Half a century after their heydays, stars like Ingrid Bergman, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, and Vivien Leigh still command a lot of attention. But tip your hat to these five talented big-screen beauties who also deserve our adoration:
Gladys Georgianna Greene changed her name but still spent 12 undistinguished years in silent and sound films before hitting her stride, but it was in almost identical roles for Frank Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington — the tough, streetwise woman who falls like a tree for the earnest young hero — that the spunky actress with the squeaky voice became a star. (She also appeared in Capra’s You Can’t Take It with You; the director adored her.) Other memorable films are The Devil and Miss Jones, The Talk of the Town, and The More the Merrier. After the mid-1940s, the shy Arthur, who detested the Hollywood scene, made only two more films, including the classic western Shane, and appeared in a Gunsmoke episode and in her own short-lived TV series.
Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine
These sisters, both big stars, were also fierce rivals. (Fontaine took her stepfather’s surname when she followed the slightly older de Havilland into acting.) When they were both nominated for an Oscar in 1941 — Fontaine for Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion and de Havilland for Hold Back the Dawn (Fontaine won) — the siblings, who were never close, cut off contact with each other, and though they are both still alive as of 2010, they remain estranged. De Havilland starred opposite Errol Flynn nine times, most memorably as Maid Marian in The Adventures of Robin Hood, but is perhaps best remembered for playing Melanie Hamilton Wilkes in Gone with the Wind. (But check out The Snake Pit, set in a mental institution.) Fontaine also appeared in Hitchcock’s Rebecca, during the production of which Sir Lawrence Olivier’s coldness (he had wanted wife Vivien Leigh for Fontaine’s role) must have helped her in the part. Two other memorable films are Jane Eyre and Letter from an Unknown Woman.
Jones used her birth name of Phylis Lee Isley in her first three films, but changed it in 1943 for The Song of Bernadette, about a young girl who sees a vision of the Virgin Mary, which earned her an Oscar despite competition from Arthur, Bergman, Fontaine, and Greer Garson. She was nominated four more times, for the wartime drama Since You Went Away, the melodramatic Love Letters, the western Duel in the Sun, and for her role as a Eurasian doctor in Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing. Other top films in which she appeared include the Ernst Lubitsch comedy Cluny Brown and the fantasy-romance Portrait of Jennie.
This lovely not-quite-five-foot blonde, born Constance Frances Marie Ockelman, was the first to admit she didn’t have much talent, but she did have a lot of charm. Her first starring role — while she was still in her teens — was in the classic screwball comedy Sullivan’s Travels, where she goes hoboing with a Hollywood director who hits the road for inspiration. She also had good chemistry with Alan Ladd in several crime dramas — This Gun for Hire, The Glass Key, and The Blue Dahlia, her last good film. In addition, she appeared in the hit World War II drama So Proudly We Hail, about the ordeal of a group of nurses sent to the Philippines. Inexplicably, though, Paramount, which had also cast her in a lot of bombs, dropped her when she was still in her mid-20s, and she was never the same again.