Greatest Classic Actors

The most talented actors and actresses of the Hollywood Golden Era. I've left out actors who worked primarily in musicals or in silents.
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1.
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...
“ Ms Arthur has literally never given a bad performance. Like many of my favorite directors, she manages do do great work without ever drawing undue attention to herself. Her girl-next-door looks and unimposing demeanor belie an intense dedication to her work. ” - dailyshampoo48
 
2.
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...
“ I didn't really begin to appreciate William Powell until I saw him in that outrageous (and kind of really bad) romance film 'One Way Passage'. It was such a silly role, and such a silly movie, but he embraced the part completely, and I found myself admiring his professionalism. Best known for The Thin Man and My Man Godfrey, he is also excellent in Man of the World, Evelyn Prentice, and the very uneven (if hugely entertaining) Jean Harlow vehicle Reckless. ” - dailyshampoo48
 
3.
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...
“ Barbara Stanwyck's acting, if seemingly pedestrian, shows touches of brilliance. Despite attempts to typecast her as a plucky shopgirl type, or a murderous femme fatale, she managed some very interesting roles throughout her career. It is difficult to pinpoint just what exactly was the quality which set her apart from other actresses, but, whatever it was, she is certainly one of the greats. ” - dailyshampoo48
 
4.
Jean Harlow
Harlean Carpenter, who later became Jean Harlow, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 3, 1911. She was the daughter of a successful dentist and his wife. In 1927, at the age of 16, she ran away from home to marry a young businessman named Charles McGrew, who was 23. The couple pulled up stakes and moved to Los Angeles...
“ I didn't understand Jean Harlow at first, having dismissed her at first as a sexpot with little real acting ability, but then I watched a few more of her films and realized that her delivery is remarkably good. And consistently so. Harlow is something of a paradox; her appearance seems to scream, "SEX" and yet, upon closer inspection, she is both a brave and intelligent actress. Other blondes, perhaps more gifted than Harlow, tried to follow in her footsteps, but not quite managed the same odd mixture of sass, wit, and vulnerability. ” - dailyshampoo48
 
5.
Carole Lombard
Carole Lombard was born Jane Alice Peters in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on October 6, 1908. Her parents divorced in 1916 and her mother took the family on a trip out West. While there they decided to settle down in the Los Angeles area. After being spotted playing baseball in the street with the neighborhood boys by a film director...
“ Carole Lombard's trademark is impeccable comic timing, along with a willingness to be completely ridiculous. While she never did bad work, she really came into her own in the 1934 film Twentieth Century, perhaps thanks to some one-on-one coaching with the brilliant John Barrymore. Such studied abandon, so unsual amongst women of the 1930s, made her a hot commodity up 'til her untimely death in 1942. ” - dailyshampoo48
 
6.
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...
“ No actor has ever worked harder than Jack Lemmon, expert portrayer of neurotics and schmiels, forever immortalized in the brilliant Billy Wilder films, Some Like It Hot and The Apartment. ” - dailyshampoo48
 
7.
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 in Amsterdam, New York, in 1916. His parents, Bryna (Sanglel) and Herschel Danielovitch...
“ An extremely talented actor who has been in a number of films which I actively despise. I have enjoyed him in both Young Man With a Horn and Ace in the Hole. ” - dailyshampoo48
 
8.
Alice Brady
Alice Brady was born in New York City on November 2, 1892. She was interested in the stage from childhood, as her father was famed Broadway producer William A. Brady. After a few stage productions, Alice was discovered by movie producers in New York, since this was the film capital at the time. Her first film was at the age of 22 when she starred in As Ye Sow...
“ An older actress who stole many a scene in some forgettable films from the 30's and 40's. Tremendously entertaining in My Man Godfrey, but also in several Deanna Durbin vehicles. She gives us a glimpse of her impressive dramatic chops in the very silly disaster movie In Old Chicago as Tyrone Power's principled and determined Irish mother. ” - dailyshampoo48
 
9.
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...
“ Sidelined in silly musicals and romantic comedies throughout the 40s and 50s, we didn't get to see what a great actress she truly was until 1963's Manchurian Candidate. She has continued to take on any number of excellent roles up through the present day. ” - dailyshampoo48
 
10.
James Stewart
James Maitland Stewart was born on 20 May 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)...
“ Forever immortalized in the classic Capra films Mr Smith Goes to Washington and It's a Wonderful Life, Mr Stewart also holds the questionable distinction of having starred in the only Western I've ever managed to sit through without falling alseep (and I strongly suspect it's mostly his fault). ” - dailyshampoo48
 
11.
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...
“ Holden was appealing even as a dirty old man in 1970s satire/campfest Network. He's solid in all three of his collaborations with Billy Wilder, lending likeability to some questionable personalities. ” - dailyshampoo48
 
12.
Vivien Leigh
Vivian Mary Hartley was born on November 5, 1913, in Darjeeling, India. She was to live in this beautiful country for the next six years. Her parents wanted to go home to England but because of World War I they opted to stay in India. At the end of the war the Hartleys headed back to their home country...
“ While many of her films are hopelessly and bathetically melodramatic, when Ms Leigh is good, she is downright brilliant. Her performance in Streetcar is unforgettable and she did a fine job in Gone With the Wind as well. ” - dailyshampoo48
 
13.
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...
“ A hugely underrated actor who did most of his work in light comedies, somewhat ironically best known for playing shady characters in the Billy Wilder dramas Double Indemnity and The Apartment. ” - dailyshampoo48
 
14.
George Brent
The favorite leading man of star actress Bette Davis, was born George Brendan Nolan, near Dublin, and became an orphan at the tender age of eleven. For a while, he stayed with an aunt in New York, but returned to Ireland to study at the University of Dublin. After leaving university in 1919, George became a courier for Sinn Fein leader Michael Collins...
“ A charismatic leading man of the 1930s who gave unusually naturalistic and intuitive performances. ” - dailyshampoo48
 
15.
Gary Cooper
Actor, High Noon
"Dad was a true Westerner, and I take after him", Gary Cooper told people who wanted to know more about his life before Hollywood. Dad was Charles Henry Cooper, who left his native England at 19, became a lawyer and later a Montana State Supreme Court justice. In 1906, when Gary was 5, his dad bought the Seven-Bar-Nine...
“ It's easy to dismiss Gary Cooper as just a pretty face as he seems far too relaxed and unaffected to be truly acting. And yet he is, at times, extremely effective. I liked him best in the 1932 Hemingway adaption Farewell to Arms. ” - dailyshampoo48
 
16.
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...
“ An acting natural whose work in films is often overlooked due to his enormous success as a singer. ” - dailyshampoo48
 
17.
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...
“ Marlene Dietrich was special not in that she was an especially good actress, but that she was a female performer who could play unlikeable characters unabashedly. Some of the early work she did with von Sternberg was kind of interesting although not really my cup of tea. ” - dailyshampoo48
 
18.
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...
“ An admittedly beautiful and talented actress who I often find unbearably smarmy, over-confident. ” - dailyshampoo48
 
19.
Eugene Pallette
Gargantuan-bellied, frog-voiced character actor who was a staple in forties movies. After World War II his ultra-right-wing political views fuelled his 'bomb' paranoia and he bought a property in Oregon which he turned into a well-stocked compound in case the Russians attacked. Many of his old Hollywood friends...
“ Although apparently he was, in real life, not too different from the extremely entertaining characters he portrayed, Eugene Pallette is always just that: entertaining. He is best known for his work with William Powell in the Philo Vance murder mysteries and My Man Godfrey, as well as several oustanding B-pictures with Universal. ” - dailyshampoo48
 
20.
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 are second only to Katharine Hepburn...
“ Ingrid Bergman always does credible work, although she plays too many masochists for my tastes. ” - dailyshampoo48