25 of the Greatest Classic Actresses

This list features some of the greatest (and some of the most beautiful) actresses to ever grace the silver screen, as well as film recommendations. (This list is in no particular order.)
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Greta Garbo
Actress, Ninotchka
Greta Garbo was born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson on September 18, 1905, in Stockholm, Sweden, to Anna Lovisa (Johansdotter), who worked at a jam factory, and Karl Alfred Gustafsson, a laborer. She was fourteen when her father died, which left the family destitute. Greta was forced to leave school and go to work in a department store...
“ Must watch films include: 'Ninotchka', 'Grand Hotel', 'Camille', 'Queen Christina', 'Anna Karenina', 'A Woman of Affairs', and 'Mata Hari', as well as many others. ” - teddyrules26
Jean Arthur
This marvelous screen comedienne's best asset was only muffled during her seven years' stint in silent films. That asset? It was, of course, her squeaky, frog-like voice, which silent-era cinema audiences had simply no way of perceiving, much less appreciating. Jean Arthur, born Gladys Georgianna Greene in upstate New York...
“ Must watch films include: 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington', 'The Talk of the Town', 'Mr. Deeds Goes to Town', 'You Can't Take it with You', 'Only Angels Have Wings', 'The More the Merrier', and 'Easy Living', as well as many others. ” - teddyrules26
Joan Fontaine
Actress, Rebecca
Born Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland on October 22, 1917, in Tokyo, Japan, in what was known as the International Settlement. Her father was a British patent attorney with a lucrative practice in Japan, but due to Joan and older sister Olivia de Havilland's recurring ailments the family moved to California in the hopes of improving their health...
“ Must watch films include: 'Rebecca', 'Jane Eyre', 'Suspicion', 'Letter from an Unknown Woman', 'Ivanhoe', 'You Gotta Stay Happy', and 'Gunga Din', as well as many others. ” - teddyrules26
Barbara Stanwyck
Today Barbara Stanwyck is remembered primarily as the matriarch of the family known as the Barkleys on the TV western The Big Valley, wherein she played Victoria, and from the hit drama The Colbys. But she was known to millions of other fans for her movie career, which spanned the period from 1927 until 1964...
“ Must watch films include: 'Double Indemnity', 'Meet John Doe', 'The Lady Eve', 'Ball of Fire', 'Stella Dallas', 'Sorry, Wrong Number', and 'The Strange Love of Martha Ivers', as well as many others. ” - teddyrules26
Ingrid Bergman
Actress, Casablanca
Ingrid Bergman was one of the greatest actresses from Hollywood's lamented Golden Era. Her natural and unpretentious beauty and her immense acting talent made her one of the most celebrated figures in the history of American cinema. Bergman is also one of the most Oscar-awarded actresses, tied with Meryl Streep, both second only to Katharine Hepburn...
“ Must watch films include: 'Casablanca', 'Notorious', 'Spellbound', 'For Whom the Bell Tolls', 'Gaslight', and 'Murder on the Orient Express', as well as many others. ” - teddyrules26
Claudette Colbert
One of the brightest film stars to grace the screen was born Emilie Claudette Chauchoin on September 13, 1903, in Saint Mandé, France where her father owned a bakery at 57, rue de la République (now Avenue Général de Gaulle). The family moved to the United States when she was three. As Claudette grew up...
“ Must watch films include: 'It Happened One Night', 'The Palm Beach Story', 'Midnight', 'Since You Went Away', 'Imitation of Life', 'It's a Wonderful World', and 'Bluebeard's Eighth Wife', as well as many others. ” - teddyrules26
Marilyn Monroe
Probably the most celebrated of all actresses, Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926, in the charity ward of the Los Angeles General Hospital. Prior to her birth, Marilyn's father bought a motorcycle and headed north to San Francisco, abandoning the family in Los Angeles. Marilyn grew up not knowing for sure who her father really was...
“ Must watch films include: 'Some Like It Hot', 'The Seven Year Itch', 'All About Eve', 'The Prince and the Showgirl', 'Bus Stop', 'Niagra', and 'How to Marry a Millionaire', as well as many others. ” - teddyrules26
Angela Lansbury
British character actress, long in the United States. The daughter of an actress and the granddaughter of a high-ranking politician, Lansbury studied acting from her youth, departing for the United States as the Second World War began. She was contracted by MGM while still a teenager and nominated for an Academy Award for her first film...
“ Must watch films include: 'Gaslight', 'The Manchurian Candidate', 'The Picture of Dorian Gray', 'The Three Musketeers', 'Death on the Nile', 'Beauty and the Beast', and 'State of the Union', as well as many others. ” - teddyrules26
Gene Tierney
Actress, Laura
Gene Tierney was born in Brooklyn, New York, on November 19, 1920, to well-to-do parents. Her father was a very successful insurance broker and her mother was a former teacher. Her childhood was lavish indeed. She also lived, at times, with her equally successful grandparents in Connecticut and New York...
“ Must watch films include: 'Laura', 'Leave Her to Heaven', 'The Ghost and Mrs. Muir', 'Heaven Can Wait', 'The Razor's Edge', 'Where the Sidewalk Ends', and 'Night and the City', as well as many others. ” - teddyrules26
Marlene Dietrich
Her father was a police lieutenant and imbued in her a military attitude to life. Marlene was known in school for her "bedroom eyes" and her first affairs were at this stage in her life - a professor at the school was terminated. She entered the cabaret scene in 1920s Germany, first as a spectator then as a cabaret singer...
“ Must watch films include: 'Witness for the Prosecution', 'Destry Rides Again', 'The Scarlet Empress', 'Shanghai Express', 'The Blue Angel', 'Blonde Venus', and 'Moroco', as well as many others. ” - teddyrules26
Vivien Leigh
If a film were made of the life of Vivien Leigh, it would open in India just before World War I, where a successful British businessman could live like a prince. In the mountains above Calcutta, a little princess is born. Because of the outbreak of World War I, she is six years old the first time her parents take her to England...
“ Must watch films include: 'Gone with the Wind', 'A Streetcar Named Desire', 'Waterloo Bridge', 'Ship of Fools', and 'That Hamilton Woman'. ” - teddyrules26
Ginger Rogers
Actress, Top Hat
Ginger Rogers was born Virginia Katherine McMath in Independence, Missouri on July 16, 1911. Her mother, known as Lelee, went to Independence to have Ginger away from her husband. She had a baby earlier in their marriage and he allowed the doctor to use forceps and the baby died. She was kidnapped by her father several times until her mother took him to court...
“ Must watch films include: 'The Major and the Minor', 'Kitty Foyle', 'Top Hat', 'The Gay Divorcee', 'Shall We Dance', 'Stage Door', and 'Swing Time', as well as many others. ” - teddyrules26
Olivia de Havilland
Olivia Mary de Havilland was born July 1, 1916, in Tokyo, Japan, to British parents Lilian Augusta (Ruse), a former actress, and Walter Augustus de Havilland, an English professor and patent attorney. Her sister, Joan, later to become famous as Joan Fontaine, was born the following year. Her surname comes from her paternal grandfather...
“ Must watch films include: 'The Adventures of Robin Hood', 'Captain Blood','The Charge of the Light Brigade', 'Gone with the Wind', 'The Heiress', 'The Snake Pit', and 'To Each His Own', as well as many others. ” - teddyrules26
Carole Lombard
Born in Indiana, she was eight years old when her parents divorced, and her mother took her and her two older brothers to L.A. to start a new life. At age twelve she was spotted playing baseball in the street by director Allan Dwan who cast her as a tom-boy in "A Perfect Crime". Bitten by the movie bug...
“ Must watch films include: 'My Man Godfrey', 'Twentieth Century', 'To Have and Have Not', 'Nothing Sacred', 'Made for Each Other', 'In Name Only', and 'Mr. & Mrs. Smith', as well as many others. ” - teddyrules26
Bette Davis
Actress, All About Eve
Ruth Elizabeth Davis was born April 5, 1908, in Lowell, Massachusetts, to Ruth Augusta (Favor) and Harlow Morrell Davis, a patent attorney. Her parents divorced when she was 10. She and her sister were raised by their mother. Her early interest was dance. To Bette, dancers led a glamorous life, but then she discovered the stage...
“ Must watch films include: 'All About Eve', 'Now, Voyager', 'Dark Victory', 'Jezebel', 'The Petrified Forest', 'Mr. Skeffington', and 'The Little Foxes', as well as many others. ” - teddyrules26
Lauren Bacall
Actress, The Big Sleep
Lauren Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske on September 16, 1924, in New York City. She is the daughter of Natalie Weinstein-Bacal, a Romanian Jewish immigrant, and William Perske, who was born in New Jersey, to Polish Jewish parents. Her family was middle-class, with her father working as a salesman and her mother as a secretary...
“ Must watch films include: 'The Big Sleep', 'Dark Passage', 'To Have and Have Not', 'Key Largo', 'Written on the Wind', 'Murder on the Orient Express', and 'The Shootist', as well as many others. ” - teddyrules26
Mary Astor
Her German immigrant father pushed her into a beauty contest at 14 and her first movie Sentimental Tommy at 15. After a number of minor parts she starred in John Barrymore's Beau Brummel. She had a lively affair with Barrymore, over with before she starred a second time with him, in Don Juan...
“ Must watch films include: 'The Maltese Falcon', 'Dodsworth', 'Midnight', 'Meet Me in St. Louis', 'The Palm Beach Story', 'The Great Lie', and 'The Prisoner of Zenda', as well as many others. ” - teddyrules26
Irene Dunne
Irene Marie Dunne was born on December 20, 1898, in Louisville, Kentucky. She was the daughter of Joseph Dunne, who inspected steamships, and Adelaide Henry, a musician who prompted Irene in the arts. Her first production was in Louisville when she appeared in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the age of five...
“ Must watch films include: 'The Awful Truth', 'Love Affair', 'Theodora Goes Wild', 'My Favourite Wife', 'Remember Mama', 'Penny Serenade', and 'Show Boat', as well as many others. ” - teddyrules26
Greer Garson
Actress, Mrs. Miniver
Eileen Evelyn Greer Garson was born on September 29, 1904 in London, England, to Nancy Sophia (Greer) and George Garson, a commercial clerk. She was of Scottish and Ulster-Scots descent. Her childhood was a normal if not non-descript life. Greer showed no early signs of interest in becoming an actress...
“ Must watch films include: 'Random Harvest', 'Pride and Prejudice', 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips', 'Mrs. Miniver', 'Julius Caesar', and 'Madame Curie'. ” - teddyrules26
Audrey Hepburn
Audrey Hepburn was born Audrey Kathleen Hepburn-Ruston on May 4, 1929 in Brussels, Belgium. She was a blue-blood and a cosmopolitan from birth. Her mother, Ella van Heemstra, was a Dutch baroness; Audrey's father, Joseph Victor Anthony Hepburn-Ruston, was born in Úzice, Bohemia, of English and Austrian descent, and worked in business...
“ Must watch films include: 'Sabrina', 'My Fair Lady', 'Love in the Afternoon', 'Roman Holiday', 'Charade', 'Wait Until Dark', and 'Breakfast at Tiffany's', as well as many others. ” - teddyrules26
Elizabeth Taylor
Actress, Giant
Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was considered one of the last, if not the last, major star to have come out of the old Hollywood studio system. She was known internationally for her beauty, especially for her violet eyes, with which she captured audiences early on in her youth and kept the world hooked on with since...
“ Must watch films include: 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof', 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?', 'A Place in the Sun', 'Giant', 'Suddenly, Last Summer', 'Father of the Bride', and 'Cleopatra', as well as many others. ” - teddyrules26
Jean Harlow
The dentist's daughter eloped at age 16 with a young businessman and wound up in Los Angeles where she found work as an extra and bit player (examples: Moran of the Marines and Liberty) and somewhat more prominently in Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy shorts (Double Whoopee, Bacon Grabbers)...
“ Must watch films include: 'Libeled Lady', 'The Public Enemy', 'Red Dust', 'Wife vs. Secretary', 'China Seas', 'Bombshell', and 'Dinner at Eight', as well as many others. ” - teddyrules26
Deborah Kerr
Deborah Kerr was born on 30 September 1921 in Helensburgh, Scotland, the daughter of Captain Arthur Kerr-Trimmer. She was educated at Northumberland House, Clifton, Bristol. She first performed at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park, London. She subsequently performed with the Oxford Repertory Company 1939-40...
“ Must watch films include: 'An Affair to Remember', 'From Here to Eternity', 'The King and I', 'Black Narcissus', 'Separate Tables', 'The Sundowners', and 'Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison', as well as many others. ” - teddyrules26
Grace Kelly
Actress, Rear Window
Grace Patricia Kelly was born on November 12, 1929 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to wealthy parents. She was the daughter of Margaret Katherine (Majer), a physical education instructor, and John Brendan Kelly, Sr., a three-time Olympic Gold winner for rowing. Her uncle was playwright George Kelly...
“ Must watch films include: 'Rear Window', 'High Noon', 'Dial M for Murder', 'To Catch a Thief', 'The Country Girl', and 'Mogambo'. ” - teddyrules26
Judy Garland
One of the brightest, most tragic movie stars of Hollywood's Golden Era, Judy Garland was a much-loved character whose warmth and spirit, along with her rich and exuberant voice, kept theatre-goers entertained with an array of delightful musicals. She was born Frances Ethel Gumm on 10 June 1922 in Minnesota...
“ Must watch films include: 'The Wizard of Oz', 'A Star is Born', 'Judgment at Nuremberg', 'The Harvey Girls', 'The Clock', 'Meet Me in St. Louis', and 'Easter Parade', as well as many others. ” - teddyrules26