Golden Age of Hollywood: The Complete Historical Guide

Satyam Maitrai
Satyam Maitrai, Content Writer
·19 min read

Golden age of Hollywood

If you love movies, TV shows, or anything in the entertainment industry, you know Hollywood.

Whatever way you know about Hollywood, we associate it with money and fame. In addition, we certainly do love knowing what’s going on in Hollywood and following up on our favorite actors and actresses, don’t we? 

Moreover, we all have that favorite blockbuster movie we keep rewatching. 

But, here’s the thing. The Hollywood we know now is not what it was in the past. I bet you want to know why and when things changed. Don’t you?

So, stay tuned, as this article will give you all the tidbits about Hollywood along with great information on some of the top actresses and movies from the Golden Age.

Golden Age of Hollywood: Definition

One would think that Hollywood is just a set for U.S movies. But, that’s not the only truth, as it is actually a town in Los Angeles. It is also called Tinseltown, maybe because Hollywood appears to always be unrealistically bright and shiny.  

However, if you look at your map, Hollywood is bound by Hyperion Avenue and Riverside Drive to the East and rests at the foothills of the Santa Monica mountains to the North, Beverly Boulevard to the South, and Beverly Hills to the West. 

In brief, you can say that in the wide expanse of filmmaking and the associated power and glamour of the entertainment industry, Hollywood rests at the center, and is the capital of show-business.

But was it always like this?

You would be surprised to know that Hollywood began as a small agricultural town. Yes, an agricultural farm, a ranch. And now, it is the one place for anyone with acting in mind to go try their luck.

Harvey Henry Wilcox and his wife bought and set up this ranch. The plan did not go very well as the place was destined for bigger and better things. So, after the failure of the farm, notwithstanding a few developments, H.J. Whitley came into the picture. He was a well-known real estate developer, and he developed the place further.

Dolby Hotel is the hotel that used to host the famous Oscars and was opened by Whitley. At that time, it was named the Hollywood Hotel.

You are curious about the name, I know.

However, there are many stories about where the name Hollywood came from. In one version of the story, Daeida overheard some people talking about a farm in Ohio named Hollywood, and she thought it to be a good name for their ranch. In another story, Whitley struck onto the name while he was in the area for his honeymoon. But whoever named the place, most people probably didn’t know the name would be a big feature of the entertainment industry.

The Golden Age was the period when growth and change in the entertainment industry brought many talented people fame and prestige. The world of entertainment wouldn’t be what we know it as today without the Golden age that Hollywood witnessed.

But, when exactly was the Golden Age? I know this is the question that keeps popping up in your mind right now, isn’t it? – Read on.

But, when exactly was the Golden Age- I know this is the question popping up in your mind right now, isn’t it? – Here you go.

When Was The Golden Age of Hollywood?

This was the era that defined cinema.

You may have some knowledge about the Great Depression that followed the Wall Street crash, or maybe not. But what really happened was that many industries, businesses, and ventures collapsed. 

However, the cinema thrived and survived. 

This could be because it was a way for people to escape their worries and sorrows, plus it was cheap. With nothing else to do, many people sought to entertain themselves. 

Entertainment has always been at the center of things. In fact, many times, even during a war, groups of musicians and comedians follow the troops to help relieve the stresses of fighting.

So, what did the great directors and actors of that era do? 

They produced movies. A huge number - about 800 movies every year. 

The Golden Age thus began during the Great Depression in the late 1920s and continued throughout the early 1960s. 

Can you imagine that? About forty years of movies, great soundtracks, and iconic actors.

This Golden Age is when the cinema experienced great advancement in picture quality and sound. This is exactly why many people even refer to it as the “talkies” - as movies now were produced with moving scenes and sound was possible. 

Well, if you want to have a glimpse of the scenario, you should have a look at how motion animations are produced here. Back then the process was almost similar.

It was also a time when the audience started watching films. As mentioned earlier, they came to the theatres to escape their problems, and then to laugh and clap after the film.

Moreover, all the actors that are now being spoken of in revered tones, and being inducted into the Hall of Fame, were from this era. This Golden Age of Hollywood set a precedent for all acting careers for the rest of time, possibly infinity. 

Today, directors and producers are styling themselves after the legends of the Golden Age, and maybe that’s why we have people producing some great work and giving us masterpieces year after year.

And, this wasn’t the end. In addition to movies, the Golden Age also experienced more production of great and critically acclaimed musicals and movie soundtracks. 

Intriguing, isn’t it?

So, now that you have heard about when this great age began and what it consists of, let’s quickly explore what all developments took place in that era.

What Was The Golden Age of Hollywood?

Well, the Golden Age of Hollywood was preceded by Thomas Edison's film camera, the ‘kinetograph’. This camera allowed for a series of still photographs to be put together into a film and then viewed through a projector. 

Thanks to evolving technology, one can now do these things in a much better and more organized way. Now we have storyboards for planning and visualizing a project, and today storyboarding software such as MakeStoryboard is becoming very popular among film markers for numerous reasons. 

Want to explore how?  

Here’s an article that can help you understand the benefits in detail.

However, you must be wondering what kind of movies were produced in that era, right?  

Well, at first, the movies were very short, often a few minutes in length. And they would be set up in public gatherings like fairs, circuses, and music halls, or at any place where a screen could be placed and a dark room was available. 

Mostly, what was shown were scenic places, people, or news bites. The color was black and white and there was no sound. 

Remember those famous Charlie Chaplin comedies? Yes, they were examples of this era.

Another notable thing about the early movies was that there were no continuous movements. This is probably why they were called stills. Therefore, the kinetograph or kinetoscope was more or less a viewer. 

Thomas Edison's company tested the prototype of this device in 1891, whereas the same was available for public viewing in 1893. However, the most interesting part was that only one person at a time was allowed to view the stills. Just imagine that!

Next came the Lumiere Brothers. They improved the existing technology and gave us the Cinematographe. This was a camera, film printer, and projector all rolled up into one. They did the first public demonstration in 1895 in Paris, France. Although the short films had no sound, a narrator would be there to give lectures and explanations, and the audience did their part in active participation. 

By 1914, the film industry had grown exceedingly, with Russia, Scandinavia, and other European countries being at the forefront. However, America was practically invisible. But, as the First World War happened, it affected the European film industry. This is when America started becoming more visible in its entertainment industry.

Moreover, after the Wall Street crash, economies experienced a boom, and people got richer. With more sales in tickets and entry fees, the production companies invested more into producing more movies. Not to mention advancements in film technology. 

The first color film was observed in 1906 when techniques in color separation were used to produce more natural colors with the British Kinemacolor process. But as the equipment and processes involved were very cumbersome, the technology wasn’t used as widely until its processes were improved in 1932. 

After color, attempts were made to add sound to movies. 

The first technology used a phonographic disc. The Warner Brothers used their Vitaphone to add synchronized sound to films which used a separate disc for the reel of sound. This proved highly unreliable until replaced by the optical variable soundtrack initially developed for newsreels.

Nonetheless, by the 1930s, nearly all films had sound, and some even had color. This placed America as the dominant country in movie making and gave rise to The Golden Age of Hollywood. 

People were going to see films frequently, as many as two times a week. Movies became the principal form of entertainment and some film palaces could hold up to 3,000 people in one auditorium. The highest attendance was observed in Britain with 31 million people visiting the cinema each week in 1946. 

Isn’t this a stunning development?

Moreover, it is these advancements in theatres that preceded the television and the radio, which become the major competitors to the theatre. By now America had asserted itself as an authority and people from all over the world flocked to Hollywood to become actors, film producers, and other film professionals. 

On top of that, the thirst for new movies certainly saw a rise in scriptwriters too. And that hasn’t stopped to date.

So, now that we have said a lot about what the Golden Age of Hollywood was, it’s time to shed some light upon the notable people who made it even more glorious.

15 Top Actresses of the Golden Age

Many actors, both past and present, call Hollywood home. In a way it is because when they are not just shooting the next blockbuster, they are equally attending events in Hollywood. 

But today, we will mostly focus on those past stars of the Golden Era. So, let’s begin!

  1. Grace Kelly: Her performance came to the limelight with her role in “Mogambo,” with Clark Gable. This was before she became a princess. Later, Alfred Hitchcock took her and starred her in “Dial M For Murder” and “Rear Window.” By then she was a household name. She later won an Academy Award for her role in “Country Girl” in 1955. In 1956, she got married to Prince Rainier of Monaco, although, she still remains one of the most iconic stars of Hollywood.
  2. Veronica Lake: Peek-a-boo girl, Veronica Lake was the typical glamour girl. The nickname was because of her signature side-swept hair that covered the right side of her face. She appeared in “So Proudly We Hail!” as Lieutenant Olivia D’Arcy in 1943, which went on to become a box office hit.
  3. Sophia Loren: Born in Italy, the beautiful Sophia Loren was another star of the Golden Age. The American Film Institute named her “one of the greatest female stars of classical Hollywood.” When she was 14,  she caught the attention of an agent while she was competing in a beauty pageant.
  4. Doris Day: Bubbly and squeaky clean Doris Day graced the screens in the 1950s. Her most famous film was “Calamity Jane” in 1953 which was a hit. Her other notable appearance was in Pillow Talk in 1959. Everyone will always remember her all-American beauty and great voice.
  5. Gene Tierney: Another great star of the era was Gene Tierney. If you watch any of her films, you will be struck by her sophistication and high cheekbone, a classical face. She was from an upper-class background and went on to become one of the greatest stars of all time after which she disappeared from the big screen in 1964.
  6. Ava Gardner: She is like the modern-day person who studies Economics and then goes on into Tech. She had no acting experience, and was signed as an actress by MGM. She was famous for her role in “Mogambo” in 1953, and also for her marriage to actor and singer Frank Sinatra.
  7. Marlene Dietrich: She is a blond beauty known for her allure. She was a cabaret singer in her 20s after which she was discovered by Hollywood. She was the start of the silent-film era and was one of the highest-paid actresses of the time.
  8. Jayne Mansfield: She was a great actress, notably known for her resemblance to Marilyn Monroe. She tragically died in a car accident after starring in 31 films.
  9. Joan Crawford: She is one of the greatest names linked to the Golden Age. She was a chorus girl when MGM signed her up. Later on, in the 40s, she suffered a decline in her professional stardom, though she starred in “Mildred Pierce” of which she won an Oscar for Best Actress Oscar. She even shared the screen with Bette Davis. Away from the screen, she adopted five children.
  10. Bette Davis: She is featured in a song, “Bette Davis Eyes” popularly sung by Kim Carnes. She had beautiful eyes and a great list of movies where she played mostly unbalanced acts. She was also known to be a strong woman who was not easily bullied.
  11. Judy Garland: Most of you know her from the revered and much duplicated Wizard of Oz. She went to Hollywood at the tender age of 13 due to her amazing singing voice. She went on to become one of the most iconic actresses of the era. Unfortunately, her private life was not as rosy. She was divorced four times and had a barbiturate addiction which led to her death at the young age of 47.
  12. Jean Harlow: The original blonde bombshell began her career at 16 years old when she ran away from home and found work as an actress. She was very good in comedies. Tragically, she died at age 26 from cerebral edema caused by uremia.
  13. Audrey Hepburn: Best remembered as a fashion icon, she was also a great actress. Other than that, she was a devoted humanitarian having helped the Dutch resistance in World War 2. She became the first actress to win an Oscar, a BAFTA, and a Golden Globe for her role in “Roman Holiday.” After a stint on the screens, she went on to the African districts as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF.
  14. Vivien Leigh: She was British but played southern belle roles such as Scarlett O’Hara in the legendary “Gone with the Wind.” It is an amazing movie made after the book of the same name. The beautiful actress had a great career in Hollywood, too. Unfortunately, she struggled with bipolar disorder and tuberculosis and died at 53 years of age from tuberculosis.
  15. Marilyn Monroe: And finally, we have Marilyn Monroe, one of the most famous actresses to date. She appeared in films like “The Seven Year Itch” in 1955 and “The Misfits” in 1961. Apart from her obvious talent, she was known for her personal and professional tragic life.

So, now that we feel a little more knowledgeable about the Golden Age actresses, let us look at the movies they starred in. 

16 Must See Golden Age Movies

As mentioned above, the Golden Age saw numerous movies made every year. If I was to mention all of them here, we would be here for a while. So, let’s focus only on the really good ones, and maybe you can even watch them afterward.

  1. The Birth of a Nation. Premiering in 1915, it was initially called The Clansman. It was directed by D. W. Griffith and featured Lilian Gish as the lead. It is about two friends, and an abolitionist family being caught in the middle during the war and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. It is perhaps a very controversial movie but it is rated 6.2 stars on IMDb.
  2. She Done Him Wrong. Released in the theatre in 1933, it stars May West and Cary Grant, two of the most acclaimed actors of that era. It is about a burlesque singer (Mae West) who has to avoid three men who want to reform her. It is a nice comedy and is rated 6.3 out of 10 stars on IMDb. 
  3. Teacher’s Pet. Released in 1958, this movie stars Clark Gable and Doris Day in a romantic comedy. A tough newspaper editor pretends to join a night school so he can woo the journalism teacher who can barely stand him. Maybe it is Clark Gable’s role that the film is rated 7.1 out of 10 stars. Clark Gable sure did know how to win audiences.
  4. The Big Sleep. Released in 1946, it stars Humphrey Bogart as detective Marlow. He is hired by a wealthy family to solve a murder. Humphrey Bogart is a great actor with a great onscreen personality. This movie is rated 7.9 stars on IMDb.
  5. Some Like it Hot. Released in 1959, this movie features Marilyn Monroe. The story revolves around two male musicians who witness a mob hit and to protect themselves, they flee in an all-women band. It is labeled a comedy, so we can all imagine the hilarious complications that arose. It is rated a whopping 8.3 stars on IMDb.
  6. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. We see Humphrey Bogart here again. This dramatic adventure was released in 1948. It is a story about two down-on-luck Americans in Mexico. They are searching for work where they eventually convince an old prospector to help them mine for gold in the Sierra Madre mountains.
  7. Rear Window. The beautiful Grace Kelly stars in this movie. A photographer who is wheelchair-bound and spies on his neighbors and is convinced that one of them has committed murder. His fashion model girlfriend does not believe so and there arises the real plot. It is rated 8.5 stars on IMDb.
  8. The Misfits. This movie stars two of the most iconic Hollywood actors, Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe. What’s better than that? It was released in 1961 and is focused on a divorcee who falls in love with a cowboy who is struggling to keep up with his romantic life. You will marvel at Monroe's performance because at that time she was heavily depressed, but still managed to give a good performance.
  9. Houseboat. This movie was released in 1958. It is a comedy-drama with Cary Grant and Sophia Loren. A widower, an Italian nanny, and his three children get to come close when they are forced to live on a dilapidated houseboat. Sophia is one of my long-time favorites, this is bound to be a good movie to watch.
  10. All Quiet on the Western Front. This is a truly sober movie. It was produced with no music soundtrack. It shows how soldiers may win wars but can be ruined by their experiences in battle. A notable scene towards the end shows a soldier marveling at the beauty of a butterfly. A true tear-jerker.
  11. City Lights. This is a Charlie Chaplin masterpiece, and he shot the film in silence. It is about a blind young lady who fell in love with him mistaking him to be a millionaire. When the film was released, the fear was that it wouldn’t get any views since silent films were outdated. Instead, the film went on to be named the greatest romantic comedy of American Cinema by the American Film Institute. And to date, Charlie Chaplin movies are yet to go out of style. A true classic.
  12. King Kong. Most of us are familiar with movies featuring the giant ape. But, what you probably didn’t know is that this was the first one ever produced in 1933. By then, a film of this nature was almost impossible to do. You have to wonder at the genius of its producers. 
  13. The Adventures of Robin Hood. As kids, we probably owned a copy of the book. However, if reading is not a strong suit for you, you can watch the movie. Featuring Errol Flynn and Robin Hood, and Olivia de Havilland as Lady Marian, the movie is captivating. The film is family-friendly and sets the precedent for all other movies.
  14. Bring Up Baby. The baby in this case is a pet leopard. Curious now, aren’t you? The film focuses on Cary Grant as a harassed paleontologist looking to get funding for his museum while dealing with thoughtless and spoiled Katherine Hepburn and her pet. This movie, despite its directing genius, was not very good for Katherine Hepburn. Although later, the movie did receive better reception.
  15. Gone With the Wind. This is probably the most prolific of all movies and my personal favorite. Starring Vivien Leigh and the dashing Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, you will watch this over and over. The excellence that this movie attained is unparalleled. Years after its release, the movie still stands as one of the best.
  16. Wizard of Oz. Haven't we all written essays on this movie in class? Or perhaps analyzed its excellence? We have yet to see a movie that made such a great cultural impact as thi. The funny thing is that when it was initially released, the movie did not gain good recognition. Maybe all it needed was time. However, now it is a legendary movie, big enough that several other movies of the same theme have been created following in its footestps.

Summing Up

All this talk of movies and actresses has made me want to curl up on the couch with some popcorn and watch a few classic movies. Maybe you do too - I certainly hope you do. 

Today we enjoy watching a lot of movies, and only some of them in a hundred years will be referred to as classics. However, standing the test of time, the Golden Age of Hollywood is not a maybe, it is a legendary era. 

All the actors, actresses, directors, and the movies they gave us, set an example and a standard of how movies are made. Nonetheless, all these movies were created at a time when technology was not as advanced as it is today.

On top of that, there are some great inspirations to derive from all these movies and the people who were involved. So, go ahead and reward yourself by delving into the Golden Age era. 

You will have a memory worth cherishing.

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