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1930s Movie Actresses Who Should Not Be Forgotten

Updated on September 22, 2014


It is strange and sad how some actresses of the 1930s are still remembered and their careers celebrated whilst others fall into disuse. So we remember Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo, Myrna Loy, but tend to overlook the likes of Ruby Keeler (pictured, left), Mary Astor, Joan Leslie and Joan Bennet.

In this lens I'm going to try to rectify that unfairness by spotlighting four beautiful and successful actresses from the 1930s who deserve to be celebrated, not forgotten. They are Ann Dvorak, Madge Evans , Marie Wilson and Anne Nagel. For those of you who are now falling off your seat apoplectic with rage shouting, "But they're not forgotten!", I say, not completely forgotten, of course, but ignored compared to their peers.

Ann Dvorak
Ann Dvorak

Ann Dvorak

Ann Dvorak was born into a showbusiness family on August 2, 1911. Her father was a director for one of the early film studios and her mother, Anna Lehr, was a successful and prolific silent movie actress. After several films as a child actress, Ann Dvorak began work as an MGM assistant choreographer in the late 1920s and then began to appear on film as a chorus girl, finally amassing over 20 uncredited features and shorts for the studio.

During this early period, she became friendly with Joan Crawford who introduced her to producer and studio owner, Howard Hughes. He signed the beautiful dancer up with his Caddo Company and in 1932 she was cast opposite Paul Muni in the now legendary gangster film, 'Scarface' directed by Howard Hawks. The movie was a great success and Ann was cast in other successful pre-Code films such as 'Three on a Match' in 1932, with Joan Blondell and Bette Davis, and opposite Spencer Tracy in Sky Devils' in 1932.

'Three on a Match'
Bette Davis, Joan Blondell and Ann Dvorak

She seemed destined to become a top Hollywood star until she met and fell in love with the actor, Leslie Fenton. The two married in 1932 and sailed to Europe for a year-long honeymoon. Unsurprisingly, her studio, by now Warner Bros., objected and Anne's career suffered a permanent setback. Although she continued to appear in movies as a freelance actress, her roles were disappointing and the movies lacklustre.

After divorcing Fenton in 1945 she married Russian dancer Igor Dega two years later but divorced in 1951, and married her third and last husband, TV producer Nicholas Wade, to whom she remained married until his death in 1977. She also retired from the screen in 1951 and lived her post-retirement years quietly until her death from stomach cancer in Honolulu at the age of 68 in 1979. She had no children.

She was a strong-willed lady who was not afraid to speak up for herself against the studio bosses about her roles. She was a classic Hollywood actress with great talent, a unique, haunting beauty and a strong screen presence.

Watch Ann Dvorak in Scarface (1932) - With Paul Muni, Boris Karloff and George Raft

A gritty, fast-paced gangster film that ranks among the best of all time

Scarface (Universal Cinema Classics)
Scarface (Universal Cinema Classics)

Paul Muni plays Tony Camonte (a thinly veiled Al Capone) as a brutal psychopath. Muni was already a distinguished actor, having received his first of 5 Oscar nominations in 1929 for "The Valiant" and having a very successful Broadway career. Ann Dvorak plays Muni's sister and makes a brilliant debut in a starring role.


Elegant Ann Dvorak

Ann Dvorak
Ann Dvorak

Madge Evans

Madge Evans was born on July 1, 1909, and made her professional debut at the age of six months, posing as an artist's model. She was a beautiful baby with classical features and reddish-yellow hair.She became the baby "Fairy Soap Girl" in newspaper adverts, and then at the age of four she began her acting career, starring in a series of specially written plays which made her a huge star. She then began making films and was the first actress to star as Heidi.

Madge the Fairy soap Model

Madge all grown up

After a break of 7 years from 1924 to devote her talents to the stage Madge was tempted back to movies by MGM in 1931, still only 22 and ravishingly beautiful. She became one of the studio's top second-echelon stars, and appeared in some very successful pictures such as 'Dinner at Eight' in 1933) and 'David Copperfield' in 1935. She co-starred opposite such greats as James Cagney in 'The Mayor of Hell' in 1933 and Spencer Tracy in 'The Show Off' the following year and with Bing Crosby in 'Pennies from Heaven' in 1935.

She rertired from movies at the end of her contract in 1938 and married playwright Sidney Kingsley the following year. She appeared in some television shows durng the 1950s but steadfastly refused repeated offers to return to Hollywood.

Madge Evans died of cancer in 1981 at her home in Oakland, New Jersey.

Pennies From Heaven - Madge Stars with Bing Crosby

Pennies from Heaven
Pennies from Heaven

One of the crown jewels from the golden age of Hollywood when real stars weren't found only in heaven...and a fistful of pennies still went a long way. As well as Madge Evans the movie stars Bing Crosby, Edith Fellows, Donald Meek, John Gallaudet, Tommy Dugan, Louis Armstrong, and Nydia Westman.


Madge Evans and Robert Montgomery - From 'Hell Below', 1933

Marie Wilson
Marie Wilson

Marie Wilson

Marie Wilson was one of the original dumb blondes, but in reality she was anything but dumb. she was a very shrewd lady who knew precisely how to use her looks and assets. She was Marilyn Monroe 10 years before the real Marilyn. It is strange how Marie has been largely forgotten whilst the legend of Marilyn continues to grow.

Marie was born in 1916 in Anaheim, California. She was educated in Hollywood and she decided at an early age that entertainment was to be her career. After graduating from school she began working as an extra in the nearby studios and appeared unbilled in a number of films including Laurel and Hardy's 'Babes in Toyland' in 1934. Her career accelerated when she met the director Nick Grinde who helped secure a Warner Brothers contract for her in 1935. For the next four years Marie gradually developed her dizzy blonde persona in mainly 'B'movies such as 'Satan Met a Lady' in 1936, 'Melody for Two' and 'The Great Garrick' both in 1937, and 'Sweepstakes Winner' in 1939.

Marie became a popular pinup during the war and then really hit her dumb blonde stride in the radio show 'My Friend Irma' in the late 1940s, eventually portraying the title character in two films and a television series as well as on radio.

After her early relationship with Nick Grinde, Marie was married three times, to golfer Bob Stevens for one year from 1938, to TV producer Allan Nixon from 1942-50 and to Robert Fallon from 1951 to her death in 1972.

She died of cancer far too young at age 56 in 1972 and was interred at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Hollywood Hills.

Marie with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in 'My Friend Irma', 1947

'My Friend Irma' plus ''My Friend Irma Goes West - Double DVD of Marie with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis

My Friend Irma / My Friend Irma Goes West
My Friend Irma / My Friend Irma Goes West

'My Friend Irma' was Marie Wilson's hugely successful radio series and legendary Hollywood producer Hal Wallis thought the film version would be a great vehicle for up-and-coming talents Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. The original 'My Friend Irma' film was so successful that in 1949 Irma went West, with Dean and Jerry along for the ride. This launched the comedy duo into stardom and before the year was out they were international stars.


Marie Wilson and Ann Nagel

Anne Nagel

Anne Nagel appeared in well over seventy films in the course of her career and became well known in her lifetime. She has now been all but forgotten.

She was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1915 and was originally encouraged by her parents to be a nun but her great interest in modeling and dance led her into a showbusiness career. Her first movie experience was in experimental Technicolor shorts directed by her stepfather and her striking beauty and pleasantly modulated voice got her a contract at Warner Brothers in 1932. She made a string of steady, if unspectacular, roles in low budget 'B' pictures such as 'Three Legionnaires' in 1937, 'Mystery House' in 1938 and 'Legion of Lost Flyers' in 1939.

Anne's life began to go downhill with her marriage in 1936 to actor Ross Alexander, an homosexual with a drinking problem and prone to periods of self-hating manic depression. Alexander committed suicide by shooting himself, after less than one year of marriage, and it affected Ann deeply.

Anne Nagel with the masked Warren Hull, in 'The Green Hornet Strikes Again', 1940

She continued acting in increasingly unmemorable films until 1951 when she moved to television, appearing in such series as 'The Range Rider' and 'Circus Boy'.

Her second marriage was to Air Force Lt. Col. James H. Keenan in 1941, but again the marriage was not happy and they divorced in 1951. By 1957 Anne's acting career had finished and she was increasingly beset by her own problems of alcoholism.

Anne Nagel died on 6 July 1966 from liver failure. She was 53. There is no marker on her grave, she had no children, and no surviving relatives. Hers is a sad story of how the allure of Hollywood can make lives, but can also break them.

Under The Big Top (1938) - Anne Nagel with Jack LaRue

Anne Nagel with John Loder - From Diamond Frontier, 1940



Four actresses four careers, four lives lived and ended. It is over now, but each lady has left us memories of her beauty, photographs, songs and, of course movies. They don't deserve to be forgotten. Let's remember them in their glorious pomp, dazzling and delighting audiences everywhere. Thank you, Ann Dvorak, Madge Evans, Marie Wilson, and Anne Nagel, you are not forgotten.

Do you think these actresses are forgotten? Any others you can think of? - Let's hear your thoughts!

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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I just love old movies, so I'm familiar with these actresses. Don't worry they are not forgotten, just the ones who remember them become fewer and fewer. Great lens tough. I have some about the early 1920 of the Cinema. Check them if you like.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Alice White, her subsquent personal scandals and life after Hollywood

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      So many to remember, including Ginger Rogers, Margaret Sullavan, Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, Kay Francis, Aline MacMahon ..... and so many more

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      That "Ann Dvorak with Joan Blondell" photo, above, is actually Joan Blondell with Bette Davis (Joan is on the left), publicity photo for Three On A Match movie, which Ann Dvorak was in with Joan and Bette (but Ann is NOT, I repeat NOT, in the photo, above)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Pier Angeli, Marisa Pavan and Bonita Granville and Anne Shirley. They have been forgotten. Let's hear about thiem. I loved the stories on all the ladies above.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I think any film historian or fan of Hollywood's golden age will know these four wonderful actresses. But if you were to ask any random person on the street, they certainly will not. Then again, your average film-goer would not know who Clark Gable, Bela Lugosi or Edward G. Robinson are either. So I would like to believe they are not forgotten.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Miriam wesson

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      7 years ago

      Just noticed in the beachside photo titled "Ann Dvorak with Joan Blondell (Ann is on the Left), actually neither is Ann Dvorak. On the left is Joan Blondell, and Bette Davis is on the right of the photo. They were Ann's co-stars in Three On A Match, this photo being a publicity photo. There is a scene in the film with Joan Blondell, Warren William, and Bette Davis, and the young actor that was portraying Ann Dvorak's son in the film.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      What an era. Beautiful lens.


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