actresses 22 Famous Actresses of the 1930s

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As a distraction from the stock market crash and the rise of the Great Depression, Americans began turning their attention to movies and television. The 1930s were part of the Golden Age of Hollywood, when actors were movie stars and films were genre-based masterpieces. This era contains some of the best actresses of all time, many of whom are Academy Award winners, as well as classic film stars.

Who is the most famous actress of the 1930s? Katharine Hepburn tops our list. Hepburn was one of Hollywood's most beloved actresses for over 60 years, but she got her start in the 1930s. Holiday, Bringing Up Baby, and Alice Adams are just a few of the films in which Hepburn starred during the golden age of cinema. She appeared in nine films with her longtime love, Spencer Tracy.

Vivien Leigh starred in one of the most popular films of the 1930s--and beyond--when she appeared alongside Clark Gable in the 1939 Oscar-winner Gone with the Wind. She was married to the accomplished actor Laurence Olivier from 1940 – 1960. Claudette Colbert appeared in some of the most memorable films of the 1930s including It Happened One Night and Drums Along the Mohawk. She skipped the 1935 Oscars because she didn't think she would win against Bette Davis. She was wrong, and was honored with the award for Best Actress.

Which 1930s actress is your favorite? Take a look at this list and share your thoughts in the comments section.

Katharine Hepburn is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 22 Famous Actresses of the 1930s
Photo:  skeeze/Pixabay/CC0 1.0
Katharine Hepburn was one of Hollywood's most beloved actresses for over 60 years, but she got her start in the 1930s. Holiday, Bringing Up Baby and Alice Adams are just a few of the films in which Hepburn starred during the golden age of cinema. She appeared in nine films with her longtime love Spencer Tracy.

Katharine Houghton Hepburn was an American actress. Known for her fierce independence and spirited personality, Hepburn was a leading lady in Hollywood for more than 60 years. She appeared in a range of genres, from screwball comedy to literary drama, and received four Academy Awards for Best ...more

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Age: Died at 96 (1907-2003)

Credits (Film): Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, The African Queen, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner On Golden Pond, + more

Birthplace: Hartford, Connecticut, United States of America

Also Ranked

#6 on The Greatest Actors & Actresses in Entertainment History

#2 on The Greatest American Actresses of All Time

#9 on The Best Female Celebrity Role Models

#8 on The Greatest Actress Performances of All Time

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Bette Davis is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 22 Famous Actresses of the 1930s
Photo:  skeeze/Pixabay/CC0 1.0
Bette Davis, known for her bewitching eyes and cynical characters, started her career appearing in the 1931 film The Bad Sister. She went on to win two Academy Awards in her over 50-year career.

Ruth Elizabeth Davis, known as Bette Davis, was an American actress of film, television and theater. Regarded as one of the greatest actors in cinema history, she was noted for her willingness to play unsympathetic, sardonic characters and was reputed for her performances in a range of film genres, ...more

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Age: Died at 81 (1908-1989)

Credits (Film): All About Eve, P.S. I Love You, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, The Watcher in the Woods Burnt Offerings, + more

Birthplace: Lowell, USA, Massachusetts

Also Ranked

#4 on The Best Actresses in Film History

#7 on The Greatest Actors & Actresses in Entertainment History

#5 on The Greatest American Actresses of All Time

#60 on People We Wish Were Still Alive

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Vivien Leigh is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 22 Famous Actresses of the 1930s
Photo: Freebase/Public domain
Vivien Leigh starred in one of the most popular films of the 1930s and beyond when she appeared alongside Clark Gable in the 1939 Oscar-winner Gone with the Wind. She was married to the accomplished actor Laurence Olivier from 1940 - 1960.

Vivian Mary Hartley, later known as Vivien Leigh, was an English stage and film actress. She won two Academy Awards for Best Actress for her performances as "Southern belle" Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind and Blanche DuBois in the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire, a role she had also ...more

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Age: Died at 54 (1913-1967)

Credits (Film): Gone with the Wind, A Streetcar Named Desire, Ship of Fools, Waterloo Bridge Fire Over England, + more

Birthplace: Darjeeling, India

Also Ranked

#5 on The Best Actresses in Film History

#77 on The Greatest Actors & Actresses in Entertainment History

#61 on The Greatest Actress Performances of All Time

#85 on Which Actor Would You Bring Back for One Final Movie?

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Barbara Stanwyck is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 22 Famous Actresses of the 1930s
Photo: Antonio Marín Segovia/flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0
In her later years, Barbara Stanwyck was known for her roles on popular TV series like Dynasty and The Colbys, but she appeared in over a dozen feature films in the 1930s. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the 1938 picture Stella Dallas and she won an Honorary Oscar for her contribution to film in 1982.

Barbara Stanwyck was an American actress. She was a film and television star, known during her 60-year career as a consummate and versatile professional with a strong, realistic screen presence, and a favorite of directors including Cecil B. DeMille, Fritz Lang and Frank Capra. After a short but ...more

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Age: Died at 83 (1907-1990)

Credits (Film): Double Indemnity, The Lady Eve, Forty Guns, Titanic Ball of Fire, + more

Birthplace: New York City, USA, New York

Also Ranked

#46 on The Best Actresses in Film History

#50 on The Greatest American Actresses of All Time

#25 on The Best Actresses Who Have Never Won an Oscar (for Acting)

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Joan Crawford is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list 22 Famous Actresses of the 1930s
Photo: elena-lu/flickr/CC-BY-NC 2.0
Joan Crawford was a working actress for over 40 years, but she became a bonafide movie star in the 1930s. In the 1930s and 1940s, she was signed to MGM and was one of the highest paid women in film.

Joan Crawford was an American film and television actress who started as a dancer and stage chorine. Beginning her career as a dancer in traveling theatrical companies before debuting as a chorine on Broadway, Crawford signed a motion picture contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1925. In the 1930s, ...more

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Age: Died at 73 (1904-1977)

Credits (Film): What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Grand Hotel, Mildred Pierce, Johnny Guitar Hush… Hush, + more

Birthplace: San Antonio, Texas, United States of America

Also Ranked

#19 on The Best Actresses in Film History

#3 on The Greatest American Actresses of All Time

#6 on The Greatest Actress Performances of All Time

#15 on Which Actor Would You Bring Back for One Final Movie?

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Claudette Colbert is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list 22 Famous Actresses of the 1930s
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Claudette Colbert appeared in some of the most memorable films of the 1930s including It Happened One Night and Drums Along the Mohawk. She skipped the 1935 Oscars because she didn't think she would win against Bette Davis. She was wrong and she was honored with the award for Best Actress.

Claudette Colbert was a French-born American actress, and a leading lady for two decades. Colbert began her career in Broadway productions during the 1920s, progressing to film with the advent of talking pictures. Initially associated with Paramount Pictures, Colbert later gradually shifted to ...more

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Age: Died at 93 (1903-1996)

Credits (Film): It Happened One Night, The Palm Beach Story, It's a Wonderful World, Hitchcock Since You Went Away, + more

Birthplace: Saint-Mandé, France

Also Ranked

#67 on The Best Actresses in Film History

#52 on The Greatest American Actresses of All Time

#22 on The Greatest Actress Performances of All Time

#36 on The Best Actresses to Ever Win Oscars for Best Actress

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Greta Garbo is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list 22 Famous Actresses of the 1930s
Photo:  skeeze/Pixabay/CC0 1.0
A timeless beauty, Greta Garbo was one of the most popular actresses of the 1920s and 1930s. She appeared in such films as Ninotchka, Camille and Anna Karenina.

Greta Garbo was a Swedish film actress and an international star and icon during Hollywood's silent and classic periods. Garbo was nominated three times for the Academy Award for Best Actress and received an honorary one in 1954 for her "luminous and unforgettable screen performances." She also won ...more

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Age: Died at 85 (1905-1990)

Credits (Film): Annie, Cinema Paradiso, Grand Hotel, Ninotchka Queen Christina, + more

Birthplace: Stockholm, Sweden

Also Ranked

#35 on The Best Actresses in Film History

#20 on The Best Actresses Who Have Never Won an Oscar (for Acting)

#94 on Wait, These Famous Names Aren't Their Real Ones?!

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Rita Hayworth is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list 22 Famous Actresses of the 1930s
Photo:  skeeze/Pixabay/CC0 1.0
Rita Hayworth started her career in the 1930s though she was credited as Rita Cansino for many of her first roles. She was later immortalized in the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.

Rita Hayworth was an American actress and dancer. She achieved fame during the 1940s as one of the era's top stars, appearing in a total of 61 films over 37 years. She is perhaps best known for her performance in the 1946 film noir, Gilda. She is listed as one of the top 25 female motion picture ...more

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Age: Died at 69 (1918-1987)

Credits (Film): The Shawshank Redemption, Gilda, The Lady from Shanghai, The Strawberry Blonde The Wrath of God, + more

Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States of America

Also Ranked

#43 on The Best Actresses in Film History

#12 on The Best Actresses Who Have Never Won an Oscar (for Acting)

#54 on Which Actor Would You Bring Back for One Final Movie?

#31 on Wait, These Famous Names Aren't Their Real Ones?!

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