Hollywood's Leading Ladies of the 1940's

The most popular, profitable and critically acclaimed actresses of the decade.
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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...
“ Garson was listed as one of America's top ten box office draws from 1942 through 1946, and was one of MGM's major stars during this decade. She received seven Academy Award nominations, and won Best Actress for Mrs. Miniver (1942). Garson was a frequent co-star of actor Walter Pidgeon, making eight films with him, including; Mrs. Miniver (1942), Madame Curie (1943), Mrs. Parkington (1944) and That Forsyte Woman (1949). She was also partnered with Clark Gable after his return from war service in the 1945 film Adventure. ” - sweetlittlepie
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...
“ In 1941 Rogers won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Kitty Foyle (1940). She followed her win with a sleuth of hit films, including; Primrose Path (1940) Tom, Dick and Harry (1941) and Roxie Hart (1942), among others. She was RKO's hottest property during the early 1940's. After becoming a free agent she made hugely successful films with other studios during the mid-forties. ” - sweetlittlepie
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...
“ Bergman was a Swedish actress who achieved success not only in Europe, but in the United States as well, making a sleuth of successful films in both continents. She is perhaps best known for her role as Ilsa Lund in Casablanca (1942), opposite Humphrey Bogart. She also appeared alongside Cary Grant in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, Notorious (1946). Bergman had other several hit films in this decade, including: For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), Gaslight (1944), Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945) and Joan of Arc (1948). The American Film Institute ranked her as the fourth greatest female star of American cinema. ” - sweetlittlepie
Joan Crawford
Joan Crawford was born Lucille Fay LeSueur on March 23, 1905, in San Antonio, Texas, to Anna Belle (Johnson) and Thomas E. LeSueur, a laundry laborer. By the time she was born, her parents had separated, and by the time she was a teenager, she'd had three stepfathers. It wasn't an easy life; Crawford worked a variety of menial jobs...
“ Crawford signed with Warner Bros. in 1943, and made several of her most memorable pictures during this time. In 1945, she was picked to play the lead role in Mildred Pierce despite the fact that the film's director profusely asked the studio to cast another actress in her stead. Eventually she won him over and the role earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress. The success of this film revived Crawford's career. ” - sweetlittlepie
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...
“ By the 1940's Davis was Warner Bros. most profitable star, and she was given priority in their female leading roles. She was often filmed in close ups to emphasize her distinctive eyes. In 1940, she made All This and Heaven Too which was her most profitable picture at the time. She was nominated again for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as an adulterous killer in The Letter (1940). She worked with director William Wyler again for the film The Little Foxes (1941), for which she received another Academy Award nomination. In 1942, she appeared in another of her more memorable pictures, the romantic melodrama Now, Voyager, opposite Paul Henreid. Unlike other stars of the era, Davis enjoyed playing unlikable and unsympathetic characters such as Regina Giddens in The Little Foxes and Fanny Trellis Skeffington in Mr. Skeffington (1944). ” - sweetlittlepie
Betty Grable
Elizabeth Ruth Grable was born on December 18, 1916 in St. Louis, Missouri, to Lillian Rose (Hofmann) and John Charles Grable, a stockbroker. She had German, English, Irish, and Dutch ancestry. Her mother was a stubborn and materialistic woman who was determined to make her daughter a star. Elizabeth...
“ Her iconic bathing suit poster made her the number one pin-up girl of the World War II era. In the 1930's while under contract with Paramount Pictures she was relegated to starring in B-movies. That changed when in 1940 she was offered a ten year contract with 20th Century Fox. By 1943, she was named the most popular box office draw in the country and she was 20th Century Fox's top money maker. Darryl F. Zanuck, Fox's chief at the time, stated that Grable was his favorite contract player. ” - sweetlittlepie
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...
“ Though her career started in the mid 1930's, it wasn't until the 1940's that de Havilland achieved great success. In 1939, her biggest box office hit came with Gone with the Wind in which she played Melanie Hamilton, the second female lead after Vivien Leigh. She received the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performances in To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949). ” - sweetlittlepie
Lana Turner
Lana Turner had an acting ability that belied the "Sweater Girl" image MGM thrust upon her, and even many of her directors admitted that they knew she was capable of greatness (check out The Postman Always Rings Twice). Unfortunately, her private life sometimes overshadowed her professional accomplishments. Lana Turner was born Julia Jean Mildred Francis Turner in Wallace...
“ During World War II, she became a popular pin-up girl and a sex symbol. She became a well-known femme fatale for her role in the film The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946). She appeared in her first technicolor film in 1948 as Lady de Winter in The Three Musketeers. ” - sweetlittlepie
Ava Gardner
Actress, The Killers
Ava Lavina Gardner was born on December 24, 1922 in Grabtown, North Carolina, to Mary Elizabeth (née Baker) and Jonas Bailey Gardner. Born on a tobacco farm, where she got her lifelong love of earthy language and going barefoot, Ava grew up in the rural South. At age 18, her picture in the window of her brother-in- law's New York photo studio brought her to the attention of MGM...
“ She signed a contract with MGM studios in 1941 and appeared in small supporting roles until she was finally noticed for her role in the film noir The Killers (1946). The other memorable film she made during this decade was The Hucksters (1947), opposite Clark Gable. Her success continued in the 1950's with even more hit films. ” - sweetlittlepie
Hedy Lamarr
Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler was born in Vienna, Austria, to a banker and his wife. Hedwig, who obviously became Hedy, had a rather calm childhood, but it was cinema that fascinated her. By the time she was a teenager she decided to drop out of school and seek fame as an actress. Her first role was a bit part in the German film Geld auf der Straße (aka "Money on the Street") in 1930...
“ Lamarr was a contract star of MGM's "Golden Age". She started out her career in Europe before moving to the United States and successfully crossing over into Hollywood. She made several hit films with some of the decade's most popular leading men, including Clark Gable, James Stewart, Spencer Tracy, Charles Boyer and William Powell, among many others. Her biggest success came in Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah in which she played Delilah. It became the highest grossing film of 1949. ” - sweetlittlepie
Claudette Colbert
Screenwriter Allan Scott was one of Claudette Colbert's biggest fans after working with her on Skylark and So Proudly We Hail!. When she had trouble with one of his scenes she never said, "I can't play this scene"; her attitude was, "I think I'm missing something here", he recalled decades later when writing about Colbert's deep understanding as a friend...
“ During the 1940's Colbert continued making hit films which made her one of the top paid stars of the era. In 1943, she appeared alongside Paulette Goddard and Veronica Lake as a military nurse in the hit film So Proudly We Hail!. Colbert earned a third Academy Award nomination for her performance in the film Since You Went Away (1945). She also starred with John Wayne in the comedy film Without Reservations (1946). ” - sweetlittlepie
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...
“ Her successful acting career which started out in the 1930's, continued to flourish in the 40's. By 1944 she was the highest paid woman in the United States. She made several hit films in this decade which continued her reign as box-office queen, some of this hits include: Meet John Doe (1941), Ball of Fire (1941), The Gay Sisters (1942), Double Indemnity (1944), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) and Sorry, Wrong Number (1948). Stanwyck was nominated four times for an Academy Award for Best Actress, but didn't win. However, in 1984 she received an honorary Oscar for her contributions to the film industry. ” - sweetlittlepie
Rita Hayworth
Actress, Gilda
Margarita Carmen Cansino was born on October 17, 1918, in Brooklyn, New York, into a family of dancers. Her father, Eduardo was a dancer as was his father before him. He emigrated from Spain in 1913. Rita's mother met Eduardo in 1916 and were married the following year. Rita, herself, studied as a dancer in order to follow in her family's footsteps...
“ Hayworth was one of top stars of the 1940's. She is one of the few women to have the distinction of having danced onscreen with both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. In 1944, she made one of her best-known films, Cover Girl. But her most memorable performance came in the film noir Gilda (1946) with Glenn Ford. The movie made her a cultural icon as a femme fatale. She followed this with a critically acclaimed performance in The Lady from Shanghai (1947), which was directed by her then husband, Orson Welles. ” - sweetlittlepie
Jennifer Jones
One of the world's most underrated Academy Award-winning actresses, Jennifer Jones was born Phylis Lee Isley on 2 March 1919 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Flora Mae (Suber) and Phillip Ross Isley, who ran a travelling stage show. As a young aspiring actress, she met and fell for young aspiring actor Robert Walker and they soon married...
“ Jones won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as Bernadette Soubirous in The Song of Bernadette (1943). She also made several hit films during the remainder of this decade including: Since You Went Away (1944), Love Letters (1945) Duel in the Sun (1946), Madame Bovary (1949) and We Were Strangers (1949). Her successful career continued to flourish in the 1950's. ” - sweetlittlepie
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...
“ At the age of 16 she was cast as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz (1939), a film which catapulted her to stardom. Her transition from teenage star to adult actress came with the film For Me and My Gal (1942), in which she received top billing. The film was also Gene Kelly's first screen appearance. Her other great success came in 1944 with Meet Me in St. Louis. ” - sweetlittlepie
Maureen O'Hara
In America, the early performing arts accomplishments of young Maureen FitzSimons (who we know as Maureen O'Hara) would definitely have put her in the child prodigy category. However, for a child of Irish heritage surrounded by gifted parents and family, these were very natural traits. Maureen made her entrance into this caring haven on August 17...
“ Is an Irish film actress and singer that achieved notable success in the 1940' and 50's. Her breakthrough role came in 1941 when she appeared in John Ford's highly successful How Green Was My Valley. In 1947, she starred as Doris Walker in Miracle on 34th Street. She is often remembered for her collaborations with director John Ford, and actor and longtime friend John Wayne. ” - sweetlittlepie
Rosalind Russell
The middle of seven children, she was named after the S.S. Rosalind at the suggestion of her father, a successful lawyer. After receiving a Catholic school education, she went to the American Academy of Dramatic Art in New York, having convinced her mother that she intended to teach acting. In 1934...
“ In 1940 she starred in her most memorable role as a fast talking news reporter in Howard Hawk's His Girl Friday, opposite Cary Grant. During this decade, she earned three Academy Award nominations for Best Actress for her roles in My Sister Eileen (1942), Sister Kenny (1946) and Mourning Becomes Electra (1947). Russell also made comedies such as The Feminine Touch (1941) and Take a Letter, Darling (1942), and the murder mystery The Velvet Touch (1948). ” - sweetlittlepie
Veronica Lake
Veronica Lake was born as Constance Frances Marie Ockleman on November 14, 1922, in Brooklyn, New York. She was the daughter of Constance Charlotta (Trimble) and Harry Eugene Ockelman, who worked for an oil company as a ship employee. Her father was of half German and half Irish descent, and her mother was of Irish ancestry...
“ Her breakthrough role came in the 1941 war drama I Wanted Wings. Later she won critical and popular acclaim for her starring role in Sullivan's Travels (1941). Lake became well-known for her onscreen pairings with actor Alan Ladd. They made four films together. She was known for playing femme fatales in several film noirs, and also popularized the peek-a-boo hairstyle, which became her signature look. Although she was popular with the public she had a complex personality and acquired a reputation for being difficult to work with. In the mid to late 1940's she suffered a decline and in 1948 Paramount decided not to renew her contract. ” - sweetlittlepie
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...
“ Known for her husky voice and sultry looks, she found fame playing femme fatales in several successful film noirs of the decade. She had a successful partnership with husband, Humphrey Bogart, including: To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948). ” - sweetlittlepie
Joan Bennett
Actress, Dark Shadows
Eighteen-year-old Joan Bennett had intended to avoid the Bennett tradition of acting but, divorced and with a child to support, had little choice; she accepted a role in her father's play "Jarnegan", then her first leading film role in Bulldog Drummond. Her popularity growing, she made 14 films under a Fox contract...
“ In the 1940's she appeared in several film noirs directed by Fritz Lang, including The Woman in the Window (1944) and Scarlet Street (1945). ” - sweetlittlepie
Katharine Hepburn
Born May 12, 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut, she was the daughter of a doctor and a suffragette, both of whom always encouraged her to speak her mind, develop it fully, and exercise her body to its full potential. An athletic tomboy as a child, she was also very close to her brother, Tom, and was devastated at age 14 to find him dead...
“ After being labelled "box office poison" in the late 1930's, Hepburn was able to make a comeback with her role as socialite Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story (1940), co-starring Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. During this decade she started a successful partnership with Spencer Tracy with whom she also had a romantic relationship. Hepburn's successful acting career continued for decades to come as Hollywood's reigning leading lady. ” - sweetlittlepie
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...
“ Her appearance in the hugely successful Gone with the Wind (1939) made her an instant star. The film earned many accolades including an Academy Award for Best Actress for Leigh's role as Scarlet O'Hara. In 1940 she received top billing for her role in the remake of the 1931 film Waterloo Bridge which co-starred Robert Taylor. She appeared beside her husband at the time Laurence Olivier in That Hamilton Woman (1941), the film was popular in the United States and was a huge success in the Soviet Union. ” - sweetlittlepie
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...
“ Perhaps best remembered for her role in The Maltese Falcon (1941) with Humphrey Bogart. She received an Academy Award nominaton for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in The Great Lie (1941). ” - sweetlittlepie
Jane Wyman
Actress, Falcon Crest
Jane Wyman was born Sarah Jane Mayfield on January 5, 1917, in St. Joseph, Missouri (she was also known later as Sarah Jane Fulks). When she was only eight years old, and after her parents filed for divorce, she lost her father prematurely. After graduating high school she attempted, with the help of her mother...
“ Wyman began her acting career as a contract player with Warner Bros. in 1936 at the age of 19. She finally gained critical acclaim with her role in the film noir The Lost Weekend (1945). In 1946 she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in The Yearling. Two years later, she won the award for her role as a deaf-mute rape victim in the film Johnny Belinda (1948). ” - sweetlittlepie
Eleanor Parker
Eleanor Jean Parker was born on June 26, 1922, in Cedarville, Ohio, the last of three children born to a mathematics teacher and his wife. Eleanor caught the acting bug early and began performing in school plays. She was was so serious about becoming a thespian that she attended the Rice Summer Theatre on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts beginning when she was 15 years old...
“ Renowned for her versatility which lead her to be dubbed the "Woman of a Thousand Faces". Parker had several successes in this decade including: Hollywood Canteen (1944), Pride of the Marines (1945), and also the remake of Of Human Bondage (1946), though the latter wasn't as well received as the original and Parker's performance was heavily criticized. Her success continued well into the fifties, and her career flourished further in this decade. ” - sweetlittlepie
Paulette Goddard
Actress, Modern Times
Pauline Marion Goddard Levy was born in Whitestone Landing, New York, on 3 June 1910. She was a beautiful child who began to model for local department stores before she made her debut with Florenz Ziegfeld's Follies at the age of 13. For three years she astounded audiences with her talent. She married Edgar James when she was 15...
“ Goddard appeared in her then-husband, Charlie Chaplin's comedy drama The Great Dictator (1940). The movie was Chaplin's first real "talkie" and his most commercially successful film. She received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role in So Proudly We Hail! (1943), which co-starred Claudette Colbert and Veronica Lake. Goddard's most successful film was Kitty (1945). She also appeared in three successful pictures directed by famed director Cecil B. DeMille. ” - sweetlittlepie
Donna Reed
Donna Reed was born in the midwestern town of Denison, Iowa, on January 27, 1921, as Donna Belle Mullenger. A small town - a population of less than 3,000 people - Denison was located by the Boyer River, and was the county seat of Crawford County. Donna grew up as a farm girl, much like many young girls in western Iowa...
“ She is best remembered for her role in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946) with James Stewart. She also appeared in the first screen adaptation of Oscar Wilde's novel, The Picture of Dorian Grey in 1945. In the fifties she followed Loretta Young's example and moved to television with a sitcom titled The Donna Reed Show which lasted from 1958 to 1966. ” - sweetlittlepie
Loretta Young
Sweet, sweeter, sweetest. No combination of terms better describes the screen persona of lovely Loretta Young. A&E's Biography has stated that Young "remains a symbol of beauty, serenity, and grace. But behind the glamor and stardom is a woman of substance whose true beauty lies in her dedication to her family...
“ Young made nineteen pictures during this decade, and kept working well into the 50's. She won an Academy Award for her performance in The Farmer's Daughter (1947). She also co-starred with Cary Grant in The Bishop's Wife (1947). She was nominated once again in 1949 for her role as Sister Margaret in Come to the Stable. ” - sweetlittlepie
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...
“ Dietrich made twelve films from 1940 to 1949, including: Seven Sinners (1940) and The Spoilers (1942), both opposite John Wayne. She also appeared in A Foreign Affair (1948), which co-starred Jean Arthur and John Lund. ” - sweetlittlepie
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...
“ In 1935 she began her career on the stage, and signed a contract with RKO that same year. Her contract was not renewed and expired in 1939. However, she made a strong impression on producer David O. Selznick who asked her to audition for the lead role in the film adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's novel Rebecca. The film marked the American debut of Alfred Hitchcock. The role earned Fontaine an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. A year later she was nominated again for the same award for her role in another Hitchcock classic, Suspicion, except this time she took home the Oscar. Fontaine and her sister, Olivia de Hallivand are the only siblings to have won lead acting Academy Awards. During this decade Fontaine excelled in romantic melodramas. ” - sweetlittlepie
Marsha Hunt
Stardom somehow eluded this vastly gifted actress. Had it not perhaps been for her low-level profile compounded by her McCarthy-era blacklisting in the early 1950s, there is no telling what higher tier Marsha Hunt might have attained. Perhaps her work was not flashy enough, or too subdued, or perhaps her intelligence too often disguised a genuine sex appeal to stand out among the other lovelies...
“ Is an American film, theater and television actress that had considerable success during the late 1930's and the 1940's before being blacklisted by Hollywood movie studio executives in the 1950's for promoting liberal and progressive ideals. She worked steadily from 1935 until 1949 appearing in 52 films. ” - sweetlittlepie
Priscilla Lane
Priscilla Lane attended the Eagin School of Dramatic Arts in New York before she began touring with her sisters in the Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians Dance Band. She was a popular singer with her sisters and, after 5 years, she was signed to a Hollywood contract with Warner Brothers in 1937...
“ She is best remembered for her roles in The Roaring Twenties (1939), opposite James Cagney, Saboteur (1942), a Hitchcock film co-starring Humphrey Bogart, and Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), in which she plays Cary Grant's fiancee. ” - sweetlittlepie
Joan Leslie
Joan Leslie was born in Detroit and began acting as a child performer. She was never able to escape the good girl role in her early work. She married Dr. William Caldwell in 1950. She quit her acting career to raise her identical twin daughters Patrice and Ellen. Both daughters are now Doctors teaching at universities.
“ She began her acting career as a child eventually signing a contract with Warner Bros. In 1941 she got her first major role in High Sierra. A year later she appeared as James Cagney's wife in Yankee Doodle Dandy. In 1946 exhibitors voted her the most promising "star of tomorrow'". She continued to make films until her marriage in 1950. ” - sweetlittlepie