My favourite actresses

I’ve noticed that quite a few other blogs have lists of favourite actors and actresses. Today I felt like doing something a bit different from my usual reviews, so made a list of my favourite ten actresses at the moment. I’m sure if I made the list another day it would be different -and there are many great actresses I am sad to have left out, some of whom I’ve listed at the end, plus there are doubtless others that I’ve forgotten about. I’d be interested to hear what anyone else thinks of my choices and who your own favourites are! I will also put up a list of male actors soon. I’ve written a few thoughts about my top three and just posted the names of the others, as it is getting late and I want to get this posting finished tonight, but I love them too.

marlene dietrich 1931 - by eugene robert richee

1. Marlene Dietrich: I’ve always liked Dietrich as a singer, and her performance in The Blue Angel blew me away – it was the first black-and-white film that I ever saw on the big screen, in the English version, back in about 1980 (it is  claimed all over the net that this version was lost until the 2000s, but this can’t be right, as I had seen it in a beautiful print many years earlier). The German version, which I saw much later, is even better. Recently I’ve been watching a lot of Dietrich’s 1930s films and in particular her pre-Codes made with Josef von Sternberg, and have become ever more impressed by her presence – the way she somehow undercuts her own astonishing beauty with her slight air of self-mockery. “Marlene watches from the wall, her mocking smile says it all,” as Suzanne Vega’s great song puts it.  My favourite movies starring Dietrich include The Blue Angel, Blonde Venus, Morocco, Angel and The Spoilers (she makes a surprisingly great combination with John Wayne). I really want to see Martin Roumagnac, where she starred opposite Jean Gabin, one of my favourite male actors. I’d also like to see  her silent German films… and everything else she did.

Barbara Stanwyck in 'The Purchase Price'

Barbara Stanwyck in ‘The Purchase Price’

2. Barbara Stanwyck: Most Stanwyck fans seem to prefer her noirs, but, great though they are,  I love her 1930s work even more and in particular her pre-Codes, where her warmth and forthright personality come across so strongly. She did some great films in this period with both Frank Capra and William Wellman.  My favourite movies starring Stanwyck include Night Nurse, The Miracle Woman, The Purchase Price, The Bitter Tea of General Yen and Ball of fire. I want to see Remember the Night and  many more that I haven’t managed to catch up with yet. I did also love her in TV’s  The Thorn Birds, giving a great performance in her old age.

Bette Davis

Bette Davis

3. Bette Davis: For a long time Bette was the actress I would automatically list as my number one favourite, and, although Dietrich and Stanwyck have maybe ever-so-slightly overtaken her in my affections, I am still a huge fan. Davis is best-known for her roles as the “bad”, demanding characters, but she did play many self-effacing heroines too, and I think she was equally good in those parts. My favourite movies starring Davis include Of Human Bondage, Jezebel, The Sisters, All This, and Heaven Too and All About Eve.  There are quite a few of her pre-codes that I haven’t seen yet and am determined to track down.

4. Judy Garland

5. Katharine Hepburn

6. Greta Garbo

7. Claudette Colbert

8. Ginger Rogers

9. Ingrid Bergman

10. Audrey Hepburn

I was sorry to leave out, in no particular order… Sylvia Sidney, Ann Dvorak, Miriam Hopkins, Ethel Barrymore, Vivien Leigh, Ida Lupino, Doris Day, Myrna Loy, Joan Crawford, Carole Lombard, Lauren Bacall, Gene Tierney, Lillian Gish, Joan Blondell, Mary Astor, Mary Pickford, Anna Sten, Clara Bow, Louise Brooks, Norma Shearer, Jean Arthur, Greer Garson, Jean Simmons, Joan Fontaine, Olivia de Havilland, Loretta Young, Margaret Sullavan, Priscilla Lane, Celia Johnson, Joan Fontaine, Joan Leslie, Jennifer Jones, Maureen O’Hara, Jean Harlow, Ann Sheridan and Marjorie Main. And I’m sure there are loads more too.


27 thoughts on “My favourite actresses

  1. Great list Judy! Stanwyck would definitely be in my number one or two position. Joan Blondell would be up there too as would Jean Arthur, Ida Lupino and Lombard. One actress you did not have listed who I would personally add is Lee Remick.


    • John, thank you! I really wanted to include Blondell, Arthur, Lupino and Lombard but couldn’t get everyone into a list of just 10. I do like Remick but need to see more of her work.


  2. Very interesting selection Judy. I concur fully with your top two choices – they would probably occupy the same position in my own list – but I would diverge from that point on.

    I can understand your placement of Davis, but I’m not sure she would figure so highly with me. Her body of work is significant and her talent is beyond doubt. Yet, despite enjoying some of her performances, I don’t believe I’ve ever sat down to watch a movie based on the fact that she was the star. I’m not quite sure how to put this, or even if it makes a lot of sense, but I always felt that Davis was essentially a woman’s actress, that her roles and performances were likely to appeal primarily to women. That shouldn’t be taken as a criticism of her, rather it’s just that she rarely connected with me.

    My own selection would have to feature:
    Ava Gardner – her beauty and earthy enjoyment of life always comes across.
    Jean Simmons – such versatility and flexibility.
    Gloria Grahame & Marie Windsor – two of the greatest noir actresses.
    Lauren Bacall – insolent, sexy and assured.
    Felicia Farr – that scene with Glenn Ford in 3:10 to Yuma is one of the most touchingly romantic I’ve ever seen.
    And to round it off, maybe Gene Tierney and Jeanne Crain.


    • Some interesting choices there, Colin – I love Bacall and Simmons too and should have mentioned Ava Gardner. As I’m not all that well up on noir, I haven’t seen all that much of Grahame or Windsor’s work, but I do like Grahame in particular in those I’ve seen, and also like her very different role in ‘Oklahoma!’ I also haven’t seen much of Felicia Farr or Jeanne Crain’s work but will hope to see more. Interested in your comments on Bette Davis – she certainly connects with me as a woman watching. Thanks for your thoughts.


  3. Fun Judy. I like this kind of stuff. There’s great and fantastic choices here for sure. If I had to name some of my favorites, I would have these for sure in no particular order….

    Lillian Gish
    Greta Garbo
    Ingrid Bergman
    Judy Garland
    Jean Arthur
    Katherine Hepburn
    Liv Ullmann
    Maureen O’Hara
    Michelle Williams

    There’s a couple recent finds that I’m really enjoying of late….Jennifer Jones, and Janet Gaynor. Gaynor is absolutely spellbinding in 7th Heaven, Street Angel, and Lucky Star which I just watched last week.


    • Interesting list there, Jon – I didn’t include current actresses, but Meryl Streep, Judi Dench and Julia Roberts are among my favourites. I see we agree on several names, including Judy Garland – I knew you were a big fan of her work.

      I’ve been enjoying some Jennifer Jones films recently too and would recommend the Lubitsch comedy ‘Cluny Brown’ where she plays a young English maid who dreams of being a plumber – she gives a great performance and it is a really funny, quirky movie. I do like Janet Gaynor too and should have mentioned her in my list of other actresses – agreed on ‘7th Heaven’ and she’s wonderful in ‘Sunrise’ and ‘A Star Is Born’ too. I still need to see ‘Street Angel’ and ‘Lucky Star’. Thanks for posting your favourite actresses!


    • oooooh and you know who else I forgot??? Wendy Hiller! OMG I love her! I will have to find Cluny Brown because I haven’t seen that one. Thanks! Yes Street Angel and Lucky Star are both better than 7th Heaven to my mind and I am working on an essay for Street Angel to post at some point.


    • I liked Hiller a lot in ‘Pygmalion’ but it is a long time since I saw that film – thanks, Jon. ‘Cluny Brown’ is on Youtube in segments at the moment, which is where I saw it – sadly there doesn’t seem to be a DVD available. I will hope to see both ‘Street Angel’ and ‘Lucky Star’ before too long and will look out for your essay.


    • Judy, Wendy Hiller is also SUPER GREAT in Major Barbara and I Know Where I’m Going. Unfortunately, she was in very few films.


    • “Cluny Brown” was released in R2 by the BFI in the UK, by Carlotta in France, in Germany and I think in Spain as well, so second hand copies should be around. Actually there’s a new copy in German Amazon for less than €2…

      It is still available in Italy from Flamingo Video (my one experience with their stuff was good).


    • Miguel, thank you for that information – the BFI DVD of ‘Cluny Brown’ is deleted and used copies seem to start at around £30 at Amazon, while I’ve seen the Spanish DVD offered there for about £300, though I do wonder if that is a mistake! However I’ve just had a look at the German Amazon site and see that not only do they have the film for under two euros, as you say, but there is also a double set with ‘That Lady in Ermine’ for under five euros – so even with postage it is a bargain. Thanks again!


    • I do like Joan Crawford and she was a near miss from my list, though there are quite a lot of her films I still need to see – I have a box set containing a few I hope to watch soon. Thelma Ritter is another good choice. Thanks, Silver!


    • I do like Grace Kelly and should have included her on my “nearlies” list at the end – thank you. I haven’t included any current actresses so didn’t mention Claire Bloom, but agree she is another great actress. Thank you!


  4. You have an intriguing list. Mine would be:

    1. Carole Lombard
    2. Myrna Loy
    3. Barbara Stanwyck

    Then at 4-10, in no particular order (I’ll list them alphabetically), would be Constance Bennett, Joan Blondell, Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich, Kay Francis, Jean Harlow and Ginger Rogers.


    • I had a feeling you might have Carole Lombard at number one, Vincent! I like all your choices but really need to see more of Kay Francis and Constance Bennett’s films. Thanks for commenting.


    • Thank you for commenting, Ellen – you really got me interested in Jean Arthur, and I do like her a lot even though I didn’t put her in my list of 10 in the end. She must have one of the greatest and most expressive voices and such an appealing screen personality. I recently saw a 1930s comedy with her and Edward G Robinson, ‘The Whole Town’s Talking’, where they are both wonderful – sadly that one isn’t on DVD.


  5. Judy, I just now put together a list of who I consider the 25 greatest actresses worldwide of all-time. It is tough to list them numerically, and of course this would always be subject to change from one day to the next, but here is what I came up with:

    1.) Katherine Hepburn
    2.) Lillian Gish
    3.) Setsuko Hara
    4.) Bette Davis
    5.) Barbara Stanwyck
    6.) Liv Ullmann
    7.) Rene Maria Falconetti (based on just a single performance in JOAN OF ARC)
    8.) Judy Garland
    9.) Vivien Leigh
    10) Harriet Anderson
    11.) Hideko Takamine
    13) Celia Johnson
    14.) Simone Signoret
    15.) Louise Brooks
    16.) Marlene Dietrich
    17.) Meryl Streep
    18.) Maggie Smith
    19.) Vanessa Redgrave
    20.) Judy Dench
    21.) Anna Magnani
    22.) Ruan Lingyu
    23.) Ingrid Bergman
    24.) Isabelle Huppert
    25.) Mary Pickford

    As always your writing is first-rate and your selections are hard to dispute. As it is with have a number we agree on. Look forward to the continuation of this series Judy!


    • Great list, Sam, but I would expect no less.Nice to see Katharine Hepburn in your top spot. I haven’t really got to grips with international actresses in my list as my knowledge of world films isn’t all that good, but, out of your list, I do like Setsuko Hara and Simone Signoret in the films I’ve seen of theirs very much. I also should have included Celia Johnson in my ‘nearlies’ as I love ‘Brief Encounter’. Thank you.


  6. Bette is my #1 gal, and I’m not sure anyone will ever de-throne her. Barbara Stanwyck is also one of my 3 faves, with Susan Hayward being my #2 gal. I also love Eleanor Parker, Lana Turner, Ida Lupino, Joan Crawford, and Rita Hayworth…not to mention about 2 dozen more!!


    • Patti, glad to hear we agree on Davis and Stanwyck – must admit, though, that I’ve seen very few Susan Hayward films, something I hope to put right soon. I do like Eleanor Parker from the roles of hers I’ve seen so far, but again need to see more. And I should have mentioned Rita Hayworth – just saw her with Fred Astaire in the wonderful ‘You Were Never Lovelier’. Thanks for your comment!


  7. “Remember the Night” is available in a rather good Italian box set of Mitchell Leisen films (the others being “Midnight”, “Easy Living”, “No time for Love”, “Arise my Love” and in a terrible copy, “Lady in the Dark”). Definitely worth investing.


  8. Great list! I like Marlene but wouldn’t put her in my top ten, both Bette and Barbara definitely are tops though.
    My top 10
    1. Linda Darnell-Others move up and down but she is always #1, if for nothing else A Letter to Three Wives. So often miscast, a great wasted talent.
    2. Julie Christie-I know she’s a bit more current since she still works but her career has been so long and full of great performances she qualifies as both contemporary and classic. A amazingly subtle actress.
    3. Thelma Ritter-No one injects life into a movie faster than she. So perfect in everything but at her best in The Mating Season.
    4. Susan Hayward-Silk and sandpaper. So gentle in The President’s Lady and a total buster in Valley of the Dolls. A wonderful mix of both in Deadline at Dawn.
    5. Barbara Stanwyck-Love her noirs but my favs are her comedies especially Christmas in Connecticut.
    6. Eve Arden-The best friend an actress ever had.
    7. Bette Davis-Her intensity is always compelling whether she’s got it under control as in Now, Voyager or Dark Victory or giving it free rein as in The Anniversary.
    8. Priscilla Lane-Her warmth radiates off the screen in all her movies but her films with John Garfield are her best excepting the great Saboteur.
    9. Ida Lupino-No one is tougher than Ida Lupino and that’s a good thing. At her absolute peak in The Man I Love where she got to mix in her underused comedic skills with her tough chick persona.
    10. Geraldine Page-Rarely got parts worthy of her but when she did no one was better. She could do so much with such small gestures.

    Bubbling just below in no certain order: Judy Garland, Joan Crawford, Suzanne Pleshette, Gloria Grahame, Connie Gilchrist, Doris Day, Veronica Lake, Marilyn Monroe, Anne Bancroft, Ingrid Bergman, Judy Holliday, Claire Trevor, Rosalind Russell, Jean Simmons, Anne Baxter, Margaret Sullavan, Agnes Moorehead, Fay Bainter, Lee Remick, Joan Blondell, Alexis Smith, Hope Lange, Gene Tierney, Carole Lombard, Jean Harlow, Ann Sheridan, Vivien Leigh, Mary Wickes. Lucile Watson, Glynis Johns, Gladys Cooper, Julie Harris, Natalie Wood, Diane Baker, Ruth Roman, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Marlene Dietrich and many more but definitely not Jennifer Jones nor Loretta Young both of whom give me a sharp pain.


    • Joel, thanks for posting a great list. Liked your comments about each choice – I must see more Linda Darnell, I like her a lot in those I’ve seen so far, and I would have chosen Julie Christie if I had been including current actresses. I agree with you on Priscilla Lane’s warmth and on her making a great combination with John Garfield.

      As well as your choices you have a great list of nearlies there, some of whom aren’t familiar to me but I will look out for them. We will have to agree to disagree on Loretta Young and Jennifer Jones!


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