My twenty favorite actresses

I got tagged at Seraphic Secret with a meme:  name my 20 favorite actresses.  Before I begin, a couple of things.  First, in the post tagging me, Robert has a good summary about what makes an actress worthy of the list:

If yours truly will sit down and screen a film—any film, even a lousy movie—just to watch a particular actress weave her magical spell, well, she definitely qualifies as a favorite actress.

Mind you, we’re not talking best actresses. Hence Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Myrna Loy, Ida Lupino, Norma Shearer and other towering figures do not make my list.

Some of the actresses on my list are great actresses. Others are deeply limited but possess that magical star quality that makes it impossible for Seraphic Secret not to watch.

Second, you should check out Robert’s list, which not only leans heavily to silent screen actresses, but also has photographs of those ageless, luminous beauties.

Because I am once again playing beat the clock with deadlines (including a waxing and waning desire to go to martial arts tonight), I’m going to be stingy and not include photographs.  I’ll just do the laundry list.  I’d love it if you all would weigh in with your comments and suggestions.

So, in no particular order, but just as they come to mind, here they are, my 20 favorite actresses:

1.  Vivien Leigh, who was transcendentally good in Gone With the Wind, and who is so beautiful and intelligent in every role she plays.

2.  Myrna Loy, who can do more with a kittenish twitch of her face than most actresses can do with a whole repertoire of words and movements.

3.  Kirsten Dunst, who has a fresh intelligence I consistently enjoy watching.  I just saw her in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, a movie I was prepared to dislike and that, instead, I found myself enjoying a great deal.  Aside from being absolutely gorgeous, it was accurate historically, and that despite the slightly pop edge Coppola gave it.  Surprisingly, Coppola remained true to the core historical facts, and part of this was due to Dunst’s performance.

4.  Elizabeth Montgomery, who took the role of Samantha in Bewitched and made it a lasting testament to charm.  If you have listened to as many hours of the show as I have (in the car), you realize how gifted she really was.

5.  Ginger Rogers, who had an earthy vivacity and physical grace that often got lost next to Fred Astaire — but it was there, and it was wonderful.

6.  Cyd Charisse, surely one of the most beautiful women and dancers ever to grace the screen.

7.  Lucille Ball, comedienne extraordinaire.

8.  Carole Lombard, one of the great madcap actresses of the 1930s, who managed to combine silliness, grace and intelligence in every performance.

9.  Annette Benning, whose politics I hate, but who has a marvelous screen presence, so that I enjoy her every performance.

10.  Judy Garland, who was sometimes a little too high-strung, but who was mesmerizing, and whose talent never wavered.

11.  Doris Day, always fresh, always tuneful, always lovely.

[It’s getting harder about now to think of actresses I like.  Fatigue?  Or am I running out of choices?]

12.  Jane Powell, a singer and actress I think has been seriously underrated.  For one thing, she had one of the most gorgeous voices in 1950s musicals.  For another thing, she easily held her own opposite such powerhouses as Fred Astaire and Howard Keel.

13.  Esther Williams.  How can you not like her?  She’s gorgeous, acts fairly well, and swims like a mermaid.  I always enjoy her films.

14.  Mary Tyler Moore during her Dick Van Dyke days.  I wasn’t a huge fan when she had her own show, but I think she was just brilliant as Laura Petrie.  “Oh, Rob!”

15.  Katherine Hepburn.  Yes, she overacted dreadfully and eventually became a caricature of herself, but she still had a blazingly powerful screen presence that never seems to get old.

16.  Agnes Moorehead.  Since I gave the nod to Elizabeth Montgomery, how can I ignore Moorehead, who brought a delicious, malicious sparkle to what was otherwise a very silly (but still enjoyable) show?

17.  Vivian Vance, without whom Lucille Ball would have been less than half as funny.  She was both a straight woman and a comedienne, and deserves many more kudos than she ever got.

18.  Carol Burnett, another brilliant comedienne, who managed to burn up the small screen and, on occasion, the big one too.

19.  To be announced.

20.  Ditto.

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  • Danny Lemieux

    To me, the sign of a truly great actor or actress is one who can act so out of character that they leave you rubbing your eyes wondering if it really is them in that role. Among male actors, Dustin Hoffman surely fits that role.

    For actresses, I nominate two for that ability, one very well known, the other not. One is Faye Dunaway, the other (less well known…probably because she is reportedly a very difficult person) is Barbara Hershey (Shy People, Last of the Dogmen, Hoosiers, Beaches, Hannah and her Sisters). Another that I tip into that category after her performance in “Chicago” is Rene Zellweger.

  • Jewel

    Lauren Bacall, Maureen O’Hara are two of my favorites.

  • Ellen

    I would put Barbara Stanwyck in that group. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve seen her in Double Indemnity, Ball of Fire, and Stella Dallas and she was never more than mesmerizing in all of them, especially Stella Dallas. She took a piece of mawkish melodrama and made it heartbreaking.

    I’ll ditto Maureen O’Hara. She was such a strong character on screen – strong enough to stand up to John Wayne (The Quiet Man).

  • Helen Losse

    I like Meryl Streep.

  • Deana

    Yes! Meryl Streep in Out of Africa is just sublime. I like her in a lot of her works.

    But I wish I had not seen her Mamma Mia. That was not good.


  • Danny Lemieux

    Though tiresome as an individual, I would have to count Helen Mirren as a great actress.

  • Patrick OHannigan

    I can’t come up with 20 favorites. Among contemporary actresses, I like Maura Tierney (known mostly for her TV work), Laura Dern, Emma Thompson, and Sigourney Weaver. Sometimes Cate Blanchett, too.

  • SJBill


    May I please nominate Hedy Lamarr?
    Few were more beautiful. What attracts me to her was her co-invention with Trentonian (NJ) George Antheil.

    Beauty and brains. Like my wife! and like Bookie! 😉

  • Bookworm

    You are too sweet, Bill!

    My problem with Lamarr is that I’ve seen her in only one movie — the really dreadful Great Ziegfeld, so I’ve never had a good sense of her as an actress. I’ll agree completely, though, with the beautiful and brilliant bit.

  • Charles Martel

    I just loved Jane Russell, for a couple of reasons that elude me at the moment.

    I also thought Ali McGraw was real heartbreaker in “The Whiner from Steubenville,” which when it was renamed “Love Story” became an instant classic.

    But I guess my all-time favorite actress was the girl who played Tootsie in the 1982 movie of the same name. The damned thing of it is that I never did get her name.

  • rockdalian

    One of my favorites is Ingrid Bergman. Who can forget Casablanca?
    She was also good in Gaslight, Spellbound, and Notorious with the great Cary Grant.

    I always liked Myrna Loy in the Thin Man series and in the great WWII classic The Best Years of Our Lives.

    My favorite Carole Lombard movie is My Man Godfrey.

  • suek

    One of my current favorites – and to be honest, I don’t go to the movies. We see them anything we want to see at home – but one of my current favorites is Jamie Lee Curtis. I think she’s underrated.

  • Tiresias

    I tend to look for individual performances, and sometimes even just moments. Movie-making is such a group endeavor; different directors look for different performances in the interests of telling the story (they’re all celebrities nowadays themselves, and often more interested in their own art than the actor’s); you’re never lit by the same people twice, the cinematographers are always different; you’re always working with people you never worked with before, and there isn’t much chance to remain consistent.

    So in contemporary movies I look for those moments when someone, perhaps for nothing more than the length of one scene, really stands it on its ear. Scenes you look at (with a bit of knowledge of how it works) and think to yourself, “I know damn well that didn’t come from the director, she provided that on her own, and the director was smart enough to get out of the way.” It’s hard to find consistently today, which is probably why when we think of great actresses we tend to come up with lists – as Bookworm did – wherein 13 of the 19 she named aren’t contemporary, but came out of the studio system.

    Moments. I don’t think Cher ever really cared very much about acting, or took herself very seriously, but there are a couple of scenes in Moonstruck where she shows you what she could have been. A very young (as opposed to merely young, which she still is) Keira Knightley sitting in a friend of her husband’s apartment and reacting to the discovery that he loves her in Love Actually – and her later reaction – without a word – to the signs he shows her while she stands in her doorway. Sinead Cusack figuring out who Liv Tyler’s father was in Stealing Beauty. It’s not a particularly good movie and didn’t do very well, but on your TV right now is a movie called Evening, which Claire Danes, through a series of moments puts on her back and carries across the finish line pretty much single-handed. Jennifer Beals provided a few, mostly in the quiet of her own loft in Flashdance.

    I look for moments. Not necessarily even the whole picture, but take a moment to kill me, and you got me! Weird, huh?

  • Mike Devx

    I’ve always found Maureen O’Hara engrossing. I’m glad you mentioned her, Ellen.

    Kate Winslet is riveting on the screen in everything I’ve seen. I like the range of movies and roles she chooses, though I suspect her politics would horrify me. She’s got two movies coming out this month. I’m looking forward to them mostly due to her. A recent cover shot of her for, I think, Vanity Fair, had my mind screaming, “Dagny Taggart! That’s Dagny Taggart, right there!” Though I wonder if Winslet would be able to fully invest in the role, due to her politics.

  • Ymarsakar

    You liked the Fountainhead, eh, Mike?

  • benning

    Gail Russell, Claire Trevor, Jean Arthur.


  • Mike Devx


    Actually I’ve never seen ‘The Fountainhead’!

    When reading ‘Atlas Shrugged’ a few months back, I was struck by how radical Ayn Rand’s portrayal of Dagny Taggart was, for the fifties. That portrayal was a risky monument to true feminism, to me, in many ways.

    Kate Winslet’s magazine cover photo, artfully semi-nude seemed to shout “Dagny!” to me.

    The top photo at this link is the one I’m referring to.

  • Ymarsakar

    Check it out at your local library, Mike, if they have it, or Netflix if you have a subscription.

    I watched the movie “The Fountainhead” in my high school years. Helped de-program some of that socialism I had imbibed from popular culture.

    I don’t really have any favorite actresses. Vin Diesel comes close in terms of looking for actors or actresses which I think makes the movie almost a certain entertainment experience for me.

    This is primarily because Vin Diesel has a very funny tough guy persona, due to his physicality and attitude (across roles). I went and watched Pitch Black after the Riddick Chronicles and I also played “Escape from Butcher’s Bay”.

    Vin Diesel is funny precisely because he makes jokes about killing people and then acts it out. For someone with my grim humour, that is just peachy.

    For an actress, she would not only have to be attractive, which many actresses are from my view, but she has to be unconventional in a fashion related, but not the same, as Vin Diesel. And it has to be consistent, which is very hard to do for a woman as their careers can’t be limited to one “type” of woman.

    I certainly like individual performances of actresses in such flicks as Enchanted or Stardust, but the names of the actresses do not automatically make me look for their other works on the assumption that I would also like them. There is also a level of suspension of belief. For movies such as Tomb Raider, even if I like the plot or the role of the protagonist (Angelina), I am horribly dissatisfied and disillusioned by the reality, which is that Angelina Jolie hates guns. Well, that’s part of acting, of course, but there’s a certain point to which I will not play along.

    I don’t demand that actors or actresses agree entirely with my views, since that would be rather strange if you know my views. What I do demand is that the actor or actress have substance independent of the “role” he or she is playing. If I don’t have that, I can’t very well respect the actor.

    This is a good example of Vin Diesel

    My instincts, totally independent of checking out Vin Diesel’s background, told me he had something else going for him. It wasn’t just a fluke deal in Pitch Black or Chronicles of Riddick or other movies he has been in. It wasn’t just the director, the plot, the script, or the cinematics. It was him and something he ineffably brought to the screen. And he did so in a consistent fashion, which suggested that something else was going on than just the illusion created from acting.

    The interview proves me out, for I specifically googled it for this post of mine. I had not read it before now.

    Diesel discussed where his character’s deep emotion came from. “I pulled from the idea of abandonment, which is a theme that I played with here. And I pulled from all that harbored anger we all have and lock away in a vault and keep it there locked so we can function. I just kind of unlocked that vault, which made for a very tough shooting experience because I was never that successful in leaving the character on set so to speak. It’s a little bit harder for me, maybe because I’m dyslexic or I’ve got ADD or all those other wonderful things. It’s hard for me to commit so much to a reality, the reality of a character then detach myself from that commitment on the off hours. So, what ends up happening is you live these three months in this reality, in this dark reality, you don’t want to do those films every year because they’re taxing. I started smoking a lot of cigarettes.”
    I guess why I’m saying that is because before I was getting paid to make movies, when there was no money involved, then the financing of these movies had to come from a bouncer. I was either working to make the money for movies or trying to pull off the impossible and shoot a movie for $50,000 or $3,000. So, what I do for fun is film. Do I play ball, yeah. Do I love chess, yes. But it always feels like whatever I’m doing, I’d rather go back to somehow developing a project, whether it’s creating creature characteristics and attributes for The Chronicles of Riddick that you won’t see until scene two or scene three, whether it’s researching on the Internet to explain negative matter where these villains in The Chronicles of Riddick come from, these Necromongers come from, and their scientific existence, explain that. I built a Hannibal tent in the back of my backyard. I go elephant training. I ride elephants. It’s very odd.”

    Vin Diesel also played a close part in making the PC Game, Escape from Butcher’s Bay. This is not a man that can be said to be a “one trick pony”. He has depth and that came across even with some of the cheesy things he had to do in his movies (and by Cheesy I don’t mean too adrenaline pumped, I mean not enough death and carnage).

    I know of no actress that does the same for me. Some of that may in part be due to my not paying attention to actresses in Hollywood or sitcoms. I am, after all, not the same as my numerous peers, who are salivating after the next Jessica Alba flick. That is not, in the end, what attracts me towards women. At least not women I have never even met. It’s an ephemeral issue. Many women are beautiful, attractive, and with various figures from slim to more buxom. That, however, makes those actresses all equally available or unavailable depending on the view. Many fans, however, don’t let that stop them from having a relationship with their favorite “actress”. Which I find perpetually amusing. But hey, Hollywood gets their revenue from “somewhere” you know.

    I’ll give you one example of why I can’t like movies or actors that I don’t respect. Look at Matt what’shisface in Bourne Identity. Here is a guy that is supposed to play the part of a “trained killer”. He also is against the Iraq war. That would be irrelevant if Matt was training himself to kill in other venues, but that’s not true, now is it. So who is the real trained killer here? The actor or the Iraqis and Americans he seems to think he can direct like he is the director in a grand movie stage or the people who have a proven interest, willingness, and capacity in defending their loved ones, American or Iraqi?

    I think we all know the answer to that. ANd if you don’t, I do.


    Not everyone is warming up to Madame Barracuda. Hollywood hunk Matt Damon offers up some harsh words for uber-conservative VP hopeful Sarah Palin in a new interview with the Associated Press. The Bourne Identity star calls Palin’s appointment as Senator John McCain’s running mate a “disaster” and the chance that she could become President a “terrifying possibility.”

    “I think there’s a really good chance Sarah Palin could become president, and I think that’s a really scary thing….I don’t understand why more people aren’t talking about how absurd it is,” Matt told the AP on Wednesday.

    I’m pretty sure I can come up with something Matt here will find “really scary”. And it ain’t Palin.

    The “Bourne Identity” star would crap his pants if Sarah Palin came at him with a drawn firearm. Then Matt will truly understand what a “terrifying possibility” truly is.

  • Ymarsakar

    After writing and researching Diesel, I decided to look up Angelina Jolie (and thus also Brad Pitt). I have heard rumors from my side of the blogosphere that they were “hidden conservatives”, whatever that meant. Given that I had personally heard Angelina Jolie say that she was afraid of guns (and her physical reaction put the stamp of authority on that in the interview) after Tomb Raider was released, I never paid much attention to Tomb Raider or her. I liked Brad Pitt’s roles in his movies, like Mr. Black or whatever that was called. But that was because I didn’t constantly hear him yapping his mouth off about politics. I could, thus, ignore his politics, whatever it was. I could also ignore his personal life, since i don’t pay attention to Hollywood. Oh, I could. My analytical resources and time could be spent on analyzing Hollywood “weirdness” but then I would have to reallocate resources away from the Iraq War. Given that this was somewhere between 2003-2006, I wasn’t very willing to devote my time to analyzing Hollywood junk.

    Some further research on my part, right now, have provided intriguing conclusions: conclusions different from the ones I had on those two.

    Background reading

    Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt keep a gun in their house to protect their family. The couple would do anything for their children – Maddox, six, Pax, four, Zahara, three, and two-year-old Shiloh – and wouldn’t hesitate shooting someone if they tried to harm them.

    Angelina – who is pregnant with twins – said: “If anybody comes into my home and tries to hurt my kids, I’ve no problem shooting them. “I bought original, real guns of the type I used in ‘Tomb Raider’ for security. Brad and I are not against having a gun in the house, and we do have one. I’d be able to use it if I had to.”

    I must admit, I am impressed. I am impressed precisely by how much Angelina feared guns. I read her body language when she talked about working with guns in Tomb Raider, and even though I didn’t know exactly what her behind the scenes setup consisted of, I could see her wringing her hands and moving them around. I’m not a very good body language reader, in my view, but I think I am at least slightly above average, if only because I understand the psychology theory behind people’s potential emotions.

    A person that fears guns that much but is willing to change her views, train in their use, all because they value their children’s safety… is worthy. I’ll be looking forward to see more of her and Brad Pitt’s movies. I’m a very simple individual in this respect. And nobody can call me a man that clings to his guns and his bible. Even though I am a proto-typical example of what Obama was talking about. In fact, I’m slightly worse than his stereotype, actually. I attribute some of that to having been raised as a neophyte in politics post 9/11, but more importantly I studied Jihadi tactics more than I ever did Western tactics. Your perspective tends to get skewed based upon that, just like Cold War era peeps were skewed in their perspective and solution proposals by what they saw working in the Cold War (detente and MAD). I’m not for detente and MAD. I’m for killing enemies of America and the enemies of humanity. The more the better. Pile them up like corkwood to the moon and I’ll drink a toast to that. Winning the loyalty of Iraqis is, thus, useful in that context because it allows the American and Iraqi army to kill even more Islamists.

    As well as firearms, Angelina insists she is more than capable of tackling any assailant with her self-defence skills. She added: “I tend to want to throw an elbow – I don’t know why. I’ve learned all the punches, head-butts and kicks – yet getting someone with my elbow is my first instinct.”

    I’m currently reviewing the Krav Maga demonstration videos. While I believe Target Focus Training is the best system and training methodology, I am not a follower of the “conservative” school of training in that I don’t believe that instructors should teach what they know the way they were taught. TFT follows the, I wouldn’t call it progressive, but it is the more adaptable school of training in which the instructors teach the new generation based upon what they have come to learn themselves, rather than train the new generation the way they were trained.

    This means that mastery of fighting isn’t based upon a “if it works, don’t fix it” philosophy. The mastery of fighting means always learning new things and necessarily relies upon your ability to think and combine the best methods over reproducing the old methods that you know work. Thus, if a better training methodology presents themselves or a better method of explaining things exists, then TFT will adopt it, once the new is proven to be better in actuality (and not just in the imaginations of diplomats or armchair pacifists).

    This relates to Krav Maga because it is a branch of the Israeli commando combatives training. It is either a civilian firm (it is in English produced by the American district) authorized to disclosed the classified training and methodologies that Israeli commandos themselves train with, or they are a civilian firm authorized to produce a different curriculum while avoiding the classified material. Tim Larkin, a former SCARS instructor, is not authorized to disclose SCARS instruction material (for our enemies can use it against our Special Forces) as far as I know, but nothing prevents him from sharing his experience and knowledge via his own private civilian company. Methods to kill are not “copyrighted”, after all.

    Now, having said that, you may come to understand more fully why I am not very confident in Angelina Jolie’s self-defense capabilities. I do not think it is a problem on her side, but rather I think, depending on whether she learned it primarily “on the set” or from other instructors, it is a problem due to her trainers. If Angelina learned it on a movie set, most of the strikes and techniques she mentioned, then she is not very well suited to the street. If she learned it from self-defense “instructors”, that also is not very reliable for I don’t trust the people in Hollywood to understand what real violence is. That is not what they are for and they don’t know the people that do train in and utilize real violence: the US military primarily but not exclusively. Hollywood and the military don’t run in the same social circles so how would Angelina Jolie come across material and instructors such as Krav Maga or TFT? She couldn’t, except by a fluke, and I don’t count on flukes for my analysis conclusions.

    So, Angelina needs to beef her self-defense expertise up in my opinion. But hey, what else is new? I’ve been advocating that for everybody that is willing to listen or when I can make them listen. Angelina certainly has the money and that is not the problem. She certainly has the time, for much of this training doesn’t take very long. Martial arts takes years and hours and hours each month and the quality of the training will depend immensely on the priority of your instructors (street or competition rules). TFT’s live training costs 1,000 (pocket change to actor and actress Angelina and Brad) plus traveling and time allocation for a weekend training session. Heck, that costs less than ammo and the price of a good firearm over any appreciable amount of time and TFT requires no further training courses. That’s why I say it is the best methodology and training system. It has to be.

    I will say this, one natural advantage to the elbow, and perhaps the reason Angelina Jolie likes it best, is that it provides you a mechanical advantage in terms of power and speed. Now what do I mean by mechanical advantage? I mean a person, especially a woman, doesn’t need much muscle power when using an elbow strike to create speed and power. There are reasons for this, derived from TFT training knowledge, but I’ll try to find a nice analogy.

    Do you know why it takes longer to spin a chain so that its end is at a certain speed as opposed to how much time it takes, with the same force, to spin a blade at the end of a shorter chain? The longer the chain, the faster you must spin it so that it starts whizzing above your head and not fall down. The faster you must spin it, the faster the initial force and the maintenance force you need to keep on it. Each separate link in the chain is “wobbly” and will bend towards the ground because of gravity if you don’t apply centrifugal force, and constant centrifugal force at that. If your chain is shorter and it has a weight, like a blade or ball on the end, then you don’t need as much force to create the same rotation speed. This is what I mean by mechanical advantage. And, the same thing is present when you strike with your fists or open hand. The “links” in the chain are the same as the joints in your arm. The more points between the contact point and the base of your power (torso), the more force you need to get the same speed. The longer your striking chain is, the more power you need to get the same speed. But what is also true is that the longer your striking chain, the less of the initial force gets translated to the point of contact. This is why the difference between getting hit by a 12 feet chain and a 12 feet iron rod is very different. The chain will “flex” and absorb most of the kinetic force given its numerous links. An iron rod is not going to “bend”. What is going to bend and break is your body.

    This is getting overly complex so let us just say that a woman moving her elbows has cut down the length of her “chain” by at least one half. She has also decreased the number of “weak links” that will fail to translate her force into the target. This is why a fist strike is less powerful, de facto, than an elbow strike. It is a simple case of physics, as represented by the human skeleton.

    TFT is very similar to the “coup de vitesse” (blow of speed) mentioned in David Weber’s Honor Harrington, except instead of decreasing defense in favor of offense, TFT eliminates defense entirely in favor of offense. And to do that, means taking as much advantage of mechanical levers as you can. Instead of fighting at a range where you can only kick the guy, TFT trains you to fight at close range, within 2 feet. When the guy flies away from you, follow him to keep the distance within 2 feet.

    To get back to the subject, a woman, regardless of her upper body strength, will always be able to apply more power with the elbows than with any other part of her upper body, including the head, shoulder, wrists, fists, or palms. Mechanical advantage does not change if you are a man or a woman. What changes is only strength and mass.

    The fact that Angelina Jolie cannot explain why she favors the elbow strike… does not provide me with much confidence in her instructors. You can’t get very far if you are taught what to “do” without also being told “why” you are doing so.

    A similar situation with Angelina Jolie was something I saw in the blogosphere from a link off instapundit. I recommend you all to check it out, if you are interested in such things.


    And that, perhaps, is more than you ever wanted to know on this subject vis a vis Hollywood actresses. But hey.

    I’d love it if you all would weigh in with your comments and suggestions.

    I am just obeying my marching orders! as a loyal cog of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.