25 of the Greatest Classic Actorsby teddyrules26 | created - 10 Dec 2010 | updated - 13 Dec 2010 | Public
This list features some of the greatest (and some of the most handsome) actors to ever grace the silver screen, as well as film recommendations. (This list is in no particular order.)
Actor | Anatomy of a Murder
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 ...
Must watch films include: 'It's a Wonderful Life', 'Rear Window', 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington', 'The Shop Around the Corner', 'Vertigo', 'Anatomy of a Murder' and 'Winchester '73', as well as many others.
2. 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...
Must watch films include: 'Mr. Deeds Goes to Town', 'High Noon', 'Ball of Fire', 'The Pride of the Yankees', 'Love in the Afternoon', 'Meet John Doe', and 'Sergeant York', as well as many others.
3. Cary Grant
Actor | Charade
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...
Must watch films include: 'North By Northwest', 'Notorious', 'Bringing Up Baby, 'The Talk of the Town', 'His Girl Friday', 'Arsenic and Old Lace', and 'Charade', as well as many others.
4. Errol Flynn
Actor | The Adventures of Robin Hood
Errol Flynn was born to parents Theodore Flynn, a respected biologist, and Marrelle Young, an adventurous young woman. Young Flynn was a rambunctious child who could be counted on to find trouble. Errol managed to have himself thrown out of every school he was enrolled in. In his late teens he set ...
Must watch films include: 'Captain Blood', 'The Sea Hawk', 'The Adventures of Robin Hood', 'Gentleman Jim', 'The Charge of the Light Brigade', 'The Dawn Patrol', 'Dodge City', as well as many others.
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 ...
Must watch films include: 'Casablanca', 'The Big Sleep', 'Sabrina', 'The Treasure of the Seirra Madre', 'The Maltese Falcon', 'The Caine Mutiny', and 'Dark Passage', as well as many others.
6. John Wayne
Actor | True Grit
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, ...
Must watch films include: 'Red River', 'Stagecoach', 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance', 'The Searchers', 'Rio Bravo', 'The Quiet Man', and 'True Grit', as well as many others.
7. Clark Gable
Actor | It Happened One Night
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 ...
Must watch films include: 'Gone with the Wind', 'It Happened One Night', 'Mutiny on the Bounty', 'San Francisco', 'Red Dust', 'Mogambo', and 'Run Silent Run Deep', as well as many others.
Actor | Sleuth
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 ...
Must watch films include: 'Rebecca', 'Spartacus', 'Wuthering Heights', 'Othello', 'Sleuth', 'Richard III', and 'The Prince and the Showgirl', as well as many others.
9. Gregory Peck
Actor | To Kill a Mockingbird
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 ...
Must watch films include: 'To Kill a Mockingbird', 'Spellbound', 'Roman Holiday', 'Twelve O'Clock High', 'Yello Sky', 'The Big Country', and 'The Yearling', as well as many others.
10. Henry Fonda
Actor | 12 Angry Men
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 ...
Must watch films include: '12 Angry Men', 'The Grapes of Wrath', 'Once Upon a Time in the West', 'The Lady Eve', 'The Wrong Man', 'On Golden Pond', and 'The Ox-Bow Incident', as well as many others.
11. Jack Lemmon
Actor | The Apartment
Jack Lemmon was born in Newton, Massachusetts, to Mildred Lankford 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 ...
Must watch films include: 'Some Like it Hot', 'The Apartment', 'Mister Roberts', 'Day of Wine and Roses', 'Bell Book and Candle', 'The Fortune Cookie', and 'Glengarry Glen Ross', as well as many others.
12. William Holden
Actor | Stalag 17
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 ...
Must watch films include: 'Sunset Boulevard', 'Sabrina', 'The Bridge on the River Kwai', 'Stalag 17', 'Born Yesterday', 'The Wild Bunch', 'The Country Girl', as well as many others.
13. William Powell
Actor | The Thin Man
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 ...
Must watch films include: 'My Man Godfrey', 'The Thin Man', 'The Great Ziegfeld', 'Libeled Lady', 'After the Thin Man', 'Mister Roberts', and 'Life with Father', as well as many others.
14. Ray Milland
Actor | The Lost Weekend
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 ...
Must watch films include: 'The Lost Weekend', 'Dial M for Murder', 'The Major and the Minor', 'Easy Living', 'Beau Geste', 'The Uninvited', and 'The Big Clock', as well as many others.
15. Tyrone Power
Actor | Witness for the Prosecution
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 ...
Must watch films include: 'Witness for the Prosecution', 'The Mark of Zorro', 'The Razor's Edge', 'Son of Fury', 'The Black Swan', 'Nightmare Alley', and 'Marie Antoinette', as well as many others.
16. James Cagney
Actor | The Roaring Twenties
One of Hollywood's preeminent male stars of all time, James Cagney was also an accomplished dancer and easily played light comedy. James Francis Cagney was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City, to Carolyn (Nelson) and James Francis Cagney, Sr., who was a bartender and amateur ...
Must watch films include: 'White Heat', 'Yankee Doodle Dandy', 'Angels with Dirty Faces', 'The Roaring Twenties', 'Footlight Parade', 'Mister Roberts', and 'The Strawberry Blonde', as well as many others.
17. Orson Welles
Actor | Citizen Kane
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....
Must watch films include: 'Citizen Cane', 'Touch of Evil', 'Jane Eyre', 'Macbeth', 'The Third Man', 'Mr. Arkadin', and 'The Lady from Shanghai', as well as many others.
18. Paul Newman
Actor | The Hustler
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...
Must watch films include: 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid', 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof', 'Cool Hand Luke', 'The Hustler', 'Hud', 'The Sting', and 'Road to Perdition', as well as many others.
19. Ronald Colman
Actor | Random Harvest
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 ...
Must watch films include: 'The Talk of the Town', 'Random Harvest', 'A Tale of Two Cities', 'The Prisoner of Zenda', 'Lost Horizen', 'A Double Life', and 'Champagne for Caesar', as well as many others.
20. Leslie Howard
Actor | Pygmalion
Leslie Howard Steiner 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 ...
Must watch films include: 'Gone with the Wind', 'Pygmalion', 'The Petrified Forest', 'Of Human Bondage', 'The Scarlet Pimpernel', '49th Parallel', and 'It's Love I'm After', as well as many others.
21. Montgomery Clift
Actor | From Here to Eternity
Edward Montgomery Clift (nicknamed 'Monty' his entire life) was born on October 17, 1920 in Omaha, Nebraska, just after his twin sister Roberta (1920-2014) and eighteen months after his brother Brooks Clift. He was the son of Ethel "Sunny" Anderson (Fogg; 1888-1988) and William Brooks Clift (1886-...
Must watch films include: 'A Place in the Sun', 'From Here to Eternity', 'Red River', 'The Heiress', 'Suddenly, Last Summer', 'Wild River', and 'Judgment at Nuremberg', as well as many others.
22. Melvyn Douglas
Actor | Being There
Two-time Oscar-winner Melvyn Douglas was one of America's finest actors. In addition to his two Oscars, he also won a Tony Award and an Emmy. Douglas would enjoy cinema immortality if for no other reason than his being the man who made Greta Garbo laugh in Ernst Lubitsch's classic comedy Ninotchka ...
Must watch films include: 'Ninotchka', 'Hud', 'Being There', 'Captains Courageous', 'Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House', 'The Old Dark House', and 'Billy Budd', as well as many others.
23. John Barrymore
Actor | Twentieth Century
John Barrymore was born John Sidney Blyth on February 15, 1882 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. An American stage and screen actor whose rise to superstardom and subsequent decline is one of the legendary tragedies of Hollywood. A member of the most famous generation of the most famous theatrical ...
Must watch films include: 'Twentieth Century', 'Grand Hotel', 'Dinner at Eight', 'Midnight', 'Marie Antoinette', 'True Confession', and 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde', as well as many others.
24. James Dean
Actor | East of Eden
James Byron Dean was born February 8, 1931 in Marion, Indiana, to Mildred Marie (Wilson) and Winton A. Dean, a farmer turned dental technician. His mother died when Dean was nine, and he was subsequently raised on a farm by his aunt and uncle in Fairmount, Indiana. After grade school, he moved to ...
Must watch films include: 'Rebel Without a Cause', 'East of Eden',and 'Giant'.
25. Charles Laughton
Actor | Witness for the Prosecution
Charles Laughton was born in Scarborough, Yorkshire, England, to Eliza (Conlon) and Robert Laughton, hotel keepers of Irish and English descent, respectively. He was educated at Stonyhurst (a highly esteemed Jesuit college in England) and at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (received gold medal). ...
Must watch films include: 'Witness for the Prosecution', 'Mutiny on the Bounty', 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame', 'Spartacus', 'The Private Life of Henry VIII.', 'The Big Clock', and 'Les misérables', as well as many others.