The ideal American beauty, circa 1941
The great screen beauties of the 1940's are a peculiar bunch: for the most part, their stardom (which, in some cases, was extraordinary) failed to outlast the decade. The wartime sirens didn't become warhorse troupers, unlike those whose fame came to the fore in the 1930's, chief among them, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck, Marlene Dietrich, Rosalind Russell, and Olivia de Havilland -- all of whom continued their careers with their stardom undimmed well into the future decades. And even the newer stars that followed in the 1950's, as television encroached and the studio system crumbled, seemed to have greater staying power: witness the longevity of Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Doris Day, Sophia Loren.
Timeless faces, top to bottom: Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn
The number one box office attraction of the 1940's, Betty Grable, despite remaining a beloved star and icon of her time, was washed up in pictures by 1953. The decade's reigning musical star, Judy Garland, became an even greater legend by the 1950's and 1960's, but largely on the basis of her concert performances and personal triumphs and tragedies -- Garland only acted in four more films after 1950. Only Lana Turner emerged from the 1940's with her movie stardom intact -- and even that was badly waning throughout the entire 1950's, until a potentially damning scandal gave the former Sweater Girl such notoriety that her box office appeal suddenly went into a third act revival.
Lana Turner, a legend in three acts: superstar (1947), on the skids (1950), resurrection (1959)
Most of the celluloid goddesses of the 1940's are frozen in amber, forever shrouded in the shadows of film noir, or enshrined in the nobility of wartime pluck and determination. Unlike their supercharged 1930's predecessors, their glamour wasn't a fantastical illusion, but somehow more realistic -- while still more remote, moody and less approachable than those who inherited the mantle in the 1950's. Over the next few weeks, we shall showcase some of our favorites from the fabulous, fleeting, Forties. Most made films before and after, but the basis of their stardom is contained in that one unique decade. We inaugurate this series with the Most Beautiful Girl in the World...