The 1950s is known as part of Hollywood’s Golden Age. This period saw the rise of some of the most iconic faces to ever grace the silver screen. Blonde bombshells and suave leading men all held sway over the box office – but which celebrities were the hottest names in Tinseltown?
We’ve put together a list of 10 Hollywood icons who made the greatest impact on the film industry in the 1950s. Known for their outstanding looks, they’ve inspired pop culture long since their heyday. Their influence has even reached beyond the world of film into the world of photography – if their gorgeous glamor shots have inspired you to go through your own collection of vintage portraits, don’t forget to check out our guide on the best way to scan old photos!
1. John Wayne
Known for his strong, silent style of acting, John Wayne became a household name after starring in multiple Westerns. He first caught the public eye in the 1939 film Stagecoach. John Wayne then went on to star in They Were Expendable (1945) and Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
The 1950s saw his tall, dark, and handsome profile grace movie screens in the romantic comedy The Quiet Man (1952) and two more Westerns: The Searchers (1956) and Rio Bravo (1959). By the time he retired in 1976, John Wayne had starred in 169 films and been acting for 50 years – truly a remarkable feat in an industry where stars burn bright but burn out fast!
2. Brigitte Bardot
One of the most famous sex symbols of the 1950s, French actress and singer Brigitte Bardot got her start in small roles in European films. Brigitte’s status as a screen siren was sealed when she starred in the French musical comedy Naughty Girl (1956), which became a massive hit in France.
She starred in two more French box-office sensations, Plucking the Daisy and The Bride Is Much Too Beautiful, before going on to one of her most famous performances as Juliette in And God Created Woman (1956). It was this role that earned her the title of “sex kitten” from the press and launched her career as an international star!
3. Marlon Brando
Known for his visually arresting and broody performances, Marlon Brando first appeared in The Men (1950) before showcasing his method acting in 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire. His performance as Stanley Kowalski earned him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. He also starred in The Wild One, a 1953 hit where he played the leader of a motorcycle gang.
His career was most notably revived after a short slump with his legendary turn as Don Corleone in The Godfather (1972). With acting credits spanning over sixty years, his screen presence continues to awe and surprise audiences until today.
4. Marilyn Monroe
One of the era’s most popular sex symbols, Marilyn Monroe was one of Hollywood’s most successful actresses in the 1950s. Known for the box-office hit comedies Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, and The Seven Year Itch, Marilyn later became a dedicated method actor to shed her ‘dumb blonde’ image.
She found her own film production company and called it “Marilyn Monroe Productions”. Its first film, The Prince and the Showgirl, was a roaring success. She later won a Golden Globe for Best Actress for Some Like It Hot in 1959. Though her life was tragically cut short in 1962, her legacy endures as one of Hollywood’s most glamorous icons.
5. Gary Cooper
Known for a more natural and understated acting style, Gary Cooper is one of Golden Hollywood’s quintessential leading men. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor twice and had a career that spanned 36 years. His most famous performances represented the American ideal of a folk hero and continue to mesmerize audiences today.
The handsome Cooper started acting in silent films, and successfully transitioned to talkies in The Virginian (1929). Some of his greatest hits were Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Meet John Doe, and For Whom the Bell Tolls – all considered some of the best Hollywood films.
6. James Stewart
His everyman persona and strongly moral roles made audiences consider James Stewart the “American ideal”. He first rose to fame after starring in You Can’t Take It with You. He later won Academy Award nominations for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and The Philadelphia Story, where his dashing looks and easy drawl had everyone swooning.
James Stewart took darker roles in the 1950s and worked with Alfred Hitchcock to deliver powerful performances in Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Vertigo. Famed for his chameleon-like ability to act in both comedies and darker films, he is still considered one of the greatest Hollywood actors of all time.
7. Grace Kelly
From red carpet royalty to European royalty, Grace Kelly was so stunning that she captured the heart of Prince Rainier III of Monaco. Though her initial performances were not well-received, she took the craft seriously and got private acting lessons.
All her hard work paid off as she starred in one critically acclaimed hit after another: Mogambo, Rear Window, and The Country Girl. It was this last role that earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress. Her acting career came to an end after her marriage in 1956, when she took on the official duties of a Princess of Monaco.
8. William Holden
Considered one of the 1950s’ biggest box office draws, William Holden is most famous for starring in Sunset Boulevard (1950), Sabrina (1954), and Stalag 17 (1953). His complex performance in Stalag 17 earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor.
His handsome looks and short-lived affair with Sabrina co-star Audrey Hepburn only added to his image as a charismatic ladies man. William Holden’s magnetic acting put him firmly in American Film Institute’s 25 greatest male stars of Classic Hollywood Cinema – a fitting honor for an acting career that lasted over half a century!
9. Audrey Hepburn
Famous for her sheer and utter elegance, Audrey Hepburn first turned heads on Broadway in 1951’s Gigi before snagging the lead in Roman Holiday (1953). It was this role that made her the first actress to win an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA Award for a single performance.
Audrey is also known for Sabrina (1954), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), and My Fair Lady (1964). She was named one of the top 3 greatest female legends on the screen during the Golden Age of Hollywood by the American Film Institute. Audrey’s timeless style continues to inspire fashion and film today – a sophistication that transcends decades.
10. Elizabeth Taylor
Elizabeth Taylor’s career began as a child star in 1944’s National Velvet, but it was her role as Angela Vickers in A Place In The Sun (1951) that marked her as one of Hollywood’s rising talents. Known for her arresting violet eyes, she starred in Giant and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in the 1950s. These two movies revealed the depth and range she had on screen – not to mention her undeniable sex appeal!
She continued to act well in the 1960s and 70s, but it was this decade when she made a name for herself as one of Hollywood’s most beautiful and talented actresses. She retired from acting in 2007, but her past performances remain unforgettable.
Hollywood’s Most Iconic Names Still Inspire Us Today
Though their greatest work was made decades ago, these famous celebrities from the 1950s continue to galvanize the screen with their fantastic acting and incredible looks. Scroll through archives of their restored films and professional stills to see precisely why they continue to fascinate audiences.