The mid-century years are also known as Hollywood’s Golden Era. The immensely talented, beautiful, classy leading ladies of the silver screen during the ’40s played a big part in making the times and its enduring films so special. So, we’re tipping our hats today to 10 of the most famous and celebrated film actresses of the 1940s.
Obviously, there were more than 10 great actresses from the decade; we’re not pretending this list is even close to exhaustive. To help narrow it down, we’re sticking to women who primarily rose to stardom during the forties and made many of their major contributions to cinema during the decade. Hopefully that helps account for some of the glaring omissions many of you are bound to notice.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the most gifted, amazing, and memorable film actresses of the 1940s. They’re listed alphabetically—not by greatness!
Iconic ’40s Film Actresses
- Lauren Bacall (1924-2014): Her breakout hit came at the young age of 19, in 1944’s To Have and Have Not. Bacall co-starred with screen legend Humphrey Bogart, who would become her husband shortly thereafter. The famous Hollywood couple went on to co-star in a series of 1940s classics, including The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, and Key Largo.
- Ingrid Bergman (1915-1982): Bergman is widely considered one of the greatest actresses of all time. Katherine Hepburn is the only actress to win more Oscars. Just some of her amazing output includes starring roles in ’40s masterpieces like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Casablanca, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Gaslight, Spellbound, The Bells of St. Mary’s, and Notorious.
- Joan Fontaine (1917-2013): Although her film career was gaining momentum in the late 1930s, the ’40s saw Fontaine really come into her own with classic roles in movies like Rebecca, Suspicion, The Constant Nymph, Jane Eyre, The Affairs of Susan, Ivy, and Letter from an Unknown Woman. In the 1950s, she devoted more time to television roles.
- Ava Gardner (1922-1990): Gardner paid her dues with a long string of uncredited and single-line roles through the first half of the 1940s. Then, she landed a couple of bigger roles, and in 1946 became a major star with her performance in The Killers. She finished out the decade with top billing in The Hucksters, Singapore, One Touch of Venus, The Bribe, and The Great Sinner.
- Rita Hayworth (1918-1987): Though she appeared in movies through the mid to late ’30s (for a period as Rita Cansino), it wasn’t until the ’40s that Hayworth picked up the leading roles in classic films that established her as an icon. Major contributions from her prolific output during the decade include roles in Blondie on a Budget, Tales of Manhattan, You Were Never Lovelier, Cover Girl, Gilda, and The Lady from Shanghai.
- Veronica Lake (1922-1973): Lake is a somewhat underrated actress today, but she was enormously popular in the forties—to the point that giving her top billing in a film could drive its success, even if it wasn’t exactly a masterful work of art. But she solidified her status in such quality ’40s flicks as Sullivan’s Travels, This Gun for Hire, The Glass Key, I Married a Witch, So Proudly We Hail, Bring on the Girls, Miss Susie Slagle’s, and The Blue Dahlia.
- Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000): Austrian-born Lamarr is often referenced as the most beautiful actress of all time, remembered particularly for parts in adventure films. She turned down lead roles in two of the biggest 40s hits, Gaslight and Casablanca, which went to number 2 on our list. But she made her name during the decade in films like Come Live with Me, Ziegfeld Girl, H.M. Pulham Esq., Tortilla Flat, Dishonored Lady, and Samson and Delilah.
- Gene Tierney (1920-1991): Bringing grace, emotional resonance, a voluptuous beauty, and sultry voice to the silver screen, Tierney is one of the greats from the 1940s. She made her mark on American cinema in the ’40s in well-known movies like Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake, Heaven can Wait, Laura, Leave Her to Heaven, Dragonwyck, The Razor’s Edge, and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.
- Lana Turner (1921-1995): Tuner possessed enormous acting talent and a legendary beauty, and she pioneered the “sweater girl” image. Unfortunately, her personal life tended to get more attention at times than her artistic contributions. Still, her place as an icon was secured in forties films like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Johnny Eager, Week-End at the Waldorf, Green Dolphin Street, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Homecoming, and The Three Musketeers.
- Teresa Wright (1918-2005): The only star to ever be nominated for Oscars for her first three film roles, Wright brought awe-inspiring talent to her movies. Those three movies were The Little Foxes, Mrs.. Miniver, and The Pride of the Yankees. Other hits of hers from the decade include Shadow of a Doubt, The Best Years of Our Lives, Pursued, The Trouble with Women, and Enchantment.
Further Reading for Fans of Hollywood’s Golden Era
If you love mid-century movies, click over to some of our other posts:
- 40 Classic Movies from the ’40s
- 30 of the Most Popular Classic Movies from the 1950s
- 15 Great Christmas Movies from the 1940s and 1950s
- 25 Spooktacular 1950s Horror Films
- 10 Legendary Movie Actors of the 1950s
- 10 Legendary Film Actresses of the 1950s