Marilyn, Audrey, Katherine, Lana, Judy, Greta, Marlene...
We are on first name terms with so many beautiful women from Hollywood's heyday. But what of the one's that got lost along the way? The women who had enormously successful careers and who shine just as radiently as the aforementioned stars but somehow got lost from the radar over the years. I would like to briefly mention some of my own personal godesses who have fallen from the public consciousness for some reason of another.
In my research I realised that their stories are more fascinating than I had imagined. Mental illness, scandals and feuds tearing them from the arms of the studios and therefore the public. Please feel free to share your own lovely ladies...there are many, many starlets who need saving from the depths of obscurity.
Known for her strong presence and vast variety of roles, this lady could do "dark" like nobody's business. She played the disgraced Violet in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, a ganster's moll in The Big Heat and a bit too fun-loving Ado Annie in Oklahoma. Such was the variety of her range as an actress. She smouldered onscreen in her darker roles, vicious and complex, but in her lighter roles she could sparkle as frothily as you like! Despite working with acclaimed directors such as Frank Capra, Robert Wise, Vincente Minnelli and Nicholas Ray, her career flagged somewhat after the 1950's. Obsessed in real life with her looks, she never saw herself as beautiful. I beg to differ, Miss Grahame. Perhaps not a typical beauty, she had a wonderful face, and one hell of a body, not to mention that sex appeal that jumped right off the screen. Add to that a tumultuous personal life (caught in bed with Nicholas Ray's teenage son, while still married to Nicholas Ray!! She later married his son) and you've got a screen siren to match any of the rest of them.
Peering out of the enormous painting as the titular character Laura in Otto Preminger's classic film noir, it is easy to see why these men couldn't help obsessing over this woman. A glint of danger in those otherwise innocent eyes, the dramatic cheekbones, the Snow White complexion, Gene Tierney was certainly one of the most beautiful women who ever graced the silver screen. Her ice-cold portrayal as the evil Ellen in Leave Her To Heaven is one of the most chillindg female performances I have ever seen. Not many women could balance nasty and sexy in this fashion. And I ain't talkin' heartbreaker. Ellen murders handicapped young boys! Despite her success and doubtless skills, Gene suffered from bi-polar diorder which meant a series of career disasters as she was in her prime. Attempted suicides and stints in mental hospitals plagued her in her latter years, perhaps accounting for her obscurity nowadays.
First coming to the attention of the movie-going public as the beautiful, masochist Dominique Francon in the big screen adaptation of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, Patricia Neal immediately grabbed the attention of the media with a highly publicised affair with the married and much-older Gary Cooper (she was 21, he was 49). Needless to say, this notoriety followed her and she was treated like a jezebel, thus never getting any of the glamorous studio roles she richly deserved. This did not deter her from becoming a fascinating actress who used her sad elegance to bring a touch of class to a variety of roles. Her most memorable role was probably in The Day the Earth Stood Still but she also won an Oscar for her role in Hud. Married for 20 years to children's writer Roald Dahl, Patricia Neal led a somewhat unglamorous life, herself and her children plagued with health problems.
"She 'put 'em down like a man', no ricky-ticky-sissy stuff with Ellie. She really knocked out a tap dance in a class by herself." - Fred Astaire
I discovered Eleanor Powell like so many others through the wonderful That's Entertainment movie and its sequels. She was celebrated by her peers for her fantastic dance skills, was titled "The Best Tap Dancer in the World" and is considered the only person who could ever out-dance Fred Astaire. But, boy, did she make it look easy! Her long toned legs seemingly taking on a life of their own while her lovely face never forgot that the audience was here to see a star, not just dance moves. Studio battles caused this lady to fade away young, but she left behind a legacy in the MGM musicals she had already starred in, most notably the Broadway Melody films and Born To Dance, alongside Jimmy Stewart.
Another legend of dance, Ann Miller is a lady who starred in many opulent musicals and was a true superstar in her day who came and went without any scandal, but still rarely gets mentioned today. Considered a child dance prodigy, MGM bragged that she could tap 500 taps per minute. As it turns out, these taps were looped afterwards, but the lady sure could dance! Often said to have polularised the now-typical Hollywood dark bouffant hairdo and scarlet lips, Ann Miller was an icon in her day. Also, she was the first person to wear tights, instead of stockings. They were espacially made for her because she had problems with ripping stockings mid-show. Despite being a legend in her field and stealing the show from both Fred Astaire AND Judy Garland in Easter Parade as the wily temptress Nadine Hale, Ann finished up with Hollywood in the 1950s and apart from wowing audiences in a Broadway stint in Mame, she was rarely seen again until David Lynch cast her in a non-dancing and very creepy role as Coco in his 2001 film Mulholland Drive.
Most famous for her roles opposite Rock Hudson in Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows and Magnificent Obsession, Jane Wyman was never your typical sexy siren. She was an icon of good sense, temperament and classy beauty. Previously married to Ronald Reagan, she never spoke of him publicly after thier divorce, despite having three children for him. She is the only ex-wife of an American president.
Jane's career was consistent and stable and she was a remarkable actress, a beautiful woman and a class act. She started off as a chorus girl but as resilient and supportive Helen St. James in Billy Wilder's harrowing The Lost Weekend, she proved her acting chops. Later in her career she became the muse of Douglas Sirk and found a perfect outlet for her special brand of melancholy sweetness. She lived a simple life and despite resurrecting her career in Falcon Crest in the 1980s, she died alone, a recluse in 2007.
Ok, so by no stretch of the imagination is Barbara Stanwyck to be considered "obscure" but seriously folks, this woman has to be one of the greatest actresses that ever lived, tearing up the screen in such gems as Double Indemnity, Lady of Burlesque, Stella Dallas and my own personal favourite All I Desire (yeah, yeah I know it's another Sirk, what can I say??). Again, not a conventional beauty but she still managed sultry, vulnerable and earthy all at the same time. She had the face of a girl next door but the sparkle of a vixen. Her strength lay in melodrama but as she proved in her ridiculously classy role in Double Indemnity, she could do noir just as well. She lived a long life onscreen and when she retired she slunk away into the night and working inconspicuously for various charities for the rest of her life. So, why isn't she more famous?? Any film buff worth their salt knows exactly who she is but she's certainly no household name. I have no idea! Makes no sense to me.
The child-like innocence, the porcelein skin, the image of a woman constantly on the brink of womanhood, Joan Fontaine made a career out of looking like a deer caught in headlights. The only Hitchcock leading lady to win an Oscar for her role (for Suspicion actually, not Rebecca), Joan Fontaine famously had an extremely bitter lifelong feud with her sister, fellow siren Olivia De Havilland. Both were nominated for Oscars in 1942, leading to a rumoured awkwardness between the two. Later, after having won the prize, Joan commented that she "felt guilty about winning; given her lack of obsessive career drive..." saucer of milk, table Fontaine! This feud led to Joan cutting off contact with her own daughters because they were maintaining a relationship with their aunt. Crazy lady, not the innocent beauty we came to know and love in such gems as Letter From an Unknown Woman, The Women and Jane Eyre.
The best bad girl in town! The soulless girl with the wholesome face, who would suspect the mousy Eve Harrington was simply trying to steal the life of her idol Margo Channing in her triumphant turn in All About Eve? She narrowly missed out on the lead in Hitchcock's Rebecca at the tender age of 16 and at 21 she was cast in Orson Welles' doomed The Magnificent Ambersons in which she shone as the beautiful Lucy. She won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role opposite Gene Tierney and Tyrone Power in W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge, this time in a tragic role. She also starred in the very extravagant The Ten Commandments as the spoiled but heavenly Nefretiri, again cementing her star status. Her career flourished throughout her life, although her star faded somewhat over the years. Anne Baxter is one of those actresses that consistenly outshone everyone in any film she acted in, which is no mean feat considering the wealth of stars she appeared with (definitive example, All About Eve), but somehow still seems like a stranger to our screens.
Please feel free to comment and add some suggestions for your own lost lovely ladies of Hollywood.
** Disclaimer - most of my info came from Wikipedia...
- Charlene Lydon