The Top 5 Best Actresses in Black and White

Best Actresses, Clara BowLast month I brought you the ten best actors in black and white, and today I am going to talk about who I believe are the top five best actresses in black and white.  They were all world-famous at one time (some of them for things other than their acting skills…unfortunately), and still have enduring qualities today.

And I admit that I do not pay much attention to actresses on the silver screen, so I really do not have a solid top 10 best actresses.  The other five vary with my mood.  But there are five dames who constantly, and will always, be the best actresses of all time to me.  And I hope they are to you, too.

Are any of your favorites on the list?

Best Actress #1:  Clara Bow

Ah, the eternal “It Girl” Clara Bow.  She was the hot ticket and ultimate flapper in the 1920s.  Every girl wanted to be her, and every man wanted to be with her.  She could make you fall in love and break your heart at the same time.

Her onscreen presence was unmatched by most other actresses in the era.

Unfortunately the coming of sound wasn’t kind to dear Clara.  Some say that Brooklyn accent wasn’t suited for sound.  But her voice was fine.  It was her discomfort with the microphones, her legal battles, and deteriorating mental health that lead to her downfall.

In this short clip, we see Clara in her most famous performance as shop girl Betty Lou Spence in the motion picture It (1927).

Best Actress #2: Marion Davies

The world these days knows Marion Davies as the mistress of newspaper tycoon and father of the tabloid, William Randolph Hearst.  His family has gone out of their way to lie through their teeth about poor Marion, putting a black mark on her reputation.

She is thought to be a dumb blonde gold digger with little to no talent, but nothing could be further from the truth.  She was an extremely gifted actress and comedienne, and could imitate anyone.  And as far as being a gold digger, that is laughable.  She actually bailed W.R. Hearst out of his financial troubles with her own money.

She deserves to be recognized as one of the best actresses of all time.  And in the following clip from The Patsy (1928), you will see her gift for mimicry.

Best Actress #3:  Joan Crawford

Practically everyone recognizes Joan Crawford as one of the best actresses of all time.  So I know I am not the first, nor will I be the last.  And there is a reason for that—she was absolutely fabulous.

After she died, her adopted daughter Christina tried to ruin her reputation with the book and motion picture, Mommie Dearest (1981), but Joan fans know that most of what Christina said was complete hogwash.

Joan’s other children came out and denied the accusations, and poor Joan who was dead and buried had no way of coming out to defend herself.  One of the only people to back Christina Crawford was Joan’s longtime rival, Bette Davis.  That should tell you something…the bitter old bitch.

In this early clip introduced by the forever dashing Conrad Nagel in The Hollywood Revue of 1929, we see Joanie singing and dancing and showing everyone how fabulous she was.

Best Actress #4:  Carole Lombard

Carole allegedly had a mouth that would make a truck driver blush; that little tidbit alone makes me love her since I, too, have a fondness for salty language.  She was also known to crack jokes about husband Clark Gable’s *ahem* size and skills in the bedroom.

On the silver screen she was golden.  Her comedic skills caused you to laugh so hard your ribs would break, and her dramatic skills caused you to weep uncontrollably.

Indeed, her best work onscreen was in the tear jerker, especially the motion picture Made for Each Other (1939) opposite Jimmy Stewart. Everything bad that could happen to this poor couple happened. *sigh*

Best Actress #5:  Janet Gaynor

Oooh, sweet little Janet Gaynor with the baby voice.  Her onscreen persona was so wholesome and virginal it makes you yearn for simpler times.  And it also makes you want to give her a big hug and rock her to sleep.

She wasn’t just a cute little baby in a grown woman’s body, though.  Her acting abilities were beyond fabulous.  The woman can tear your heart out with each performance.

Everyone who knows me knows that A Star is Born (1937) is my all-time favorite film.  Before I watch it, I have to get out at least two boxes of tissues.  I begin crying at the opening credits.  What a heartbreaking film this is.

In this short clip, you see Janet as Esther Blodgett and her granny, played by the great May Robson.  Esther is crying and her granny makes it all better by giving her the money for a ticket to Hollywood.

So who are your favorite actresses in black and white?  Are any of them on this list?  Let me know your choices by leaving a comment below!

21 thoughts on “The Top 5 Best Actresses in Black and White

    1. Angie Schaffer Post author

      Yes, and unfortunately that did a lot of damage to her reputation, and Joan was not there to defend herself. Quite convenient that Christina Crawford waited until just after she died to release that rubbish. :(

      Reply
  1. Rebecca Labbe

    I normally love your blogs, but I am beside myself that you chose Joan Crawford as one of the BEST actresses! She is, in my opinion, second only to Lana Turner in schmaltzy, phony, and just plain horrible overacting! Where the heck is Bette?

    Reply
    1. Angie Schaffer Post author

      Sorry for the late reply, Rebecca. I have been having issues with my blog over the past several days (including this morning) and haven’t been able to reply.

      I have a weird attachment to Joan Crawford. It mostly has to do with the fact that after doing extensive research, I have found that a lot of what was said in Mommie Dearest was pure, unadulterated BS.

      I’ve never really liked Bette Davis, to be quite honest. Her voice irritates me for some reason. :(

      Reply

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