50 Female Celebrities From The Past That Left The World In Awe

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Photo Courtesy: [Most Glamorous Old Hollywood Actresses/SPR]

Today's actresses work in the shadows cast by the actresses that came before them in all genres, from romantic comedies to noir, costume dramas, and musicals. During Hollywood's Golden Age, between the 1920s and early 1960s, it was the American actresses whose very presence in major motion pictures challenged the status quo in the industry. Many of these iconic women earned countless awards and nominations, credits under Hollywood's many box office hits, and broke down barriers in a gender and racially-underrepresented industry. One thing that the women who graced the big screen in the '40s, '50s, and early '60s all shared was a level of glamor.

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Olivia de Havilland

Olivia de Havilland had many successful roles early on in her career, such as playing Melanie Hamilton in Gone with the Wind in 1939. Olivia also starred in The Adventures of Robin Hood, Dodge City, and They Died with Their Boots On. 

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She won two Oscar Awards for her performances in the films The Heiress and To Each His Own. She started acting at just twenty-three years old and her sister, Joan Fontaine, was also a famous actress.

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Maureen O'Hara

Maureen O'Hara was a red-headed Irish actress and singer known for playing fiercely passionate heroines. She starred in The Black Swan, How Green Was My Valley, Miracle on 34th Street, The Quiet Man, McLintock!, and The Parent Trap. 

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She was most known for her childhood roles in Meet Me in St. Louis, The Secret Garden, and Little Women. In 1944, she even received a Juvenile Academy Award.

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Margaret O'Brien

Margaret O'Brien starred in her first film, Babes, on Broadway in 1941 at just four years old. However, when she was five years old, she received praise for her performance in Journey for Margaret. At the age of seven, she co-starred in You, John Jones, in which she played Adele. 

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However, her most memorable role was opposite Judy Garland in the film Meet Me in St. Louis. She played Tootie Smith, a feisty but fragile little sister. She, along with June Allyson, became known as "The Town Criers" of MGM.

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Debbie Reynolds

Debbie Reynolds was nineteen years old when she starred in Singin' in the Rain in 1952, and that was just the start of her career. She went on to star in The Unsinkable Molly Brown and The Singing Nun

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In addition, she was a TV guest star on the popular Will & Grace series, where she played Grace's mother. She was also the voice of Lulu Pickles in the cartoon Rugrats.

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Rhonda Fleming

Rhonda Fleming starred in more than forty films during the 1940s and 1950s and was one of the most glamorous actresses of her day. She was nicknamed the "Queen of Technicolor" because of how well she photographed. Some of the films that she starred in include Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and Spellbound. 

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She was initially discovered by Henry Wilson; he changed her name from Marilyn Louis to Rhonda Fleming. "It's so weird. He stopped me crossing the street. It kinda scared me a little bit; I was only 16 or 17. He signed me to a seven-year contract without a screen test. It was a Cinderella story, but those things could happen in those days." -----Fleming.

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Joan Collins

Joan Collins' feature debut was in Lady Godiva Rides Again as a beauty contestant. She then went on to star in The Woman's Angle, Judgment Deferred, and I Believe in You. Collins is also an author and columnist and has received many awards throughout her career. 

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However, she is probably best known for her role as Alexis Carrington in the series Dynasty. In 2015, she was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II and was one of the last surviving stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

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Shirley Jones

Shirley Jones has been in show business for sixty decades and has starred in musical films like Oklahoma!, Carousel, and The Music Man. She is probably best known for her role as Shirley Partridge in The Partridge Family.

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She also has starred in Elmer Gantry, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, and Fluffy. In 2008, Jones played Colleen Brady on the soap opera Days of Our Lives, and she guest starred on the show Ruby & The Rockits.

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Doris Day

Doris Day started her career in the 1940s as a big band singer until she was convinced to move to the silver screen. Before she started acting, she had two number-one hits, including "Sentimental Journey" and "My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time." 

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She has starred in thirty-nine films and was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in Pillow Talk in 1959. As of 2012, she sits as the sixth-best box office performer of all time. She retired from acting in 1968 and got involved in charities.

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Joanne Woodward

Joanne Woodward made her career breakthrough in the 1950s by playing complex women. She is also one of the first film stars to have an equal presence on television, and she has received many accolades. 

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She is best known for her performances in films such as The Three Faces of Eve, A Kiss Before Dying, No Down Payment, and Paris Blues. Joanne was married to Paul Newman, and the two starred in ten movies together, including The Long Hot Summer.

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Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn was an icon of her time and starred in many films throughout her career. She starred in Sabrina, The Nun's Story, Breakfast at Tiffany's, My Fair Lady, and Charade. She was the first actress to win a Golden Globe, Academy Award, and BAFTA for a single performance. 

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In 1951, she starred on Broadway in Gigi, and she altered history books with her performance in Roman Holiday. Hepburn was ranked the third-greatest female screen legend from Classical Hollywood cinema by the American Film Institute.

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Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe is the quintessential sex symbol of her era and one of the most famous actresses of all time. She gained attention after her performances in The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve. She went on to star in Don't Bother to Knock and Niagara, and her "dumb blonde" persona was used in several films. 

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She won a Golden Globe Award for the classic Some Like It Hot. Monroe is also known for her performance of singing "Happy Birthday" to President JFK.

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Bette Davis

Bette Davis got her start on Broadway, but two decades later, she made it to Hollywood in the film All About Eve. Davis became the first person to earn ten Academy Award nominations. 

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One of her most important roles was in the film Marked Woman, and she starred in Jezebel, Dark Victory, The Little Foxes, The Letter, and Now, Voyager. She was the first woman to be president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the first to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award.

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Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford found success in the 1920s and 1930s, but then she saw her popularity fade. However, she made a triumphant return in 1945 when she starred in Mildred Pierce

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That performance won her an Academy Award for Best Actress. She later became involved with the Pepsi-Cola Company, and after her performance in the film Trog in 1970, she retired from the big screen and withdrew from public life.

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Katharine Hepburn

Katharine Hepburn was a permanent Hollywood presence for more than sixty years and appeared in both comedies and dramas. She starred in several films, including The Philadelphia Story, The African Queen, Woman of the Year, Morning Glory, The Lion in Winter, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and On Golden Pond. 

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She took on roles with deliberation and was named The American Film Academy's number-one female screen legend of the Classic Hollywood Era.

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Diahann Carroll

Diahann Carroll was an actress and singer in the 1950s and appeared as a supporting character in productions such as the character Carmen Jones in Porgy & Bess

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She eventually had the title role of Julia in 1968, which made her the first Black actress to star in her own series on TV in a role other than a domestic worker. She stunned audiences for years and was a major figure during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

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Hattie McDaniel

Hattie McDaniel was an actress, singer, and comedian, and she is best known for being the first African American to win an Oscar in 1940. She won the Oscar for her supporting role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind. 

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Even though she starred in the film, she was unable to attend the Atlanta premiere due to Jim Crow laws. Throughout her career, she faced racism within the industry, but that never stopped her. Today, she has two stars on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, poems, documentaries, and honors in her name.

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Ava Gardner

Ava Gardner's career took off after she starred in The Killers in 1946, and she was considered to be one of the most beautiful women to have worked in cinema. 

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She had many roles in films, including Show Boat, The Hucksters, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and Mogambo. Her most notable performance was in Show Boat, which became the third highest-grossing film of that year. Ava continued her film career for three more decades.

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Judy Garland

Judy Garland was an all-around entertainer and was respected for her versatility across the board. She initially signed with MGM as a teenager and starred in more than twenty films. Her most famous role was as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz in 1939. 

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She also starred in Meet Me in St. Louis and earned nominations for her performances in the remake of A Star is Born and Judgment at Nuremberg. Sadly, she struggled with personal demons, which led to an early passing.

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Dorothy Dandridge

Dorothy Dandridge had an immense list of achievements throughout her career, and many of them came from her performance in the film Carmen Jones. She became the first African-American woman to be nominated for Best Actress. 

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She was also a celebrated singer and vocalist and became the first Black performer to open at the Empire Room in New York City. Dandridge was a pioneer for Black women in the industry.

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Vivien Leigh

Vivien Leigh was often overlooked when it came to her acting abilities simply because of her beauty. She is most known for her roles in Gone with the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire

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In addition, she won two Best Actress Oscars for her roles in those films as Scarlett O'Hara and Blanch DuBois. Sadly, Leigh died in 1967 from tuberculosis, but her Hollywood legacy continues to live on.

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Mae West

Mae West began her career in vaudeville but later moved to Hollywood, where she became an actress and comedian. She was known for her beautiful double entendres and was often wrapped up in controversy. 

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Her film debut was in Night After Night and She Done Him Wrong. However, her most successful film was I'm No Angel. She also appeared in Klondike Annie and Every Day's a Holiday.

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Greta Garbo

Greta Garbo was a Hollywood icon from the silent age to the onset of sound in cinema. She made waves with her first performance in Flesh and the Devil, which launched the actress internationally. 

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Her roles in Anna Christie and Romance earned her a dual Oscar nomination. She also received nominations for her roles in Ninotchka and her final film, Two-Faced Woman. Garbo retired from acting at the young age of just thirty-five.

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Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple was one of the most famous child actors and began her career at just three years old. She first found fame in the film Bright Eyes, which showcased her charm. She then starred in Curly Top and Heidi

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Her popularity was also capitalized on by Shirley Temple merchandising. Her films were Hollywood's top box office hits between 1935 and 1938. Unfortunately, her fame withered as she reached adolescence, and she became a political diplomat.

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Ingrid Berman

Ingrid Bergman was a Swedish actress best known as the heroine of Michael Curtiz's classic Casablanca. She is also known as the star of Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious, but it was her role in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that really started her career. 

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In addition, she appeared in Gaslight, Spellbound, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and Under Capricorn. She went on to win three Oscar Awards for her performances in Gaslight, Anastasia, and Murder on the Orient Express.

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Lauren Bacall

Lauren Bacall was one of the last actresses from Hollywood's Golden Age before her death in 2014. She was a former model who appeared opposite Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not in 1944. She starred as femme fatales in other films such as Dark Passage, The Big Sleep, and Key Largo

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She also starred in comedies, including Designing Woman and How to Marry a Millionaire. She was finally nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in The Mirror Had Two Faces.

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Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker had a very successful career as a dancer and actress, but her career began in France. She was known for her 1930s finger waves and for setting the standard for beauty during that time. She was Europe's highest-paid performer and also worked for the French Resistance during World War II. 

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She also actively fought against racism in the United States and refused to perform for segregated audiences. Baker was the first Black woman to star in a major motion picture, Siren of the Tropics.

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Dolores del Rio

Dolores del Rio is considered one of Hollywood's first Mexican film stars, and she made her film debut in the film Joanna. That performance earned her her first starring role in Resurrection

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Her immense beauty made her one of the era's most well-known glamour girls. In the 1960s, she returned to Hollywood from Mexico and appeared in several films, including Children of Sanchez and Flamingo Star.

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Lucille Ball

Lucille Ball was most known for her comedy role on the sitcom I Love Lucy. She initially rose to fame as a model and actress in the 1940s and co-starred with her husband, Desi Arnaz. She is a legend of Hollywood's Golden Age, and her show I Love Lucy is one of the best sitcoms in history. 

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Lucille was a smart, funny, and beautiful actress who wasn't afraid to speak her mind. She remained a constant on TV later in her career and later starred in the sitcom Life With Lucy.

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Ursula Andress

Ursula Andress was a Swiss-German actress and model who starred in American, British, and Italian films. She had her breakthrough as the Bond girl Honey Ryder in 1962. She also starred in films such as Fun in Acapulco, 4 for Texas, The Southern Star, Red Sun, Slave of the Cannibal God, and Clash of the Titans. 

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One of the most iconic moments in fashion and cinematic history was when she came out of the Caribbean Sea in a white bikini wearing a large diving knife on her hip. Ursula stated, "This bikini made me into a success. As a result of starring in Dr. No as the first Bond girl, I was given the freedom to take my pick of future roles and to become financially independent."

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Sharon Tate

Sharon Tate was a talented and beautiful actress, but she led a very troubled life. She mostly played small television roles and then some films and was often featured in fashion magazines as a model. She was referred to as one of Hollywood's most promising newcomers. 

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She starred in the films Eye of the Devil, Valley of the Dolls, and The Fearless Vampire Killers. Sadly, her story had a tragic ending when she and four others were murdered by the Manson family. She was almost nine months pregnant at the time of her death.

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Barbara Eden

Barbara Eden was and still is a beloved personality in Hollywood. She is most known for starring as Jeannie in the popular sitcom I Dream of Jeannie. She played a two-thousand-year-old genie. 

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She also starred in Flaming Star, Harper Valley PTA, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Eden was also a singer and producer, and she wrote a memoir, Jeannie Out of the Bottle. In addition, she has written children's books.

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Anita Ekberg

Anita Ekberg was a Swedish actress who is most known for playing Sylvia in the Federico Fellini film La Dolce Vita. She was also a fashion model early in her career, competing in various modeling shows. 

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In 1951, she won the Miss Universe crown and then learned English so that she could become an actress in America. She starred in War and Peace, Man in the Vault, and Back from Eternity.

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Jaclyn Smith

Jaclyn Smith is an actress and a serious businesswoman who is most known for portraying Kelly Garrett in the Charlie's Angels TV show. In addition to her acting, she runs various brands of clothing and perfume and even launched a wig collection. 

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Smith is known for her incredible beauty and was often on the pages of magazines' "World Most Beautiful Woman' polls.

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Natalie Wood

Natalie Wood earned three Oscar nominations before she was even twenty-five years old. She was born to Russian immigrant parents and started appearing in films when she was only four years old. 

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She starred with James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and also starred in West Side Story, Gypsy, and The Searchers. Sadly, at just forty-three years old, she was found dead after drowning on a weekend yacht trip.

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Julie Gibson

Julie Gibson began her acting career in 1935, and it lasted well into the 1990s. She was one of the most beloved actresses in Hollywood in the 1940s. She was most acclaimed for her role in the popular comedy show The Three Stooges. 

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She also starred in Nice Girl?, Lucky Cowboy, and The Feminine Touch. Gibson also dubbed vocals for prominent actresses at the time. She passed away in 2019 at the age of one hundred and six.

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Kim Novak

Kim Novak began her career in 1954 and became one of Hollywood's top box office stars. She has appeared in hits including The Man with the Golden Arm, Picnic, Vertigo, Bell, Book and Candle, Strangers When We Meet and Of Human Bondage. 

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Throughout her career, she has earned two Golden Globe Awards, her own star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, and an Honorary Golden Bear Award. She faced many challenges during her life, including a breast cancer diagnosis in 2010. Today, she works as a painter and visual artist.

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Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr was one of the world's most beloved Austrian-American actresses. She appeared in films such as Boom Town, Lady of the Tropics, and White Cargo. She appeared in the film Ecstasy when she was just eighteen years old. 

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She also was an inventor and was responsible for several inventions that helped the U.S. during World War II. After she died in 2014, she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

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Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly started her career when she was twenty years old and became a massive star during the Golden Age of Hollywood in the early 1950s. Her role in the film Mogambo in 1953 launched her career with Golden Globe and Oscar nominations. 

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She received her Oscar Award for her role in The Country Girl. She also starred in Dial M for Murder, High Noon, Rear Window, and To Catch a Thief. She retired from acting when she was just twenty-six years old when she married Prince Rainier of Monaco.

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Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor began as an MGM child star and became one of the most prolific actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Her first success was with her role in National Velvet in 1944 and starring roles in Father of the Bride, Giant, A Place in the Sun, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. 

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She received her first Oscar for her performance in Butterfield and her second for her role in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Taylor was also known for her many other projects, including jewelry and perfume.

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Rita Hayworth

Rita Hayworth was a dancer and actress, and she appeared on the cover of Life magazine five different times. She was a very popular pin-up. Her most well-known roles in films include Gilda, Cover Girl, The Lady from Shanghai, and Pal Joey. 

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She was very popular in the 1940s and appeared in sixty-one films over thirty-seven years. She was often called “The Love Goddess” by the press. She suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and died in 1987 at just sixty-eight years old.

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Loretta Young

Loretta Young began acting at just three years old, appearing in the silent film Sweet Kitty Bellairs. She appeared in almost one hundred movies over a seven-decade career. She was known for her talent and immense beauty. 

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She had her own show titled The Loretta Young Show and starred in films such as The Farmer’s Daughter, The Bishop’s Wife, The Preacher’s Wife, Come to the Stable, and It Happens Every Thursday.

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Jane Russell

Jane Russell starred in the 1943 film, The Outlaw, introducing the world to her sex symbol status. She later appeared in His Kind of Woman, The Paleface, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

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She starred in more than twenty films and also dabbled in the music industry. When she was asked about being an actress during that era, she replied, “You couldn’t go on acting in those years if you were an actress over 30.”

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Mary Astor

Mary Astor began her career in silent films in the early 1920s. Later, she transitioned to talkies, but it was rocked by a scandal. She was sued by her parents and branded adulterous by her ex-husband. 

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However, her acting outshone the scandal and her best year came in 1941 when she starred as Brigid O’Shaugnessy in The Maltese Falcon. Her performance in the film The Great Lie won her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

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Anne Baxter

Anne Baxter started her career with a seven-year contract with 20th Century Fox and very quickly had a commendable list of credits. 

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Her credits included The Magnificent Ambersons and The Razor’s Edge, for which she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She then became All About Eve’s main character, Eve Harrington, and starred in Confess and The Ten Commandments.

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Irene Dunne

Irene Dunne was an actress and singer throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. She starred in Cimarron, The Awful Truth, Theodora Goes Wild, Love Affair, and I Remember Mama. She is also known for singing “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” in the 1935 musical Roberta

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After she retired, she devoted her time to philanthropy, and she served as a delegate for the United States to the United Nations at the request of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

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Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich was a German actress who began her career in Berlin in the 1920s. She began working mostly on stage and silent films. She gained international fame after her performance as Lola-Lola in Joseph von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel. 

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She also starred in Desire and Shanghai Express. In addition, she was used as a muse for fashion designers, and after becoming a U.S. citizen in 1939, she worked as an entertainer on the Allied frontline.

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Joan Fontaine

Joan Fontaine signed a deal with RKO Pictures at the same time as she started a stage career. In addition, she appeared in more than forty-five films over five decades. 

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Her first major role was in the film The Man Who Found Himself and in Gunga Din. She also starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca, for which she received her first Academy Award nomination. Later, she starred in Hitchcocks’ thriller Suspicion.

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Jean Harlow

Jean Harlow was known as a sex symbol during the 1930s. She starred in films such as Hell’s Angels, Dinner at Eight, Red Dust, and Reckless. She earned herself the nickname “Blond Bombshell.” 

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She was also well known for her portrayal of ‘bad girl’ characters and her ‘Laughing Vamp’ screen persona. She was one of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars and ranked number 22 on the greatest female screen legends of the classical Hollywood cinema list.

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Susan Hayward

Susan Hayward began her career as a New York fashion model, and in 1937, she secured a film contract in Hollywood. She started with some minor roles and then was recognized after the first of five Oscar nominations arrived for her performance as an alcoholic in Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman. 

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She also starred in With a Song in My Heart, My Foolish Heart, and I’ll Cry Tomorrow. Susan received another Oscar for her performance in I Want to Live! in 1958.

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