The death of Karl Malden has robbed us of yet another star of the Golden Age Of Hollywood. He joins a growing list of the icons of the 40s and 50s who’ve died in recent years, such as Paul Newman, Charlton Heston and Marlon Brando. That got us thinking - which of the classic movie stars of the 1940s and 1950s are still with us?
We’ve put together our pick of the top stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age who are still alive and kicking, some of whom you might have assumed were pushing up daisies years ago...
Olivia De Havilland
Born: July 1st, 1916
While it’s amazing to think that someone who was old enough to take an adult role in 1939’s Gone With The Wind is still alive, Olivia De Havilland is still hanging in there. She was one of the biggest stars of the late 30s and early 40s, playing the saintly Melanie in Gone With The Wind, Marion in The Adventures Of Robin Hood, and winning Oscars for To Each His Own and The Heiress. Offscreen she had a long-running enmity with her sister, Joan Fontaine and was a prominent anti-Communist. In the mid 1950s she moved to Paris and started making fewer films, although she made a few guest appearances in TV series and movies up until the 1980s. De Havilland has only been seen rarely in public since, such as getting a standing ovation at the 2003 Oscars, and recording an interview for the Gone With The Wind – Special Edition DVD release. She’s still living quietly in Paris.
Born: September 23rd, 1920
Mickey Rooney is believed to be the only actor who started their career in the silent era to still be working. He first found prominence in the Mickey Maguire series as a child star in the late 1920s. By the late 30s he was one of the biggest stars in the world, appearing alongside Judy Garland in the Andy Hardy series. While his star faded after the Second World War, he continued to appear on screen in the likes of Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Pete’s Dragon and, more recently, Night At The Museum. Despite approaching his 90th birthday, Rooney is still working, making movies and touring with a show where he reminisces about his life in showbusines. He’s now had by far the longest movie career of any actor ever, with his 83 years in film significantly beating the previous record holder, Lillian Gish, who had a 75-year-long screen career from 1912 to 1987.
Born: September 16th, 1924
There’s never been anyone quite like Lauren Bacall. Her husky voice and sexy demeanour made her a massive star in the 1940s in movies such as To Have And Have Not, The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, Key Largo, How To Marry A Millionaire and Designing Women. She was also famously married to Humphrey Bogart from 1954 to his death in 1957. Interestingly though, while she’s been working on screen for well over 60 years now, her appearances have always been fairly sporadic. That said she’s made some of her most distinctive screen appearances in the last 15 years in movies such as Dogville and Manderlay. Perhaps most surprising is that despite all of her classic movie roles in the 40s and 50s, she didn’t get her first Oscar nomination until 1996, for The Mirror Has Two Faces. Bacall is still working, and will be appearing in Wide Blue Yonder and Carmel in the next year or two.
Born: February 27th, 1932
For someone who’s been so beset by health problems, Dame Elizabeth Taylor is still hanging in there (although she is looking a little more ‘crazy old lady’ with every month). The London born actress started out in the 1940s as a child actor in movies such as Lassie Come Home, National Velvet and Little Women, however her rise to become the biggest movie star on the planet came during the 50s with roles in movies such as A Place In The Sun, Giant and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. In 1960 she became the first actor ever to be paid $1 million dollars upfront for a film, for Cleopatra. She proved she was more than just a pretty face in the 60s winning Oscars for Butterfield 8 and Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?. Even by this point she was having health problems. Taylor nearly died of pneumonia in 1960 and needed a tracheotomy to save her. She’s also broken her back five times, had a benign brain tumour removed in 1997, suffered from skin cancer, and now has congestive heart failure. In fact her retirement from film was more by force than choice, as she said in the late 90s that insurance companies won’t cover her for screen work anymore. This rather tragically means that her final major screen appearance is likely to be as Pearl Slaghoople in 1994’s The Flintstones (although she did appear in the TV movie These Old Broads in 2001). Offscreen Taylor is still active in the fight against AIDS, has her own perfume and jewellery lines, and she even has her own Twitter account - http://twitter.com/DameElizabeth!
Born: June 3rd, 1925
The owner of the most plastic looking hair in Hollywood is still alive and kicking at the age of 84. The New York born performer, who was born Bernard Schwartz, first started acting after serving in the US Navy in World War II. He found fame in the 1950s in movies such as Sierra, Winchester ’73, The Sweet Smell Of Success, The Vikings, Some Like It Hot, The Defiant Ones and Spartacus. While his star started fading in the 60s, he continued to work steadily until the late 90s when he went into semi-retirement. He still works occasionally, but has had problems with his motor skills since suffering from near-fatal pneumonia in 2006. Now when he is seen in public, Curtis has to use a wheelchair, although thankfully he has recently been making appearances without his customary bizarre toupee.
Born: June 21st, 1921
While she’s probably best remembered for starring opposite Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1953, Russell can thank Howard Hughes for her fame. He became slightly obsessed with her breasts when he saw her working as a dentist’s receptionist and cast her in The Outlaws. While the movie was made in 1941 it didn’t get released until 1943, as the censorship board wasn’t impressed with how Hughes had invented a cantilevered bra to make Jane’s assets the stars of the show. The world’s obsession with her boobs dogged her career, and her films were often marketed purely on the fact that she had big knockers. Eventually Russell embraced her reputation, becoming a spokesperson for Playtex bras in the 70s. She hasn’t appeared in a movie since 1970’s Darker Than Amber (although she made a couple of TV appearances in the mid-80s), and has generally just been living a fairly quiet life in Santa Maria, California. In 2003 she described herself as “a teetotal, mean-spirited, right-wing, narrow-minded, conservative Christian Bigot, but not a racist.” Doesn’t she sound lovely!
Born: December 16th, 1916
Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch to illiterate Russian immigrant parents. His acting talent was noticed early on, getting him a special scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (where one of his classmates was Betty Joan Perske, who was later to become Lauren Bacall). However his acting career was put on hold while he served in the Navy during World War II. In the 50s he became a major star in movies such as The Bad And The Beautiful, Paths Of Glory, Spartacus, Gunfight At The Ok Corral, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Lust For Life. Douglas was also at the forefront of the move away from studios having stars under contract, setting up his own production company in the late 50s. In 1996 he suffered a stroke, which affected his ability to speak. He made what are to date his last screen performances in 2003’s It Runs In The Family (opposite son Michael and grandson Cameron, as well as his first wife, Diana Douglas) and 2004’s Illusion.
Born: April 3rd, 1924
Born Doris Kapelhoff in Cincinnati, Ohio, Doris Day started her career singing with a big band, eventually becoming a vocal star who scored several hit albums. Her popularity saw Hollywood come knocking when they tapped her to replace a pregnant Betty Hutton in Romance On The High Seas in 1948. She appeared in numerous musicals in the 1950s, most memorably playing the title role in Calamity Jane in 1953. However perhaps her most successful period on screen was when she moved from musicals to romantic comedies, famously playing opposite Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back. Day stopped making films in the late 60s, getting fed up with the quality of roles on offer. She initially moved into TV with The Doris Day Show, although she allegedly only discovered her husband had committed her to making the series after he died. Despite this she persevered with the show as it was only after her husband’s death that she discovered all of her earnings had been squandered and she was deeply in debt (which also kicked off a long-running battle with the lawyer who’d mismanaged her money). After the TV show ended in 1973, Day pretty much retired from showbusiness altogether, instead dedicating her life to promoting animal rights.
Also Alive And Kicking:
Gloria Stuart – Born July 4th, 1910
Eli Wallach – Born December 7th, 1915
Zsa Zsa Gabor – Born February 6th, 1917
Ernest Borgnine – Born January 24th, 1917
Phyllis Diller – Born July 17th, 1917
Herbert Lom – Born September 11th, 1917
Joan Fontaine – Born October 22nd, 1917
Richard Todd – Born June 11th, 1919
Maureen O’Hara – Born August 17th, 1920
Ann Rutherford – Born November 2nd, 1920
Harry Carey Jr. – Born May 16th, 1921
Deanna Durbin – Born December 4th, 1921
Carl Reiner – Born March 22nd, 1922
Kathryn Grayson – Born September 2nd, 1922
Christopher Lee – May 26th, 1923
Richard Attenborough – August 29th, 1923
Angela Lansbury – Born October 16th, 1925
Shirley Temple – April 23rd, 1928
Max Von Sydow – Born April 10th, 1929
Vera Miles – Born August 23rd, 1929
Jean Simmons – Born January 31st, 1929
Tippi Hedren – Born January 19th, 1930
Sean Connery – Born August 2th, 1930
Virginia McKenna – Born June 7th, 1931
Rita Moreno – December 11th, 1931
Debbie Reynolds – Born April 1st, 1932