A few months ago I took a look at AFI’s (American Film Institute) list of the top fifty greatest actors and actresses list. The list was chosen from a pool of one hundred actors and actresses from the silent era to before 1950. Actors and actresses from the past thirty years picked the list of legends from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Looking at the lists I had some great issues with who was chosen and who was not especially for the actresses. So I have decided to air out my grievances and choose who I feel who was slighted, who should have been on the list, and my own order of the list.
Top 25 Greatest Actresses as chosen and seen on the AFI’s website:
1. Katharine Hepburn
2. Bette Davis
3. Audrey Hepburn
4. Ingrid Bergman
5. Greta Garbo
6. Marylin Monroe
7. Elizabeth Taylor
8. Judy Garland
9. Marlene Dietrich
10. Joan Crawford
11. Barbara Stanwyck
12. Claudette Colbert
13. Grace Kelly
14. Ginger Rogers
15. Mae West
16. Vivian Leigh
17. Lillian Gish
18. Shirley Temple
19. Rita Hayworth
20. Lauren Bacall
21. Sophie Loren
22. Jean Harlow
23. Carole Lombard
24. Mary Pickford
25. Ava Gardner
Let me state what I feel is totally off about the actresses list: the “icons” need to be removed and those are Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Mae West, Rita Hayworth, Sophie Loren, Jean Harlow, and Ava Gardner. I understand these women were gorgeous and beautiful and all that but none of them could really act. Mae West I can fully understand her impact and what she did for actresses with her sexy lines and attitude but she was not a good enough actress. Ava Gardner is the ultimate screen siren. I am comfortable enough with myself that I can say I drool a little when she comes on the screen especially in One Touch of Venus and The Killers but she was definitely in no way a great actress and she even said it herself. Having actresses like these “icons” makes the list look like a popularity contest more than a talent contest (and come the hell on Marilyn Monroe a better actress than Carole Lombard, Ginger Rogers, Barbara Stanwyck, Vivien Leigh, and Mary Pickford? Give me a break).
Also Shirley Temple has got to get the hell off of this list immediately. I cannot even begin to understand her appeal. Even when she was a kid she was not a good actress and she only got worse as she got older (The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer anyone?).
My replacements for the aforementioned actresses would be Myrna Loy, Gene Tierney, Susan Hayward, Irene Dunne, Olivia de Havilland, Gloria Swanson, Norma Shearer, Loretta Young, and Rosalind Russell. Not having Myrna Loy, Gene Tierney, and Irene Dunne on the list is a God awful crime. Unfortunately all the ladies I have mentioned have had set some setbacks either career wise or critically which might have kept them off.
Irene Dunne is one of the best actresses to have ever graced Hollywood. She was the most versatile actress of her day playing comedy and drama to equal perfection. I read about Dunne in a book called The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger. Basinger states that because Dunne was older and had been a popular stage actress before she started in film, not tied down to any one studio (she switched between three major studios which was unheard of for an actress back in the day), and she did not have a shocking life (she was married to the same man I believe until he died) these things might have hurt her chances of being well very well known today.
Myrna Loy not being on the list is a sin completely unforgiveable. I am not alone in my opinion about Loy’s nonappearance by any means. Many critics felt Loy underacted her roles but as I usually say in all my posts about Loy she was just acting. When so many of her peers where constantly over acting their roles she just played hers straight. In Loy’s autobiography she brings this point up to which she replies that she had looked at how theater actors acted and she saw that they were not over acting at all and that was how she played her film characters.
Gene Tierney whenever I watch her in a film I never think she is over acting at any point. Just watch her in Laura and you may find yourself thinking if you are a true film buff that had there been any other actress playing Laura Hunt they would have completely over acted many of the scenes. Tierney was so young in many of her biggest hits but she was full of immense talent and it is a damn shame not many people see the true talent she had ( I look up to her because she was my age when she played Laura Hunt. Acting like that is something I certainly could never do and not many people my age can do convincingly). Many viewers or critics often times just focus on how gorgeous she was (and her overbite), yes she was gorgeous there was no denying that she was well as talented.
Gloria Swanson was one of the greatest silent film stars ever. She was even fantastic when the sound era came about but unfortunately she did not make the transition as well as hoped. Swanson did not have a weird voice nor could she not act she was a fabulous actress to Nth degree but for some reason she just did not do well (I have seen some her early sound films and they are not bad). We all know she came back with a powerful vengeance with Sunset Boulevard. Her silent films, especially her masterpiece Sadie Thompson, are phenomenal. Swanson was the first America’s Sweetheart she could do nothing wrong in the public’s eyes. Like Mary Pickford without Swanson there would never have been movie stars as we know them.
Norma Shearer is a name all movie lovers and film buffs should know. Her name is a name everyone, not just classic movie lovers, should know. Shearer was the pre-code queen as well as “Queen of the Lot” at MGM where her husband the legendary Irving Thalberg also worked. I will say Shearer’s acting is a bit over the top but she is a legend. She was hugely popular at the beginning of the 1930s. Many film historians and film books I have read (including Shearer’s biography by Gavin Lambert) state that the reason why Norma Shearer fell out of favor and out of mind is because of the films she was in during the pre-code era. The films are seen today as soapy over dramatic melodramas when they should be looked at in their historical context and seen as sometime shocking and very scandalous.
Loretta Young’s issue was that she had great control over her own career which led to some problems with the studio heads she worked for. She was a freelance like Irene Dunne but she pretty much had control over every aspect of her career from choosing the films she wanted to do down to her wardrobe. In context Young had the longest career of any actress or actor in Hollywood if you can take account her own TV program she had and her guest appearances on TV shows in the early nineties. This makes her career span from the 1920s to the 1990s, that is a span of over seventy years.
Susan Hayward was incredible in any film she was in. I have never been dissatisfied with her in any of her films. To state how much I think Hayward is a good actress the first film I ever saw her in was The Conqueror with John Wayne and after that I became a huge fan of hers… not that she was anything great in The Conqueror I went and watched her other films later on. What Hayward had that many other actresses did not have was a genuine tough, confident attitude that could not be faked.
Olivia de Havilland I actually find to be versatile. I adored her in her comedy film Four’s a Crowd with Errol Flynn and Rosalind Russell and bowed down to her in The Dark Mirror. She was able to play such interesting characters from cute little innocent types to murderers and crazy people.
Rosalind Russell is so over looked and underrated as an actress it is appalling. This was a woman who, along with Carole Lombard, was not afraid to look like a goof or do something outrageously silly for a laugh. Russell as Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday is one of the strongest and most iconic female film characters ever and it is because she did not hold back but gave the character everything she had. If you watch her other films Russell never really holds back with her characters she just went all out and gave one hundred percent and that one hundred percent can be seen.
If I could make the list here is how it would go:
1. Katharine Hepburn (totally deserves this spot. She was ahead of her times with her acting and the way she presented herself.)
2. Ingrid Bergman (One of the most incredible actresses ever. I read a biography on her and she was just so dedicated to acting that it comes across in whatever role she played. Every actress should strive to be like Bergman with their dedication)
3. Bette Davis
4. Greta Garbo
5. Barbara Stanwyck (The greatest actress never to have won an Academy Award. She had a great passion and brought great attitude to her characters. Is it weird that I can just listen to her talk all day? I love her voice.)
6. Irene Dunne
7. Mary Pickford
8. Vivien Leigh (Of course she is on the list. Leigh tackled Scarlett O’Hara with a vengeance and created one of the most iconic film characters ever. But she is so much more than Scarlett. I noticed that many of her characters before and after Scarlett dealt with great inner turmoil and Leigh just knocked that out of the park. Also she was able to say so much more than words with her facial expressions.)
9. Lillian Gish
10. Myrna Loy
11. Ginger Rogers (This woman could be elegant and graceful and say more through dance than words, she could be dramatic and heartbreaking, and she could be a sarcastic, screwy mess, and be hilarious making it all seem so effortless.)
12. Carole Lombard (She is the reason there is a genre entitled Screwball Comedy. Lombard was the original beautiful screwball.)
13. Gene Tierney
14. Joan Crawford (The confidence Crawford exuded in her acting is inspiring.)
15. Susan Hayward
16. Gloria Swanson
17. Olivia de Havilland
18. Claudette Colbert (Just watch Colbert in DeMille’s Cleopatra and you will see one of the reasons why she made the list.)
19. Judy Garland (For as much as I enjoy Garland in her films I just do not find her to be a good actress but she never fails to give a good musical performance.)
20. Lauren Bacall (If Bacall could be summed up in one word it would be feisty. Her feistiness and her take- no-crap attitude are so refreshing when watching classic films.)
21. Marlene Dietrich
22. Audrey Hepburn (I feel Hepburn has more of a cult following than anything else. I do not find her to be a bad actress in the slightest but I think because of Breakfast at Tiffany’s she is more an icon than having any acting significance.)
23. Rosalind Russell
24. Norma Shearer
25. Loretta Young
You can interpret the official Top 25 Greatest Actresses list any way you want to. Too many times are people force fed some of these actresses like Marilyn Monroe, Jean Harlow, and Elizabeth Taylor and they are totally missing out. I feel they are taking away from other actresses with way more talent. I have nothing against the actresses with whom I pointed out should not be on the list it is just my opinion.
If you follow my blog along with a good story I really enjoy actors’/actresses’ performances. If their performances are not good it takes away from the story. I admire all the legendary women not just the ones I have listed and have made the official one. I give a lot of credit to them (and actors as well) because their job is in no way easy especially for the times they worked in.