Part 6: The Players

The Legends

We are in the new millenium now, but many of the stars of 1930s Hollywood are still household names. In fact many remain icons that will never be forgotten. Pop culture today still reveres the dance prowess of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire or the allure of having 'Bette Davis Eyes'. Here are the names and faces of those stars who became indelible legends in part due to their performances of this wonderful decade.

Fred Astaire- The epitome of class, Astaire could glide across the screen with effortless grace making any dance partner look good. Most of his best films came from the 30s including Top Hat(1935), Follow the Fleet(1936), Swing Time(1936), Shall We Dance(1937)and Carefree(1938).
Humphrey Bogart- Bogart clearly has legendary status as an actor and is one of my all-time favorites. He was not a legend in the 1930s though. He played mainly supporting roles but some performances shone through, such as The Petrified Forest(1936), Dead End(1937),and You Can't Get Away With Murder(1939).
James Cagney- Not many actors could match him as a powerful screen presence. Originally a hoofer, he made his name in tough guy roles starting with Public Enemy(1931). My other Cagney favorites are Footlight Parade(1933), Lady Killer(1933), G Men(1935), Ceiling Zero(1935), Boy Meets Girl(1938), The Oklahoma Kid(1939), and The Roaring Twenties(1939).
Charlie Chaplin- Charlie was a star built from two decades of silent film success before the 1930s. Even though he only made two films in this decade, City Lights(1931) and Modern Times(1936), they preserved his legendary status because they were both excellent.
Gary Cooper- He was an ideal leading man for several decades, but it was the 30s when his star rose with films such as Morocco(1930), A Farewell to Arms(1932), The Lives of a Bengal Lancer(1935), Desire(1936), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town(1936) and The Plainsman(1936).
Joan Crawford- A star born out of sheer determination to succeed, she entered the 30s as a flapper... and left a legend. My Crawford favorites include Dance Fools Dance(1931), Grand Hotel(1932), Rain(1932), Dancing Lady(1933), Sadie McKee(1934), Forsaking All Others(1934) and Mannequin(1938).
Bette Davis- Although she began with ingenue roles, she became the cornerstone of Warner Bros. Studios as one of the finest actresses on film. Witness her classic cinematic performances in the films Of Human Bondage(1934), Bordertown(1935), The Petrified Forest(1936), Jezebel(1938), Dark Victory(1939), Juarez(1939) and The Old Maid(1939).
Marlene Dietrich- Paramount Studios brought her over from Germany to compete with Greta Garbo. The great German visual director Josef von Sternberg got her career off to a roaring start with the films Morocco(1930), Dishonored(1931), Shanghai Express(1932), Blonde Venus(1932) and The Scarlett Empress(1934). More success followed with Desire(1936), Angel(1937) and Destry Rides Again(1939).
W.C. Fields- He made an art out of self deprecating humor with an indescribable style all his own. How can a bumbling timid wisecracker be so funny? See for yourself in the films International House(1933), Tillie and Gus(1933), It's a Gift(1934) and You Can't Cheat an Honest Man(1939).
Errol Flynn- His first success as a swashbuckler came when Warner Bros. took a chance on him in Captain Blood(1935). It resulted in instant stardom and continued successes such as The Charge of the Light Brigade(1936), The Adventures of Robin Hood(1938), The Dawn Patrol(1938), Dodge City(1939) and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex(1939).
Clark Gable- He was the definitive leading man, appealing to both sexes equally. A perennial box office favorite, Gable was most prolific in the 30s. His best films of the decade are Red Dust(1932), It Happened One Night(1934), Manhattan Melodrama(1934), Call of the Wild(1935), China Seas(1935), Mutiny on the Bounty(1935), San Francisco(1936), Test Pilot(1938) and of course Gone With the Wind(1939).
Greta Garbo- The Garbo mystique born in silent films continued into the 30s although she only made 13 films in the decade. Her best performances include Mata Hari(1931), Grand Hotel(1932), Queen Christina(1933), Anna Karenina(1935), Camille(1936) and Ninotchka(1939).
Cary Grant- Another of the great leading men, Grant really rose in popularity after being chosen by Mae West to play in She Done Him Wrong(1933) and I'm No Angel(1933). He proved to be capable in both comedy and drama. My favorites include Last Outpost(1935), Topper(1937), The Awful Truth(1937), Bringing Up Baby(1938), Holiday(1938), Gunga Din(1939) and Only Angels Have Wings(1939).
Jean Harlow- Her untimely death at the peak of her career in 1937 was a pity for us all. It surely left us wanting to see more of the beautiful yet naughty Harlow. Her earlier roles were placid but she came to life in Red-Headed Woman(1932) and success continued with Red Dust(1932), Dinner at Eight(1933), Hold Your Man(1933), Bombshell(1933), The Girl From Missouri(1934), China Seas(1935) and Libeled Lady(1936).
Katharine Hepburn- She had some significant acting contributions in the 1930s, although her best can be seen in the ensuing decade. Performances not to miss include Little Women(1933), Alice Adams(1935), Mary of Scotland(1936), Quality Street(1937), Stage Door(1937), Bringing Up Baby(1938) and Holiday(1938).
Groucho Harpo and Chico, The Marx Brothers- They became the favorites of the intelligentsia of the day with a crazy, nonsensical but witty style of comedy. The brothers were all unique but together they took comedy to new heights. Check out Animal Crackers(1930), Monkey Business(1931), Horse Feathers(1932), Duck Soup(1933), A Night at the Opera(1935), A Day at the Races(1937) and Room Service(1938). You won't stop laughing.
Edward G. Robinson- Ever since his landmark Little Caesar(1930), Robinson was seen as the quinessential tough guy. He fit the gangster role like a glove but in the long run he proved his versatility. His best are The Whole Town's Talking(1935), Barbary Coast(1935), Bullets or Ballots(1936), Kid Gallahad(1937), The Last Gangster(1937) and The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse(1938).
Ginger Rogers- Ginger began to be noticed after her successful supporting role in the highly acclaimed 42nd Street(1933). Multi-talented, she could sing, dance, play comedy or drama. Other Rogers favorites are Flying Down to Rio(1933), The Gay Divorcee(1934), Top Hat(1935), Follow the Fleet(1936), Swing Time(1936), Shall We Dance(1937), Stage Door(1937), Vivacious Lady(1938), Carefree(1938) and Bachelor Mother(1939).
Jimmy Stewart- He graduated from smaller roles into a bona fide leading man during the decade. His best came near the end and set the stage for a marvelous career. They are Shopworn Angel(1938), You Can't Take it With You(1938), Made For Each Other(1939), It's a Wonderful World(1939), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington(1939) and Destry Rides Again(1939).
Shirley Temple- She virtually cornered the market on 'cuteness' in the 1930s. She was also incredibly prolific making over 30 films in the decade. Shirley did make films in later decades but we will always remember her as an adorable little girl in films like Bright Eyes(1934), Little Miss Marker(1934), The Little Colonel(1935), Heidi(1937), Little Miss Broadway(1938), and many others.
Spencer Tracy- Without the classic good looks of most leading men, Tracy carved out a successful career using his great acting ability. His best films are Me and My Gal(1932), 20,000 Years in Sing Sing(1933), The Power and the Glory(1933), Fury(1936), San Francisco(1936), Libeled Lady(1936), Captains Courageous(1937), Test Pilot(1938), Boys Town(1938) and Stanley and Livingstone(1939).
John Wayne- John is clearly a legend but not based on his work from the 1930s. During this decade he was starring in a body of lower budget films and preparing for the great career to follow. We do see the early signs of stardom in one of his finest films, Stagecoach(1939).
Mae West- She caused quite a stir when she brought her Broadway success She Done Him Wrong(1933) to film. Her films blended humor and sexual innuendo and catapulted her to the top of the box office. Her other starring vehicles were I'm No Angel(1933), Belle of the Nineties(1934), Goin' to Town(1935), Klondike Annie(1936), Go West Young Man(1936) and Every Day's a Holiday(1937).

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Five of my favorites from Hollywood's greatest year-1939
Other STARS of the 1930s<--next
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