These days, with the internet and social media, it sometimes feels like we know more intimate details about film stars than we do our closest friends and family. Their presence is ubiquitous in our lives. So it’s hard to believe that, decades down the line, people won’t have heard of Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie (or, indeed, even Brangelina). Mind you, that’s probably what the filmophiles of the early decades of the twentieth century thought about these ten faded luminaries.
10. William S. Hart
A hugely popular and influential star, William Hart was fundamental to the creation of the most enduring archetype of the quintessential American genre, the Western. The first true embodiment of the “good-bad man”, Hart frequently played characters who operated outside of the law but with a strict moral code, something that’s been a staple of similar films ever since. Many of his films proved so popular that they remained in theatres for a decade after initial release, and he was named the biggest box office draw of both 1915 and 1916. He retired in 1925, two years before the advent of “talkies”.
9. Tom Mix
The second Western star on our list, Tom Mix’s name still crops up infrequently in popular culture, although nowhere near enough to do justice to his heyday popularity. To sum up just how big a star Mix was is tricky, as unlike Hart, the characters he portrayed are very much a relic of the past; rather than gritty and realistic, Mix was a Western showman with a passion for stunts and entertainment value. He racked up a not insignificant 291 films in his career, made around $400m in today’s money (even more impressive considering the studio system at the time kept actor’s wages artificially low), and even built his own 12-acre studio set, dubbed Mixville.
8. Joan Blondell
Co-star of James Cagney in films such as The Public Enemy, Joan Blondell had a hugely successful career spanning five decades. Her peak was during the Great Depression in the ‘30s, when she was one of the highest paid people in the United States, and as way of recompense to the impoverished millions who could only dream of earning such astronomical sums, her rendition of “Remember My Forgotten Man” in Gold Diggers of 1933 became a Depression-era anthem.
7. C. Aubrey Smith
An English character actor, C. Aubrey Smith successfully navigated the transition between the silent and talking eras and became one of the most familiar faces in Hollywood. Although most of the films he featured in have seen their reputations go the same way as the actors on this list, the same cannot be said of his co-stars, that read as a who’s-who of early Hollywood stars: Greta Garbo, Elizabeth Taylor, Clark Gable and Laurence Olivier were just some of the names he starred alongside. He also began the Hollywood Cricket Club, which attracted an equal number of luminaries.
6. Teresa Wright
Teresa Wright shot to fame after her first three appearances netted her two Academy nominations (for Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress), and won her the latter category in between. Starring in such classics as Shadow of a Doubt, The Pride of the Yankees, and The Best Days of Our Lives, she proved hugely successful despite her contract stipulating that she would not be required “to pose for photographs in a bathing suit unless she is in the water”, which has never failed to boost an actresses profile. Even a well publicised rebellion against the studio system that undoubtedly cost her numerous roles couldn’t dent her popularity at the height of her career.
5. Randolph Scott
Having been brought into the film business by none other than Howard Hughes, Randolph Scott’s career began with him frequently being cast as a charming leading man, before developing a screen persona as an uncompromising Western hero, the genre which he became indelibly associated with in the latter half of his career. He rivalled the likes of John Wayne and Gary Cooper in terms of popularity in his day, and his stardom was such that his likeness was used (and continues to this day) in the Oakland Raiders NFL team logo.
4. Jean Arthur
Referred to by Turner Classic Movies as the “quintessential comedic leading lady”, Jean Arthur’s legacy has fallen foul of her reclusiveness. Unlike famed recluses such as Greta Garbo, hers hasn’t entered into legend in quite the same way. Best known for her starring role in three Frank Capra films – Mr Deeds Goes to Town, You Can’t Take it With You, and Mr Smith Goes to Washington – as well as her final, acclaimed role in Shane (when she was aged just 53), it was perhaps her greatest gift – her comedic abilities – that proved her detriment. Few genres tend to age as much as the comedic, but her talents are transcendent of the particular tastes of a given time.
3. Tyrone Power
One of the original heartthrobs of the talking era, Tyrone Power’s films may no longer be particularly well known (aside from his starring role in The Mark of Zorro), but the part of his reputation that has survived somewhat is his infamous level of celebrity. His various romances were the subject of huge gossip, with one of his weddings attracting around 10,000 fans to the church, and his sudden death at the age of 44 secured his place in the hearts of millions of adoring fans.
2. Lillian Gish
The only name on our list to trump Randolph Scott for “Most obscure yet brilliant tribute”, Lillian Gish is best known these days for her name’s use as The Smashing Pumpkins’ debut album title. This undoubted honour does little to sum up just what an incredible career she had. Often referred to as the “First Lady of American cinema” during her career, which spanned a whopping 75 years, Gish starred in landmark films such as The Birth of a Nation (widely regarded as the precursor to modern feature films) and Night of the Hunter, and the list of stars she worked with is a rolodex of Hollywood legends, although she left it until her very final film, The Whales of August, to cross Bette Davis off her list. Given her longevity, it’s remarkable how often she’s omitted from lists of the greatest female stars, a fact that Gish seemed to have come to terms with before she died; on her Oscar snub for Whales, she said it saved her the trouble of losing to Cher.
1. Rudolph Valentino
Almost certainly the best known name on the list, Rudolph Valentino’s lingering fame does next to no justice to his former stardom. Similarly to Powers, much of his popularity stemmed from his persona, rather than the particular films he featured in, but, in truth, the two actors are incomparable. Valentino, or “the Latin Lover” as he was known, inspired hysteria that Justin Bieber would be jealous of, and was truly the first star of American cinema. His alleged effemininity made his fanbase almost entirely female, with smear campaigns in the press revolving around his threat to the masculinity of the American man (including one article blaming him for the appearance of talcum dispensers in men’s restrooms). The greatest indication of his fame came with his funeral following his sudden death at just 31; over 100,000 fans lined the streets, a riot broke out when people attempted to get into the funeral parlour, and there were reports of his most ardent supporters committing suicide when they heard the news.