The 20 most alluring actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Age

We love our movie stars, and I love my actresses, especially those indelible bright lights, those sirens, sex pots and sophisticates, from Hollywood’s Golden Age, roughly the 1920s through the early ’60s.

Audiences cultivate complex relationships with the actors on screen. They crush, lust, idolize, envy and hero-worship. They take these visions personally. Sometimes they want to take them home.

With today’s top actresses and starlets, tabloid tastemakers gravitate to the Jolies, J. Los and J-Laws, brassy self-promoters with wicked powers of manipulation.

But the actresses who seize my attention, the ones who have the elusive It factor, an intelligence mingled with integrity, include Rachel Weisz, Marion Cotillard, Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett and Nicole Kidman. They recall the stars of Hollywood past, several of whom I celebrate here.

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Marion Cotillard

Despite their physical allure — not to fetishize appearances — I appreciate actresses with hauteur, poise and self-possession. They’re sassy and sophisticated, loopy and urbane, glamorous, flirtatious, demure and dangerous. They’re partiers, victims, fatales and floozies. Beautiful, blazing, but armed with multifaceted talent.

You might be shocked by the actresses I shut out, as much as I adamantly adore them: Lauren Bacall, Joan Fontaine, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Irene Dunne, Katharine Hepburn. Not even stone-cold goddess Marilyn Monroe makes the cut.

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Ann Blyth

And, with the key exception of Martha Vickers as the narcotized nymphet in “The Big Sleep,” I’ve reluctantly excluded the countless supporting performers who’ve goosed so many screwballs, soaps and noirs, like Ann Blyth in “Mildred Pierce” and Dorothy Malone, who plays the bespectacled bookstore owner in “The Big Sleep.”

Here’s a 20-strong parade of my favorite Golden Age screen sirens, my old-timey It girls. They are presented in no particular order, neither by chronology, talent or pulchritude. (Please add your two cents if you’d like.)

hedy lamarr

Hedy Lamarr: “Ecstasy” (1933), “Samson and Delilah” (1946)

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Louise Brooks“Pandora’s Box” (1929), “Diary of a Lost Girl” (1929)

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Martha Vickers: “The Big Sleep” (1946)

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Veronica Lake“Sullivan’s Travels” (1941), “This Gun for Hire” (1942)

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Ava Gardner“The Killers” (1946), “The Barefoot Contessa” (1954)

jean simmons

Jean Simmons“Guys and Dolls” (1955), “Elmer Gantry” (1960)

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Grace Kelly“High Noon” (1952), “Rear Window” (1954)

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Gene Tierney“Laura” (1944), “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945)

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Ingrid Bergman“Casablanca” (1942), “Notorious” (1946)

joan bennett

Joan Bennett“The Woman in the Window” (1944), “Scarlet Street” (1945)

paulette godard

Paulette Goddard: “Modern Times” (1936), “The Great Dictator” (1940)

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Carole Lombard“My Man Godfrey” (1936), “Nothing Sacred” (1937)

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Myrna Loy“The Thin Man” (1934), “Libeled Lady” (1936)

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Olivia de Havilland“Gone with the Wind” (1939), “The Heiress” (1949)

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Natalie Wood“Rebel Without a Cause” (1955), “West Side Story” (1961)

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Vivien Leigh“Gone With the Wind” (1939), “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951)

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Elizabeth Taylor“A Place in the Sun” (1951), “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966)

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Rita Hayworth“Gilda” (1946), “The Lady from Shanghai” (1947)

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Audrey Hepburn“Roman Holiday” (1953), “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961)

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Lana Turner“The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946), “Peyton Place” (1957)

 

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