- Hollywood’s golden age took place from the end of the silent film era to the early 1960s, and was a high point for the film industry.
- The era was also rife with heartthrobs, many of whom drew huge box office numbers for their respective studios.
- From Marlon Brando to Marilyn Monroe to Paul Newman, movie lovers in the early and mid 20th century had a lot to look forward to.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The heartthrob is not a recent invention. Though many Justin Bieber and One Direction fans may think their crushes are the first in existence, crush-worthy famous people are a phenomenon that dates back to Hollywood’s golden age.
Silent film star Rudolph Valentino, for example, is considered by some to be one of Hollywood’s first heartthrobs.
From Cary Grant to Sophia Loren to Doris Day, here are 27 swoon-worthy stars from Hollywood’s golden years.
Before she became a princess, Grace Kelly was known for her beauty and talent in Hollywood.
Grace Kelly’s star-making performance came in 1953 when she appeared in “Mogambo” opposite Clark Gable. After that, Alfred Hitchcock took her under his wing and made her the star of “Dial M for Murder” and “Rear Window,” turning her into a household name. Kelly won an Academy Award in 1955 for her role in “Country Girl.”
In 1956, she left Hollywood to marry Prince Rainier and became the princess of Monaco. She still remains a beauty and style icon today.
Frank Sinatra was the original heartthrob.
The ladies called him “Ol’ Blue Eyes,” and the world called the ladies “bobby soxers.” In the mid-’30s, singer and actor Frank Sinatra became, arguably, the original heartthrob. Ladies around the nation flocked to his shows, as The Guardian’s New York correspondent observed about Sinatra in 1945:
“The United States is now in the midst of one of those remarkable phenomena of mass hysteria … the teenage girls who constitute the main part of his audience also wear short white half-hose, and are therefore called ‘bobby-sox girls’ or, more simply, ‘bobby-soxers.'”
And according to Mental Floss, Sinatra’s publicist, George Evans, even auditioned bobby soxers to scream at Sinatra’s concerts, paying them a few bucks each to ignite excitement for the star.
Marilyn Monroe was one of the original sex symbols.
Marilyn Monroe started out in Hollywood in the late ’40s, but she really started to get her footing – and gain heightened exposure – after appearing in films like “The Seven Year Itch” (1955) and “The Misfits” (1961). She was known “both for her winsome embodiment of the Hollywood sex symbol, and her tragic personal and professional struggles within the film industry,” according to IMDb.
James Dean’s bad boy persona has had a lasting legacy.
Another teen idol of his time, actor James Dean was known for his bad boy persona and, fittingly, his role in 1955’s “Rebel Without a Cause.”
Dean only made three movies in his lifetime, as the budding actor died in a car accident at the age of 24 in 1955. His premature death left him etched into American pop culture as a forever young, T-shirt-and-jeans-clad icon. The New York Times described the enduring James Dean image as “clear, remaining strong, instantly recognisable, American as Coca-Cola.“
Jayne Mansfield was one of the leading ladies in ’50s and ’60s film.
Described as “one of the leading sex symbols of the 1950s and 1960s,” Jayne Mansfield was a popular actress who was also noted for her resemblance to Marilyn Monroe, a contemporary. She was tragically killed in a car accident in 1967, leaving behind 31 films to her name, and a still-iconic image.
With blue eyes and a knack for romance, Paul Newman captured hearts in the 1950s.
Piercing blue eyes, a thoroughly gentleman-like manner, and acting chops to boot – how can you go wrong?
Paul Newman came onto the scene in the mid-1950s, fresh out of the Actors Studio. Successful turns in box-office hits, like “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1958) and “Sweet Bird of Youth” (1962), cemented his place in Hollywood as a bona fide hunk and movie star.
His 2008 obituary in the LA Times reads: “His irresistible good looks suggested more of a romantic hero than an unregenerate rogue, but he had a way of incorporating into his seductive appeal (those oceanic eyes, those killer abs!) a startling barbed-wire-like menace.”
Known for her side-swept hair, Veronica Lake was a total glamour girl.
Nicknamed “the peek-a-boo girl” for her signature, side-swept tresses that covered her right eye, actress Veronica Lake started out in a string of successful films in the late ’30s and early ’40s. She reached the peak of her fame and glamour after portraying Lieutenant Olivia D’Arcy in 1943’s “So Proudly We Hail!,” which was a box-office smash.
Even Cary Grant wanted to be Cary Grant.
Known for his Trans-Atlantic accent and suave charm, actor Cary Grant became one of Hollywood’s biggest stars from the ’30s well into the ’50s.
He appeared in famous films such as “The Philadelphia Story” (1940), “Bringing Up Baby” (1938), and Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” (1959). According to the Quad-City Times, “Grant’s masculine elegance and darkly handsome features made him an unrivalled star of both sophisticated comedy and chilling intrigue for more than 30 years.”
As the actor’s famous quote reads: “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.”
Italian beauty Sophia Loren stunned the silver screen.
Sophia Loren first caught the attention of an agent while competing in a beauty pageant at age 14, and the rest, as they say, is history. She won an Oscar in 1960’s “Two Women,” the culmination of over a decade of successful work in Hollywood. Loren is often referred to as “one of world cinema’s greatest treasures.”
Rock Hudson’s manly good looks won the big screen’s attention.
Rock Hudson burst onto the scene in the early 1950s, and, after filming hits like “Magnificent Obsession” (1954) and “All That Heaven Allows” (1955) with Universal Studios, he became a heartthrob by the end of the decade. Hudson was known for his “easy-going” charm on screen, as well as his manly good looks.
Tragically, Hudson died of AIDS in 1985, which exposed his homosexuality to the world after years of speculation and cover-ups. Hudson was the first major celebrity to die from the disease, and to speak publicly about it.
Handsome and innovative, Montgomery Clift’s quiet charm enchanted the big screen.
The Guardian calls Montgomery “Monty” Clift “one of the most innovative and handsome actors in history.” Clift dominated the silver screen throughout the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s, and even into the early ’60s, appearing in such classics as “The Misfits” (1961) and “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961).
Clift was also one of the first “method” actors to study with Lee Strasberg, alongside Marlon Brando and Elia Kazan. His turbulent personal life has often been discussed in the media, as Clift struggled with his homosexuality and substance abuse issues throughout his life.
Rita Hayworth was everyone’s dream girl during the World War II era.
Hollywood maven Rita Hayworth made her film debut at 16, and after a string of mediocre films, hit it big with 1941’s “The Strawberry Blonde” and “You’ll Never Get Rich.” In the latter film, she danced alongside Fred Astaire in a performance that “exuded the warmth and seductive vitality that was to make her famous.”
Hayworth is perhaps most well-known for her role in 1946’s “Gilda,” which made her a bonafide superstar. She famously quipped, “Men fell in love with Gilda, but they wake up with me.”
Before he was “The Godfather,” Marlon Brando was a Hollywood stud.
Before he was “The Godfather” and widely lauded as the greatest actor of all time, Marlon Brando was a young star on the heels of Lee Strasberg training and a brief stint on the live stage. But after scoring successful movie roles in “On the Waterfront” (1954) and “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951), he became a Hollywood heartthrob. The actor was a known womanizer, too, fathering 11 children in his lifetime with his wives and lovers.
Tyrone Power’s good looks impacted box office numbers from the ’30s to the ’50s.
Tyrone Power was a major heartthrob of the 1930s to 1950s, known for his roles as a swashbuckler and romantic lead. TCM calls him “one of the few matinee idols to give MGM’s Clark Gable and Warner Bros.’ Errol Flynn a run for their money as resident sex symbol; someone who could pull in as many female as male moviegoers.”
Sadly, Power’s career was cut short as he died of a heart attack on set in 1958, but he remains a staple of the old Hollywood era.
Doris Day was the ultimate “good girl” of the ’50s.
Audiences loved Doris Day for her bubbly personality on screen, as well as her all-American beauty and singing voice. Her breakthrough role was in “Calamity Jane” (1953), which was a box-office smash, and 1959’s “Pillow Talk.” She was also known for her squeaky-clean image, which prompted the famous line (attributed to either Groucho Marx or Oscar Levant), “I’m so old, I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin.”
Clark Gable’s debonair flair came through in “Gone With The Wind.”
One of Hollywood’s all-time greats, Clark Gable was widely regarded as the “king” of Hollywood and drew interest for his on- (and off-) screen romances.
He starred in such classics as “Gone With the Wind” (1940) and “It Happened One Night” (1934). Gable was known as a ladies man and was married five times throughout his lifetime.
Everyone likes an every-man — and William Holden was no exception.
William Holden drew interest for his every-man roles, and for his “handsome face and easy, masculine manner [that] made him the quintessential American in many movies,” according to the LA Times.
He’s well known for his performances in the film noir “Sunset Boulevard” (1950) and “Stalag 17” (1953). Though Holden was married for a good portion of his professional life, he reportedly had many extramarital affairs, including one with Audrey Hepburn on the set of 1954’s “Sabrina.”
Gene Tierney was known for her sophistication — and her high cheekbones.
Gene Tierney had an upper-class background, something she channeled into her performance in 1944’s murder mystery “Laura,” for which she is most well known. Her career continued to flourish throughout the ’50s, and she became a top box-office draw. She kept a low profile later in life, making her last film in 1964.
The original Robin Hood, Errol Flynn stole many hearts in the ’30s and ’40s.
Perhaps no one was better known in Hollywood for playing a swashbuckling hero than Errol Flynn, the original Robin Hood circa 1938.
Flynn was also known for his lavish lifestyle and excessive drinking, and as TCM’s biography says, “In spite of his ongoing-if-tumultuous marriage, his prolific sexual appetites (with partners of both sexes, tabloid-scented biographies alleged in more recent years, though widely disputed)” were quite infamous.
Burt Lancaster’s iconic beach scene in “From Here to Eternity” made him all the more desirable.
After the famous scene in 1953’s “From Here to Eternity” showing Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr kissing on the beach as the waves crash over them, Lancaster was almost immediately elevated to heartthrob status.
A lifelong athlete, Lancaster was known for his buff physique and acting range. Despite his early “macho” roles, he refused to be typecast and went on to have a successful, diverse career well into the 1970s.
Ava Gardner signed with MGM based on her beauty alone.
Ava Gardner’s brother-in-law put a photo of her in his studio in New York City, and it was quickly noticed by MGM. They signed the 18 year old on her beauty alone, as she had zero acting experience. She gained popularity in films like “Mogambo” (1953) and “Bhowani Junction” (1956), and is also known for her high-profile marriage to fellow heartthrob Frank Sinatra, which lasted from 1951-1957.
Sir Laurence Olivier’s finesse shone through for decades in Hollywood.
One of the most acclaimed actors of his era – and the 20th century at large – Sir Laurence Olivier was known for his mastery of Shakespeare, as well as his tempestuous marriage to fellow actor Vivien Leigh. The two abandoned their previous spouses to be together, and afterward began a successful string of performances in London’s West End theatre district.
His roles as Heathcliff in “Wuthering Heights” (1939) and in “Marathon Man” (1976) won him acclaim on the big screen, and Olivier went on to become the youngest actor to be knighted by the British monarchy.
Humphrey Bogart’s swagger has proven to be timeless.
Humphrey Bogart is synonymous with the 1940s, and was one of the biggest film stars of his era. After his iconic role in the 1942 war romance “Casablanca,” Bogart appeared in films like “Sabrina” (1954) alongside William Holden, and became known for his tough, cool-guy persona.
Following his death in 1957, “his work drew superlative critical praise and his personality the object of cultish adulation,” according to Biography.com,“both because of and despite his cavalierly anti-Hollywood persona, Bogart remains timelessly cool in a way few celebrities have ever been able to achieve.”
Marlene Dietrich translated her seductive allure to the big screen.
According to IMDb, Marlene Dietrich was known in school for her “bedroom eyes,” which got her – and a professor – in trouble. She channeled her allure into cabaret singing in the ’20s, and she was soon discovered by Hollywood and became a star of the silent film era. She was one of the highest paid actresses of her time, and she also had a reputation for “romancing her co-stars.”
Tony Curtis’ dark, luscious locks inspired Elvis Presley to go for a similar look.
Known for his dark, curly locks, Bronx-born actor Tony Curtis quickly became a heartthrob after starring in a string of successful films throughout the 1950s. According to the Independent, Elvis Presley even modelled his iconic hairstyle after Tony Curtis’ luscious ‘do.
Curtis and his first wife, Janet Leigh, were the subject of much magazine fodder throughout the decade – and they had two daughters, one of whom is actress Jamie Lee Curtis. After Curtis and Leigh’s divorced in 1962, Curtis went on to marry five more times.
Women fell for Gregory Peck’s “rugged” looks.
Perhaps best known for his Oscar-winning role as Atticus Finch in 1962’s “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Gregory Peck was also known as one of the finest actors of his era.
With his “notable talents and rugged good looks,” Peck quickly became one of the Golden Age’s top leading men. He appeared in other hits like “Roman Holiday” (1953) and “The Omen” (1976), and was married to his second wife, Veronique Passani Peck, for almost 50 years.
The classy demeanour of Gary Cooper epitomized old Hollywood.
Gary Cooper’s “rugged mug, soft-spoken demeanour and earnest, haunted eyes” made him a hit with the ladies and a hit on the big screen. Cooper was known for playing down-to-earth men, though in his private life, he was described as a “debonair ladies man” with a taste for the finer things.
Known for his roles in “It” (1937) and “High Noon” (1952), among others, Cooper was one of the few actors to make the transition from silent films to the talkies of the future. He continued to make films until his death in 1961.
- Read more:
- 15 movies that are being revived for a new generation
- RANKED: The 40 young stars who will one day rule Hollywood
- ’90s heartthrobs everyone was obsessed with – and what they’re up to now
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.