Hollywood's Leading Men -1930s and 1940s - The Golden Age of Movies

The Golden Age of Movies

1925 through 1940 marked the Golden Age of Movies and is said to have begun with the release of The Jazz Singer, the first movie to incorporate sound, ending the era of silent films. During this time period 65% of the American population bought movie tickets which translates to about eighty million tickets a week.  The success of talking pictures brought wealth to the studios and they began buying movie theaters.  The big five studios owned all of the movie theaters by the early 1930's.  This gave them full control over where their movies were shown and opened the door for censorship.

The Motion Picture's Distributors Association of America set forth a declaration of moral principals in the early 1930's.  It was backed up by the Legion of Decency, a Catholic organization. These strict guidelines defined what was and was not morally acceptable in motion pictures.

  • A two-shot had to be taken in such a way as to prevent cropping that would suggest the male was on top of the female, even when fully dressed.
  • Cleavage had to be removed by retouching. There were retouchers whose only job was to retouch cleavage shots.
  • No female navel shots.
  • If a man was posed behind a woman, his hands had to be far away from her breasts.

These and many more standards were strictly enforced. And those that didn't adhere to the policies were heavily fined and the films were refused distribution in the studio owned theaters.  Photographers also were subject to these guidelines and photographs had to be approved before being released to the public.

During the Golden Age a sign over the MGM studios boasted they had "more stars than there are in heaven".  Photography of the stars began to change as it moved towards the candid shot which portrayed the personality traits of the stars. And the stars often received more recognition from their photos than they did from the movies they stared in.

Thanks to the many talented and prolific photographers of the day, we have a wonderful collection of portraits of the leading men of Hollywood's Golden Age.

Cary Grant 1904-1987

Cary Grant hit Hollywood with a bang in 1932 with the release of seven movies. By the age 30 he'd been in over a dozen films. His final onscreen appearance was in 1970 in the movie "Elvis-That's The Way It Is." Grant's healthy glow was natural. He kept a suntan year-round to avoid wearing makeup. Aging with dignity, he actually got better looking as he got older. His onscreen attitude towards women along with his style and lack of pretense was a predecessor to James Bond's cavalier, and less than sincere approach to women. By allowing his leading ladies to pursue him, Grant brought out their sensuality. Cary Grant was a suave and charming leading man who excelled at drawing room comedies and sophisticated suspense.

Complete Bibliography

Partial Filmography

Topper 1337

Bringing Up Baby 1938

Gunga Din 1939

His Girl Friday 1939

The Philidelphia Story 1940

Arsenic and Old Lace 1944

I Was A Male War Bride 1949

To Catch A Thief 1955

An Affair To Remember 1957

North By Northwest 1959

Charade 1963

Leading man of Hollywood's Golden Age
Leading man of Hollywood's Golden Age

Fred Astaire

Fred Astaire 1999 - 1987

Fred Astaire started his career on Vaudeville alongside his sister. When she left the act, he headed for Hollywood. The remarks from his first screen test were 'Can't act. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.' Fred Astaire's professional dancing career spanned over fifty years as he shared the dance floor with Hollywood's leading ladies such as Rita Hayworth, Judy Garland, Leslie Caron, Cyd Charisse and of course Ginger Rogers. The closing comments of his biography are "I have no desire to prove anything by it . . . I just dance."

Complete Bibliography

Partial Filmography

Top Hat 1935

Swing Time 1936

The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle 1939

Holiday Inn 1942

Easter Parade 1948

Daddy Long Legs 1955

The Pleasure of His Company 1961

Humphrey Bogart

Hollywood leading man
Hollywood leading man

Humphrey Bogart 1899-1957

Humphrey Bogart set the standard for the movie tough guy and his films were the very definition of film noir. Audiences loved Bogart's characters with their 'don't mess with me attitudes and moral code of ethics. In his personal life, Bogart was a heavy drinker and claimed he didn't trust anyone who didn't drink. "Bogart's a helluva nice guy until 11:30 pm. after that, he thinks he's Bogart." Dave Chase - Hollywood Restaurateur. Humphrey Bogart met Lauren Bacall on the set of To Have and Have Not . He was married to her for nine years until his death.

Complete Bibliography

Partial Filmography

Three On A Match 1932

Kid Galahad 1937

Angles With Dirty Faces 1938

Dark Victory 1939

The Maltese Falcon 1941

Casablanca 1942

To Have and Have Not 1944

The Big Sleep 1946

Key Largo 1948

The African Queen 1951

Sabrina 1954

We're No Angels 1955

Hollywood's Golden Age - Leading man
Hollywood's Golden Age - Leading man

Clark Gable

Clark Gable 1901-1960

Clark Gable was the first actor to play himself onscreen. He made a promise early on in his career that success would not change the size of his hat, and he kept that promise throughout his lifetime. After a successful start on Broadway, Gable turned to Hollywood. But was told he would never make it because his ears were too big. Gable was a known womanizer on screen and off. He was married four times and filled the time in between marriages with a multitude of one night stands. Clark Gable was dubbed by his peers as well as his adoring public as the "he-man king".

Complete Bibliography

Partial Filmography

No Man of Her Own  1932

It Happened One Night  1934

Mutiny on the Bounty  1935

Gone With The Wind  1939

Boom Town  1940

The Hucksters  1947

Across The Wide Missouri  1951

Mogambo  1953

Teacher's Pet  1958

The Misfits  1961

Errol Flynn

Leading man
Leading man

Errol Flynn 1909-1959

Errol Flynn, swashbuckling hero onscreen, was famous off-screen for his hard drinking and partying. For a time he shared a house with David Niven. They called it, Cirrhosis-by-the-Sea. Flynn had a destructive lack of self-discipline which lead to his early death at the age of 50; a heart attack precipitated by years of drinking a fifth of Vodka a day. Jack Warner is quoted as referring to Errol Flynn, "To the Walter Mittys of the world, he was all the heroes in one magnificent sexy animal package."

Complete Bibliography

Partial Filmography

Captain Blood 1935

The Charge of the Light Brigade 1936

The Adventures of Robin Hood 1938

The Sea Hawk 1940

They Died With Their Boots On 1941

San Antonio 1945

Adventures of Don Juan 1948

The Master of Ballantrae 1953

The Sun Also Rises 1957

Jimmy Stewart

Hollywood leading man
Hollywood leading man

Jimmy Stewart 1908-1997

Woody Strode who co-stared with Jimmy Stewart in Two Rode Together and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, said Stewart was "one of the nicest men you'll ever meet anywhere in the world". This came across in his many roles as an honest, middle class guy facing a crisis. He was first nominated for an academy award in 1939 for Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and won one in 1940 for The Philadelphia Story. the Oscar sat in his father's hardware store window for twenty-five years. Over Stewart's career he was nominated three more times. he served in WWII and received many metals for distinquished service. He died at the age of 89, never having recovered from losing his wife of 45 years three years earlier.

Complete Bibliography

Partial Filmography

You Can't Take It With You  1938

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington  1939

The Philidelphia Story  1940

It's a Wonderful Life  1946

Harvey  1950

Bend of the River  1952

Rear Window  1954

Night Passage  1957

Vertigo  1958

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance  1962

Shenandoah  1965


Leading man
Leading man

David Niven

David Niven 1910-1982

David Niven started his Hollywood career as an extra in 1935. But his classic good looks and irresistible charm soon caught the attention of Samuel Goldwyn. For the next several years he mainly supported bigger stars with only an occasional leading role. It wasn't until he formed his own television production company with Dick Powell, Charles Boyer and Ida Lupino, that he was able to take on the dramatic roles he wanted to play. David Niven was the first big television star. He said of his acting career, "Can you imagine being wonderfully overpaid for dressing up and playing games?"

Complete Bibliography

Partial Filmography

The Prisoner of Zenda  1937

Wuthering Heights  1939

The Bishop's Wife  1947

Happy Go Lovely  1951

My Man Godfrey  1957

The Guns of Navarone  1961

55 Days at Peking  1963

Casino Royale  1967

The Sea Wolves  1980

Randolph Scott

Leading man of the Golden Age of Hollywood
Leading man of the Golden Age of Hollywood

Randoph Scott 1898-1987

In 1929 Randolph Scott moved to Hollywood to pursue acting. After meeting Howard Hughes, he was introduced to Cecil B. DeMille. But it was still a few years before he was offered a contract by Paramount. His star status came in the early 40's when he began staring in Westerns and was one of the top box office draws by the 1950s. Scott retired in 1962 after making Ride The High Country. He spent his remaining years playing golf and avoiding the affairs of Hollywood.

Complete Bibliography

Partial Filmography

The Last of the Mohicans  1936

Virginia City  1940

To the Shores of Tripoli  1942

Abilene Town  1946

Return of the Bad Men  1948

Carson City  1952

The Tall T  1957

Buchanan Rides Alone  1958

Ride the High Country  1962

Who was your favorite leading man from the golden era of Hollywood?

  • Cary Grant
  • Fred Astaire
  • Humphrey Bogart
  • Clark Gable
  • Errol Flynn
  • Jimmy Stewart
  • David Niven
  • Randolph Scott
See results without voting

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Comments 37 comments

pgrundy 7 years ago

Great stuff. I love Cary Grant, but Fred Astaire was extremely cool also. I'm a big Jimmy Stewart fan. Harvey is a GREAT movie. Capra--I don't know. Maybe if they hadn't shown the pants off "It's a Wonderful Life" every Christmas he'd be easier to take, but I can't hold that against Stewart.

We've been watching a lot of movies from the 30s lately on TCM on cable. It's amazing how contemporary they are, and also how risque they often are. Thank you for sharing all this, especially the film links.


Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

Great hub! Cary Grant was soooooo handsome. Took me a while to appreciate the features of Humphry Bogart -- but he was such a great actor that looks don't matter. Thanks for this review, and the good links.


lafenty profile image

lafenty 7 years ago from California Author

They all had their own certain charms. I love the dialogue in the old movies. And you're right, Pgrudy, risque!


Iðunn 7 years ago

I'm a huge Fred Astaire fan. He was actually considerably more diverse than most remember. Another lovely Hub.


Eva 6 years ago

Great listings! All talented men. Just curious where Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby are. Maybe this list was more geared to film stars as opposed to performers.


lafenty profile image

lafenty 6 years ago from California Author

The list represents the leading men of the era, but I agree, Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope were all great. Holiday Inn, White Christmas, the Road Pictures - all classics.


Anastasia Polini 6 years ago

A somewhat true assessment, yet I dare say that I consider Gary Cooper to top all of these men by far. I feel that his absence from the abovementioned is a faux pas indeed.


lafenty profile image

lafenty 6 years ago from California Author

You are so right anastasia, I will work on adding him to the list. Thanks for your comments.


George Vreeland Hill 5 years ago

They sure don't make leading actors like these anymore.

George Vreeland Hill


Suspira44 5 years ago

Tyrone Power was ranked as high as #2 in the world, named King of Hollywood three times, and in the Gone with the Wind year of 1939, ranked higher than Clark Gable. Why isn't he here? And I agree, where is Gary Cooper. And Robert Taylor. Power and Cooper died international film stars who got a percentage of the gross. Errol Flynn did not, and he only made the top ten box office stars once.


cary grant 5 years ago

what abt gregory peck!!


James Massey 4 years ago

Timeless and classic


JIm Chambers lapadre@att.net 4 years ago

Met an old male moboie star in a cafe while viviting Hollywood in 1943.. He was not one of the mostfamolus, but I shhook hhis hand and he bought me a coca cola.

need his name.. Need his name for my memoirs


michelle 4 years ago

It would be oh so nice if you would post information regarding the offspring of famous starts of the 1930-1940 era....


lafenty profile image

lafenty 4 years ago from California Author

How interesting. Hope you remember who he was.


lafenty profile image

lafenty 4 years ago from California Author

You're right, Gregory Peck should be here. There were just so many great ones.


lafenty profile image

lafenty 4 years ago from California Author

Definately.


Melanie 4 years ago

Hi there

fantastic site, a little more insight into the classics, will certainly be working my way through the lists. Want some help though in finding an old film I need a title or even a year .. I watched it with my mum when I was little and cant remember much about it except there was a girl who was constantly having her undergarments fall down she was persued by three suiters one of them was a teacher ... any help on this would be great i have only ever seen it once over 25 years ago now and would love to find out what its called...


Patty17 4 years ago

Where is Tyrone Power? Where is Gary Cooper?


lafenty profile image

lafenty 4 years ago from California Author

Sorry, not sure that I've seen that one. Good luck tracking it down.


lafenty profile image

lafenty 4 years ago from California Author

I know. There are just too many to name. I will have to add a few more for sure, though.


Beverly Tamasanis 4 years ago

Where is Alan Ladd? Where is Jimmy Cagney? They picked on Alan Ladd his entire life for being 'short', making fun of him ever chance they got. But that FACE and VOICE far exceeds anyone names so far.


lafenty profile image

lafenty 4 years ago from California Author

I agree, just too many to list.


beeda 4 years ago

how could you not include MONTGOMERY CLIFT?


lafenty profile image

lafenty 4 years ago from California Author

Just too many of them. Should have added him though.


Joan 4 years ago

I don't understand this list - Tyrone Power was a much bigger star than Randolph Scott and Errol Flynn - if you don't believe me, just check Toptenreviews.com. Power was named King of Hollywood three times. Just because Turner Classic Movies rewrites history because they don't own Fox films doesn't mean everyone has to go along with them.


Cheryl Lynn 4 years ago

Tyrone Power was The King Of The Movies for 3 years in a row, from 1939-1941. And he remained one of the biggest box office draws for the entire span of his career, through the 1940s and 1950s. He was 20th Century Foxes biggest male star. He definitely needs to be on this list.


Pat 4 years ago

I agree with the other ladies who wanted Tyrone Power. Not only was he soooo good-looking and "The King of The Movies" three years in a row he was a marine pilot during World War ll. What more could you ask for?


Ells 4 years ago

I know there are many great ones and it is just personal opinion, but Tyrone Power was a classic. I have never thought much of Randolph Scott; he seemed more of a B movie actor. Ty was A all the way!


lafenty profile image

lafenty 4 years ago from California Author

I agree, Tyrone Power should be on the list. Just couldn't include everyone. I will add him, though, when I get a chance.


CACinTX 4 years ago

I look forward to Ty being on the list. He's got my vote.


alma trappolini 4 years ago

How can we possibly not include Tyrone Power! Not only was he King of the Movies beating out both Cary Grant and Clark Gable (!939 to 1941) but he chose to join the Marines at the height of his career piloting his plane through enemy fire in the South Pacific. He was not only a great actor He was a PATRIOT!


mo 4 years ago

great site! Fred is da man, but Randy Scott was special in his own way. Not sure they make them like them these days. Today's dancers can not hold a candle to Fred. In fact on a scale of 10 being Fred, i haven't seen anyone over a 2 in the modern era. Including highly touted folk like Greg Hines etc.


Jo Patrice 4 years ago

I'm so dissapointed that Tyrone Power is missing!!!He was more often descibed as 'BEAUTIFUL' rather than handsome. His leading ladies almost always, word for word described him in that way,telling how nervous they felt starring opposite him. But his niceness and gratiousness alleviated the situation. He was known as the King of Hollywood. Check out his pictures...they will take your breath away. Perhaps this list is more for performances, rather than looks?? Yet Ty Power was an extremely good actor...many from that era, I know, but he should be at the very top!


Fahriza. 4 years ago

Louis Hayward....c'monnnnnnn!

Defiantly charming.

But I do love Humphrey Bogart!


GA-nostalgia 4 years ago

I am Flabbergasted that Gary Cooper is not in that list! Why he's only won two Oscars (+1 for lifetime achievement) and is only the most influential and best regarded actor of the golden age,if not ever!

Even the King himself,Clark Gable considered him,his the biggest competition,and not to mention that Cary Grant was partially signed with Paramount to force Coop to come back to Hollywood.

By George ;) it's a damn shame!

In another note Montgomery Clift missed the golden age by a decade or so...


GramGirl 3 years ago

Do you think you know Hollywood?

Do you know that Dorothy Arzner revolutionized film?

Do you know the true story of old Hollywood's unsung heroine?

Dorothy Arzner's accomplishments were many –

1. Not only was she the first woman to direct in the Hollywood studio system;

she was the only woman for her entire career... nearly 2 decades!

2. She is credited with more films than any other woman in Hollywood to date!

3. Dorothy directed the first ‘talkie’ for Paramount;

4. And invented the boom mic in the process.

5. Dorothy was the first woman in the DGA.

6. She launched the careers of screen legends like Lucille Ball, Katharine Hepburn

and more.

Dorothy Arzner accomplished so much, yet, nobody knows her name…

It's time her story is known.

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=4856827314...

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