Old Hollywood was a hard town for anyone - driven by money and lust for fame, it would chew out the moment you ran out of one of those things. And in such a wasteland of all the wrong ideals, where can you put motherhood, perhaps the defining role of any woman? 
 
Let's take a broader look at this conundrum: when you look at the 25 AFI top actresses - thus, women who really made it to the top of the acting field, and how many children they had, here is the statistic:
 
Katherine Hepburn: No children
Bette Davis: 4 children 
Audrey Hepburn: 2 children
Ingrid Bergman: 4 children
Greta GArbo: No children
Marilyn MOnroe: No children
Elizabeth Taylor: 4 children
Judy Garland: 3 children
Marlene Dietrich: 1 child
Joan Crawford: 4 children
Barbara Stanwyck: 1 child
Claudette Colbert: No children
Grace Kelly: 3 children
Ginger Rogers:No children
Mae West: No children
Vivien Leigh: 1 child
Lillian Gish: No children
Shirley Temple: 3 children
Rita Hayworth: 2 children
Lauren Bacall: 3 children
Sofia Loren: 2 children
Jean Harlow: No children
Carole Lombard: No children
Mary Pickford: 2 children
Ava Gardner: No children
 
Notice how 10 out of 25 of them had no children. I was shocked but it is true - Katherine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, Claudette Colbert, Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, Ginger Rogers, Lillian Gish, Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, Ava Gardner all had no children. 
 
And several of them had children bit were not maternal types and they never had "typical" mother-child relations with them: the already mentioned Barbara Stanwyck, Mary Pickford, Vivien Leigh, Marlene Dietrich. They often had one child and had very difficult relations with them. For instance, it is well known that Vivien's mother, Gertrude, raised her daughter Suzanne and that Vivien only saw her sporadically. Babs Stanwyck sent her adopted son, Dijan, to military school and barely ever saw him. 
 
Several had highly chaotic personal life, and thus, probably and ever not the cookie cutter mothers one expects:: Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Rita Hayworth. For me, just a few of them go into the square "Almost-Normal-Mothers-Category": Lauren Bacall, Shirley Temple, Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Sofia Loren (even that is open for debate!).    
 
The statistics were not so good for top actresses, I guess. The situation becomes even more alarming when you compare it to the AFI list of 25 top actors -
 
Humphrey Bogart: 2 children
Cary Grant: 1 child
James Stewart: 4 children
Marlon Brando: Who can count... 
Fred Astaire: 2 children
Henry Fonda: 3 children
Clark Gable: 2 children
James Cagney: 2 children
Spencer Tracy: 2 children
Charlie Chaplin: 3 children
Gary Cooper: 1 child
Gregory Peck: 4 children
John Wayne: 7 children
Laurence Olivier: 4 children
Gene Kelly: 3 children
Orson Welles: 4 children
Kirk Douglas: 4 children
James Dean: No children
Burt Lancaster: 6 children
Marx Brothers: Al of the brother had children
Buster Keaton: 2 children
Sidney Poitier: 6 children
Robert Mitchum: 3 children
Edward G. Robinson: 1 child
William Holden: 3 children
 
Yep - all of them, expect James Dean, who just died too young, had children. Some of them were not perhaps perfect fathers (Henry Fonda, hmmm), but a larger number of them goes into the "Almost-Normal-Father" category (Gregory Peck, James Stewart, Gene Kelly...). We can draw any conclusion we want, but the fact is - fatherhood and a Hollywood career mixed much more generously than motherhood and a Hollywood career. 
 
It's no secret that Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck, some of the best actresses ever to grace the screen, were supremely devoted to their career first and foremost - men, children and friends came after. They all adopted children - but their children never became the focal points of their lives. Both Bette and Joan have been trashed by their children for their parenting skills (but this is a topic for another article). 
 
Anyway, my question is: could have Bette, Joan and Babs achieve such great careers if they dedicated more time to motherhood? Was it posible to be on the top and still be a great mother? Is this the reason many top actresses never had children? Was is simply too difficult? Or, better yet, was it simply not socially acceptable? Was it too shocking, too out-of-the-ordinary to have a woman who is a superstar and a mother? 
 
Yet, if you look outside the echelon of top movie stars and analyse working actresses who never made it to the top, there are more varied (and successful) examples. Jeanne Crain had seven children. Ann Blyth had five. Eleanor Parker, a special favorite of mine, had four. Yes, as I mentioned, they were not as powerful in Hollywood was Bette, Joan or Babs, but they did their share of movie-making and were highly popular back in the day. 
 
No doubt about it, Hollywood was no easy place for a woman back then. As much as it gave them a chance to work in a real job and make real money (much better than being a secretary), it still asked a lot in return, at least if you wanted to be at the top of the hill. 
My conclusion is that it did not pay (in most cases) to be a top star who got plum roles, if you wanted to have something substantial outside of work. Was it not much better to be like Eleanor Parker, who, despite being a minor figure today, had both fame and family in her day? 
But, Bette, Babs and Joan thought like this, I guess today we wouldn't have the superb movies they made ...
So, it's a two edged sword, as always...
 
What do you think? Motherhood or top movie stardom?  

 

Published by Stela Zoric