Who Was Hollywood’s Leading Man The Year You Were Born?
Who was the biggest actor the year you were born? These leading men by year signify the sign of the times. Will it be a hunky stud like Brad Pitt or Robert Redford? Or a comedic genius like Jack Lemmon or Steve Martin? How about a cool cat like Steve McQueen or Sean Connery? Check out the biggest actor by year from 1960-2005.
These screen icons all have one thing common: For at least one year, their acting careers were absolutely on fire. Perhaps their movies ruled the box office. Or, perhaps they earned Academy Award recognition for their work. What were the films that made them such a big deal?
Who was the most popular actor the year you were born? Is the leading man one of your favorites? Is he still relevant today? Read on to find out.
- Photo: The Apartment / United Artists
Few Hollywood actors have the good luck to lead canonized classics in back-to-back years. Jack Lemmon starred in Billy Wilder's comedy Some Like It Hot in 1959, which seems like it would be the acting dream of a lifetime. Yet somehow, Lemmon topped it the next year with another Wilder classic, The Apartment. The gifted actor carries the romantic comedy as the lonely sap who lets his co-workers use his apartment for their illicit affairs.
The Apartment reigned at the box office in 1960 and earned five Academy Awards, including the top prize for Best Picture, which was a rarity for a comedy. Lemmon landed a Best Actor nomination, but he lost to Burt Lancaster for Elmer Gantry.
- Age: Dec. at 76 (1925-2001)
- Birthplace: Newton, MA, USA
- Photo: Breakfast at Tiffany's / Paramount Pictures
Anyone who came of age in the 1980s knows George Peppard as Hannibal, the fearless leader of the A-Team. The actor never became a big Hollywood movie legend, but he did star in one of the most memorable movies of the 1960s, Breakfast at Tiffany's. The Oscar-winning romantic comedy turned Audrey Hepburn and her character Holly Golightly into cultural icons.
But it's Peppard's turn as Paul - or as Holly calls him, Fred - that grounds the movie. Paul is somehow able to transform the New York socialite uninterested in a serious relationship into a woman willing to fall in love. Peppard's even-keeled performance is the perfect foil to Hepburn's eccentricity.
- Age: Dec. at 65 (1928-1994)
- Birthplace: Detroit, MI, USA
- Photo: To Kill a Mockingbird / Universal Pictures
There were a lot of great movies made in 1962, including Lawrence of Arabia. With no disrespect to Peter O'Toole's towering performance in David Lean's epic, it has to be Gregory Peck as the top leading man in 1962 thanks to his take on Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird.
Gregory Peck landed the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the brave lawyer willing to defend an innocent Black man accused of rape in the segregated, Depression-era South. There were few actors who could have so indelibly transformed Finch from Harper Lee's written words to the big screen. The American Film Institute named Atticus Finch the No. 1 movie hero of all-time on its AFI's "100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains" list.
- Age: Dec. at 87 (1916-2003)
- Birthplace: La Jolla, San Diego, CA, USA
- Photo: The Great Escape / United Artists
Steve McQueen had appeared in other movies before 1963, including The Magnificent Seven. But it was his turn as Virgil Hilts - AKA "The Cooler King" - in John Sturges's WWII prison escape movie The Great Escape that turned the actor into a movie star. McQueen is still considered one of the coolest cats to ever grace the silver screen.
A lot of his tough-guy, cool character persona can be traced back to the motorcycle chase scene from The Great Escape. McQueen did all of his own motorcycle stunts in the movie except for the final jump over the barbed wire fence.
- Age: Dec. at 50 (1930-1980)
- Birthplace: Beech Grove, IN, USA
- Photo: Goldfinger / United Artists
Sean Connery played the spy with a license to kill in seven different Bond movies. His third turn as 007 in 1964's Goldfinger may have been his best. Goldfinger is often ranked among the top all-around Bond movies. It featured the famous Bond girl Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) and the eponymous villain Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe).
In 1964, the dashing Scottish actor also appeared in what could possibly be labeled Alfred Hitchcock's most psychologically twisted movie, Marnie. In the mystery, Connery plays Mark Rutland opposite Tippi Hedren as Marnie. Rutland blackmails the title character into marrying him and then makes an attempt to save her from her psychological problems.
- Age: Dec. at 90 (1930-2020)
- Birthplace: Fountainbridge, UK
- Photo: A Patch of Blue / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
In 1964, Sidney Poitier became the first African-American actor to win an Academy Award for Best Actor. He earned the honor for his performance in the 1963 film Lilies of the Field. Afterward, Poitier could have taken less risky roles as he worked his way through uncharted territories. But the screen icon would not stop pushing boundaries.
The following year, Poitier appeared in four movies, including The Greatest Story Ever Told. However, it was his Golden Globe-nominated turn in the controversial drama A Patch of Blue that is perhaps his most daring performance ever. In the film, Poitier plays Gordon Ralfe, a Black man who helps a poor blind white girl (Elizabeth Hartman) to escape her abusive mother (Shelley Winters) during a racially divided era.
- Age: Dec. at 94 (1927-2022)
- Birthplace: Miami, FL, USA