Film Stars of the 1940s


Hollywood has always had glamourous screen stars, both male and female. As movies became the dominant cultural form in the middle of the 20th century, they took on mass appeal, influencing fashion, acting styles and even popular mores. No film buff would ignore the selection of film stars who came to prominence in the forties and who are still inextricably linked to that golden age of American cinema.

Bette Davis

  • Legendary screen star Bette Davis was born Ruth Davis in 1908 in Massachusetts. Although she came to prominence -- and won two Oscars for leading roles in “Dangerous” and “Jezebel” -- in the '30s, she became the highest paid American screen actress in 1942. Davis dominated the '40s starring in films such as “The Little Foxes,” “The Corn is Green” and “Deception,” portraying characters of -- until then -- unheard in power and complexity.

James Cagney

  • Tough-guy screen star James Cagney specialized in playing criminals like gangster Tom Powers in “The Public Enemy.” But he is even better remembered for playing Broadway song-and-dance man George M. Cohan in 1942’s “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” a role that won him an Oscar. Other masterpieces from the '40s featuring Cagney were “The Time of Your Life” in 1948 and the B-film classic “White Heat” in 1949. Cagney’s acting continued through the '50s and '60s. He came out of retirement to make “Ragtime” in 1981.

Ingrid Berman

  • Born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1915, Ingrid Bergman trained as an actor and moved to Hollywood in 1939, following her success in the Swedish and American versions of the film “Intermezzo.” She starred in some iconic '40s films including “Anna Christie” in 1941, “Casablanca” with Humphrey Bogart in 1942, “Gaslight,” for which she received an Oscar in 1944, and the Hitchcock films “Spellbound” and “Notorious.” Bergman left the States in 1949 to marry Italian director Roberto Rossellini. It caused an international scandal at the time, but Bergman returned to the States when her marriage collapsed, receiving another Best Actress Oscar for her role in “Anastasia” in 1957 and continuing her career on the American stage and screen.

Sydney Greenstreet

  • British actor Sydney Greenstreet was born in 1879 and is most famous for creating the villainous character of Kaspar Gutman in John Huston’s 1941 classic “The Maltese Falcon” with Humphrey Bogart. He starred in other films with Bogart, including “Casablanca” in 1942 and “Passage to Marseille” in 1944. He made his final film in 1949 -- “Malaya,” which also starred Jimmy Stewart and Spencer Tracy. Greenstreet died in 1954.

Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy

  • One of the great screen couples were also inseparable off-screen. Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy’s first film together was “Woman of the Year” in 1942. Here they play reporters who struggle with work-life balance as well as with the stereotypical roles that kept women at home during this period. The pair went on to make nine films together, most notably the Frank Capra film “State of the Union” in 1948 and “Adam’s Rib” in 1949.

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart

  • Actor Humphrey Bogart met Lauren Bacall on the set of “To Have and Have Not” in 1943. At the time, Bacall was 19 years old and living with her mother and Bogart was 44 and married. The couple wed in 1945, had two children and remained together until his death in 1957. They were another iconic on and off-screen couple of the '40s who went on to make such classic films “The Big Sleep” in 1945, 1947's “Dark Passage” and “Key Largo” in 1948 together.

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