Born Before 1900, Still Performing in 1950

A list of performers who were born in the Nineteenth Century and who continued working in show business up to or beyond the first half of the Twentieth.
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1.
Fred Astaire
Actor, Top Hat
Fred Astaire was born in Omaha, Nebraska, to Johanna (Geilus) and Fritz Austerlitz, a brewer. Fred entered show business at age 5. He was successful both in vaudeville and on Broadway in partnership with his sister, Adele Astaire. After Adele retired to marry in 1932, Astaire headed to Hollywood. Signed to RKO...
“ Born May 10, 1899. ” - tobian85
 
2.
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...
“ March 15, 1899 ” - tobian85
 
3.
Walter Pidgeon
Walter Pidgeon, a handsome, tall and dark-haired man, began his career studying voice at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. He then did theater, mainly stage musicals. He went to Hollywood in the early 1920s, where he made silent films, including Mannequin and Sumuru. When talkies arrived...
“ Born September 23, 1897. ” - tobian85
 
4.
Estelle Winwood
Actress, The Producers
When Estelle saw the girl on a white horse at the circus, she then decided that she wanted to be an actress. And she was from the age of 5, to the disapproval of her father. Her mother had her train with the Liverpool Repertory Company, and Estelle performed in many plays and many roles in the West End...
“ Born January 24, 1883. ” - tobian85
 
5.
Gladys Cooper
Actress, My Fair Lady
Gladys Cooper was the daughter of journalist William Frederick Cooper and his wife Mabel Barnett. As a child she was very striking and was used as a photographic model beginning at six years old. She wanted to become an actress and started on that road in 1905 after being discovered by Seymour Hicks to tour with his company in "Bluebell in Fairyland"...
“ Born December 18, 1888. ” - tobian85
 
6.
Lillian Gish
Lillian Gish was born into a broken family where her restless father James Lee Gish was frequently absent. Mary Robinson McConnell a.k.a. Mary Gish, her mother, had entered into acting to make money to support the family. As soon as Lillian and her sister Dorothy were old enough, they became part of the act...
“ Born October 14, 1893. ” - tobian85
 
7.
Raymond Massey
Educated at the University of Toronto & Balliol College, Oxford, he joined the Canadian Field Artillery in World War I, served in France & was wounded. His first appearance was in a stage production in Siberia, during its occupation by American Forces in 1918. Raymond returned to Canada & the farm implement business after the war...
“ Born August 30, 1896. ” - tobian85
 
8.
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...
“ Born July 29, 1892. ” - tobian85
 
9.
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...
“ Born February 9, 1891. ” - tobian85
 
10.
Beulah Bondi
Character actress Beulah Bondi was a favorite of directors and audiences and is one of the reasons so many films from the 1930s and 1940s remain so enjoyable, as she was an integral part of many of the ensemble casts (a hallmark of the studio system) of major and/or great films, including The Trail of the Lonesome Pine...
“ Born May 3, 1889. ” - tobian85
 
11.
Una O'Connor
Delightful character actress who held her own against such acting heavyweights as Charles Laughton, Boris Karloff, Tyrone Power, Barbara Stanwyck, and Sydney Greenstreet. Often cast by studio heads as comic relief thanks to her thick Irish accent and rubber-faced expressions, most notably in Universal's horror classics...
“ Born October 23, 1880. ” - tobian85
 
12.
Florence Bates
Actress, Rebecca
The American character actress, Florence Rabe, was the daughter of an antique store owner. She gained a degree in Mathematics from the University of Texas in 1906 and went on to a career in teaching and social work. She changed course after being persuaded by a friend to study law, and, passing her bar exam in 1914...
“ Born April 15, 1888. ” - tobian85
 
13.
Zasu Pitts
Classic comedienne Zasu Pitts, of the timid, forlorn blue eyes and trademark woebegone vocal pattern and fidgety hands, was born to Rulandus and Nellie (Shay) Pitts, the third of four children on January 3, 1894. Her aged New York-native father, who lost a leg back in the Civil War era, had settled the family in Kansas by the time ZaSu was born but relocated to Santa Cruz...
“ Born January 3, 1894. ” - tobian85
 
14.
Walter Brennan
In many ways the most successful and familiar character actor of American sound films and the only actor to date to win three Oscars for Best Supporting Actor, Walter Brennan attended college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, studying engineering. While in school he became interested in acting and performed in school plays...
“ Born July 25, 1894. ” - tobian85
 
15.
Marjorie Main
Her father was a minister, and when she joined a local stock company as a youngster she changed her name to avoid embarrassing her family. She worked in vaudeville and debuted on Broadway in 1916. Her film debut was in A House Divided. She repeated her stage role in Dead End as Baby Face Martin (Humphrey Bogart)'s mother...
“ Born February 24, 1890. ” - tobian85
 
16.
Gloria Swanson
Actress, Sunset Blvd.
Gloria Swanson went to public schools in Chicago; Key West, Florida; and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Her film debut was as an extra in The Fable of Elvira and Farina and the Meal Ticket. From the following year on, she had leading roles in pictures for Keystone, then a year with Triangle, and, in 1919, a contract with Cecil B. DeMille. DeMille transformed her from a typical Mack Sennett comedienne into a lively...
“ Born March 27, 1899. ” - tobian85
 
17.
Margaret Rutherford
One is always at pains to locate a reference to Margaret Rutherford which does not characterize her as either jut-chinned, eccentric or both. But such, taken together, made for the charm of the woman. The combination of those most mundane of attributes has led some to suggest that she was made for the role of Agatha Christie's indomitable sleuth...
“ Born May 11, 1892. ” - tobian85
 
18.
Charles Boyer
Actor, Gaslight
Charles Boyer studied philosophy before he went to the theater where he gave his debut in 1920. Although he had at first no intentions to pursue a career at the movies (his first movie was L'homme du large by Marcel L'Herbier) he used his chance in Hollywood after several filming stations all over Europe...
“ Born August 28, 1899. ” - tobian85
 
19.
Finlay Currie
Actor, Ben-Hur
Scottish-born Finlay Currie was a former church organist and choirmaster who made his stage debut at 20 years of age. It took him 34 more years before making his first film, but he worked steadily for another 30 years after that. Although he was a large, imposing figure, with a rich, deep voice and somewhat authoritarian demeanor...
“ Born January 20, 1878. ” - tobian85
 
20.
Hattie McDaniel
After working as early as the 1910s as a band vocalist, Hattie McDaniel debuted as a maid in The Golden West. Her maid-mammy characters became steadily more assertive, showing up first in Judge Priest and becoming pronounced in Alice Adams. In this one, directed by George Stevens and aided and abetted by star Katharine Hepburn...
“ Born 10 June 1892. ” - tobian85
 
21.
“ Born April 15, 1885. ” - tobian85
 
22.
Clifton Webb
Actor, Laura
Already trained in dance and theater, he quit school at age 13 to study music and painting. By 19 he was a professional ballroom dancer in New York, and by his mid-twenties he was performing in musicals, dramas on Broadway and in London, and in silent movies. His first real success in film came in middle age as the classy villain Waldo Lydecker in Laura...
“ Born November 19, 1889. ” - tobian85
 
23.
Jane Darwell
Missouri-born Jane Darwell was the daughter of a railroad president and grew up on a ranch in Missouri. She nursed ambitions to be an opera singer, but put it off because of her father's disapproval (she eventually changed her name to Darwell from the family name of Woodward so as not to "sully" the family name)...
“ Born October 15, 1879. ” - tobian85
 
24.
Sessue Hayakawa
Sessue Hayakawa was born in Chiba, Japan. His father was the provincial governor and his mother a member of an aristocratic family of the "samurai" class. The young Hayakawa wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and become a career officer in the Japanese navy, but he was turned down due to problems with his hearing...
“ Born June 10, 1889. ” - tobian85
 
25.
“ Born August 6, 1881. ” - tobian85
 
26.
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...
“ Born 17 July 1899. ” - tobian85
 
27.
Pat O'Brien
Although he came to be called "Hollywood's Irishman in Residence"--and, along with good friends James Cagney, Allen Jenkins, Frank McHugh and a few others were called "The Irish Mafia"--and he often played Irish immigrants, Pat O'Brien was US-born and -bred. As a young boy the devoutly Roman Catholic O'Brien considered entering the seminary to study for the priesthood...
“ Born November 11, 1899. ” - tobian85
 
28.
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...
“ Born December 25, 1899. ” - tobian85
 
29.
Roland Young
Best remembered for the many meek characters he played -- think Cosmo Topper, of the screwball classic ­­Topper -- this balding, short, yet distinguished actor was born in London, England, to an architect and his wife. Young was educated at Sherborne College and London University and trained as an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art...
“ Born November 11, 1887 ” - tobian85
 
30.
Billie Burke
Billie Burke was born Mary William Ethelbert Appleton Burke on August 7, 1885 in Washington, D.C. Her father was the internationally famous clown, Billy Burke, and she would spend most of her early years touring Europe before the family settled in London. In 1903, she appeared on the stage as an actress and came to America in 1907 to star opposite John Drew in "My Wife"...
“ Born August 7, 1884 (Yes, I have noticed the discrepancy between the birth date shown on her IMDb display page and the one on her official Bio, and no, I don't know which date is correct. But whichever one is right, it's still well before 1900. :-)) ” - tobian85