My Favorite Actors of the Golden Age, dawn of the talking picture through the sixties.

This is a list, in order, of my favorite movie actors, from the early days of the movies through the end of the sixties, the stars of my early years. It is strictly personal favorites list, without regard to talent or acting ability, just a fun tribute to the wonderful stars of the golden years. I've added each actor's "signature" film", that being the role that best embodies the persona of the veteran actor, and not necessarily the best film of his career. Enjoy!
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1.
Richard Widmark
Richard Widmark established himself as an icon of American cinema with his debut in the 1947 film noir Kiss of Death in which he won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination as the killer "Tommy Udo". Kiss of Death and other noir thrillers established Widmark as part of a new generation of American movie actors who became stars in the post-World War II era...
“ Signature film: Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). ” - John Jacoby
 
2.
James Cagney
Actor, White Heat
One of Hollywood's preeminent male stars of all time (eclipsed, perhaps, only by "King" Clark Gable and arguably by Gary Cooper or Spencer Tracy), and the cinema's quintessential "tough guy", James Cagney was also an accomplished--if rather stiff--hoofer and easily played light comedy. James Francis Cagney was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City...
“ Signature film: Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). ” - John Jacoby
 
3.
Edward G. Robinson
Edward G. Robinson arrived in the United States at age ten, and his family moved into New York's Lower East Side. He took up acting while attending City College, abandoning plans to become a rabbi or lawyer. The American Academy of Dramatic Arts awarded him a scholarship, and he began work in stock...
“ Signature film: Larceny, Inc. (1942). ” - John Jacoby
 
4.
Spencer Tracy
Spencer Tracy was born four years after his brother Carroll to truck salesman John Edward and Caroline Brown Tracy. He attended Marquette Academy along with Pat O'Brien and the two left school to enlist in the Navy at the start of World War I. He was still at Norfolk Navy Yard in Virginia at the end of the war...
“ Signature film: Inherit the Wind (1960). ” - John Jacoby
 
5.
Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando is widely considered the greatest movie actor of all time, rivaled only by the more theatrically oriented Laurence Olivier in terms of esteem. Unlike Olivier, who preferred the stage to the screen, Brando concentrated his talents on movies after bidding the Broadway stage adieu in 1949...
“ Signature film: On the Waterfront (1954). ” - John Jacoby
 
6.
Burt Lancaster
Burt Lancaster, one of five children, was born in Manhattan, to Elizabeth (Roberts) and James Henry Lancaster, a postal worker. All of his grandparents were immigrants from Northern Ireland. He was a tough street kid who took an early interest in gymnastics. He joined the circus as an acrobat and worked there until he was injured...
“ Signature film: Elmer Gantry (1960). ” - John Jacoby
 
7.
Gregory Peck
Eldred Gregory Peck was born on April 5, 1916 in La Jolla, California, to Bernice Mary (Ayres) and Gregory Pearl Peck, a chemist and druggist in San Diego. He had Irish (from his paternal grandmother), English, and some German, ancestry. His parents divorced when he was five years old. An only child...
“ Signature film: To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). ” - John Jacoby
 
8.
James Stewart
James Maitland Stewart was born on May 20, 1908 in Indiana, Pennsylvania, to Elizabeth Ruth (Johnson) and Alexander Maitland Stewart, who owned a hardware store. He was of Scottish, Ulster-Scots, and some English, descent. Stewart was educated at a local prep school, Mercersburg Academy, where he was a keen athlete (football and track), musician (singing and accordion playing), and sometime actor...
“ Signature film: It's a Wonderful Life (1946). ” - John Jacoby
 
9.
Jack Lemmon
Jack Lemmon was born in Newton, Massachusetts, to Mildred Burgess LaRue (Noel) and John Uhler Lemmon, Jr., the president of a doughnut company. His ancestry included Irish (from his paternal grandmother) and English. Jack attended Ward Elementary near his Newton, MA home. At age 9 he was sent to Rivers Country Day School...
“ Signature film: The Apartment (1960). ” - John Jacoby
 
10.
Paul Newman
Screen legend, superstar, and the man with the most famous blue eyes in movie history, Paul Leonard Newman was born on January 26, 1925, in Cleveland, Ohio, the second son of Theresa (Fetsko) and Arthur Sigmund Newman. Paul's father was Jewish, the son of emigrants from Poland and Hungary; he owned a successful sporting goods store...
“ Signature film: The Hustler (1961). ” - John Jacoby
 
11.
Montgomery Clift
Edward Montgomery Clift (nicknamed 'Monty' his entire life) was born on October 17, 1920 in Omaha, Nebraska, just after his twin sister Roberta and eighteen months after his brother Brooks Clift. He was the son of Ethel "Sunny" Anderson (Fogg) and William Brooks Clift. His father made a lot of money in banking but was quite poor during the depression...
“ Signature film: A Place in the Sun (1951). ” - John Jacoby
 
12.
William Holden
William Holden was born William Franklin Beedle, Jr. in O'Fallon, Illinois, to Mary Blanche (Ball), a schoolteacher, and William Franklin Beedle, Sr., an industrial chemist. He came from a wealthy family (the Beedles) that moved to Pasadena, California, when he was three. In 1937, while studying chemistry at Pasadena Junior College...
“ Signature film: Sunset Boulevard (1950). ” - John Jacoby
 
13.
Sidney Poitier
A native of Cat Island, The Bahamas (though born in Miami during a mainland visit by his parents), Poitier grew up in poverty as the son of farmers Evelyn (Outten) and Reginald James Poitier, who also drove a cab. He had little formal education and at the age of 15 was sent to Miami to live with his brother...
“ Signature film: Lillies of the Field (1963). ” - John Jacoby
 
14.
Henry Fonda
Henry Jaynes Fonda was born in Grand Island, Nebraska, to Elma Herberta (Jaynes) and William Brace Fonda, who worked in advertising and printing. His recent ancestry included Dutch, English, and Scottish. Fonda started his acting debut with the Omaha Community Playhouse, a local amateur theater troupe directed by Dorothy Brando...
“ Signature film: 12 Angry Men (1957). ” - John Jacoby
 
15.
Humphrey Bogart
Actor, Casablanca
Humphrey DeForest Bogart was born in New York City, New York, to Maud Humphrey, a famed magazine illustrator and suffragette, and Belmont DeForest Bogart, a moderately wealthy surgeon (who was secretly addicted to opium). Bogart was educated at Trinity School, NYC, and was sent to Phillips Academy in Andover...
“ Signature film: Casablanca (1943). ” - John Jacoby
 
16.
Cary Grant
Once told by an interviewer, "Everybody would like to be Cary Grant", Grant is said to have replied, "So would I." Cary Grant was born Archibald Alexander Leach on January 18, 1904 in Horfield, Bristol, England, to Elsie Maria (Kingdon) and Elias James Leach, who worked in a factory. His early years in Bristol would have been an ordinary lower-middle-class childhood...
“ Signature film: North by Northwest (1959). ” - John Jacoby
 
17.
Fredric March
Fredric March began a career in banking but in 1920 found himself cast as an extra in films being produced in New York. He starred on the Broadway stage first in 1926 and would return there between screen appearances later on. He won plaudits (and an Academy Award nomination) for his send-up of John Barrymore in The Royal Family of Broadway...
“ Signature film: The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). ” - John Jacoby
 
18.
Peter O'Toole
A leading man of prodigious talents, Peter O'Toole was raised in Leeds, Yorkshire, England, the son of Constance Jane Eliot (Ferguson), a Scottish nurse, and Patrick Joseph O'Toole, an Irish metal plater, football player and racecourse bookmaker. Upon leaving school, he decided to become a journalist...
“ Signature film: Lawrence of Arabia (1962). ” - John Jacoby
 
19.
Richard Burton
Probably more frequently remembered for his turbulent personal life and multiple marriages, Richard Burton was nonetheless regarded as one of the great British actors of the post-WWII period. Burton was born Richard Walter Jenkins in Pontrhydyfen, Wales, to Edith Maude (Thomas) and Richard Walter Jenkins...
“ Signature film: Anne of the 1000 Days (1969). ” - John Jacoby
 
20.
Albert Finney
Actor, Big Fish
Albert Finney came from the theatre, where he was especially successful in plays of William Shakespeare, to the movies. There he became a leading figure of the young Free Cinema. His debut in cinema was in 1960 with The Entertainer of Tony Richardson who had directed him also in theatre plays various times before. His typical roles when he was young were projects like Arthur Seaton in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.
“ Signature film: The Dresser (1983). ” - John Jacoby
 
21.
Rod Steiger
Rodney Stephen Steiger was born in Westhampton, New York, to Augusta Amelia (Driver) and Frederick Jacob Steiger, both vaudevillians. He was of German and Austrian ancestry. After his parents' divorce, Steiger was raised by his mother in Newark, New Jersey. He dropped out of Westside High school at age 16 and joined the Navy...
“ Signature film: In the Heat of the Night (1967). ” - John Jacoby
 
22.
Sean Connery
Actor, Dr. No
Sean Connery is best known for portraying the character James Bond, starring in seven Bond films between 1962 and 1983. In 1988, Connery won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Untouchables. His film career also includes such films as Marnie, The Name of the Rose, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen...
“ Signature film: Goldfinger (1965). ” - John Jacoby
 
23.
Robert Mitchum
Robert Mitchum was an underrated American leading man of enormous ability, who sublimated his talents beneath an air of disinterest. He was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Ann Harriet (Gunderson), a Norwegian immigrant, and James Thomas Mitchum, a shipyard/railroad worker. His father died in a train accident when he was two...
“ Signature film: Out of the Past (1947). ” - John Jacoby
 
24.
George C. Scott
George C. Scott was an immensely talented actor, a star of screen, stage and television. He was born on October 18, 1927 in Wise, Virginia, to Helena Agnes (Slemp) and George Dewey Scott. At the age of eight, his mother died, and his father, an executive at Buick, raised him. In 1945, he joined the United States Marines and spent four years with them...
“ Signature film: Patton (1970). ” - John Jacoby
 
25.
Laurence Olivier
Actor, Rebecca
Laurence Olivier could speak William Shakespeare's lines as naturally as if he were "actually thinking them", said English playwright Charles Bennett, who met Olivier in 1927. Laurence Kerr Olivier was born in Dorking, Surrey, England, to Agnes Louise (Crookenden) and Gerard Kerr Olivier, a High Anglican priest. His surname came from a great-great-grandfather who was of French Huguenot origin...
“ Signature film: Wuthering Heights (1939). ” - John Jacoby
 
26.
Ray Milland
Ray Milland became one of Paramount's most bankable and durable stars, under contract from 1934 to 1948, yet little in his early life suggested a career as a motion picture actor. Milland was born Alfred Reginald Jones in the Welsh town of Neath, Glamorgan, to Elizabeth Annie (Truscott) and Alfred Jones...
“ Signature film: The Lost Weekend (1945). ” - John Jacoby
 
27.
Charles Laughton
Actor, Spartacus
Charles Laughton was born in Scarborough, North Riding of Yorkshire, England, to Eliza (Conlon) and Robert Laughton, hotel keepers of Irish and English descent. He was educated at Stonyhurst, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (received gold medal). His first appearance on stage was in 1926. Laughton formed own film company...
“ Signature film: Witness for the Prosecution (1957). ” - John Jacoby
 
28.
Paul Muni
Actor, Scarface
Paul Muni was born Sept. 22, 1895, in Lemberg, Austro-Hungarian Empire, to Salli and Phillip Weisenfreund, who were both professionals. His family was Jewish, and spoke Yiddish. Paul was educated in New York and Cleveland public schools. He was described as 5 feet 10 inches, with black hair and eyes...
“ Signature film: The Life of Emile Zola (1937). ” - John Jacoby
 
29.
David Niven
David Niven was named after the Saint's Day on which he was born, St. David, patron Saint of Wales. He attended Stowe School and Sandhurst Military Academy and served for two years in Malta with the Highland Light Infantry. At the outbreak of World War II, although a top-line star, he re-joined the army (Rifle Brigade)...
“ Signature film: Separate Tables (1958). ” - John Jacoby
 
30.
Charlton Heston
Actor, Ben-Hur
With features chiseled in stone, and renowned for playing a long list of historical figures, particularly in Biblical epics, the tall, well built and ruggedly handsome Charlton Heston was one of Hollywood's greatest leading men and remained active in front of movie cameras for over sixty years. As a Hollywood star...
“ Signature film: Ben - Hur (1959). ” - John Jacoby
 
31.
James Mason
James Mason was a great English actor of British and American films. He was born in Yorkshire, and attended Marlborough and Cambridge, where he discovered acting on a lark, and abandoned a planned career as an architect. Following work in stock companies, he joined the Old Vic under the guidance of Sir Tyrone Guthrie and of Alexander Korda...
“ Signature film: Odd Man Out (1945). ” - John Jacoby
 
32.
Robert Ryan
Distinguished U.S. actor and longtime civil rights campaigner Robert Bushnell Ryan was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Mable Arbutus (Bushnell), a secretary, and Timothy Aloysius Ryan, whose wealthy family owned a real estate firm. His father was of Irish ancestry, and his mother was of English and Irish descent...
“ Signature film: Crossfire (1947). ” - John Jacoby
 
33.
Gary Cooper
Actor, High Noon
Born to Alice Cooper and Charles Cooper (not in film business). Gary attended school at Dunstable school England, Helena Montana and Iowa College, Grinnell, Iowa. His first stage experience was during high school and college. Afterwards, he worked as an extra for one year before getting a part in a two reeler by Hans Tissler (an independent producer)...
“ Signature film: High Noon (1952). ” - John Jacoby
 
34.
Ronald Colman
British leading man of primarily American films, one of the great stars of the Golden Age. Raised in Ealing, the son of a successful silk merchant, he attended boarding school in Sussex, where he first discovered amateur theatre. He intended to attend Cambridge and become an engineer, but his father's death cost him the financial support necessary...
“ Signature film: Random Harvest (1942). ” - John Jacoby
 
35.
Lionel Barrymore
The legendary Lionel Barrymore, one of the great cinema character actors, was the oldest of the three Barrymmore siblings. Along with Ethel Barrymore and John Barrymore, he shares a prominent place in American acting in the first half of the 20th Century. In addition to winning a Best Actor Academy Award (for A Free Soul)...
“ Signature film: Grand Hotel (1932). ” - John Jacoby
 
36.
Orson Welles
His father was a well-to-do inventor, his mother a beautiful concert pianist; Orson Welles was gifted in many arts (magic, piano, painting) as a child. When his mother died (he was nine) he traveled the world with his father. When his father died (he was fifteen) he became the ward of Chicago's Dr. Maurice Bernstein...
“ Signature film: Citizen Kane (1941). ” - John Jacoby
 
37.
Tyrone Power
Tyrone Power was one of the great romantic swashbuckling stars of the mid-twentieth century, and the third Tyrone Power of four in a famed acting dynasty reaching back to the eighteenth century. His great-grandfather was the first Tyrone Power (1795-1841), a famed Irish comedian. His father, known to historians as Tyrone Power Sr....
“ Signature film: The Mark of Zorro (1940). ” - John Jacoby
 
38.
Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, to Italian immigrants Natalina Della (Garaventa), from Northern Italy, and Saverio Antonino Martino Sinatra, a Sicilian boxer, fireman, and bar owner. Growing up on the gritty streets of Hoboken made Sinatra determined to work hard to get ahead. Starting out as a saloon singer in musty little dives (he carried his own P.A...
“ Signature film: From Here to Eternity (1953). ” - John Jacoby
 
39.
Errol Flynn
Errol Flynn (1909-1959) was an Australian-born film star who gained fame in Hollywood in the 1930s as the screen's premier swashbuckler. Tall, athletic and exceptionally handsome, Flynn personified the cavalier adventurer in a string of immensely popular films for Warner Brothers, most often co-starring...
“ Signature film: Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). ” - John Jacoby
 
40.
Leslie Howard
Leslie Howard Stainer was born in London, to Lilian (Blumberg) and Ferdinand "Frank" Steiner. His father was a Hungarian Jewish immigrant, and his English mother was of German Jewish, and mostly English, descent. Leslie went to Dulwich College. After school, he worked as a bank clerk until the outbreak of World War I...
“ Signature film: Gone With the Wind (1939). ” - John Jacoby
 
41.
John Garfield
John Garfield was born Jacob Julius Garfinkle on the Lower East Side of New York City, to Hannah Basia (Margolis) and David Garfinkle, who were Jewish immigrants from Zhytomyr (now in Ukraine). Jules was raised by his father, a clothes presser and part-time cantor, after his mother's death in 1920, when he was 7...
“ Signature film: Body and Soul (1947). ” - John Jacoby
 
42.
Steve McQueen
He was the ultra-cool male film star of the 1960s, and rose from a troubled youth spent in reform schools to being the world's most popular actor. Over 25 years after his untimely death from mesothelioma in 1980, Steve McQueen is still considered hip and cool, and he endures as an icon of popular culture...
“ Signature film: The Sand Pebbles (1966). ” - John Jacoby
 
43.
Alec Guinness
Alec Guinness was an English actor. He is known for his six collaborations with David Lean: Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations (1946), Fagin in Oliver Twist (1948), Col. Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor), Prince Faisal in Lawrence of Arabia (1962)...
“ Signature film: The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). ” - John Jacoby
 
44.
Anthony Quinn
Anthony Quinn was born Antonio Rudolfo Oaxaca Quinn on April 21, 1915, in Chihuahua, Mexico, to Manuela (Oaxaca) and Francisco Quinn, who became an assistant cameraman at a Los Angeles (CA) film studio. His paternal grandfather was Irish, and the rest of his family was Mexican. After starting life in extremely modest circumstances in Mexico...
“ Signature film: Zorba the Greek (1964). ” - John Jacoby
 
45.
Alan Ladd
Actor, Shane
Alan Walbridge Ladd was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas, the only child of Ina Raleigh (aka Selina Rowley) and Alan Ladd, a freelance accountant. His mother was English, from County Durham, and his paternal grandparents were Canadian. His father died when he was four. At age five, he burned his apartment playing with matches...
“ Signature film: Shane (1953). ” - John Jacoby
 
46.
Walter Huston
For many years Walter Huston had two passions: his career as an engineer and his vocation for the stage. In 1909 he dedicated himself to the theatre, and made his debut on Broadway in 1924. In 1929 he journeyed to Hollywood, where his talent and ability made him one of the most respected actors in the industry. He won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
“ Signature film: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). ” - John Jacoby
 
47.
Kirk Douglas
Actor, Spartacus
Cleft-chinned, steely-eyed and virile star of international cinema who rose from being "the ragman's son" (the name of his best-selling 1988 autobiography) to become a bona fide superstar, Kirk Douglas, also known as Issur Danielovitch Demsky, was born on December 9, 1916 in Amsterdam, New York. His parents...
“ Signature film: Spartacus (1960). ” - John Jacoby
 
48.
Peter Sellers
Often credited as the greatest comedian of all time, Peter Sellers was born to a well-off English acting family in 1925. His mother and father worked in an acting company run by his grandmother. As a child, Sellers was spoiled, as his parents' first child had died at birth. He enlisted in the Royal Air Force and served during World War II...
“ Signature film: Dr. Strangelove (1964). ” - John Jacoby
 
49.
Clark Gable
William Clark Gable was born on February 1, 1901 in Cadiz, Ohio, to Adeline (Hershelman) and William Henry Gable, an oil-well driller. He was of German, Irish, and Swiss-German descent. When he was seven months old, his mother died, and his father sent him to live with his maternal aunt and uncle in Pennsylvania...
“ Signature film: Gone With the Wind (1939). ” - John Jacoby
 
50.
Joseph Cotten
Joseph Cheshire Cotten, Jr. was born in Petersburg, Virginia, into a well-to-do Southern family. He was the eldest of three sons born to Sally Whitworth (Willson) and Joseph Cheshire Cotten, Sr., an assistant postmaster. Jo (as he was known) and his brothers Whit and Sam spent their summers at their aunt and uncle's home at Virginia Beach...
“ Signature film: Shadow of a Doubt (1943). ” - John Jacoby
 
51.
James Garner
Amiable and handsome James Garner had obtained success in both films and television, often playing variations of the charming anti-hero/con-man persona he first developed in Maverick, the offbeat western TV series that shot him to stardom in the late 1950s. James Garner was born James Scott Bumgarner in Norman...
“ Signature Film: The Great Escape (1963). ” - John Jacoby
 
52.
Tony Curtis
Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz, the eldest of three children of Helen (Klein) and Emanuel Schwartz, Jewish immigrants from Hungary. Curtis himself admits that while he had almost no formal education, he was a student of the "school of hard knocks" and learned from a young age that the only person who ever had his back was himself...
“ Signature film: Some Like It Hot (1959). ” - John Jacoby
 
53.
Lee Marvin
Actor, M Squad
Prematurely white-haired character star who began as a supporting player of generally vicious demeanor, then metamorphosed into a star of both action and drama projects, Lee Marvin was born in New York City, the son of Courtenay Washington (Davidge), a fashion writer, and Lamont Waltman Marvin, an advertising executive...
“ Signature fim: The Dirty Dozen (1967). ” - John Jacoby
 
54.
Glenn Ford
Actor, Superman
Legendary actor Glenn Ford was born Gwyllyn Samuel Newton Ford in Sainte-Christine-d'Auvergne, Quebec, Canada, to Hannah Wood (Mitchell) and Newton Ford, a railroad executive. His family moved to Santa Monica, California when he was eight years old. His acting career began with plays at high school, followed by acting in West Coast, a traveling theater company...
“ Signature film: Blackboard Jungle (1955). ” - John Jacoby
 
55.
William Powell
William Powell was on the New York stage by 1912, but it would be ten years before his film career would begin. In 1924 he went to Paramount Pictures, where he was employed for the next seven years. During that time, he played in a number of interesting films, but stardom was elusive. He did finally attract attention with The Last Command as Leo...
“ Signature film: The Thin Man (1934). ” - John Jacoby
 
56.
Van Heflin
Actor, Shane
Craggy-faced, dependable star character actor Van Heflin never quite made the Hollywood "A" list, but made up for what he lacked in appearance with hard work, charisma and solid acting performances. He was born Emmett Evan Heflin in Oklahoma in December 1908, the son of Fanny Bleecker (Shippey) and Emmett Evan Heflin...
“ Signature film: Airport (1970). ” - John Jacoby
 
57.
Fred MacMurray
Fred MacMurray was likely the most underrated actor of his generation. True, his earliest work is mostly dismissed as pedestrian, but no other actor working in the 1940s and 50s was able to score so supremely whenever cast against type. Frederick Martin MacMurray was born in Kankakee, Illinois, to Maleta Martin and Frederick MacMurray...
“ Signature film: Double Indemnity (1944). ” - John Jacoby
 
58.
Joel McCrea
One of the great stars of American Westerns, and a very popular leading man in non-Westerns as well. He was born and raised in the surroundings of Hollywood and as a boy became interested in the movies that were being made all around. He studied acting at Pomona College and got some stage experience at the Pasadena Community Playhouse...
“ Signature film: Foreign Correspondent (1942). ” - John Jacoby
 
59.
“ Signature film: I Accuse. (1958). ” - John Jacoby
 
60.
John Wayne
John Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison in Iowa, to Mary Alberta (Brown) and Clyde Leonard Morrison, a pharmacist. He was of English, Ulster-Scots, and Irish ancestry. Clyde developed a lung condition that required him to move his family from Iowa to the warmer climate of southern California, where they tried ranching in the Mojave Desert...
“ Signature film: The Searchers (1956). ” - John Jacoby