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Hollywood Movie Memories » Reel Talent

Reel Talent

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Top Movie Actresses of the 1930’s

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

1930’s Hollywood introduced us to many of the greatest actresses of all time. There was a wealth of female film talent during this decade and they have all earned the right to be remembered as a permanent part of Hollywood history.

The following actresses, in no particular order, represent just a sampling of the talent that women brought to the silver screen during the 1930’s. For film fans of any generation, you would be doing yourself a huge favor by viewing as many of their pictures as possible. Take the time to view not only the 1930’s film suggestions for these great actresses, but those film’s made throughout their career’s.

Jean Harlow – Considered by the American Film Institute to be one of the greatest movie stars of all time. Harlow’s first major role was in Howard Hughes’ 1930 World War I epic Hell’s Angels. Her early films capitalized on her charismatic sex appeal and “laughing vamp” image.

In her early films, Harlow was severely criticized by the critics as having little acting talent, but none would deny her immense screen presence and appeal. The audiences loved her.

In 1932 Hughes would sell the rights to the beauty with the “platinum blonde” hair to MGM Studio’s for $30,000. It was at MGM where she learned to develop her acting skill, was cast in more substantial roles, and became a major star.

Sadly, Jean Harlow’s star would shine for far too short a time as she died from apparent kidney failure in Los Angeles at the age of 26. She is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the gown she wore in the film Libeled Lady. Her co-star in the picture, William Powell, was the love of her life who in her hands placed a farewell note that read, “Goodnight, my dearest darling.”

Jean Harlow quotes:

“No one ever expects a great lay to pay all the bills.”

“Underwear makes me uncomfortable and besides my parts have to breathe.”

Greta Garbo – This Swedish born actress is an absolute icon of film with her popularity traversing both the silent era and classical period. The American Film Institute has declared Greta Garbo as one of the greatest female stars in history. She was one of the few silent screen actresses to successfully make the transition to talking pictures. Her first speaking role was in 1930’s Anna Christie for which she received her first of four Academy Award nominations.

1931’s Mata Hari, and 1932’s Grand Hotel would create a phenomenon known as “Garbomania.” Her immense popularity was, in part, due to her personal desire to lead a very private life. A desire that would only increase the public’s interest in the great actress. Greta Garbo’s somber and melancholic image would dampen the stars popularity for a period during the mid-1930’s, but this would soon disappear with her 1939 comeback comedy Ninotchka.

While romantically linked to a number of men and women, Garbo never married, had no children and lived most of her life alone. Greta Garbo died in 1990, at the age of 84, in a New York hospital of pneumonia and renal failure. 

Greta Garbo quotes:

“I never said ‘I want to be alone,’ I only said ‘I want to be let alone.’ This is all the difference.”

“There are many things in your heart you can never tell to another person. They are you, your private joys and sorrows, and you can never tell them. You cheapen yourself, the inside of yourself, when you tell them.”

“Life would be so wonderful if we only knew what to do with it.”

Carole Lombard – Also found on the American Film Institutes list of the greatest stars of all time. She is most frequently remembered for her comedic talent having starred in numerous screwball comedies during the 1930’s.

By the end of the decade, Lombard was the highest-paid star in Hollywood earning nearly $500,000 per year. Tragically, Lombard would also die at far too young an age. A plane crash claimed her life at the age of 33.

English author, playwright, and literary critic Graham Greene described Carole Lombard as the, “Platinum blonde, with a heart-shaped face, delicate, impish features and a figure made to be swathed in silver lamé, she wriggled expressively through such classics of hysteria as Twentieth Century  and My Man Godfrey.”

Carole Lombard was loved off-screen every bit as much as on-screen due to her warm personality and earthy sense of humor. At the time of her death, Lombard was married to Clark Gable, living a happy life with the two stars raising chickens and horses on their California ranch.

Carole Lombard quotes:

“I can’t imagine a duller fate than being the best dressed woman in reality. When I want to do something I don’t pause to contemplate whether I’m exquisitely gowned. I want to live, not pose!”

“Bill Powell is the only intelligent actor I’ve ever met.”

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Errol Flynn – The Swashbuckling Casanova

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

It isn’t what they say about you, it’s what they whisper.”
                                                       Errol Flynn

Errol Flynn had an memorable presence both on and off the screen that induced a great deal to be both said and whispered about him. He conveyed a dashing and cavalier attitude toward life seemingly unable to remain serious for any great length of time.

Flynn, who was so successful in the action/adventure roles for which he is most associated with, felt trapped by the stereotype his characters created in the early part of his career. His options were few as a Warner Brothers contract player, and as long as the studio made money with Flynn playing these roles, these would be the roles in which he would be cast.

As a young man Errol Flynn developed a contempt for the restrained and conservative life of his father, a distinguished marine biologist, and mother. This contempt led to Flynn running away from his home in Tasmania, surviving through an assortment of odd jobs and petty crime.

Moving to New Guinea he worked as a plantation manager, a hunter, a gold miner, and as captain of a coastal sailing ship. He was also tried for murder after having killed a native who was part of a raiding party that attacked a jungle camp where he worked.

Settling down to start a tobacco plantation, Flynn received a telegraph from a small-time film maker he had met during his travels. He was offered a chance to appear in a film titled “In the Wake of the Bounty.” The film preceded “Mutiny on the Bounty” by two years and provided Errol Flynn with his movie debut.

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Theda Bara – Hollywood’s First Femme Fatale

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

Theda Bara, may or may not be the first screen femme fatale created by Hollywood depending on ones opinion as to when the character of the femme fatale became fully developed.

However, when actor, screenwriter, and director Frank J. Powell searched for an unknown to star as a merciless and remorseless woman who toys and then discards her men in his film A Fool There Was (1915), he found the perfect actress in dark-haired Theodosia Goodman.

Previously working only as a bit player, Theodosia was placed in seclusion, recreated, and renamed, Theda Bara. Her ensuing promotional campaign may be the first configured with an artificially created film star as its attraction.

Powell’s film A Fool There Was along with his new star Theda Bara proved to be an overnight success. So much so that a couple of new words made their way into our language. The word “vampire,” along with its derivative “vamp” became familiar to everyone, while the films subtitle “Kiss me, my fool,” has been quoted for generations.

Theda was so accepted playing the role of a “vamp,” or what would now be described as a “femme fatale,” that she would make forty films in the next four years and any attempt by the studios to cast her in softer and more sympathetic roles was rejected by the public. Theda Bara was a vamp, a woman for whom any man would give up anything, as she was completely irresistible and delighted in the ruin of her male victims.

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The Greta Garbo Mystique

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

All my life I’ve been a symbol – a symbol of immortal change. I’m tired of being a symbol – I long to be a human being.”

                           Greta Garbo in Queen Christina

Greta Garbo (1905-1990) is arguably one of the greatest actresses in film history. Greta Lovisa Gustafsson of Stockholm, Sweden had long held, and frequently talked about, her ambition to be an actress.

Her first film appearances were in two short advertising films; one for a department store where she worked as a millinery apprentice, and the second for a local bakery. These film ads were followed by a handful of extra roles in minor Swedish silent films. 1922 brought Greta her first opportunity to appear in a professional film.

Peter the Tramp was a small silent comedy filmed in the style of Max Sennett. Her work in the film was enough to help her gain admittance to The Royal Dramatic Theater’s Acting School in Stockholm where she would study for two years.

It was during this period when she met, and was mentored by, Sweden’s leading film director Mauritz Stiller, who gave her the stage name of Greta Garbo and a major role in his 1924 film The Saga of Gosta Berling. It was at this point that complexity entered the life of Greta Gustafsson.

At the time Greta was quite shy, somewhat passive with a willingness to be molded, and possessed a certain freshness of appeal. She was the perfect subject for director Stiller, who had an imperious ego and fancied himself a cinematic master builder. It was Stiller’s dream to create the greatest star of all time – a woman who would personify all women. A woman who could be, “sophisticated, scornful, superior, but under the shining surface humanely warm and womanly.”

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Joan Crawford – A Real Movie Star

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

Joan Crawford is a Hollywood legend. As long as her films remain available to be seen by the public, Joan Crawford will remain unforgettable to movie lovers around the world. Her immense talent is only surpassed by the longevity (1925-1970) of her appeal.

Crawford’s ability to adapt to the expectations of Hollywood and film audiences enabled her to successfully entertain for decades. She creates her heroines rather than follow the lead of any other actress when playing a similar role. More ofter than not, it is they who follow her lead.

A Hollywood treasure who can only be defined as a true “movie star,” Joan Crawford would light up every frame of a film in which she would appear. And her star persona was not limited to the screen as this quote from Crawford explicates, “I never go outside unless I look like Joan Crawford the movie star. If you want to see the girl next door, go next door.”

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