Oscar Actors: Best Actress–Age at First Film, Age at First Nomination

Research in Progress (May 22, 2021)

Best Actress Winners: 77 (chronological order)

Janet Gaynor:

first film at 18; first nom (and Oscar) at 22; quick rise to stardom (4 years) and recognition

Mary Pickford

first film in 1909 at age 17; first nom (and Oscar) in 1929 for Coquette; aged 37; quick rise but late recognition.

Norma Shearer: first film, B-level, The Stealers, 1921, aged 19

Marie Dressler: first film at age 44

Helen Hayes

Katharine Hepburn

Claudette Colbert

Bette Davis

Luise Rainer

Luise Rainer

Bette Davis

Vivien Leigh

Ginger Rogers

Joan Fontaine

Greer Garson

Jennifer Jones

Ingrid Bergman

Joan Crawford

Olivia De Havilland

Loretta Young

Jane Wyman

Olivia De Havilland

Judy Holliday

Vivien Leigh

Shirley Booth

Audrey Hepburn

Grace Kelly

Anna Magnani

Joanne Woodward

Susan Hayward

Simone Signoret

Elizabeth Taylor

Sophia Loren

Anne Bancroft

Patricia Neal

Julie Andrews

Julie Christie

Elizabeth Taylor

Barbra Streisand

Maggie Smith

Glenda Jackson

Jane Fonda

Liza Minnelli

Glenda Jackson

Ellen Burstyn

Louise Fletcher

Faye Dunaway

Diane Keaton

Jane Fonda

Sally Field

Sissy Spacek

Meryl Streep

Shirley MacLaine

Sally Field

Geraldine Page

Mary Matlin

Cher

Jodie Foster

Jessica Tandy

Kathy Bates

Jodie Foster

Emma Thompson

Holly Hunter

Jessica Lange

Susan Sarandon

Frances McDormand

Helen Hunt

Gwyneth Paltrow

Hilary Swank

Julia Roberts

Hallie Berry

Nicole Kidman

Charlize Theron

Hilary Swank

Reese Witherspoon

Helen Mirren

Marion Cottillard

Kate Winslet

Sandra Bullock

Natalie Portman

Meryl Streep

Jennifer Lawrence

Cate Blanchette

Julianne Moore

Brie Larson

Emma Stone

Frances McDormand

Olivia Colman

Renee Zellweger

Frances McDormand

 

Best Actress Winners: 77 (alphabetical order)

Andrews, Julie

Bancroft, Anne

Bates, Kathy

Bergman, Ingrid

Berry, Hallie

Blanchette, Cate

Booth, Shirley

Bullock, Sandra

Burstyn, Ellen

Cher

Christie, Julie

Colbert, Claudette

Colman, Olivia

Cottillard, Marion

Crawford, Joan

Davis, Bette

De Havilland, Olivia

Dressler, Marie

Dunnaway, Faye

Field, Sally

Fletcher, Louise

Fonda, Jane

Fontaine, Joan

Foster, Jodie

Garson, Greer

Gaynor, Janet

Hayes, Helen

Hayward, Susan

Hepburn, Audrey

Hepburn, Katharine

Holliday, Judy

Hunt, Helen

Hunter, Holly

Jackson, Glenda

Jones, Jennifer

Keaton, Diane

Kelly, Grace

Kidman, Nicole

Lange, Jessica

Larson, Brie

Lawrence, Jennifer

Leigh, Vivien

Loren, Sophia

MacLaine, Shirley

Magnani, Anna

Matlin, Marlee

McDormand Frances

Minnelli, Liza

Mirren, Helen

Moore, Julianne

Neal, Patricia

Page, Geraldine

Paltrow, Gwyneth

Pickford, Mary

Portman, Natalie

Rainer, Luise

Roberts, Julia

Rogers, Ginger

Sarandon, Susan

Shearer, Norma

Signoret, Simone

Smith, Maggie

Spacek, Sissy

Stone, Emma

Streep, Meryl

Streisand, Barbra

Swank, Hilary

Tandy, Jessica

Taylor, Elizabeth

Theron, Charlize

Thompson, Emma

Winslet, Kate

Witherspoon, Reese

Woodward, Joanne

Wyman, Jane

Young, Loretta

Zellweger, Rene

 

Age at First Film:

Less than 19:

Mary Pickford;

Norma Shearer, 19

Joan Fontaine, 1935; aged 18

Ingrid Berman, 1934, 19 (in Sweden)

De Havilland, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1935; aged 19

Loretta Young, 1928; aged 15

Jane Wyman, teenager

20-24:

Luise Rainer, first film in Austria, 1934; then Hollywood, 1935; aged 24

Bette Davis, first film at Universal, 1931; aged 23

Ginger Rogers, 1931; aged 19 or 20

Jennifer Jones, in 1939, western, aged 20

Joan Crawford, in 1925, age 24

Judy Holliday, Winged Victory, 1944; aged 23

Audrey Hepburn, 1951, aged 22 (first lead role, Roman Holiday, 1953; aged 24)

Grace Kelly, Fourteen Hours, 1951; aged 22

Susan Hayward, film debut, Girls on Probation, 1938, aged 21

Simone Signoret, film debut, 1942; age 21 (French actress)

 

25-29:

Katharine Hepburn, Bill of Divorcement (third film), 1932; aged 25

Claudette Colbert, first films, 1926 and 1927; aged 24

Anna Magnani, film Debut, 1934; aged 26; Breakthrough Role, Rome, Open City, 1945; aged 37

Joanne Woodward, Count Three and Pray, 1955, aged 25

 

30-34:

Helen Hayes, Sin of Madelon Claudet, 1932; age 32; established stage actress

Vivien Leigh, 1931; aged 18; turning point 1934; aged 21

35-39

Greer Garson, Goodbye Mr. Chips, 1939; aged 35

40-49

Marie Dressler (stage actress), 44;

over 50

Shirley Booth, Come Back, 1952; age 54

Age at First Nomination:

Younger than 19

20-24:

Janet Gaynor, 22, for 3 roles

Olivia de Havilland, GWTW, 1939; aged 20

Audrey Hepburn, first lead role, Roman Holiday, 1953; aged 24

Grace Kelly, High Noon, 1952. aged 23

25-29:

Shearer; 9 years from first film to first nom

Hepburn, 1 year between first film and first nom (and win, for third film, Morning Glory, 1933; aged 26

Luise Rainer, The Great Ziegfeld, 1936; aged 26; only 1 year between first Hollywood film and first nom (and win)

Bette Davis, Dangerous, 1935; aged 28; turning point Of Human Bondage, 1934; aged 27′ it took 3 years to get recognition and 4 to get Oscar nom (and win).

Vivien Leigh, GWTW, 1939; aged 26, first nom and win; 8 years between first film and first nom

Joan Fontaine, Rebecca, 1940; aged 23 (Oscar in 1941 for Suspicion)

Jennifer Jones, in 1944, on 25th birthday, Jones won Best Actress for Song of Bernadette, her third screen role.

Ingrid Bergman, Casablanca, 1943; aged 28

Judy Holliday, Born Yesterday, 1950, aged 29

Joanne Woodward, Breakthrough Role, Three Faces of Eve, 1957; aged 27 (Nom and Oscar)

30-34:

Helen Hayes, nom and Oscar for first film, Sin of Madelon Claudet

Claudette Colbert, nom and Oscar, It Happened One Night, 1934; aged 31 (gap of 7 years between first film and first nom; she was box-office star before winning Oscar.

Ginger Rogers, Kitty Foyle, 1940; aged 30

Loretta Young, Framer’s Daughter, 1947; age 34

Jane Wyman, Johnny Belinda, 1948; age 31

Susan Hayward, Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman, second film for Wanger, 1949; age 32.

35-39:

Pickford, Coquette, 1929; Academy did not exist at her prime

Goodbye Mr. Chips, 1939; aged 35 (British actress)

Simone Signoret, breakthrough role, La Ronde, 1950, aged 29, nom, Room at the Top, 1959; aged 38

40-49:

Joan Crawford, Mildred Pierce, 1945; aged 42 (also won for this role)

Anna Magnani, Italian actress, Rose Tattoo, 1955; aged 47 (also won for this role)

Over 50:

Shirley Booth, Come Back, 1952; age 54 (established theater actress, reprised stage role)

Over 60:

Marie Dressler, Min and Bill, 1931; aged 61; long rise to stardom and recognition; gap of 17 years between first film and first nom.

 

Gap between First Film and First Nom

1 Year (or less)

Janet Gaynor, 1927, aged 22

Katharine Hepburn, 1933; aged 26

Goodbye Mr. Chips, 1939; aged 35 (first film, less than 1 year)

Shirley Booth, Come Back, 1953; age 54 (first film)

2-4 Years

Luise Rainer

Olivia de Havilland, 4 (between debut and Supp. Actress nom, 1939); 11 years (between debut and Best Actress nom and win)

Audrey Hepburn, 2 years (same year, if Roman Holiday, 1953, is considered)

Grace Kelly, 1 years (from Fourteen Hours to High Noon)

Joanne Woodward. 2 years (debut in 1955, Three Faces of Eve, third film)

5-9 Years

Bette Davis, 5

Vivien Leigh, 8

Joan Fontaine, 5

Ginger Rogers, 9

Jennifer Jones, 5

Judy Holliday, 6

10-14 Years

Ingrid Bergman, 10 years between Swedish film and first nom; 4 years between US debut and first nom

Jane Wyman, 13 years (1935-1948)

Susan Hayward, 11 years (1938-1949)

15-19 Years

Mary Pickford, silent actress (founder of AMPAS)

Marie Dressler, 19 years (stage actress, Academy did not exist)

Joan Crawford, 19 years

Loretta Young, 19 years (1928-1947)

Simone Signoret, 17 years (1942-1959)

 

20-29 Years

 

30-39 Years

 

Over 40

 

BIOS

Gaynor, Janet

Gaynor won her first professional acting job on December 26, 1924, as an extra in a Hal Roach comedy short. This led to extra work in features and shorts for Film Booking Offices of America and Universal. Universal hired her as stock player for $50 a week. Six weeks later, an executive at Fox Film Corporation offered her a screen test for a supporting role in the film The Johnstown Flood (1926). Her performance caught the attention of Fox executives, who signed her to a five-year contract and began to cast her in leading roles. Later that year, Gaynor was selected as one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars (along with Joan Crawford, Dolores del Río, Mary Astor, and others).

By 1927, Gaynor was one of Hollywood’s leading ladies, cultivating the image of a sweet, wholesome, and pure young woman. Her performances in 7th Heaven, the first of 12 films she would make with actor Charles Farrell; Sunrise, directed by F. W. Murnau; and Street Angel, also with Charles Farrell, earned her the first Best Actress Oscar in 1929, when for the first and only time the award was granted for multiple roles, for  total recent work rather than for one particular performance. This practice was prohibited three years later by a new AMPAS rule. Gaynor was not only the first actress to win the award, but at 22, she was also the youngest until 1986.

Pickford, Mary

On April 19, 1909, the Biograph Company director D. W. Griffith screen-tested her at the company’s New York studio for a role in the nickelodeon film Pippa Passes. The role went to someone else but Griffith was taken with Pickford, who quickly grasped that movie acting was simpler than the stylized stage acting. She made 51 films in 1909, almost one a week–her first starring role was in The Violin Maker of Cremona opposite future husband Owen Moore.

Dressler, Marie

Dressler’s first role in a feature was in 1914 at the age of 44.  In 1902, she had met fellow Canadian Mack Sennett and helped him get a job in the theater. After Sennett became the owner of his namesake studio, he convinced Dressler to star in his 1914 silent Tillie’s Punctured Romance.

In 1925, Dressler filmed two-reel short movies in Europe for producer Harry Reichenbach, but they were a failure, and Dressler announced retirement from showbusiness. Allan Dwan offered her a small part in The Joy Girl. Then Frances Marion, a screenwriter for MGM, used her influence with production chief Irving Thalberg to return Dressler to the screen. Her first MGM feature was The Callahans and the Murphys (1927), a rowdy silent comedy co-starring Dressler and Polly Moran, written by Marion.

While the film brought Dressler to Hollywood, it did not reestablish her career. Her next appearance was a minor part in the First National film Breakfast at Sunrise. She appeared again with Moran in Bringing Up Father, also written by Marion. Dressler returned to MGM in 1928’s The Patsy as the mother of the characters played by Marion Davies and Jane Winton.

The “talkies” presented no problems for Dressler, whose rumbling voice could handle both sympathetic scenes and snappy comebacks. Marion persuaded Thalberg to give Dressler the role of Marthy in the 1930 Anna Christie, Garbo’s first talkie. MGM then signed her to a $500-per-week contract. Dressler acted in comedic films which were popular with movie-goers. She became Hollywood’s number-one box-office attraction, and stayed on top until her death in 1934. For Min and Bill, with Wallace Beery, she won the 1930 Best Actress Oscar.

Norma Shearer

Aa year after her arrival in New York, Shearer received a break in film, fourth billing in a B-movie titled The Stealers (1921). In January 1923, Shearer received an offer from Louis B. Mayer Pictures. Irving Thalberg had moved to Louis B. Mayer Pictures as vice president on February 15, 1923, but had already sent a telegram to Shearer’s agent, inviting her to the studio. After 3 years of hardship, she signed a contract, calling for $250 a week for 6 months, with options for renewal and test for a leading role in The Wanters.

Shearer left New York around February 17, accompanied by her mother. She was less impressed, however, with her first screen test; Mayer and Thalberg, cameraman Ernest Palmer found Shearer frantic and trembling in the hallway. The lead in The Wanters seemed hers, until the director objected, finding her “unphotogenic.” Again, Shearer was relegated to a minor role, in Pleasure Mad–the director complained to Mayer that he could get nothing out of the young actress.

As a reward, Thalberg cast her in six films in eight months. The apprenticeship served Shearer well. On April 26, 1924, Louis B. Mayer Pictures was merged with Metro Pictures and the Samuel Goldwyn Company to form Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Shearer was cast with Lon Chaney and John Gilbert in the studio’s first official production, He Who Gets Slapped. The film was a success and helped the meteoric rise of the new company, and Shearer’s visibility. By late 1925, she was carrying her own films, and was one of MGM’s biggest attractions, a bona fide star. She signed a new contract, which paid $1,000 a week and would rise to $5,000 over the next five years.

Having become a star, Shearer’s challenge was to remain one, based on the competition from other major actrsses. Shearer was attracted to her boss, Thalberg, his commanding presence and steely grace. In spite of his youth–he was only 26–Thalberg became a father figure to the 23-year-old actress.

By 1927, Shearer had made a total of 13 silent films for MGM. Each had been produced for under $200,000, and had been a box-office hit, often making a $200,000+ profit for the studio. She was rewarded for this consistent success by being cast in Lubitsch’s The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg, her first prestige production, with a budget over $1,000,000. On September 29, 1927, Shearer and Thlaberg were married; she converted to Judaism in order to marry Thalberg.

Hayes, Helen

Hayes began a stage career at an early age. Her stage debut was as a five-year-old singer at Washington’s Belasco Theatre, on Lafayette Square, across from the White House. By age ten, she had made a short film, Jean and the Calico Doll (1910), but moved to Hollywood only when her husband, playwright Charles MacArthur, signed a Hollywood deal. Hayes attended Dominican Academy’s prestigious primary school, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, from 1910 to 1912, appearing there in The Old Dutch, Little Lord Fauntleroy, and other shows. She attended the Academy of the Sacred Heart Convent in Washington and graduated in 1917.

Her sound film debut was The Sin of Madelon Claudet, for which she won the Best Actress. She followed that with starring roles in Arrowsmith (with Ronald Colman), A Farewell to Arms (with Gary Cooper), The White Sister (opposite Clark Gable), Another Language (opposite Robert Montgomery), What Every Woman Knows (a reprise of her Broadway hit), and Vanessa: Her Love Story also with Robert Montgomery. But Hayes did not prefer film to the stage.

Hepburn, Katharine

A scout for the Hollywood agent Leland Hayward spotted Katharine Hepburn’s appearance in The Warrior’s Husband, and asked her to test for the part of Sydney Fairfield in the upcoming RKO film A Bill of Divorcement. Director George Cukor was impressed by what he saw: “There was this odd creature”, he recalled, “she was unlike anybody I’d ever heard.” He particularly liked the manner in which she picked up a glass: “I thought she was very talented in that action.” Offered the role, Hepburn demanded $1,500 a week, a large amount for an unknown actress. Cukor encouraged the studio to accept her demands and they signed Hepburn to a temporary contract with a three-week guarantee. RKO head David O. Selznick recounted that he took a “tremendous chance” in casting the unusual actress.

Hepburn arrived in California in July 1932, at age 25. She starred in A Bill of Divorcement opposite John Barrymore, but showed no sign of intimidation. Hepburn was fascinated by the industry from the start. The picture was a success and Hepburn received positive reviews. On the strength of A Bill of Divorcement, RKO signed her to a long-term contract. Cukor became a lifetime friend and colleague—he and Hepburn made 10 films together.

Hepburn’s second film was Christopher Strong (1933), the story of an aviator and her affair with a married man. The picture was not commercially successful, but Hepburn’s reviews were good.

Hepburn’s third picture confirmed her as a major actress, playing aspiring actress Eva Lovelace—a role intended for Constance Bennett—in Morning Glory, for which she won the Best Actress Oscar. She had seen the script on the desk of producer Pandro S. Berman and, convinced that she was born to play the part, insisted that the role be hers. Hepburn chose not to attend the awards ceremony—as she would not for the duration of her career—but was thrilled with the win. Her success continued with the role of Jo in the film Little Women (1933). The picture was a hit, one of the film industry’s biggest successes to date, and Hepburn won the Best Actress at the Venice Film Fest.

Colbert, Claudette
She received critical acclaim as a carnival snake charmer in the Broadway production of The Barker (1927), and reprised the role in London’s West End. She was noticed by theatrical producer Leland Hayward, who suggested her for the heroine in the silent film For the Love of Mike (1927); now believed to be lost, the film didn’t fare well at the box office.

In 1928, Colbert signed a contract with Paramount Pictures. There was a demand for stage actors who could handle dialogue in the new “talkies,” and Colbert’s elegance and musical voice were assets. Her beauty drew attention in The Hole in the Wall (1929), but at first she did not like film acting. Her earliest films were in New York. During the shoot of The Lady Lies (also 1929), she also appeared nightly in the play See Naples and Die. The Lady Lies was a box-office success. In 1930, she starred opposite Maurice Chevalier in The Big Pond, filmed in both English and French. She co-starred with Fredric March in Manslaughter (1930), receiving critical acclaim as a woman charged with vehicular manslaughter. She was paired with March again in Honor Among Lovers (1931). She also starred in Mysterious Mr. Parkes (1931), a French-language version of Slightly Scarlet for the European market, although it was also screened in the US. She sang and played piano in the Lubitsch musical The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), which was nominated for the Best Picture. Colbert’s ability to “hold her man” (Chevalier again) surpassed “Queen” Miriam Hopkins. Colbert also made the modestly successful His Woman (1931) with Gary Cooper.

Colbert’s career got further boost when Cecil B. DeMille cast her as femme fatale Poppaea in the historical epic The Sign of the Cross (1932), opposite Fredric March and Charles Laughton. In one of the best remembered scenes of her film career, she bathes nude in a marble pool filled with asses’ milk. The film was one of her biggest box-office hits.

In 1933, Colbert renegotiated her contract with Paramount to allow her to appear in films for other studios. Her musical voice, a contralto, was also featured in Torch Singer (1933), co-starring Ricardo Cortez and David Manners.

In 1933, she was ranked as the year’s 13th box-office star. By 1935, she had appeared in 28 films, averaging 4 per year. Many early films were commercial successes, and her performances were admired. Her leading roles were down-to-earth and diverse, highlighting her versatility.

Colbert was initially reluctant to appear in the screwball comedy It Happened One Night (1934). The studio agreed to pay her $50,000 for the role, and guaranteed filming would be done within 4 weeks so she could take a planned vacation. She won the Best Actress for the film.

Cleopatra (1934), in which Colbert played the title role opposite Warren William and Henry Wilcoxon, was the highest-grossing picture of that year. Thereafter, Colbert did not wish to be portrayed as overtly sexual, and refused such roles. Imitation of Life, on loan to Universal, was another box office success. Those three films were nominated for the Best Picture–Colbert is the only actress to date to star in three films nominated for Best Picture in the same year.

Rainer, Luise

Rainer moved to Hollywood in 1935 as a hopeful new star. MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer and story editor Samuel Marx had seen footage of Rainer before she came to Hollywood, and both felt she had the looks, charm, and a “certain tender vulnerability” that Mayer admired in female stars. Because of her poor command of English, Mayer assigned actress Constance Collier to train her in correct speech and dramatic modulation, and Rainer’s English improved rapidly.

Her first film role in Hollywood was in Escapade (1935), a remake of her Austrian films, co-starring William Powell. She received the part after Myrna Loy gave up her role halfway through filming. After seeing the preview, Rainer ran out of the cinema displeased with how she appeared: “On the screen, I looked so big and full of face, it was awful.” The film generated immense publicity for Rainer, hailed as “Hollywood’s next sensation.”

Stars are not important, only what they do as a part of their work is important. Artists need quiet in which to grow. It seems Hollywood does not like to give them this quiet. Stardom is bad because Hollywood makes too much of it, there is too much ‘bowing down’ before stars. Stardom is weight pressing down over the head — and one must grow upward or not at all.

Rainer’s next performance was as the real-life character Anna Held in the musical biography The Great Ziegfeld, again co-starring William Powell.

Bette Davis

In 1930, 22-year-old Davis moved to Hollywood to screen test for Universal Studios. Davis and her mother travelled by train to Hollywood. She failed her first screen test, but was used in several screen tests for other actors. A second test was arranged for Davis, for the 1931 film A House Divided. Carl Laemmle, the head of Universal Studios, considered terminating Davis’ employment, but cinematographer Karl Freund told him she had “lovely eyes” and would be suitable for Bad Sister (1931), in which she subsequently made her film debut. Her nervousness was compounded when she overheard the chief of production, Carl Laemmle Jr., comment to another executive that she had “about as much sex appeal as Slim Summerville”, one of the film’s co-stars. The film was not a success, and her next role in Seed (1931) was too brief to attract attention.

Universal renewed her contract for three months, and she appeared in a small role in Waterloo Bridge (1931), before being lent to Columbia Pictures for The Menace, and to Capital Films for Hell’s House (all 1932). After one year, and 6 unsuccessful films, Laemmle elected not to renew her contract.

Davis was preparing to return to New York when actor George Arliss chose Davis for the lead female role in the Warner Bros. picture The Man Who Played God (1932), and for the rest of her life, Davis credited him with helping her achieve her “break” in Hollywood.

After more than 20 film roles, the role of the vicious and slatternly Mildred Rogers in the RKO Radio production of Of Human Bondage (1934), a film adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s novel, earned Davis her first major critical acclaim. The film was a success, and Davis’ characterization earned praise from critics.

She was disappointed when Jack L. Warner refused to lend her to Columbia Studios to appear in It Happened One Night, and instead cast her in the melodrama Housewife. When Davis was not nominated for an Oscar in Of Human Bondage, The Hollywood Citizen News questioned the omission, and Norma Shearer, herself a nominee, joined a campaign to have Davis nominated. This prompted an announcement from the Academy president, Howard Estabrook, who said that under the circumstances, “any voter … may write on the ballot his or her personal choice for the winners”, thus allowing, for the only time in history, of a candidate not officially nominated for an award. The uproar led, however, to a change in academy voting procedures the following year, wherein nominations were determined by votes from all eligible members of a particular branch rather than by a smaller committee, with results independently tabulated by the accounting firm Price Waterhouse. Davis appeared in Dangerous (1935) as a troubled actress, and received very good reviews.

Leigh, Vivien

Leigh’s friends suggested she take a small role as a schoolgirl in the film Things Are Looking Up, which was her film debut, albeit uncredited as an extra. She engaged an agent, John Gliddon, who believed that “Vivian Holman” was not a suitable name for an actress. After rejecting his many suggestions, she took “Vivian Leigh” as her professional name. Gliddon recommended her to Alexander Korda as a possible film actress, but Korda rejected her as lacking potential. She was cast in the play The Mask of Virtue, directed by Sidney Carroll in 1935, and received excellent reviews. Korda admitted his error, and signed her to a film contract.

Leigh appeared with Robert Taylor, Lionel Barrymore and Maureen O’Sullivan in A Yank at Oxford (1938), which was the first of her films to receive attention in the US. Hollywood was in the midst of a widely publicized search to find an actress to portray Scarlett O’Hara in David O. Selznick’s production of Gone with the Wind (1939). At the time, Myron Selznick—David’s brother and Leigh’s American theatrical agent—was the London representative of the Myron Selznick Agency. In February 1938, Leigh made a request to Myron that she be considered to play the part of Scarlett O’Hara.

David O. Selznick watched her performances that month in Fire Over England and A Yank at Oxford and thought she was excellent but in no way a possible Scarlett because she was “too British.” Gone with the Wind brought Leigh immediate attention and fame, but she was quoted as saying, “I’m not a film star—I’m an actress. Being a film star—just a film star—is such a false life, lived for fake values and for publicity. Actresses go on for a long time and there are always marvelous parts to play.” The film won 10Awards including a Best Actress award for Leigh, who also won a New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress.[53]

Fontaine, Joan
Fontaine signed a contract with RKO Pictures, and her first film for the studio was Quality Street (1937) starring Katharine Hepburn, in which Fontaine had a small unbilled role.

The studio considered her a rising star, and touted The Man Who Found Himself (1937) with John Beal as her first starring role, placing a special introduction, billed as the “new RKO screen personality” after the end credit. Fontaine later said it had “an A budget but a Z story.” RKO put her in You Can’t Beat Love (1937) with Preston Foster and Music for Madame (1937) with Nino Martini.

She next appeared in a major role alongside Fred Astaire in his first RKO film without Ginger Rogers, A Damsel in Distress (1937). Despite being directed by George Stevens, audiences were disappointed and the film flopped. She was top billed in the comedies Maid’s Night Out (1938) and Blond Cheat (1938) then was Richard Dix’s leading lady in Sky Giant (1938).

Edward Small borrowed her to play Louis Hayward’s love interest in The Duke of West Point (1938), then Stevens used her at RKO in Gunga Din (1939) as Douglas Fairbanks Jr.’s love interest. The film was a huge hit, but Fontaine’s part was relatively small. Republic borrowed her to support Dix in Man of Conquest (1939) but her part was small. George Cukor gave her a small role in MGM’s The Women (1939).

Fontaine’s luck changed one night at a dinner party when she found herself seated next to producer David O. Selznick and he asked her to audition for the part of the unnamed heroine. She endured a grueling six-month series of film tests, along with hundreds of other actresses, before securing the part before her 22nd birthday.

Rebecca (1940 film), starring Laurence Olivier alongside Fontaine, marked the American debut of British director Hitchcock. The film was released to glowing reviews, and Fontaine was nominated for for Best Actress. Fontaine did not win that year (Ginger Rogers took home the award for Kitty Foyle), but she did win the following year for Best Actress in Suspicion, which co-starred Cary Grant and was also directed by Hitchcock. This was the only Award-winning acting performance to have been directed by Hitchcock. Fontaine was now one of the biggest female stars in Hollywood, although she was typecast in female melodrama. “They seemed to want to make me cry the whole Atlantic”, she later said.

Rogers, Ginger

Rogers’ first movie roles were in a trio of shorts made in 1929—Night in the Dormitory, A Day of a Man of Affairs, and Campus Sweethearts. In 1930, Paramount Pictures signed her to a seven-year contract.

Rogers got herself out of the Paramount contract—under which she had made five feature films at Astoria Studios in Astoria, Queens—and moved with her mother to Hollywood. When she got to California, she signed a three-picture deal with Pathé Exchange. Two of her pictures at Pathé were Suicide Fleet (1931) and Carnival Boat (1932) in which she played opposite future Hopalong Cassidy star, William Boyd. Rogers also made features for Warner Bros., Monogram, and Fox in 1932, and was named one of 15 WAMPAS Baby Stars. She then made a significant breakthrough as Anytime Annie in the Warner Bros. film 42nd Street (1933). She went on to make a series of films at Warner most notably in Gold Diggers of 1933 where her solo, “We’re In The Money”, included a verse in Pig Latin. She then moved to RKO Studios, was put under contract and started work on “Flying Down To Rio”, a picture starring Dolores Del Rio and Gene Raymond but it was soon stolen by Rogers and Broadway star Fred Astaire.

Garson, Greer

Garson’s early professional appearances were on stage, starting at Birmingham Repertory Theatre in January 1932, when she was 27 years old. She appeared on TV during its earliest years (the late 1930s), most notably starring in a 30-minute production of an excerpt of Twelfth Night in May 1937, with Dorothy Black. These live transmissions were part of the BBC’s experimental service from Alexandra Palace, and this is the first known instance of a Shakespeare play performed on television In 1936, she appeared in the West End in Charles Bennett’s play Page From a Diary.

Louis B. Mayer discovered Garson while he was in London looking for new talent. Garson was signed to a contract with MGM in late 1937, but did not begin work on her first film, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, until late 1938. She received her first Oscar nomination for the role but lost to Vivien Leigh for Gone with the Wind. She received critical acclaim the next year for her role as Elizabeth Bennet in the 1940 film Pride and Prejudice.

Garson starred with Joan Crawford in When Ladies Meet, a 1941 poorly received and sanitized re-make of a Pre-Code version of the same name, which had starred Ann Harding and Myrna Loy. That same year, she became a major box-office star with the sentimental Technicolor drama Blossoms in the Dust, which brought her the second of five consecutive Best Actress nominations, tying Bette Davis’s 1938–1942 record, which still stands.

Garson starred in two Oscar nominated films in 1942: Mrs. Miniver and Random Harvest. She won the Best Actress for her performance as a strong British wife and mother protecting the homefront during World War II in Mrs. Miniver, which co-starred Walter Pidgeon..

Jones, Jennifer

While husband Robert Walker found steady work in radio, Jones worked part-time modeling hats for the Powers Agency, and posing for Harper’s Bazaar while looking for possible acting jobs. When she learned of auditions for the lead in Claudia, Rose Franken’s hit play, in the summer of 1941, she presented herself to David O. Selznick’s New York office but fled in tears after what she thought was a bad reading. However, Selznick had overheard her audition and was impressed enough to have his secretary call her back. Following an interview, she was signed to a seven-year contract.

She was carefully groomed for stardom and given a new name: Jennifer Jones. Director Henry King was impressed by her screen test as Bernadette Soubirous for The Song of Bernadette (1943) and she won the coveted role over hundreds of applicants. In 1944, on her 25th birthday, Jones won the Best Actress for her performance as Bernadette Soubirous, her third screen role.

Jones began an affair with producer Selznick. She separated from Walker in November 1943, co-starred with him in Since You Went Away (1944), and divorced him in June 1945. For her performance in Since You Went Away, she was nominated for her second Oscar, this time for Best Supporting Actress. She earned a third successive Oscar nomination for her performance opposite Joseph Cotten in the film noir Love Letters (1945).

Bergman’s first film was as an extra in the 1932 film Landskamp, an experience she described as “walking on holy ground.” Her first speaking role was a small part in Munkbrogreven (1934). Bergman played Elsa, a maid in a seedy hotel, being pursued by the leading man, Edvin Adolphson. Soon after Bergman was offered a studio contract and placed under director Gustaf Molander.

She left the Royal Dramatic Theater to pursue acting full time. Bergman starred in Ocean Breakers in which she played a fisherman’s daughter, and then in Swedenhielms, where she had the opportunity to work alongside her idol Gösta Ekman. Next, she starred in Walpurgis Night (1935). She plays Lena, a secretary in love with her boss, Johan who is unhappily married. Throughout, Lena and the wife vie for Johan’s affection with the wife losing her husband to Lena at the end.

In 1936, she appeared in Intermezzo, her first lead performance, where she was reunited with Gösta Ekman. This was a pivotal film for the young actress, and allowed her to demonstrate her talent.  In 1938, she starred in Only One Night and played a manor house girl, an upper-class woman living on a country estate. She didn’t like the part, calling it ‘a piece of rubbish.’ She only agreed to appear if only she could star in the studio’s next film project En kvinnas ansikte. She later acted in Dollar (1938), a Scandinivian screwball comedy. Bergman had just been voted Sweden’s most admired movie star in the previous year, and received top-billing.

In her next film, a role created especially for her, En kvinnas ansikte (A Woman’s Face), she played against her usual casting, as a bitter, unsympathetic character, whose face had been hideously burned. The film required Bergman to wear heavy makeup, as well as glue, to simulate a burned face. A brace was put in place to distort the shape of one cheek. In her diary, she called the film “my own picture, my very own. I have fought for it.” The film was awarded a Special Recommendation at the 1938 Venice Film Festival for its “overall artistic contribution.”

Bergman signed a three-picture contract with UFA, the German film company, although she only made one picture.  She was pregnant but nonetheless, she arrived in Berlin to begin filming The Four Companions (Die vier Gesellen)(1938), directed by Carl Froelich. The film was intended as a star vehicle to launch Bergman’s career in Germany. In the film she played one of four ambitious young women, attempting to set up a graphic design agency. The film was a lighthearted combination of comedy and romance. At first, she did not comprehend the political and social situation in Germany. By September, she was back in Sweden, and gave birth to her daughter, Pia. She was never to work in Germany again.

Bergman appeared in 11 films in her native Sweden before the age of 25. Her characters were plagued with uncertainty, fear and anxiety. The early Swedish films were not masterpieces, but she worked with some of the biggest talents in the Swedish film industry such as Gösta Ekman, Karin Swanström, Victor Sjöström, and Lars Hanson. It showcased her immense acting talent, as a young woman with a bright future.

Bergman’s first acting role in the US was in Intermezzo: A Love Story by Gregory Ratoff which premiered on September 22, 1939. Hollywood producer David O. Selznick offered her to star in the English-language remake of her earlier Swedish film Intermezzo (1936). Unable to speak English, and uncertain about her acceptance by the American audience, she expected to complete this one film and return home to Sweden. Her husband, Dr. Petter Aron Lindström, remained in Sweden with their daughter Pia (born 1938). In Intermezzo, she played the role of a young piano accompanist, opposite Leslie Howard, who played a famous violin virtuoso. Bergman arrived in LA 6 May 6, 1939, and stayed at the Selznick home until she could find another residence.

Selznick understood her fear of Hollywood make-up artists, who might turn her into someone she wouldn’t recognize, and “instructed them to lay off.” He was aware that her natural good looks would compete successfully with Hollywood’s “synthetic razzle-dazzle.”

Young, Loretta

Young was billed as Gretchen Young in the silent film Sirens of the Sea (1917). She was first billed as Loretta Young in 1928, in The Whip Woman. That same year, she co-starred with Lon Chaney in the MGM film Laugh, Clown, Laugh. The next year, she was named one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars.

In 1934 she co-starred with Cary Grant in Born to be Bad, and in 1935 was billed with Clark Gable and Jack Oakie in the film version of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, directed by William Wellman.

In 1947, she won an Oscar for her performance in The Farmer’s Daughter. That same year, she co-starred with Cary Grant and David Niven in The Bishop’s Wife, a perennial favorite, which was remade in 1996 as The Preacher’s Wife starring Denzel Washington, Whitney Houston & Courtney B. Vance.

Wyman, Jane

Wyman obtained small parts in such films as The Kid from Spain (as a “Goldwyn Girl”; 1932), Elmer, the Great (1933), Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933), Harold Teen (1934), College Rhythm (1934), Rumba (1935), All the King’s Horses (1935), George White’s 1935 Scandals (1935), Stolen Harmony (1935), Broadway Hostess (1935), King of Burlesque (1936) and Anything Goes (1936). She signed a contract with Warner Brothers in 1936.

At Warners she was in Freshman Love (1936) and Bengal Tiger (1936) then went to Universal for My Man Godfrey (1936), Stage Struck (1936), Cain and Mabel (1936), and Here Comes Carter (1936).

Wyman had her first big role in a Dick Foran Western The Sunday Round-Up (1936). Wyman had small parts in Polo Joe (1936), and Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936) but a bigger one in Smart Blonde (1936), the first of the Torchy Blane series.

Wyman was in Ready, Willing and Able (1937), The King and the Chorus Girl (1937), and Slim (1937). She had the lead in Little Pioneer (1937), a short, and parts in The Singing Marine (1937). She had a support part in Mr. Dodd Takes the Air (1937) and the female lead in some “B” The Spy Ring (1938) (at Universal), He Couldn’t Say No (1938) with Frank McHugh and Wide Open Faces (1938) with Joe E. Brown.

At Warners she had the lead in Brother Rat (1938), a “B” which proved popular. It co starred Ronald Reagan, Priscilla Lane, Wayne Morris and Eddie Albert.

Wyman was borrowed by Fox for a support part in Tail Spin (1939), then did The Kid from Kokomo (1939) with Pat O’Brien and Morris. She played the title role in Torchy Blane.. Playing with Dynamite (1939), but it was the last in the series.

Wyman was established as a leading lady, albeit of Bs – she did Kid Nightingale (1939) with John Payne, Private Detective (1939) with Foran, Brother Rat and a Baby (1940) with Reagan, An Angel from Texas (1940) with Albert, Flight Angels (1940), and Gambling on the High Seas (1940) with Wayne Morris.

She supported in “A”s such as My Love Came Back (1940), starring Olivia de Havilland and Jeffrey Lynn. She and Reagan were in Tugboat Annie Sails Again (1940). Wyman supported Ann Sheridan in Honeymoon for Three (1941) and was Dennis Morgan’s leading lady in Bad Men of Missouri (1941).

Wyman made The Body Disappears (1941) with Jeffrey Lynn and You’re in the Army Now (1941) with Jimmy Durante; in the latter she and Regis Toomey had the longest screen kiss in cinema history: 3 minutes and 5 seconds. Wyman did Larceny, Inc. (1942) with Edward G. Robinson, and My Favorite Spy (1942) with Kay Kyser.

At Fox she supported Betty Grable in Footlight Serenade (1942) then back at Warners supported Olivia de Havilland in Princess O’Rourke (1943). Warners teamed her with Jack Carson in Make Your Own Bed (1944) and The Doughgirls (1944), then she was top billed in Crime by Night (1944). She was one of many stars to cameo in Hollywood Canteen (1944).

Wyman finally gained critical notice in the film noir The Lost Weekend (1945) made by the team of Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, who had been impressed by her performance in Princess O’Rourke. It was only a supporting role–Ray Milland was the lead–but was the second biggest part. Wyman called it “a small miracle.”

Wyman remained a supporting actor in One More Tomorrow (1946), and Night and Day (1946). However Wyman was borrowed by MGM for the female lead in The Yearling (1946), and was nominated for the 1946 Best Actress. She was leading lady for Dennis Morgan in Cheyenne (1947) and James Stewart in RKO’s Magic Town (1947).

Her breakthrough role was playing a deaf-mute rape victim in Johnny Belinda (1948). Wyman spent over six months preparing for the film which was an enormous hit and won Wyman a Best Actress Oscar. She was the first person in the sound era to win an acting Oscar without speaking a line of dialogue.

Holliday, Judy

Holliday’s first film role, Holliday played an airman’s wife in Twentieth Century Fox’s version of the U.S. Army Air Forces’ play Winged Victory (1944).

Holliday made her Broadway debut on March 20, 1945 at the Belasco Theatre in Kiss Them for Me and was one of the recipients that year of the Clarence Derwent Award.

In 1946, she returned to Broadway as the scatterbrained Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday. Author Garson Kanin wrote the play for Jean Arthur, who played the role of Billie but left out-of-town for personal reasons. Kanin then selected Holliday, two decades Arthur’s junior, as her replacement.

She received rave reviews for her performance in Born Yesterday on Broadway, and Cohn offered her the chance to repeat her role for the film version, but only after she did a screen test (which at first was used only as a “benchmark against which to evaluate” other actresses being considered for the role.

Hepburn, Audrey

Hepburn was offered a small role in a film being shot in both English and French, Monte Carlo Baby (French: Nous Irons à Monte Carlo, 1952). Coincidentally, French novelist Colette was at the Hôtel de Paris in Monte Carlo during the filming, and decided to cast Hepburn in the title role in the Broadway play Gigi. Hepburn went into rehearsals having never spoken on stage, and required private coaching.[49] When Gigi opened at the Fulton Theatre on 24 November 1951, she received praise for her performance, despite criticism that the stage version was inferior to the French film adaptation. The play ran for 219 performances, closing on 31 May 1952, before going on tour, which began 13 October 1952 in Pittsburgh and visited Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Washington, D. C., and Los Angeles, before closing on 16 May 1953 in San Francisco.

Hepburn had her first starring role in Roman Holiday (1953), playing Princess Ann, a European princess who escapes the reins of royalty and has a wild night out with an American newsman (Gregory Peck). The producers initially wanted Elizabeth Taylor for the role, but director William Wyler was so impressed by Hepburn’s screen test that he cast her instead. Wyler later commented, “She had everything I was looking for: charm, innocence, and talent. She also was very funny. She was absolutely enchanting, and we said, ‘That’s the girl!'” Originally, the film was to have had only Gregory Peck’s name above its title, with “Introducing Audrey Hepburn” beneath in smaller font. However, Peck suggested to Wyler that he elevate her to equal billing so that her name appeared before the title, and in type as large as his: “You’ve got to change that because she’ll be a big star, and I’ll look like a big jerk.”

The film was a box-office success, and Hepburn gained critical acclaim for her portrayal, unexpectedly winning the Best Actress Oscar, a BAFTA Award for Best British Actress in a Leading Role, and a Golden Globe.