Glamorous Photos From The Golden Age Of Hollywood

Hollywood, California has gone through countless changes over the last century, but one period that remains iconic in the eyes of historians is the Golden Age of Hollywood. It began just before World War I when silent movies were what was being made. The era lasted over five decades into the late 1960s.

During this time period, audiences were introduced to many technological advances such as sound and color. There were several iconic actors who became studio assets by earning tons of money and notoriety. These vintage photos will transport any cinephile back to the Golden Age of Hollywood.

This Sign Symbolizes The Entertainment Industry

A group of men and builders working on the new housing developement known as Hollywoodland
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The sign plastered on the hills of Los Angeles has gone through some big changes over the years. It was originally written as Hollywoodland and used as a billboard to advertise for a housing development in the Hollywood Hills.

In 1923 the sign was lit in bright bulbs and stood at 30-feet wide and 43-feet tall. The sign changed to just Hollywood in 1949. Over the years it has become a cultural icon for the entertainment industry and has been featured in the backdrop of several movies and TV shows.

The Birth Of A Nation Was The Start Of Something New

a man kissing a woman's hand
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

The Birth of a Nation made film history for being the fist 12-reel movie ever made and was the longest at the time for being over three hours. Almost all of the scenes were filled with negative stereotypes of African Americans and led to the NAACP asking for it to be banned from theaters.

They were unsuccessful with their proposal and the film actually did pretty well at the box office. The reason why it’s considered culturally significant to this day is because of the “innovative application of the medium of film,” meaning the filmmaker used brand new techniques.

The Big Five Dominated The Box Office

Exterior view of the long concrete building housing Warner Bros.
Gene Lester/Getty Images
Gene Lester/Getty Images

At the beginning of the Golden Age of Hollywood major movie studios moved to the area to avoid being sued for infringing on the motion picture film patents placed by Thomas Edison. Most were from the east coast, but after World War I, studios from France and Italy soon followed.

There were five studios that made the majority of the profit in Hollywood; Warner Brothers, RKO, Fox, MGM, and Paramount. Actors who wanted to see themselves on the big screen tried to earn a contract with one of them.

How He Became The Face Of Silent Films

charlie chaplin wearing a bowler hat and mustache
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Charlie Chaplin was best known for his persona called “The Tramp,” which was seen in several silent films of the 1920s and 1930s. He is considered one of the most influential actors and filmmakers in history with a career that spanned over 75 years.

Films such as The Kid, The Great Dictator, and Modern Times paved the way for the industry. Chaplin wrote, directed, produced, edited, and starred in over 30 movies and made sure that they were not finished until they were perfect. He also originated the genre of slapstick comedy, which is still seen today.

The Jazz Singer Was Hollywood’s Earliest Musical

al jolson wearing religious garb in the jazz singer
John Springer Collection/Getty Images
John Springer Collection/Getty Images

Silent films usually had music to accompany it when it played in the theaters. When silent films transitioned to talkies, movies with sound, musicals soon followed. One of the earliest musicals was 1927’s The Jazz Singer starring Al Jolson. It was the first film to have a synchronized recorded music score and lip-synchronous singing.

This movie received a lot of criticism in hindsight because the lead character performed in blackface. At the time the movie was a major hit at the box office and won one of the first Academy Awards.

The Oscars Has Drastically Changed Over The Years

actors staring at an oscars statue
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

The very first Academy Awards ceremony took place on May 16, 1929, and honored films made in 1927 and 1928. It was held at the iconic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and featured the era’s biggest stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Janet Gaynor, Emil Jannings, and Gloria Swanson.

Unlike the Oscars ceremonies of today, the first show only lasted 15 minutes and charged guests only five dollars to enter. Since it was brand new it would be the only Academy Awards show not to be played on the radio or television. Also, winners were announced three months before the ceremony, so there weren’t any surprises.

The History Behind A Beloved Child Star

shirley temple speaking into a microphone
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Before Shirley Temple reached elementary school she was already America’s sweetheart. She got her start in show business at the tender age of three by performing in short films. Later, Temple went on to star in almost 30 movies before she was 10-years-old, making her Fox’s biggest asset.

Her popularity in the entertainment industry led her to win the very first Juvenile Academy Award. When referring to Temple during the Great Depression Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “It is a splendid thing that for just fifteen cents, an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles.”

Millions Of Americans Did This During The Great Depression

people in line to go inside a movie theater during the 1930s
John Springer Collection/ Getty Images
John Springer Collection/ Getty Images

The Great Depression took a huge toll on the economy and people needed a way to escape from their everyday lives. Around 80 million Americans would fill the seats of movie theaters all over the country to watch movies with fictional, escapist storylines to make them temporarily forget about their troubles.

People took whatever spare change they had to see some of cinema’s best such as Gone With the Wind, 42nd Street, The Wizard of Oz, and the early films of Walt Disney and Charlie Chaplin. Movie studios were also a top place to find a job during this time because they could afford to hire lots of workers.

Almost Everyone Has Seen This Movie

a still from the wizard of oz where the tin man, the lion, dorothy, and the scarecrow come to meet the wizard
Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It’s very likely that almost everyone around the world has seen or at least heard of 1939’s The Wizard of Oz. Newcomer Judy Garland starred as Dorothy, a farm girl who traveled to a magical land in hopes of meeting the Wizard with the help of her unique friends.

The Wizard of Oz was one of the first movies to use Technicolor and is remembered for its catchy musical numbers, concrete storytelling, and state of the art special effects. Although it didn’t receive worldwide recognition until a couple of decades after its initial release, it will always remain a staple in film history.

Here’s Looking At You, Kid

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman wearing hats in a black and white still from Casablanca
Sunset Boulevard/Getty Images
Sunset Boulevard/Getty Images

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman starred in the quintessential ’40s movie Casablanca. Set during World War II, it tells the story of a nightclub owner who must choose between true love and doing the right thing. Those who worked on the production didn’t expect for it to be anything out of the ordinary but were proven wrong after it won several Academy Awards including Best Picture.

Almost eight decades later it has become one of the most-watched movies in history with memorable lines such as “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Many of the films that soon followed used the World War II setting to speak on current events.

Famous Faces Joined The Armed Forces

henry fonda wearing his army uniform
PhotoQuest/Getty Images
PhotoQuest/Getty Images

During World War II many famous stars wanted to do their part in serving their country. Actors such as Clark Gable, Mickey Rooney, Jimmy Stewart, and Henry Fonda enlisted in the armed forces. Actresses Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable, and Lana Turner became popular pinup girls.

World War II also effected movie production. Major studios had to make severe budget cuts and blackout hours prevented filming at night. This was also the first time people could see what was going on overseas by viewing short film reels at the movie theater before the actual movie started.

What Made Bette Davis A Standout Star

bette davis sitting in a chair wearing a gold backless dress
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

One of the most prolific actresses of the Golden Age of Hollywood was Bette Davis. By the end of her career, she had starred in over 100 movies that spanned over several genres. She performed a wide range of acting roles with memorable credits including All About Eve, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, and Dangerous.

In 1942 she was the highest-paid actress in the world and her movies would almost always do well at the box office. She also did what she could to contribute to the war efforts such as opening up a canteen for soldiers passing through Hollywood and toured with other actresses to perform for African Americans in the army.

Hollywood Turned To The Teenagers

elvis presley performing to a crowd of teens
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As the world shifted into the 1950s Hollywood started to predominantly focus on the teen market. They were considered to be the rock and roll generation who were turned off by the nostalgia of their parents’ era. Films, television shows, and music reflected this switch.

Elvis Presley became a music icon in the 50s mainly due to his appeal to teenagers. Songs such as “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Hound Dog,” and “Tutti Frutti” were blasted on jukeboxes and record players everywhere. At the time he was considered to be quite risque. His energetic performances were censored and had to be shot from above the waist.

James Dean: The All-American Teenager

james dean wearing a red jacket in rebel without a cause
Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

In the 50s American teenagers were looking for characters that resonated with them. One actor who did just that was James Dean. He played a teenager who felt that no one understood him in Rebel Without a Cause, which is a type of character commonly seen in teen-centered content.

His overall image of a good-looking all-American teen with slick-backed hair and a cool car has been imprinted into the minds of millions. Unfortunately, his life ended shortly after the filming of Rebel Without a Cause, but he remains one of the most talented actors of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

How Marilyn Monroe Shook Up Hollywood

marilyn monroe wearing a green blouse and red lipstick
Baron/Getty Images
Baron/Getty Images

Norma Jean Mortenson was born on June 1, 1926, and grew up in a childhood full of foster homes and orphanages. She was married by age 16 and went to work in a factory during the war efforts of World War II. A few years later she met a photographer who helped her become a pinup model, which led to a film contract.

She changed her name to Marilyn Monroe and worked hard to become one of Hollywood’s most successful actresses of the 1950s and early 1960s. Although she didn’t live past 36, she will always be remembered as a major pop culture icon.

Marlon Brando Popularized Method Acting

marlon brando dressed in a biker costume for the wild one
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

In 1947 Elia Kazan, Robert Lewis, and Cheryl Crawford formed an organization for professional actors, theatre directors, and playwrights called The Actors Studio. Lee Strasberg was one of their best teachers who educated some of Hollywood’s greats including Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Paul Newman, Jane Fonda, and Al Pacino.

Strasberg taught them a new way of acting called method. This requires actors to go beyond using emotional memories and believe they are the characters they are portraying. Once other actors saw Brando doing this in movies such as The Wild One, they started to incorporate method acting into their performances.

Elizabeth Taylor’s Life Of Hollywood Luxury

elizabeth taylor wearing her cleopatra costume
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

One of Elizabeth Taylor’s most striking physical traits was her piercing eyes and dark eyelashes. She was born with a genetic mutation that gave her purple irises and a double set of eyelashes. Audiences were introduced to Taylor after her performance in a film called One Born Every Minute when she was only 10-years-old.

In 1963 she became the first actress in history to make over a million dollars for a single movie for Cleopatra. Also, Taylor was known for wearing some of the most expensive and rare jewelry pieces that were worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

What Caused Beatlemania

beatles sitting on a bench wearing matching suits
Ron Howard/Redferns/Getty Images
Ron Howard/Redferns/Getty Images

The Beatles topped the music charts during the 1960s. After English-born Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr released “Love Me Do” in 1962 they became a smash hit. When they came to America to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show it put them on the map the artists to watch.

Their music dealt with themes of love, friendship, having fun, and growing up, which resonated with the general public. They combined several musical styles, sounds, and genres to revolutionize the industry. The Beatles are still the best-selling music act of all time.

Audrey Hepburn Was A Style Icon

audrey hepburn in a still from breakfast at tiffany's
Mondadori via Getty Images
Mondadori via Getty Images

Breakfast at Tiffany’s wouldn’t have been complete without Audrey Hepburn’s classic costumes. Hepburn was a style icon who wore some of Hollywood’s best looks including sleeveless silhouette dresses, bold patterns, bright florals, high-waisted shorts, and elegant up-dos. Her acting was also something to see as she was ranked as one of the top three actresses of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

After her role in Roman Holiday, she became the first actress to ever win an Oscar, Golden Globe, and BAFTA Award for a single performance. Also, she held the prestigious honor of being an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) Award winner.

Westerns Thrived During The Golden Age Of Hollywood

john wayne wearing an eyepatch and cowboy hat
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Westerns were one of the most popular film genres during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Movies such as Stagecoach, Fort Apache, True Grit, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid became instant hits at the box office.

The genre started to dry up at the end of the 60s because fans were getting older and audiences were gravitating towards other genres such as science fiction. Westerns earned a place in cinematic history because they represent Americana and intricate cinematography. The performances by John Wayne, Roy Rogers, John Ford, Clint Eastwood, and more were also quite powerful.