Ah classic actresses. Such a large crew of woman of all sizes, educations, stations i life, personalities. Very, rich, very varied. But, one question has nagged me for a long time: what does an actress make? What is the exact background that pushed a woman from from roughly 1900s until 1930s to Hollywood? And just how qualified were they to make it in Tinsel town, a town notorious for its heartless and ruthless outlook on the lifespan of actresses. 

After some consideration, I divided actresses into two camps. One who were alumni of Academies and had stage experience, and the other ladies who laded in Hollywood thanks to their legs, faces and often, their dancing skills. Which camp gave us better actresses?  

Let's take a simple comparison with a most visible contrast: Bette Davis versus Joan Crawford. Davis had a solid stage training and experience when she landed in Hollywood. Joan Crawford was a dancer who got lucky with a large dose of resilience and will-power. 

Their acting style is largely different. Who do you think had a better career? Who was a better actress?

As always, the answers are divided, opinions differ. 

Bette is a typical trained actress. She has a Mid-Atlantic, New England posh accent people pick up either in finishing school or in dramatic schools. She knew the tricks and ropes of acting perfectly. Anything you throw at her, she has seen it and knows how to react.

On the other hand, Joan... She had no stage training and no great nuance in her acting, but there was something raw and powerful about her, something that transcends any rational thinking and just draws you in... However, she was much better looking than Bette. And wore much better clothes, which is actually important in Hollywood (sorry, people it is a materialistic world, after all...)

Let's mention some top actresses of the period which were trained in prestigious dramatic schools:

  • Katherine Hepburn 
  • Bette Davis
  • Ingrid Bergman
  • Greta Garbo 
  • Claudette Colbert 
  • Grace Kelly
  • Vivien Leigh 
  • Lillian Gish 

All of the above ladies were, in my book, good actresses. Not just beautiful, pretty and with charm, but plain good acting. They were versatile and played in varied roles. They won Oscars and critical kudos.  

Now, let's take a peek at the actress who were NOT trained:

  • Joan Crawford
  • Lauren Bacall
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Barbara Stanwyck
  • Mae West
  • Rita Hayworth
  • Ava Gardner

All of the others were not stage trained actresses, may of them were dancers or models who got into Hollywood via the chorus line. My own conclusion is, despite their great charm and charisma, many of them were not good actresses. Ava Gardner in my book is a sexy, sultry woman, but no great artist. She said so many times. Same goes for Rita Hayworth. She was as fluid as water and a true charmer but with little great roles to her resumee. The same can be said of Lauren Bacall, whose voice and appearance warranted her attention, but oh my, she never impressed me with her acting... Or Mae West, who was a wise cracker and very very witty, but heck, did she ever give  truly dramatic performance?

The exception is, as always, Barbara Stanwyck. That woman just rocks. Nobody ever had an career like she did before or after her in movies. But these exceptions just serve to 

Trained actresses tended to have more solid careers, and often turned to the stage after their movies days were up. On the other hand, their acting style if more boxed, more mechanic. Oh, I don't know. 

Bottom line: most trained actresses were better technician, but most non trained actresses had more personality and played themselves (in different incarnations). It's up to the individual to choose what he prefers. It's easier to like a personality and easier to appreciate a true actor. 

As always, the choice is yours. 

Published by Stela Zoric