentleman prefers blondes (1953) into a late-Golden Age classic. She played the role of Lorelei Lee, said blonde in the title of the film, where she showcased a host of talents. Cue “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend”.

Dorothee Dandridge (carmen jones)


by Dorothy Dandridge list of accomplishments during his career are immense, but many stem from one film in particular, carmen jones. Dandridge was a well-known actress in the 1940s and 1950s, and a famous singer and singer. In 1954, she played the main role of carmen jones, a musical film featuring an all-black cast. The film was a box office success, earning over $10 million, and Dandridge became the first African-American woman to be nominated for Best Actress.

One year after the release of carmen jones, Dandridge opened at New York’s Empire Room – and became the first black artist to do so, but certainly not the last. In 2002, Halle Barry starred in a biopic about the life of the late actress. When Barry won an Academy Award for Best Actress in Another Role years later, she credited Dandridge for being a trailblazer for black women in the industry.

Vivien Leigh (A tram called Désir)


Vivien Leigh is perhaps best known for her starring role in carried away by the windcorn A tram called Désir became a much bigger part of his life. From 1949 to 1951, Leigh played Blanche DuBlois both on Broadway. When the book-turned-play came to life on the big screen, Leigh continued in the role opposite Marlon Brando.

As a classically trained actress, Leigh had more stage familiarity. But her portrayal in the 1951 film won Leigh the Best Actress Oscar – although the role, and its suggestive and relatable content, may have also ‘thrown her into madness’, as the actress claimed later.

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