Actresses of the 1930s

by humphreyking | created - 23 Feb 2017 | updated - 23 Feb 2017 | Public

1. Jean Harlow

Actress | Bombshell

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 ...

2. Myrna Loy

Actress | The Best Years of Our Lives

Myrna Loy was born Myrna Adele Williams on August 2, 1905 in Helena, Montana, to Adelle Mae (Johnson) and David Franklin Williams. Her paternal grandparents were Welsh, and her mother was of Scottish and Swedish descent. Myrna was raised in Helena and nearby Radersburg. Her father, a rancher, was ...

3. Carole Lombard

Actress | My Man Godfrey

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 ...

4. 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 ...

5. Thelma Todd

Actress | Horse Feathers

Thelma Todd was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, an industrial city near the New Hampshire state line. She was a lovely child with good academic tendencies, so much so that she decided early on to become a schoolteacher. After high school she went on to college but at her mother's insistence ...

6. Jeanette MacDonald

Soundtrack | Cairo

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 ...

7. Lillian Roth

Actress | Animal Crackers

Tragic songstress Lillian Roth (nee Lillian Rutstein), born in Boston, Massachusetts, on December 13, 1910, was given her first name in honor of singer Lillian Russell. She was the daughter of daunting stage parents who groomed her and younger sister Anne for stardom at an early age. The girls did ...

8. Kay Francis

Actress | Trouble in Paradise

Kay Francis is possibly the biggest of the 'forgotten stars' from Hollywood's Golden Era, yet, for a while in the 1930s, she ranked as one of the most popular actresses, tagged the 'Queen of Warner Brothers', by 1935 earning a yearly salary of $115,000 (compared to Bette Davis with $18,000). The ...

9. 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 ...

10. Sidney Fox

Actress | Midnight

This tiny (4' 11"), appealing, coquettish-looking Hollywood actress had only a few active years in early talkies before her career took a bad hit. A few years after that she joined other shattered 1930s hopefuls (Peg Entwistle, Gwili Andre, Peggy Shannon) as tragic symbols of unrequited stardom.

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11. Sylvia Sidney

Actress | Beetlejuice

Sylvia Sidney was born in New York City, in the Bronx borough, on August 8, 1910 with the birth name of Sophia Kosow. Her father was Russian born and her mother was born in Romania. They divorced not long after her birth. Her mother subsequently remarried and Sylvia was adopted by her stepfather, ...

12. Zasu Pitts

Actress | It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World

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...

13. 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 ...

14. Dorothy Lee

Actress | Cockeyed Cavaliers

After finishing high school, Dorothy Lee went to vaudeville, sang with Fred Waring and His Pennsylvaninans and made her film debut in Syncopation (1929). In Rio Rita (1929) she was teamed with Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey and appeared in almost all of their movies, like Margaret Dumont in The ...

15. Margaret Dumont

Actress | Duck Soup

Margaret Dumont would probably consider it a tragedy that she is best-known for her performances as the ultimate straight woman in seven of the Marx Brothers' films (including most of their best). By all accounts she never understood their jokes (offscreen and on), which is of course a major reason...

16. 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 ...

17. Margaret Irving

Actress | Animal Crackers

Margaret Irving was born on January 18, 1898 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. She was an actress, known for Animal Crackers (1930), San Francisco (1936) and Radio-Mania (1922). She was married to William Frederick James. She died on March 5, 1988 in Westminster, California, USA.

18. 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 ...

19. 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 ...

20. Alice Brady

Actress | My Man Godfrey

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...

21. Marie Dressler

Actress | Min and Bill

Once you saw her, you would not forget her. Despite her age and weight, she became one of the top box office draws of the sound era. She was 14 when she joined a theater group and she went on to work on stage and in light opera. By 1892, she was on Broadway and she later became a star comedienne on...

22. Norma Shearer

Actress | The Divorcee

She won a beauty contest at age fourteen. In 1920 her mother, Edith Shearer, took Norma and her sister Athole Shearer (Mrs. Howard Hawks) to New York. Ziegfeld rejected her for his "Follies," but she got work as an extra in several movies. She spent much money on eye doctor's services trying to ...

23. Una Merkel

Actress | Private Lives

Una Merkel began her movie career as stand-in for Lillian Gish in the movie The Wind (1928). After that, she performed on Broadway before she returned to movies for the D.W. Griffith film Abraham Lincoln (1930). In her early years, before gaining a few pounds, she looked like Lillian Gish, but ...

24. Maureen O'Sullivan

Actress | Hannah and Her Sisters

Maureen Paula O'Sullivan was born on May 17, 1911 in County Roscommon, Ireland, to Evangeline "Mary Eva" Lovatt (Frazer) and Charles Joseph O'Sullivan, an officer in the Connaught Rangers. She was of Irish, English, and Scottish descent. The future mother of Mia Farrow was educated in private ...

25. Mae Clarke

Actress | Frankenstein

Vivacious, blonde Mae Clarke was exposed to cinema from an early age, her father being an organist in a motion picture theatre. Growing up in Atlantic City, New Jersey, she learned how to dance and, at the tender age of 13, was already performing in nightclubs and amateur theatricals. In 1924 she ...

26. 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 glamour and stardom is a woman of substance whose true beauty lies in her ...

27. Minna Gombell

Actress | The Thin Man

A doctor's daughter, the versatile actress Minna Gombell had a successful career on the stage from 1912 to the end of the 1920's, appearing often in comedic roles, almost always in leads. She had a reputation as a fast learner, capable of reading and comprehending a script in a matter of hours. This...

28. Barbara Kent

Actress | Lonesome

A pretty, diminutive (4'11") actress of the silent and early sound era, Barbara Cloutman (later Kent) was born in Gadsby, Alberta, Canada on December 16, 1907. Upon graduating from Hollywood High School in 1925, Kent won the Miss Hollywood Pageant, and set her sights on a career in the movies. She ...

29. Helen Chandler

Actress | Dracula

Helen Chandler was born in Charleston, South Carolina on February 1, 1906. By the late 1920s she had become a hugely popular actress on the New York stage. That Hollywood should beckon was inevitable, but unfortunately whatever quality made Chandler a success on the stage did not survive the ...

30. Miriam Hopkins

Actress | The Heiress

Born into wealth in Savannah,Georgia on October 18, 1902, Ellen Miriam Hopkins was able to attend the finest educational institutions including Goddard Seminary in Plainfield, Vermont and Syracuse University in New York State. Studying dance in New York , she received her first taste of show ...

31. Mary Brian

Actress | Charlie Chan in Paris

Dubbed "The Sweetest Girl in Pictures", Mary Brian started life as Louise Byrdie Datzler. She was born in Corsicana, Texas, and went to high school in Dallas. Her widowed mother had big plans for young Louise and took her to California in 1923, with the intention of getting her into the film ...

32. Irene Rich

Actress | Everybody's Hobby

Born Irene Luther on October 13, 1891, silent-screen femme Irene Rich came from a once well-to-do family in Buffalo, New York. Her father had a reversal of fortune while she was quite young and the family subsequently had to move to California. Following her education, Irene pursued a career as a ...

33. Marian Marsh

Actress | Svengali

One of the early sound era's most attractive young leading ladies, doll-faced Marian Marsh enjoyed a short yet significant film career as the star of several memorable 1930s melodramas opposite some of the cinema's best, most charismatic lead actors. Her youthful, wide-eyed innocence combined with ...

34. Frances Dee

Actress | I Walked with a Zombie

Dee was born in Los Angeles, where her Army officer father was stationed, and grew up in Chicago after her father was transferred there. In 1929, he was re-assigned to L.A., and, as a lark, the 19 year old Dee began working in motion pictures as an extra. Her debut was in Words and Music (1929) ...

35. 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 ...



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