So many of Hollywood’s most memorable events have been caught on camera. That’s their specialty in Los Angeles, after all. But there are snapshots that reveal quieter, simpler scenes – ones that really show us what life was like in Tinseltown’s Golden Age. And as you may not be familiar with these stolen moments, we’ve gathered plenty that you need to see…
The Caprini Sisters take Hollywood Boulevard
When you think of the Golden Age of Hollywood, you probably see women with retro-waved hair packed into convertibles and driving down the palm-tree-flanked streets of Los Angeles. And if that’s not the first image that comes to mind, then, well, it will be now. This stunning shot captures four women identified as the Caprini sisters. They’re in a classic car with the top down, ready to roll.
Not all of Old Hollywood’s stars were humans, you know. Take Bonzo the chimp – called Peggy behind the scenes – who “signed” a seven-year deal with Universal-International in 1950. The primate would go on to star in a handful of films and television series, including Bedtime for Bonzo. And here’s a neat bit of trivia for you. That show had a presidential performer on its cast list: a man by the name of Ronald Reagan.
A central plot point of Cyrano de Bergerac is the protagonist’s very, very large nose. When José Ferrer was cast in the movie version of the tale, then, he had to get a little help from make-up artists. They created a plethora of prosthetics for the actor to wear on set. And here, the Academy Award winner can be seen posing with the noses that helped him get into character – and win Hollywood’s top prize.
Judy Garland’s surprising type-casting at MGM
We look at a young Judy Garland and see an adorable girl with an incredible artistic talent. At the start of her career, though, MGM executives saw her as an “ugly duckling,” according to Scandals of Classic Hollywood author Anne Helen Petersen. That’s why so many of Garland’s early movies had her pining after her co-star Mickey Rooney. Basically, the bigwigs didn’t see her as someone who’d actually get the guy.
An eerie shot of James Dean and his Porsche
In tandem with his burgeoning Hollywood career, James Dean began to pursue an interest in motorsports by signing up for a professional road race in 1954. After that, he traded in his already-fast car for a 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder, which had an even more powerful engine under the hood. Dean was clearly putting his new mean machine through its paces on his way to his next scheduled race in late September 1955. But as he blazed through an intersection, he didn’t have enough time to stop when a car turned in front of him. His car slammed into the side of the Ford, and the young actor suffered injuries that caused a near-instant death.
Dining with the stars…. Kind of
Half of the fun of a trip to Hollywood is the prospect of seeing the stars in their natural environment – that hasn’t changed since the 1950s. Here, we see a Los Angeles-area restaurant capitalizing on this possibility… In a way. They hung up headshots of their city’s most famous residents over their tables and chairs.
Audrey Hepburn just before the spotlight centered on her
Audrey Hepburn got her big break and first Oscar when she starred in the 1953 flick Roman Holiday alongside seasoned actor Gregory Peck, pictured here in a promo shot for the movie. Producers planned to feature her co-star’s name more prominently than hers in the film’s opening sequence, but the actor convinced them to bill them in equal measure. According to Gary Fishgall’s 2002 book Gregory Peck: A Biography, he said, “You’ve got to change that because she’ll be a big star, and I’ll look like a big jerk.” Sounds like Peck’s intuition was on the nose…
Making their Marx
Harpo, Groucho, Zeppo, Chico and Gummo. The five Marx brothers – the first four of whom are pictured here – changed the course of America’s comedic history with the movies they made between 1905 and 1949. In 1974 Groucho accepted an honorary Oscar for his contributions to the industry, but he made sure to share the milestone with his brothers, just as he did when he pressed his handprints into the concrete outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theater in 1933.
James Cagney lives up to his reputation
Film experts consistently laud James Cagney as one of the Golden Age’s greatest male stars. It was all about his personality – the man got on stage or screen and exploded with energy and humor. In this photo, the Academy Award-winner didn’t hold back, either. We can all see that cheeky smile, right?
A Jackie of all trades
When the Brooklyn Dodgers drafted Jackie Robinson, it marked the beginning of the end of racial segregation in baseball. That alone was historic, of course, but the first baseman was one of the game’s greats, taking home the inaugural Rookie of the Year Award, an MVP Award and a World Series title. And in 1950, the decorated athlete arrived in Hollywood to play himself in The Jackie Robinson Story – unsurprisingly, his performance earned accolades from critics, too.
Not just any waiter
Actor Dana Andrews wanted to do some research ahead of his movie The Best Years of Our Lives. He was to play a soda-serving waiter whose life was tracked before, during and after he served in World War II. So, he headed to the Owl drug store on Hollywood Boulevard to pour and mix the carbonated beverages. Word got out that a real star was behind the counter, though, and this happened.
Marilyn before she was Marilyn
It’s hard to think of a world where no one knows the name “Marilyn Monroe,” but that was the reality pre-1950s. Here, we see the ingenue on camera for one of her first-ever jobs in 1947, but it did little to make her famous. Things would kick off about five years later when she starred in As Young As You Feel and Clash by Night in the early 1950s. By 1953 she was one of Tinseltown’s most marketable faces – and we’d still recognize her anywhere today.
Grace Kelly won her first Oscar in 1954 for The Country Girl, but the role of her life came two years later. She met Monaco’s Prince Rainier III at a Cannes festival photo shoot in 1955 and in January 1956, the two said “I do” in an extravagant wedding that looks a lot like one of her movies. After becoming real-life royalty, Kelly retired from her reign over Hollywood.
From sleighs to airplanes
A few days before Christmas in 1948 Bob Hope and Doris Day sleighed through Hollywood with Santa himself, spreading holiday cheer to Tinseltown. Their journey didn’t end in California, though. The day after the parade, the duo would fly to Berlin and spend the rest of the festive season with American troops stationed there.
A very old-fashioned red carpet
Neither Marlene Dietrich nor Cecil B. DeMille had a hand in the 1932 flick Grand Hotel. But both the actress and the director attended the movie’s premiere, held at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Here, they’re getting ready to mingle with their peers ahead of the show, with the famed filmmaker perhaps signing himself in. Much humbler than the premieres we have today, right?
Ol’ Blue Eyes gives back
He could sing. He could act. And he could help raise money for a good cause. Frank Sinatra – nicknamed “Ol’ Blue Eyes” for his pool-colored peepers – performed as part of the Olympic Telethon in June 1952. As you likely guessed, the event was a fundraiser for the U.S. Olympic team as they prepared to compete in Helsinki the next month.
Liz and Lassie
You probably know something about Elizabeth Taylor’s acting achievements, but you might not be familiar with how she got her start. The London-born actress moved to the U.S. with her family in 1939 to escape the looming World War II. Once settled in California, people took notice of the young girl’s striking features – mainly, her almost purple eyes – and they suggested she auditioned to be in movies. Obviously, she took that advice, landing her first role in Lassie Come Home at 11 years old.
Jayne Mansfield had a few successful Hollywood films, but she also made a name for herself by, well, being gorgeous. Her personal life kept people intrigued, too – she supposedly had an affair with John F. Kennedy in 1960, for one. So, cute pictures like this one of the blonde bombshell at home would certainly have grabbed people’s attention.
The place to be during the Golden Age
Ciro’s, a one-time West Hollywood nightclub, used to draw in the era’s brightest stars. The bar’s regulars included the likes of Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball and Cary Grant. So, the customers were more famous than the performers, who we see getting ready backstage before a show.
Sign here, please
Before the days of selfies, people who ran into their favorite celebs could only ask for an autograph to commemorate the occasion. Dean Martin clearly took such requests in his stride – quite literally. He signed fans’ books as he walked into the 1954 premiere of King Richard and the Crusaders, a movie in which he did not perform.
He’s probably smiling on the inside
Bing Crosby paved the way as the world’s first multimedia star. Between 1930 and 1954, he led radio ratings, record sales and box-office grosses for his movies. Obviously, his star power was recognized early on in that stretch. He got to stamp his handprints outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theater on April 8, 1936.
Mae has her day in court
Mae West had a very cheeky sense of humor – and sharing it with the masses landed her in court in 1928. That year, she debuted her play The Pleasure Man on Broadway, which featured drag queens and other storylines considered racy at the time. Still, you wouldn’t expect the cops to show up and arrest performers, but that’s precisely what happened. Fifty-six cast members faced indecency charges, but they were eventually dismissed.
Mayor Rock Hudson?
Rock Hudson ascended to Hollywood superstardom following the 1954 movie Magnificent Obsession. The year before that happened, though, he auditioned for quite a different role: Mayor of Universal City, California. With the help of his campaign manager and actress Kathleen Hughes, he won the election and took his oath to run the 400-acre town’s government.
Sisters Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland – two of the Golden Age’s most-lauded actresses – had a long-lasting competitiveness between them. Fontaine summed up their sibling rivalry in her 1978 book No Bed of Roses. She wrote, “I got married first, got an Academy Award first, had a child first. If I die, she’ll be furious, because again I’ll have got there first!” Ironically enough, Fontaine did pass before her sister, and they remained estranged from one another until the end.
Make-up artists Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton
Nowadays, a star getting camera-ready would probably have an entire glam squad to tend to their hair and make-up. Legendary funnymen Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin didn’t have that luxury, though. On the set of their 1952 flick Limelight the guys took care of their own faces.
A much simpler Oscar night
There’s hardly a red carpet to be seen in this photo, so it’s hard to believe it’s a shot of the entrance to the 22nd Annual Academy Awards, held on March 23, 1950. This ceremony marked the last time that all of the films nominated for Best Picture were presented in black-and-white.
The Great Communicator’s big break
Ronald Reagan hosted the anthology TV series General Electric Theater for eight years, an experience that shaped his later political career. Because the show was sponsored by GE, the host had the chance to visit the company’s manufacturing and research outposts across the country. He met hundreds of thousands of people and shared his economic ideas with them, which helped him hone his public-speaking abilities. Indeed, when he became president, people referred to Reagan as “The Great Communicator” – and it all started here.
Bette Davis does good
In the midst of World War II, actress Bette Davis and actor John Garfield had an idea. They wanted to create a club in the heart of Tinseltown where servicemen and women could get free food and entertainment before they shipped out. And that’s how the Hollywood Canteen came to be. Davis and other celebrities took turns serving, cooking and cleaning up after their guests, too.
Hollywood’s most valuable legs
G.I.s the world over plastered pictures of Betty Grable all over their World War II barracks. Those photos helped launch her Hollywood career, and by 1947 she was Hollywood’s most highly paid star. Rumor has it that her studio knew just how valuable her assets were, too. They supposedly insured her legs for $1 million, which would be just over $15.7 million today.
Let’s go to the movies
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre gets all of the attention, but Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre – also on Hollywood Boulevard – has plenty of history in its walls, too. The first-ever film premiere took place at the lavish cinema, built in 1922. When the red carpets weren’t out, though, everyday Los Angelinos could pop in to watch a movie, as this woman did in 1951.
The final days of Peg Entwistle
You may know the name Peg Entwistle. The actress came to Hollywood in the early 1930s with high hopes, but she struggled to find meaningful roles. And when she finally did land a part in Thirteen Women, the majority of her work ended up on the cutting-room floor. So, Entwistle left her home on Beachwood Drive and drove to the famous Hollywood sign overlooking Los Angeles. She then climbed up the H and jumped to her death on September 16, 1932. This photo was taken just days before her tragic passing.
A two-star lunch
Eighteen-year-old Elizabeth Taylor married Hilton Hotels heir Conrad “Nicky” Hilton Jr. on May 6, 1950. Seven months later, cameras captured the duo on a loved-up lunch date in Bel Air. But all that glistens isn’t gold – she quickly regretted marrying Nicky, who drank heavily and abused her. A month after this photo was taken, the courts granted her a divorce.
An old-fashioned star map
Head to Hollywood today and you’ll see them everywhere: buses full of tourists driving through the city’s richest neighborhoods as guides point out the stars’ homes. In the 1950s you could do the same, albeit in a much more DIY fashion. This elderly woman sold guide maps from the side of the road, allowing visitors to grab one and drive themselves from property to property.
Lucille has a ball
A Singer roadster made its way across the pond in 1950 and landed on the East Coast, but that wasn’t its final destination. The vehicle was headed to Hollywood for its new owner, comedian Jerry Lewis. But before it departed from Newark Airport, another comic christened the British sportscar – Lucille Ball took it for a spin.
As one of his era’s most beloved Western stars, it made sense that Roy Rogers got to stamp his handprints into the cement walkway outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theater. He didn’t do it alone, though. His trusty sidekick Trigger also got to stick a hoof into the sidewalk, immortalizing him in Hollywood history forever, too.
The source of the Joan Crawford and Bette Davis feud
Joan Crawford and Bette Davis had one of Hollywood’s most bitter and infamous feuds. The origin of it all? Turns out, it traced back to a man that both women loved. Davis co-starred in Dangerous with Franchot Tone and fell deeply in love with him. But he only had eyes for Crawford, and the two announced their engagement while Davis continued to film the movie with him. Fifty-two years later, the scorned actress still had hard feelings. She told journalist Michael Thorton, “I have never forgiven [Crawford] for that, and never will.” Ouch.
Like we said before, Marilyn Monroe didn’t become a Hollywood heavy-hitter until 1953. Before that day came, she had to audition and hustle just like everyone else. Here, the actress chats with a fellow thespian before they try out for a play at the Players Ring Theater in Los Angeles on March 12, 1950.
A sign of commitment
Acting isn’t as easy as it looks, you know. Apart from memorizing lines and embodying a character, sometimes you have to learn a new language, too. Clark Gable did all of that to prepare for his part in the movie Across the Wide Missouri. Here, he practices Native American sign language with his co-star, John Hodiak, and the movie’s technical advisor, Chief Nipo Strongheart.
Lana Turner takes the stand – and she’s not acting
As dramatic as this 1958 picture looks, it’s not a still from a movie. Actress Lana Turner had to testify in an inquest into the death of her boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato. Adding to the emotion of the day was the fact that the defendant was the actress’s 14-year-old daughter, Cheryl Crane. She had slain her mother’s beau, but the man had a history of abusive and violent behavior himself. The court took only half an hour to deem the young girl’s act “justifiable homicide”.
A trailblazing woman at the helm
Golden Age Hollywood was a boys’ club, especially for directors. But that didn’t stop Ida Lupino from making a string of films in the 1950s – many consider her the era’s most prominent female filmmaker. Not only did she stand firmly in what was considered to be a man’s job, but she used her position to convey themes important to female audiences, too. Needless to say, she paved the way for so many other creators who have a place in Tinseltown today. This picture sums it all up.
Marilyn meets the president
Marilyn Monroe got a lot of attention for her relationship with JFK, but he wasn’t the only president she knew. Of course, when this picture was taken in 1956, Ronald Reagan hadn’t yet ascended to the nation’s highest office. It would be 11 years before he changed course from Hollywood actor to politician, first serving as California’s governor before becoming president in 1981.
The first handprints outside Grauman’s belonged to…
You probably don’t recognize the woman in the picture above, but she was the first Hollywood star to imprint her hands in the cement outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater in 1927. Her name was Norma Talmadge, and her silent-film career peaked in the 1920s. But she wasn’t happy to just stand in front of the camera – the actress also worked as a movie producer, too.
Raquel Welch holds her own
When Raquel Welch appeared on The Dick Cavett Show in August 1972 the TV host had to point out something that viewers at home might not notice – she wasn’t as statuesque as she seemed in the movies. He said, “You do give the impression of being at least 9 feet tall on the screen.” Turns out, she is a very average 5’6”.
Sophia Loren gives some serious stink-eye to Jayne Mansfield
Sophia Loren’s Hollywood welcome party was supposed to be about her. But one of the guests – you can guess who from the photo – came in and stole the Italian star’s spotlight. Nearly 60 years after the infamous picture was taken, Loren explained why she had looked at Jayne Mansfield like that, and the reason was what everyone thought all along. She told magazine Entertainment Weekly in 2014, “I’m so frightened that everything in her dress is going to blow – BOOM! – and spill all over the table.”
Sophia Loren returns to the screen – for an interview
Sophia Loren became a mom in the early 1970s, at which point she decided to take a step back from her booming Hollywood career. She became more selective about the roles she took and her moments in the spotlight. So, this 1979 visit to The Dick Cavett Show was certainly a special one.
One of the last shots of Sharon Tate
Sharon Tate posed for this photo in 1965 with little idea that she had just four years left to live. On August 9, 1969, her life was cut tragically short in a gruesome act that could have been lifted straight from the script of one of the Hollywood films in which she once starred. The followers of cult leader Charles Manson broke into her home and murdered her on that fateful night.