Memorable Actresses to Light Up Your Screen

by bc_benz | created - 12 Aug 2011 | updated - 05 Sep 2011 | Public

Heavenly stars from the constellation of film's illustrious past, with brief comments from this viewer's perspective, followed by the title of my favorite film recommended for your viewing pleasure.

1. Grace Kelly

Actress | Rear Window

On November 12, 1929, Grace Patricia Kelly was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to wealthy parents. Her girlhood was uneventful for the most part, but one of the things she desired was to become an actress which she had decided on at an early age. After her high school graduation in 1947, Grace ...

The fairest Princess of them all, Grace is #1. REAR WINDOW (1954)

2. Hedy Lamarr

Actress | Samson and Delilah

Hedy Lamarr, the woman many critics and fans alike regard as the most beautiful ever to appear in films, was born Hedwig Eva Kiesler in Vienna, Austria. She was the daughter of Gertrud (Lichtwitz), from Budapest, and Emil Kiesler, a banker from Lember (now known as Lviv). Her parents were both from...

Austria's loveliest export to the world of film, Hedy is #1, too. TORTILLA FLAT (1942)

3. Vivien Leigh

Actress | A Streetcar Named Desire

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 ...

What a "storm" in such an exquisitely beautiful and immensely talented "teacup," Vivien is my favorite actress of all time. WATERLOO BRIDGE (1940)

4. Ingrid Bergman

Actress | Notorious

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 ...

"Here's looking at you," Ingrid, and loving what we see. CASABLANCA (1942)

5. Jennifer Jones

Actress | The Towering Inferno

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 ...

Looking into those eyes of Jennifer's, Neil Young's lyric in "A Man Needs a Maid" comes true every time: "I fell in love with the actress. She was playing a part that I could understand." PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948)

6. Ava Gardner

Actress | The Night of the Iguana

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 ...

Some actresses have those dreamy eyes, and others have it all, such as the cool and foxy Ava. MOGAMBO (1954)

7. Gene Tierney

Actress | Laura

With prominent cheekbones and the most appealing overbite of her day, her striking good looks helped propel her to stardom. Her best known role is the enigmatic murder victim in Laura (1944). She was also Oscar-nominated for Leave Her to Heaven (1945). Her acting performances were few in the 1950s ...

"Jean, Jean, you're young and alive," wrote Rod McKuen in 1969. Substitute "Gene" for Jean and you know what I'm talking about. TOBACCO ROAD (1941)

8. Cyd Charisse

Actress | Silk Stockings

Cyd Charisse was born Tula Ellice Finklea on March 8, 1921 in Amarillo, Texas. Born to be a dancer, she spent her early childhood taking ballet lessons and joined the Ballet Russe at age 13. In 1939, she married Nico Charisse, her former dance teacher. In 1943, she appeared in her first film, ...

I am utterly charmed by Cyd's beauty, elegance, and the way she could work magic on the dance floor. A delightful actress in the eye of this beholder. SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1951)

9. Anne Shirley

Actress | Murder, My Sweet

They didn't come packaged any sweeter and lovelier than Anne Shirley, a gentle and gracious 1930s teen film actress who didn't quite reach the zenith of front-rank stardom and retired all too soon at age 26. On film as a toddler, she went through a small revolving door of marquee names before ...

Anne stole my heart away in a William Dieterle film and I could never get it back. I very much prize the few movies I have of hers. THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER (1941)

10. Joan Leslie

Actress | Yankee Doodle Dandy

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 ...

What a wealth of youthful charm Joan possessed. She completely disarmed me with her personality and her acting talents and she will always be one of my favourite actresses. SERGEANT YORK (1941)

11. Paulette Goddard

Actress | Modern Times

Paulette Goddard was a child model who debuted in "The Ziegfeld Follies" at the age of 13. She gained fame with the show as the girl on the crescent moon, and was married to a wealthy man by the time she was 16. After her divorce she went to Hollywood in 1931, where she appeared in small roles in ...

Vivien Leigh will always be Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind, and yet the beautiful Paulette was Vivien's chief contender for that coveted role (and lucky Robert Osborne who knows all this stuff). It just goes to show that Hollywood knew their women. KITTY (1946)

12. Maureen O'Hara

Actress | The Quiet Man

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...

Red hair and green eyes adorned this Irish lass, who was more than a match for any actor with whom she co-starred. Bob Hope may have had his favorite brunette, but Maureen is my favorite redhead. THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE-DAME (1939)

13. Teresa Wright

Actress | Shadow of a Doubt

A natural and lovely talent who was discovered for films by Samuel Goldwyn, the always likable Teresa Wright distinguished herself early on in high-caliber, Oscar-worthy form -- the only performer ever to be nominated for Oscars for her first three films. Always true to herself, she was able to ...

Perhaps not quite as blessed with the physical beauty which some other actresses had, Teresa had an inner beauty that put her in a league all her own, and she is my second favorite actress of all time. THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946)

14. Olivia de Havilland

Actress | The Heiress

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 ...

Olivia is my third favorite actress of all time. I am not a Gone With the Wind fan, but the treat for me was watching Vivien and Olivia together on screen. (Mogambo pairs Grace Kelly and Ava Gardner, another visual treat.) But Olivia has a breadth and a depth to her which few actresses have ever achieved. THE SNAKE PIT (1948)

15. Claudette Colbert

Actress | It Happened One Night

One of the brightest film stars to grace the screen was born Emilie Claudette Chauchoin on September 13, 1903, in Saint Mandé, France where her father owned a bakery at 57, rue de la République (now Avenue Général de Gaulle). The family moved to the United States when she was three. As Claudette ...

It's something how a movie can take hold of you and leave you feeling good. That's how Claudette won me over thanks to Turner Classic Movies. IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934)

16. 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 ...

When I was driving tour bus, Palm Springs, California was part of a tour I had with a group of university students from Alberta in May 2007. Little did I know then that this national treasure was residing there until her passing four months later. Jane captivated me without ever having spoken a word in a film for which she won an Academy Award for best actress. JOHHNY BELINDA (1948)

17. Elizabeth Taylor

Actress | Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was considered one of the last, if not the last, major star to have come out of the old Hollywood studio system. She was known internationally for her beauty, especially for her violet eyes, with which she captured audiences early on in her youth and kept the world hooked ...

Elizabeth certainly gave us some memorable screen moments and her beauty was nothing short of stunning. CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF(1958)

18. Priscilla Lane

Actress | Arsenic and Old Lace

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. ...

19. Merle Oberon

Actress | That Uncertain Feeling

Estelle Merle O'Brien Thompson was born in India on February 19, 1911. She was educated in that country until the age of 17, when she left for London. Merle began her career in British films with mostly forgettable roles or bit parts. She appeared in an uncredited role in Alf's Button (1930), a ...

20. Audrey Hepburn

Actress | Breakfast at Tiffany's

Audrey Hepburn was born on May 4, 1929 in Ixelles, Brussels, Belgium. She was a blue-blood and a cosmopolitan from birth. Her mother, Baroness Ella Van Heemstra, was of a Dutch descent, and her father, Joseph Victor Anthony Hepburn-Ruston, was born in Úzice, Bohemia, and of an English and Austrian ...

21. Rochelle Hudson

Actress | Imitation of Life

From ingenue to leading lady to character actress, she appeared in Hollywood films from the early 30s through the late 60s.

22. Greta Garbo

Actress | Ninotchka

Greta Garbo was born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson on September 18, 1905, in Stockholm, Sweden, to Anna Lovisa (Johansdotter), who worked at a jam factory, and Karl Alfred Gustafsson, a laborer. She was fourteen when her father died, which left the family destitute. Greta was forced to leave school and ...

23. Loretta Young

Actress | The Farmer's Daughter

Sweet, sweeter, sweetest. No combination of terms better describes the screen persona of lovely Loretta Young. A&E's Biography (1987) 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 ...

24. Frances Farmer

Actress | Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake

Born in Seattle, Frances Farmer studied drama at the University of Washington, Seattle. In 1935, she went to Hollywood where she secured a seven-year contract with Paramount. In 1943, she was wrongfully declared mentally incompetent and committed by her parents to a series of asylums and public ...

25. Dorothy Lamour

Actress | Road to Bali

In addition to being Miss New Orleans in 1931, Dorothy Lamour worked as a Chicago elevator operator; band vocalist for her first husband, band leader Herbie Kaye; and radio performer. In 1936 she donned her soon-to-be-famous sarong for her debut at Paramount, The Jungle Princess (1936), and ...

26. Leslie Caron

Actress | Gigi

Born in the suburbs of Paris, France, Leslie Caron is an actress and dancer. Gene Kelly got her into the movies for the film An American in Paris (1951). Got a world-wide reputation for her roles in Lili (1953) and Gigi (1958). Most recently Caron has appeared in British TV series The Durrells in ...

27. Irene Dunne

Actress | The Awful Truth

Irene Marie Dunne was born on December 20, 1898, in Louisville, Kentucky. She was the daughter of Joseph Dunne, who inspected steamships, and Adelaide Henry, a musician who prompted Irene in the arts. Her first production was in Louisville when she appeared in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the age...

28. Marlene Dietrich

Soundtrack | Witness for the Prosecution

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 ...

29. Veronica Lake

Actress | Sullivan's Travels

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 ...

30. Vera Miles

Actress | The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Born in Boise City, Oklahoma, Vera Miles attended school in Pratt, Kansas and Wichita, Kansas. The patrician beauty of Miss Miles won her the title of "Miss Kansas" in 1948, leading soon to small roles in Hollywood films and television series. Fame came to the forthright, spirited Miles when she ...

31. Eva Marie Saint

Actress | On the Waterfront

Actress and producer Eva Marie Saint was born on July 4, 1924 on Newark, New Jersey. She is known for starring in Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront (1954), for which she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, and Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959). Her film career also includes ...

32. Ida Lupino

Actress | High Sierra

Ida was born in London to a show business family. In 1933, her mother brought Ida with her to an audition and Ida got the part her mother wanted. The picture was Her First Affaire (1932). Ida, a bleached blonde, came to Hollywood in 1934 and played small and insignificant parts. Peter Ibbetson (...

33. Jean Arthur

Actress | Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

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 ...

34. Ginger Rogers

Actress | The Major and the Minor

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 ...

35. Susan Hayward

Actress | I Want to Live!

Susan Hayward was born Edythe Marrener in Brooklyn, New York, on June 30, 1917. Her father was a transportation worker, and Susan lived a fairly comfortable life as a child, but the precocious little redhead had no idea of the life that awaited her. She attended public school in Brooklyn, where she...

36. Rosalind Russell

Actress | Auntie Mame

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...

37. Kim Novak

Actress | Vertigo

Kim Novak was born in Chicago, Illinois on February 13, 1933 with the birth name of Marilyn Pauline Novak. She was the daughter of Joseph Novak, a former teacher turned transit clerk and his wife, Blanche Kral Novak, also a former teacher. Throughout elementary and high school, Kim did not get ...

38. Barbara Stanwyck

Actress | Double Indemnity

Today Barbara Stanwyck is remembered primarily as the matriarch of the family known as the Barkleys on the TV western The Big Valley (1965), wherein she played Victoria, and from the hit drama The Colbys (1985). But she was known to millions of other fans for her movie career, which spanned the ...

39. Lillian Gish

Actress | The Night of the Hunter

Lillian Diana Gish was born on October 14, 1893 in Springfield, Ohio. Her father James Lee Gish was an alcoholic who caroused around, was rarely at home and left the family to more or less to fend for themselves. To help make ends meet, Lillian, her sister Dorothy Gish and their mother Mary Gish ...

40. Patricia Neal

Actress | Hud

Patricia Neal, the Oscar- and Tony Award-winning actress, was born Patricia Louise Neal in Packard, Kentucky. Her father managed a coal mine and her mother was the daughter of the town doctor. She grew up in Knoxville, where she attended high school.

She was first bit by the acting bug at the age of...

41. Linda Darnell

Actress | No Way Out

Linda Darnell, one of five children of a postal clerk, grew up fast. At 11, she was modeling clothes, giving her age as 16. At 13, she was appearing on the stage with little theater groups. Her mother encouraged her to audition when Hollywood talent scouts came to Dallas. She went to California and...

42. 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 ...

43. Donna Reed

Actress | From Here to Eternity

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 ...

44. Fay Wray

Actress | King Kong

Canadian-born Fay Wray was brought up in Los Angeles and entered films at an early age. She was barely in her teens when she started working as an extra. She began her career as a heroine in westerns at Universal during the silent era. In 1926 the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers ...

45. Joan Crawford

Actress | What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

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; ...

46. Rita Hayworth

Actress | Gilda

Rita Hayworth was born Margarita Carmen Cansino on October 17, 1918, in Brooklyn, New York, into a family of dancers. Her father, Eduardo Cansino Reina, was a dancer as was his father before him. He emigrated from Spain in 1913. Rita's American mother, Volga Margaret (Hayworth), who was of mostly ...

47. Lana Turner

Actress | Peyton Place

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 (1946)). Unfortunately, her private life sometimes overshadowed her professional ...

48. Anne Baxter

Actress | All About Eve

Anne Baxter was born in Michigan City, Indiana, on May 7, 1923. She was the daughter of a salesman and his wife, Catherine, who herself was the daughter of Frank Lloyd Wright, the world-renowned architect. Anne was a young girl of 11 when her parents moved to New York City, which at that time was ...

49. Dorothy Hart

Actress | Tarzan's Savage Fury

A former model, the luminously beautiful Dorothy Hart was signed to a contract by Universal Pictures after having made only one film, Columbia's Gunfighters (1947). However, the studio system couldn't quite find a place for a woman with her carriage and elegance, and relegated her to westerns, ...

50. Constance Bennett

Actress | Topper

Independent, outspoken Constance Bennett, the first of the Bennett sisters to enter films, appeared in New York-produced silents before a chance meeting with Samuel Goldwyn led to her Hollywood debut in Cytherea (1924). She abandoned a burgeoning career in silents for marriage to Philip Plant in ...

51. Joan Bennett

Actress | Suspiria

Joan Geraldine Bennett was born on February 27, 1910, in Palisades, New Jersey. Her parents were both successful stage actors, especially her father, Richard Bennett, and often toured the country for weeks at a time. In fact, Joan came from a long line of actors, dating back to the 18th century. ...

52. Jeanette MacDonald

Soundtrack | San Francisco

She was the third daughter of Daniel and Anne MacDonald, younger sister to Blossom (MGM's character actress Marie Blake), whom she followed to New York and a chorus job in 1920. She was busy in a string of musical productions. In 1928 Paramount tested and rejected her, but a year later Ernst ...

53. Giulietta Masina

Actress | Le notti di Cabiria

Born in San Giorgio di Piano, Giulietta Masina spent part of her teenage years living with a widowed aunt in Rome, where she cultivated a passion for the theater and studied for a degree in Philosophy. She began her career on the radio with the program "Terzoglio" (1942), about the adventures of ...

54. Joan Blondell

Actress | Grease

With blonde hair, big blue eyes and a big smile, Joan was usually cast as the wisecracking working girl who was the lead's best friend. Born into vaudeville to a comic named Eddie, Joan was on the stage when she was three years old. For years, she toured the circuit with her parents and joined a ...

55. Rhonda Fleming

Actress | Out of the Past

A native-born Californian, Rhonda Fleming attended Beverly Hills public and private schools. Her mother, Effie Graham, was a famous model and actress in New York. She has a son (Kent Lane), two granddaughters (Kimberly and Kelly) and four great-grandchildren (Wagner, Page, Lane and Cole). She has ...

56. Dorothy Malone

Actress | Written on the Wind

The blonde, sultry, dreamy-eyed beauty of Dorothy Malone, who was born in Chicago, Illinois, took some time before it made an impact with American film-going audiences. But once she did, she played it for all it was worth in her one chance Academy Award-winning "bad girl" performance, a role quite ...

57. Ann Sothern

Actress | The Whales of August

Ann Sothern's film career started as an extra in 1927. Originally a redhead, for the comedy roles she began to get she bleached her hair blond. After working at MGM and on Broadway, Ann was signed by Columbia Pictures for Let's Fall in Love (1933). The next year she would work with Eddie Cantor in ...

58. Carole Landis

Actress | I Wake Up Screaming

Carole Landis was born on New Year's Day in 1919 in Fairchild, Wisconsin, as Frances Lillian Mary Ridste. Her father, a railroad mechanic, was of Norwegian descent and her mother was Polish. Her father walked out, leaving Carole, her mother and an older brother and sister to fend for themselves.

...