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1930s Stars Before and After Their Hollywood Makeovers

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Emma is a museum professional, working for a variety of heritage organizations, she has a passion for history, conservation and literature.

Carole Lombard Before and After Her Hollywood Makeover

Carole Lombard Before and After Her Hollywood Makeover

Carole Lombard

Carole Lombard was born Jane Alice Peters on 6th October 1908. In 1925 she was signed by Fox Studios after an executive spotted her at a ballroom dancing exhibition. However, in 1926 Lombard was in a car accident, which required surgery on her face. Fox Studios then dropped her after only a few films. She was later signed by Pathe Exchange and then by Paramount Pictures. She would go on to star in films such as My Man Godfrey (1936) and Made For Each Other (1939).

As part of Lombard's makeover, her naturally dark hair was cut short and dyed a light blonde. Later in her career, Lombard would dye her hair darker shades of blonde. Her naturally thick eyebrows were tweezed into a thin elongated line. Lombard also used makeup to disguise the small scar on her face and to correct her slightly crooked nose. She did this by highlighting the centre of her nose and blending it in with the rest of her makeup.

Greta Garbo Before and After Her Makeover

Greta Garbo Before and After Her Makeover

Greta Garbo

Greta Garbo was born Greta Gustafsson on 18th September 1905 in Stockholm, Sweden. Whilst working in a department store Garbo was asked to model for an advertising campaign which included a short film. She later received a scholarship to the Royal Dramatic Theatre School of Sweden. Garbo's big break in Sweden came in 1924 when she played the leading role in Mauritz Stiller's Gösta Berlings Saga (The Story of Gösta Berling). In 1925 both Garbo and Stiller were offered contracts with MGM. Her first film in Hollywood was The Torrent (1926) and she would later be a popular actress in both silent films and "talkies".

As part of Garbo's makeover, her hair was dyed a lighter shade and her most striking feature, her eyes were enhanced by thick eye pencil and tweezed eyebrows that followed the arch of her eye socket. She also lost a significant amount of weight.

Jean Harlow Before and After

Jean Harlow Before and After

Jean Harlow

Jean Harlow was born Harlean Harlow Carpenter on 3rd March 1911. After a few minor roles, she shot to fame in Howard Hughes' Hell's Angels (1930). Nicknamed the blonde bombshell her blonde hair became synonymous with the characters she played, such as her lead role in Platinum Blonde (1931).

Harlow always maintained that her hair colour was natural; Hughes even offered a $10,000 wager for any hairstylist who could match Harlow's "natural" platinum shade. However, as is seen in her before picture, Harlow's hair was a darker shade of blonde. According to the Atlantic, her hairstylist Alfred Pagano said he achieved the platinum shade by dying it with peroxide, ammonia and household bleach. To maintain the colour, her hair was dyed every week and eventually began to fall out. There is a prevailing theory that Harlow's constant hair dying with noxious substances may have contributed to her death of kidney failure in 1937.

In addition to the change of hair colour, Harlow’s once thick eyebrows were tweezed thin with exaggerated height. Most likely she shaved off her eyebrows and then drew them on with an eyebrow pencil. Lipstick was used to define her Cupid's bow and a beauty mark was added to the side of her face.

Marlene Dietrich Before and After

Marlene Dietrich Before and After

Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich was born Marie Magdalene Dietrich on 27th December 1901 in Berlin, Germany. (The name Marlene was a combination of her first and second name.) By the 1920s Dietrich had had a few minor roles in German film and worked as a cabaret performer. It was here that she was spotted by director Josef von Sternberg, who cast her as Lola Lola in The Blue Angel (1930). An English and German version of the film was made. After the success of The Blue Angel, Dietrich was signed to Paramount Pictures and starred in films such Morocco (1930), Shanghai Express (1932) and The Devil Is A Woman (1935). In 1939 she became an American citizen.

Before Dietrich began filming Morocco, director Josef von Sternberg told her she had to lose weight and she lost about 15 lbs. To complete her Hollywood makeover her hair was dyed blonde, her eyebrows were tweezed into thin arched lines and her lips were drawn to emphasise the Cupid's bow. To enhance her high cheekbones a darker shade of foundation was used on the lower half of her cheeks.

Margaret Sullavan

Margaret Sullavan

Margaret Sullavan

Margaret Sullavan was signed to Universal Studios in 1933. She would go on to star in films such as The Good Fairy (1935) and The Shop Around the Corner (1940).

Her First-Hand Account of the Hollywood Makeover Process

Here is an excerpt from an interview she gave about her first days in Hollywood.

"The first day I was in Hollywood they looked me over - the makeup boys and the cameramen and the executives and the directors ... And whatever it was that was so beautiful when they wanted to hire me, they now wanted to change. They began with the mole on my left cheek. In New York, they'd told me that that was the clincher - that was the mark of beauty. So they took it off! That was the first sacrifice. "You have to have new teeth," they said next. "Yours need repairing and straitening anyway, and so we thought we might as well take out that whole upper row ... " "Your face is lopsided” they told me next ... "Your mouth droops on the right side and your jaw is lower on the left." They fixed that in the makeup department ... They put lipstick on the corner of my mouth and painted the right eyebrow higher than the left and that raised my face on the right side."

Quoted from The New Movie Magazine, February 1935

Ingrid Bergman: The Star Who Refused the Complete Hollywood Makeover

In 1939, Ingrid Bergman was brought to Hollywood by film producer David O. Selznick after he had seen her film work in Sweden. When Bergman arrived Selznick told her that she had to change her name, fix her teeth, tweeze her eyebrows and wear more makeup. She refused to do so. By the 1940s a more natural look with thicker eyebrows and more natural makeup became the fashion.


Anna Findlay on December 20, 2019:

I thought Ava Gardener was one of the most beautiful actresses.

Classicbeautygirl on May 17, 2017:

Marilyn Monroe is my favorite and she was beautiful before the Hollywood makeover. Lately I've made a point to watch a lot of Joan Crawford movies. I think she was very beautiful as well, especially when she was younger. I hate Faye Dunaway's portrayal of her in Mommie Dearest. Poor acting! Especially the eye crossing. What a disservice she did to Legend who admired her.

daniela on November 20, 2016:

no jean harlow was not attractive. i don't get that one

MMonroe on August 16, 2016:

jean harlow was stunningly pretty before.... look what they did to her face

hglick from Riverhead,NY on November 11, 2014:

Greta Garbo was one of my favorites. Recently I had made it a point to view as many of her films as I could. She was a great actress.