The 1940s are a dark decade dominated by war in Europe and Asia. While the US doesn’t enter World War II until the end of 1941, it is not immune from the prevailing mood of angst.
As the Nazis threaten to eradicate jews, gypsies and other minorities, Europe’s loss is the US’s gain. Hollywood benefits hugely from an influx of talent – the exiles include actors and actresses, directors, producers, art directors and photographers, composers and musicians.
Not only do they help to reinvigorate the studios, they play a vital role in the development of film noir, a defining genre of the decade – a decade that produces, among other movies, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Mildred Pierce, The Third Man, Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, The Killers, Gilda, The Lady from Shanghai and To Have and Have Not.
At the same time, wannabe actresses flock to Hollywood. Growing up during the Great Depression, for many the movies have been the main form of escapism from the sheer, grinding poverty of daily life. Some make their way there themselves, others are steered by ambitious or desperate parents. Awaiting them is a horde of sexual predators. But only a handful of the new arrivals will make it in Tinseltown. To do so, they need a combination of talent, savvy and looks. Arguably, above all you need luck.
This page is a gallery primarily for the girls (and they are girls – young and inexperienced) who at least make it through the studio gates but who never make it big. Alongside them are the troupers – those who have some success but have to be satisfied with supporting roles – always the bridesmaid, never the bride. And then there are the A-listers – those who become true stars, remembered and celebrated to this day. But also those whose fame has since faded, like so many of the surviving stills that the studios circulated in their thousands.
See which actresses you recognise. Then mouseover the photos and click on Read more to find out about them. You can also use the filter buttons above the groups of photos to choose the kinds of themes/stories you’re most interested in. These are of course quite subjective but fun to play with.
Don’t just look at the pictures, captivating as they are. Mouseover the photos and click on Read more to find out about them. There are some great stories that bring the individual actresses to life and tell us about a vanished age. You could to a lot worse than start with Lynne Baggett, Nan Wynn, Paula Drew, Vera Ralston, Dolores Moran, Joan Bennett, Helen Walker, Evelyn Keyes, Alaine Brandis and Maria Montez.
Most of the stills are in portrait format – well, they are portraits in one form or another. But here, to go with them, are some landscape shots, and what landscapes they feature!
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A few stars, who managed to make an impact in their time but have since been forgotten except by movie buffs, have separate profiles on aenigma – the likes of Hazel Brooks, Marguerite Chapman, Ella Raines, Jinx Falkenburg, Dusty Anderson and Carole Landis.