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Ten Hollywood actors from the lesser-known Golden Age of Hollywood who deserve more acclaim

Contract studio actors abounding in the Golden Age of Hollywood, some of whom remain well-known decades after their careers began and others who still deserve greater acknowledgement today. While Humphrey Bogart, James Stewart, and Bette Davis are well-known, many lesser-known performers from that era also gave outstanding performances. While some of these lesser-known actors were far more well-known in their day but have, for whatever reason, been forgotten so many years later, others may have been eclipsed by their more recognizable co-stars in the annals of history.

Golden Age of Hollywood

Hollywood’s Golden Age, which is defined as the years from the late 1920s to the early 1950s, produced some of the most famous movies ever, but it was also a very discriminatory and prejudiced era. Too often, typecasting of actors was the outcome of racial injustice. Furthermore, because of the influence the studios had at the time, they were able to decide which films to put their stars in and whether or not performers in their stable would become successful. Regardless of the cause for these actors’ relative obscurity, they should all be honored and remembered today.

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10 Claude Rains (Golden Age of Hollywood)

Famous Films: Casablanca (1942); The Invisible Man (1933)

Claude Rains as Captain Louis Renault and Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine sitting in Casablanca together in Casablanca.

Without Claude Rains to compete against, Humphrey Bogart’s performance in Casablanca might not have been as noteworthy. Rains garnered his second Oscar nomination out of four—all of which were for supporting roles—for his own performance. His main role was that of a character actor, most known for playing evil characters in films like Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Adventures of Robin Hood. Still, Rains did take the lead from time to time. One of the less well-known recurring performers of the Universal Classic Monsters series, he performed the title roles in The Invisible Man, Phantom of the Opera (1943), and The Wolf Man (as the hero).

Casablanca cast

9Kay Francis

Top Films: In Name Only (1939); Trouble in Paradise (1932)

Kay Francis managed to survive the switch from silent films to talkies, but her fame didn’t last much into the late 1940s. Her finest pictures, notably Ernest Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise, were produced by Warner Bros. There, she performs Lubitsch’s speech with style and flawless comic timing. She also has a penchant for wordplay. She was the highest-paid actress in Hollywood for a while, but that ended when she and the company got into a public spat. Because of her turbulent personal life, Warner Bros. refused to extend her contract. Francis then had lesser roles with other companies before disappearing from the public eye and being mostly forgotten.

8Joel McCrea

The Most Dangerous Game (1932); Foreign Correspondent (1940) are the two most well-known films.

Joel McCrea holding a knife in the woods in The Most Dangerous Game (1932).

Joel McCrea did not begin his career as a star of B movies, as he would spend the later part of his career doing. He played the title role in the first The Most Dangerous Game movie in 1932 and went on to star in Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent and Sullivan’s Travels. Although McCrea could play a variety of roles, he was chosen to play the romantic lead alongside some of the greatest female stars of the day, such as Ginger Rogers and Barbara Stanwyck. McCrea valued his time outside of Hollywood and was content to fade from the limelight as he grew older, albeit enjoying a respectable level of success.

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7 Gladys Cooper

Top Films: My Fair Lady (1964); Now, Voyager (1942)

Gladys Cooper standing in front of a doorway in Now, Voyager (1942).

Gladys Cooper spent the majority of her career on stage, but in the later years of her life, she became well-known in Hollywood. She costarred in two films during Hollywood’s Golden Age: Now, Voyager, starring Bette Davis and Claude Rains, and Rebecca by Alfred Hitchcock. For the latter, she received her first of three Oscar nods. Many years later, she co-starred with Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady as Mrs. Higgins, for which she received her third Oscar nomination. Despite the fact that Cooper was an excellent actress with prominent parts, her younger co-stars ended up having a more lasting impression on the audience owing to Cooper’s later in life renown.

6Ann Miller

Famous Films: Kiss Me Kate (1953); On the Town (1949)

Ann Miller tapping and singing in Easter Parade (1948).

Ann Miller was a powerhouse of the musical genre, demonstrating outstanding dancing and singing skills in a number of big-budget movies. She was soon cast in well-known musicals including On The Town, Easter Parade, and the 3D musical Kiss Me Kate because of her exceptional tap dancing skills. Even though Miller often played the supporting role and was cast with a number of well-known actors and actresses, she never attained the same degree of celebrity. After her studio contract was expired, she turned mostly to theatrical performances, sometimes accepting tiny parts, such as Coco in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, until her death in 2004.

5Anna May Wong

Best Known Movies: Daughter Of The Dragon (1931); Shanghai Express (1932)

Anna May Wong has starting to be acknowledged for the outstanding actress that she was, and the significant job she accomplished. Due to racial discrimination, she tragically did not get much recognition while she was living. Facing prejudice for the length of her career, Wong was typecast in parts that perpetuated Asian-American stereotypes, yet this did not stop her from producing brilliant performances in such films as Picadilly and Daughter of the Dragon. In Shanghai Express, which was nominated for Best Picture, Wong stands out among her co-stars. Though Marlene Dietrich is billed higher, Wong asserts herself in all of their moments together and makes the movie her own.

4 George Sanders

Most well-known films: All About Eve (1950); Rebecca (1940).

George Sanders standing in a doorway in Rebecca (1940).

George Sanders’s strong speaking voice led to his being often cast in enigmatic or even malevolent parts. Before relocating to Hollywood and costarring in Alfred Hitchcock’s flicks Foreign Correspondent and Rebecca, the British actor made his name as a theater actor. His most famous role was in All About Eve, starring alongside Bette Davis, for which he received the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Even though he had a lengthy career after that, a stroke that limited his movement ended it early, preventing him from being as well-known as some of the other Golden Age of Hollywood performers.

All About Eve Recasting

3Dana Andrews

Well-known films include The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and Laura (1944).

Dana Andrews and Harold Russel sit at a bar in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).

Though Dana Andrews did not get an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of World War II veteran Fred Derry in the film The Best Years of Our Lives, which is regarded as an American classic, did win several other awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. He played one of his greatest characters in the movie, Captain Derry, who actually represented many returning Americans at the time. It’s unfortunate that he did not get recognition for his efforts in the movie. Laura and Where the Sidewalk Ends are two of his many other noteworthy movies. Even though he gave powerful performances, Andrews quickly transitioned into less prominent television roles, and his more important work was mostly forgotten.

2Hattie McDaniel

Top Films: Gone With the Wind (1939); Show Boat (1936)

Hattie McDaniel turning around in Gone With The Wind (1939).

Hattie McDaniel was the first Black woman to receive an Academy Award and a symbol of Hollywood. This was in recognition of her role in Gone with the Wind as Mammy, the housekeeper. Even though she received considerable attention for the play, McDaniel’s career was marred by discriminatory typecasting, which is reflected in the role. She was a gifted jazz vocalist before breaking into the film industry, and she subsequently sang nationally on her CBS radio show, The Beulah Show. Despite never being treated equally in Hollywood, McDaniel performed supporting parts in several movies and broke many boundaries with her talent.

1 Powell, William

The Thin Man (1934); My Man Godfrey (1936) are two of the best-known films.

Among the six Thin Man films, William Powell’s work received the most acclaim. Though his other most well-known film, the classic screwball comedy My Man Godfrey, toyed with that trait, producers often put him in parts that called for a suave, well-groomed type. Even when put in a box, he performed well and met expectations. One of his last roles before leaving Hollywood to retire early was as Lauren Bacall’s love interest in the film How to Marry a Millionaire. Although he made the choice to leave Hollywood for his personal life, it did mean that, in terms of Hollywood aristocracy, his work was less visible.

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