Hollywood has long been synonymous with blockbuster movies, dazzling red carpets, and star-studded premieres. But what about the women who brought the silver screen to life? From the iconic Marilyn Monroe to the elegant Audrey Hepburn, the Golden Age of Hollywood produced some of the most legendary actresses in history. But as their careers soared, what happened behind the scenes, and where did they end up? Grab your snacks and settle in because we're about to dive deep into the untold stories of Hollywood's leading ladies.
Jane Russell was a leading lady in her own right, with a voice that could melt hearts and looks that could stop traffic. Russell started her career as a singer but quickly transitioned to film, starring in hit movies like The Outlaw and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. She was even immortalized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and her handprints in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. But what happened to her later in life?
The once pin-up girl dominating the screens in the 1940s and 50s sadly passed away in 2011 at 89 years old from respiratory failure. But she left behind a long legacy and well-loved life.
Legendary actress Brigitte Bardot was known for her portrayals of sensual characters and became a cultural icon in the late 1950s and 60s. Her role in And God Created Woman brought her international recognition, and she later became the subject of Simone de Beauvoir's essay The Lolita Syndrome. But she retired and became a strong and outspoken advocate for animal rights, dedicating her life to the fight and even starting an organization, Fondation Brigitte Bardot.
She released a memoir a few years ago where the now 88-year-old Bardot reflects on the suffocating nature of being a celebrity, how she hated it, and her dedication to animal defense for the past 46 years.
Audrey Hepburn was a talented actress and fashion icon who left an indelible mark on the film and fashion industry. Her performance in Roman Holiday earned her multiple accolades and cemented her status as a Hollywood icon. But she also devoted herself to humanitarian work, becoming a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF in 1988. Her selfless efforts in helping impoverished children in Africa, South America, and Asia earned her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Despite being a beloved figure in popular culture, life was unfair to her. She was diagnosed with appendiceal cancer at the age of 63 and, within three months, passed away.
Mamie Van Doren
Mamie Van Doren, the bad girl of 1950s Hollywood, was a trailblazer in her own right. She appeared in some of the first movies featuring rock 'n' roll music, many of which became cult classics like Untamed Youth. Mamie's adventurous life even took her to dangerous battle zones in Vietnam to entertain US troops! Ultimately, she left Hollywood in the 60s due to the drug culture and casting couch politics, where many casting agents expected sexual favors.
At 92 years old, Mamie Van Doren continues to write books about her life, cementing her place as a Hollywood legend and talking about how harmful the Hollywood lifestyle can be.
Multitalented diva Doris Day had it all - beauty, talent, and an unmistakable voice that made her a singing superstar throughout her career. With more than 650 recorded songs to her name, Day's star power shone brightly on the big screen. From Calamity Jane and Pillow Talk to her own sitcom, The Doris Day Show, she captured audiences for decades. However, when she contracted pneumonia, her body couldn't handle it, and she passed away.
Doris passed at the age of 97; it was a sad moment for fans worldwide. Despite her fame, she wanted no funeral services, grave markers, or public memorials.
Raquel Welch's legacy in Hollywood spans generations. The iconic actress captured the hearts of teenage boys in the '60s and '70s with her stunning beauty and performances in films like One Million Years B.C. and Fantastic Voyage. But Welch was more than just a pretty face; she paved the way for modern-day action heroines with her strong and empowered roles. Even at the age of 82, Welch continued to work in the entertainment industry until recently.
After a brief illness, Raquel passed away one month ago, indeed the loss of a legend. Though the influence she left on people is still strong.
The golden age of Hollywood was home to some of the most iconic actresses in the world, and Elizabeth Taylor was undoubtedly one of them. Starting her career as a child actress, Taylor quickly became a star. She was known for her performances on-screen, but off-screen led a glamorous life. She had been wedded eight times to seven different men and had one of the most expensive private jewelry collections in existence.
However, Elizabeth Taylor's legacy goes beyond her acting career; she was also a vocal advocate for HIV and AIDS research and prevention, chairing the AIDS Project Los Angeles' Commitment to Life fundraiser in 1985. After battling congestive heart failure, she died at only 79 years old.
1950s American cinema wouldn't be complete without Grace Kelly, especially the Hitchcock classics like Rear Window and To Catch a Thief. She was even honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her unforgettable performances. After retiring from acting, she devoted her time to royal duties and charitable work as Princess Grace of Monaco. How many iconic actresses can say they are also a princess? Sadly, her life ended too soon.
In 1982 at the age of 52, she was in a fatal car accident. If you're ready to delve deeper into the fascinating lives of more iconic actresses from Hollywood's golden age, keep reading.
No list of iconic Hollywood actresses would be complete without the incomparable Debbie Reynolds. Known for her Golden Globe-winning performance in Three Little Words, Reynolds quickly made a name for herself as a promising actress in the late '40s and early '50s. Her breakout role came at the age of 19 as the leading lady in the iconic musical Singin' in the Rain. She was undoubtedly an icon with an impressive career that spanned almost 70 years.
However, in 2016, her daughter Carrie Fisher passed away, and the very next day, at age 84, Debbie passed away from a severe stroke.
Ruby Dee, an icon of Hollywood's Golden Age, was much more than just an actress. With her exceptional talent and versatility, she excelled as a playwright, screenwriter, journalist, and civil rights activist. Ruby's impressive acting skills earned her national recognition, particularly for her role in The Jackie Robinson Story biopic. She paved the way for African Americans in theatre and film, and her legacy lives on in her art and activism.
She lived a long life and, at age 91, passed away from natural causes. However, her work in Hollywood will not be forgotten.
Since her debut in the film industry in 1954, Kim Novak has been a household name, captivating audiences with her beauty, talent, and enigmatic presence on screen. She has had an illustrious career spanning over five decades. One of Novak’s most notable performances was in Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, Vertigo. Her performance earned her critical acclaim and established her as a Hollywood legend. Despite her success, Novak quit acting in her mid-30s. But what was the reason she left?
Kim admitted she was too fragile for fame and had to leave before it took over her. Now she's 90 years old and doesn't regret the quieter lifestyle she opted for one bit.
Lucille Ball was more than just a funny lady with a knack for physical comedy. She was a pioneer in the entertainment industry, breaking barriers and paving the way for future generations of women in the show business. She's best known for creating and starring in the classic sitcom I Love Lucy, which made her a household name. She was even the first woman to run a major television studio in 1962!
Her resume is impressive, with endless awards and accolades. But at age 77, she suffered some health complications and passed away. She will always be remembered as an icon who blazed a trail for women in Hollywood.
Sophia Loren's beauty made her the center of attention both on and off-screen. This Italian actress started her Hollywood career in the 1950s at just 16 years old and quickly rose to international stardom. With lead roles in films like The Pride and the Passion and Two Women, she ruled Hollywood. Today, Loren is one of the last surviving major stars from the Hollywood Golden Age, reminding us of the era's glamour, sophistication, and timeless allure.
Not only did Sophia Loren grace the silver screen during the Golden Age of Hollywood, but dozens of other major stars also left their mark. Keep reading to discover more about these iconic figures in the entertainment industry.
Even across the pond, the world couldn't resist the allure of Marilyn Monroe. British actress Diana Dors, known as the "English Marilyn Monroe," rose to stardom in the 1950s with her seductive persona and leading roles in films like Worm's Eye View and The Unholy Wife. She was special because she was sought after in both the British film industry and Hollywood. Despite her success, Dors' life was not without tragedy.
Diana passed away in 1984 at the age of 52. Unfortunately, it was from ovarian cancer taking over her body.
Shirley MacLaine was known for her quirky, headstrong, and eccentric roles and quickly became one of the most talented actresses of the 1950s. Her Golden Globe-winning debut performance in Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry catapulted her into the limelight. Throughout the 1960s, MacLaine continued to gain prominence with numerous accolades, solidifying her place as a Hollywood icon. But her career didn't stop there. She continued to work in film and TV for six more decades.
Now nearing 90 years old, MacLaine is still thriving in the industry, proving that age is just a number. Her latest film, American Dreamer, premiered in 2022.
Eva Marie Saint
Eva Marie Saint, the iconic Hollywood legend, burst onto the scene with her debut role in the all-time influential film, On the Waterfront. Her performance was so captivating that she won an Oscar, establishing her as an immediate star. And that was just the beginning! But what sets Eva Marie Saint apart from her peers is her longevity; at almost 100 years old, she is the oldest living Academy Award winner.
With a career spanning an incredible 75 years, Eva Marie Saint is a living legend, and her contributions to the entertainment industry are immeasurable.
Lauren Bacall was a true Hollywood icon. With her distinctive husky voice and sultry screen presence, she captivated audiences with her portrayal of the ultimate 'femme fatale' in the jazz musical Young Man With a Horn. Lauren's talent was undeniable, and she continued to land high-profile roles throughout her career alongside Marilyn Monroe. Even in her later years, she was still making an impact, receiving an Academy Honorary Award in 2009.
The legendary actress passed away from a stroke in 2014 at the age of 89. Despite her passing, Lauren Bacall's legacy lives on. She will always be remembered as one of the most iconic actresses in Hollywood history.
Julie Newmar is a legend known for her success on both stage and screen since 1952. Her most notable performance was in the Broadway production, The Marriage-Go-Round, for which she earned a Tony Award. But it was her role as Catwoman in the TV series Batman in 1966-67 that really made her a household name. She returned to the role 50 years after first playing it, providing the voice of the character in the animated movies.
Now 89 years old, Julie Newmar is a Hollywood icon whose talent and beauty have stood the test of time. She will always be remembered as the ultimate Catwoman.
This name might not ring a bell, but Ursula Andress once graced the screens of Hollywood. Her stunning blue eyes and captivating screen presence made her the perfect choice for the very first Bond girl, Honey Ryder, in the 1962 release of Dr. No. She even returned to the Bond franchise just five years later in Casino Royale. Now at 86 years old, she has retired from acting and focuses on her passion for art.
Despite falling out of the spotlight in recent years, Ursula Andress will always hold the title of the original Bond girl.
Marilyn Monroe was the ultimate it girl with her signature golden curls, sultry voice, and natural beauty. She captivated audiences on the silver screen throughout the 1950s and left her mark on society as an icon of sensuality and glamour. But Monroe was much more than just a pretty face. She earned critical acclaim for her performances and was awarded a Golden Globe, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and numerous other honors.
Marilyn Monroe's life was cut tragically short in 1962 when she overdosed on pills. She was so young, only 36, and had so much potential, but the fast Hollywood life got the best of her.
Joan Collins is an actress from the time of classical Hollywood cinema. In 1955, her major roles in The Virgin Queen and Land of the Pharaohs garnered her much fame. Her philanthropic work for causes related to children earned her titles equivalent to the rank of a knight in the UK. Today, at 89 years old, the talented Joan Collins remains healthy as ever and still dabbles in acting and writing.
From sultry screen sirens to iconic Bond girls, read on to discover the remarkable careers of classic Hollywood's leading ladies.
Jeanne Crain, the talented Hollywood actress, made a name for herself with her Oscar-nominated performance in Pinky. She went on to achieve great success in the 1950s with films like Cheaper by the Dozen, Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, where she showed off her dancing skills. Although she mostly retired from the industry after the 1960s because she felt she was missing out on life, her legacy as an actress lives on.
Though just two months after her husband's death, Jeanne passed away from a heart attack at the age of 78.
Although Jean Peters studied to be a teacher, she became a Hollywood star. She was known for resisting the label of 'typical beauty queen' or 'sex symbol,' opting for down-to-Earth roles instead. But ultimately, it was her sensual role in Pickup on South Street that cemented her stardom. However, she regretted her life as an actress and decided to go back to school. She was unconventional for her time but still left her mark.
She was struggling with leukemia much later in her life, and in 2000, days before her 74th birthday, she passed away.
Hollywood was forever changed when Ava Gardner made her big debut in the 1940s. Her captivating beauty and raw talent made her an instant star, and she soon became one of the leading ladies of the 1950s. Her performances in films such as The Barefoot Contessa and Mogambo earned her critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination. She continued to grace the screen with her presence for three more decades, cementing her status as a true Hollywood legend.
Despite her untimely passing from pneumonia in 1990 at the young age of 67, Ava's legacy lives on through her iconic performances and enduring influence on the film industry.
Lana Turner was an iconic Hollywood starlet and pin-up model during the 1940s and '50s, captivating audiences with her undeniable beauty and acting prowess. She starred in numerous classic films, including the award-winning The Bad and The Beautiful and the romantic drama Diane. She was known for her tumultuous personal life, having been married eight times to seven husbands. Despite her ups and downs, the glamorous star entertained audiences throughout her 50-year career.
Sadly, Lana passed away in 1995 at the age of 74 after a battle with oral cancer. Keep scrolling to learn more about these unforgettable actresses and their contributions to the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Ann-Margret was one of Hollywood's most talented and beautiful actresses, with a career spanning over five decades. She was even dubbed the female version of Elvis Presley. From her breakout role in Bye Bye Birdie to her hilarious turn in Grumpy Old Men, Ann-Margret captured audiences with her undeniable charm and talent. In 2017 she starred in another movie, Going In Style, leading fans to believe she will return to the big screen again.
However, at 81 years old, Ann-Margret now prefers to relax with her friends and family. Regardless, her legacy as a Hollywood legend lives on, and who knows, maybe she'll make a surprise on-screen appearance in the future.
Deborah Kerr's career was indeed something to behold. With her breathtaking beauty and impressive acting chops, she was a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. Known for her classic performances in films like The King and I and An Affair to Remember, she received six Academy Award nominations for Best Actress throughout her career. Kerr also proved her range and versatility with her work on the stage and in television, though she left the industry in the 1980s.
Towards the end of her life, she struggled with Parkinson's disease. In 2007, approaching 90 years old, the effects of the illness effectively took over, and she passed away.
Barbara Nichols was the quintessential Hollywood ‘bimbo’ of the 1950s and ‘60s. Her distinctive voice and stunning looks made her an icon of her time. She was a versatile actress and gave memorable performances in numerous Hollywood blockbusters, including The Naked and the Dead, The Sweet Smell of Success, and Miracle in the Rain. She was also a Broadway star, and she brought her trademark sassiness to all of her performances.
But in 1976, her life was cut short at just 47 years old due to complications from a damaged spleen and liver caused by separate automobile accidents. Who knows what she could've gone on to create?
All Hollywood lovers know this iconic actress Jayne Mansfield. Known for her stunning beauty, Mansfield rose to fame in the 1950s and was often compared to Marilyn Monroe. She starred in hit films such as The Girl Can't Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? But like many big names, her life was taken at a very young age. However, it wasn't from drugs like most people assume of Hollywood stars.
At only 34 years old, Jayne was involved in a tragic car accident that ultimately took her life. Keep reading to uncover the fascinating tales behind the lives of Hollywood's most unforgettable stars.
Dorothy Dandridge: the trailblazing actress, singer, and dancer who broke down barriers in Hollywood. Known for her stunning beauty, soulful voice, and dynamic acting, Dandridge made history as the first African-American to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in Carmen Jones and a Golden Globe nomination for the musical Porgy and Bess. Her performances on stage and screen captivated audiences nationwide, and her legacy has endured to this day. But her life was also marked by tragedy.
At the young age of 42, she was found dead at her apartment. People are still unsure whether it was suicide or accidental drug overdose.
In 1962, Carroll made history by becoming the first African-American woman to win a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance in the Broadway hit No Strings. She made history once again by starring in the television series Julia, becoming the first black actress to lead a television show in a non-stereotypical role. She was used to breaking barriers and paving her own way to the top.
Throughout her illustrious career, she continued to wow audiences with another nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress, solidifying her place as a true icon of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Sadly, in 2019, this legend lost her life to breast cancer.
It's hard to think of Hollywood's golden age without conjuring up images of Natalie Wood. She was the epitome of grace and charm. Her journey from a child actress to a Hollywood legend was remarkable. At just 16 years old, Natalie Wood earned her first Oscar nomination for her Rebel Without a Cause role, cementing her status as America's sweetheart. But the end of her life was quite mysterious and dark.
Throughout the '50s and '60s, Wood starred in several Hollywood musicals and films, including West Side Story, Gypsy, and Splendor in the Grass. Despite her success, Wood's life was tragically cut short when she allegedly drowned in the ocean at 43.
Jacqueline Bisset is a Hollywood icon who has captivated audiences for over five decades. Her talent and beauty caught the attention of James Bond producers, and she appeared in the 1967 film Casino Royale. Her breakout role came in 1968 with roles in The Detective and The Sweet Ride, for which she received a Golden Globe nomination. She even happens to be Angelina Jolie's godmother, a touching thing for her as she never married or had any kids.
At the age of 78, Jacqueline Bisset continues to work in the industry, recently appearing in a movie alongside Sarah Jessica Parker.
Ingrid Bergman's cinematic legacy is nothing short of iconic. Her career spanned several decades, with her talent captivating audiences worldwide. Especially her Academy Award-winning performance in Anastasia, which really solidified her status as one of the greatest actresses in Hollywood. Throughout her career, she appeared in English, Italian, German, Swedish, and French films, showcasing her incredible talent for languages and accents. But like many stars here, her life was cut short.
Tragically, Ingrid passed away on her 67th birthday in 1982 after a battle with cancer. Her legacy lives on, however, as a symbol of Hollywood's Golden Age and a pioneer for women in the film industry.
Thelma Ritter may not have been a leading lady, but she was undoubtedly one of the most talented actresses of her time. Her signature New York accent and working-class roles made her a fan favorite, with her performances earning her six Academy Award nominations. Her breakout role came in the 1950's All About Eve, which earned her the first of four consecutive Oscar nominations, a record that still stands today.
Despite her incredible talent, Ritter remained humble and grounded, never letting her success go to her head. She was awarded a Tony Award for her work on Broadway and continued to work in film and television until her untimely death from a heart attack in 1969.
Susan Hayward was a true Hollywood icon, known for her powerful performances in films based on true stories. Her talent earned her four Oscar nominations, and one win for her unforgettable portrayal of a death-row inmate in I Want to Live!. She dominated the 1940s and 1950s film scene but suffered from many health issues that slowed her down. In 1972, she was diagnosed with a lung tumor, and things only went downhill.
In 1975 tumors in her brain were found, leading to a tough battle with cancer. She suffered a seizure and passed away at the age of 57.
Nina Mae McKinney
Nina Mae McKinney may not be a household name, but she was one of the most stunning actresses of her time. Her beauty was so striking that she earned the nickname "Black Garbo" after the legendary actress Greta Garbo. McKinney was a pioneer for African-American film stars in the US, breaking down barriers and paving the way for future generations. She also made history as one of the first African-Americans to appear on British television.
Though she passed away at the young age of 54 in 1967 due to a heart attack, in 1978, she was posthumously awarded a lifetime achievement award from the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.
Faye Dunaway has been in Hollywood since the 1960s. Her career started on Broadway before transitioning to film, where she made a splash with her iconic role in Bonnie and Clyde. Her versatility as an actress is evident in her more than 100 roles. More recently, she was in a scandal at the 2017 Academy Awards, announcing the wrong winner for Best Picture, which she says she hasn't gotten over.
Despite the incident, Dunaway remains integral in Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Although at 82 years old, she prefers to be alone most of the time.
Lena Horne was a true pioneer in Hollywood, breaking barriers for African-American performers in the entertainment industry. She was known not just for her talent as an actress, singer, and dancer but also for her activism and outspokenness on race and civil rights issues. After being blacklisted for being a suspected communist, she refused to give up and continued to perform in nightclubs and smaller venues, building her career back up from the ground.
She became a trailblazer in film and television and made her mark on Broadway as well. Her legacy as an icon in the industry lives on, even after her passing in 2010 at 92 from heart failure.
Farrah Fawcett's rise to fame was just at the end of the Golden age of Hollywood, but her career took off, and it's not hard to see why. Her stunning looks and undeniable talent made her a force to be reckoned with, and she soon became one of the most recognizable faces on television. Her iconic poster sold millions of copies, making her a household name overnight. And her hairstyle, the Farrah Flip, became a cultural phenomenon.
Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with cancer in 2006 and declared cancer-free the following year, but it returned and spread. She died at 62, and her legacy as a Hollywood icon lives on.