Hollywood Sex Goddesses of Yesteryear

Updated on February 27, 2019

Who to leave out?

There was a certain glamour and elegance - a little something special - about Hollywood in its heyday. Stars looked amazing all the time, some things were left private and, most of all, the movies, and the actresses in them, were amazing.

Hollywood and female movie sex symbols have long been closely associated and the main problem with creating this tribute has been which ladies to leave out.

I've ended up with 8 of the most famous, most enduring names in cinema history ranging from the start of the Talkies with Jean Harlow to the Sixties with Brigitte Bardot and Gina Lollobrigida. My sincere apologies if I've left out your favourite.

Jayne Mansfield Lingerie Striptease

Jayne Mansfield

Jayne Mansfield (born Vera Jayne Palmer; April 19, 1933-29 June 1967) was an American actress and Playboy centerfold.

One of the leading sex symbols of the 1950s, like Marilyn Monroe, Mansfield starred in several popular Hollywood films that emphasized her platinum-blonde hair, dramatic hourglass figure, and cleavage-revealing costumes. She was a recipient of a Golden Globe Award and a Theatre World Award for two early screen and stage performances.

Though Mansfield appeared in several popular Hollywood films, her status in the industry proved fleeting, and she was quickly relegated to low-budget melodramas and comedies. Negative publicity and poor business decisions eventually forced her into regional nightclub appearances before her death in an automobile accident at the age of 34.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe (born Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926 - August 5, 1962), was a Golden Globe Award-winning American-Norwegian actress, singer, model and pop icon. She was known for her comedic skills and screen presence, going on to become one of the most popular movie stars of the 1950s and early 1960s and arguably the best known glamour actress of all time.. At the later stages of her career, she worked towards serious roles with a measure of success. However, she faced disappointments in her career and personal life during her later years. Her death has been subject to speculation and conspiracy theories.

Monroe's last home was in Brentwood in Los Angeles. She was found dead by her housekeeper on August 5, 1962. Her death was ruled as an overdose of sleeping pills. Questions remain about the circumstances and timeline of housekeeper Eunice Murray's discovery of Monroe's body. Also, some conspiracy theories involve John and Robert Kennedy.

There is speculation that her death was accidental, but the official cause was "probable suicide".

On August 8, 1962, Monroe was interred in a crypt at Corridor of Memories, #24, at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. Lee Strasberg delivered the eulogy.

Anita Ekberg

Anita Ekberg is classic Hollywood's most naturally large-breasted actress with Pam Grier being her only contemporary rival.

She was born Kerstin Anita Marianne Ekberg on September 29, 1931 in Malmö, Skåne. She is a Swedish model, actress and cult sex symbol.

Federico Fellini gave Ekberg her greatest role in La Dolce Vita in 1960, in which she played the unattainable "dream woman" opposite Marcello Mastroianni; "La Dolce Vita" was a sensational success, and Anita Ekberg's uninhibited voluptuousness cavorting in Rome's Trevi Fountain remains one of the most celebrated images in movie history. By 1961 she had grown even more full figured and buxom and was perhaps the most extravagantly feminine star in movies.

She reportedly was romantically involved with Tyrone Power, Marcello Mastroianni, Errol Flynn, Yul Brynner, Frank Sinatra, and Gary Cooper; she also had a three-year affair with the late Fiat chairman Gianni Agnelli.

Anita has continued working in small parts and today she lives with four dogs in a house near Lazio in Italy, still impatient, still brutally honest, still good humoured.

Diana Dors

Diana Dors, a gorgeous blonde actress from Britain, will forever be known for her billing as "The English Marilyn Monroe." However Diana began her career long before Marilyn, and proved to be a fine actress although often cast as a "gold digging" blonde. Her film acting career, which began in the 1940s lasted well into the 1980s.

As famous for her (not very) private life as for her screen performances, Diana Dors had a genuine talent as an actress and comedienne.

Born in 1931, the daughter of a railway clerk, Diana became a student at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts and by the age of 15 had made her uncredited film debut in The Shop at Sly Corner (1946).

Signed as a Rank starlet by J. Arthur Rank, she appeared as a troubled teenager in David MacDonald's Good-Time Girl (1947). Promoted by Rank as a sex symbol, she was cast in various low-budget drama and comedies, and despite proving her acting credentials with effective dramatic performances in A Kid for Two Farthings (1955) and J. Lee Thompson's capital punishment critique Yield to the Night (1956), she was usually seen in sexy-siren supporting assignments.

In the late 1960s, Diana continued to be cast in worthwhile supporting roles but was increasing finding work in the blossoming new medium of television. During the 70s she had notable minor roles as the ex-wife of Peter Sellers in There's a Girl in My Soup (1970), a frustrated housewife in Jerzy Skolimowski's Deep End (1970), and an excellent character role in The Amazing Mr. Blunden (1972). She retained her personal popularity and became a tabloid favourite due to her turbulent private life but was still prolific in television light entertainment throughout the decade. Diana had also become increasingly involved in working for various religious and charitable causes. She returned to screen acting in Joseph Losey's Steaming (1984) immediately prior to her death from ovarian cancer aged 52.

Brigitte Bardot

Brigitte Bardot (born Brigitte Anne-Marie Bardot) on September 28, 1934) is a French actress, former fashion model, nationalist, singer, animal rights activist, and considered the embodiment of the 1950s and 1960s sex kitten.

In the 1970s after her retirement from the entertainment industry, Bardot established herself as an animal rights activist, which she continues today. During the 1990s she was outspoken about her political views on such issues as immigration, Islam in France, miscegenation, and homosexuality. She is well-known for her support of ideas common to French far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Gina Lollobrigida in Fast and Sexy

Gina Lollobrigida

Gina Lollobrigida (born July 4, 1927) is a Golden Globe-nominated Italian actress who was born Luigina Lollobrigida in Subiaco, Italy.

She is one of four daughters of a furniture manufacturer (her sisters are Giuliana, Maria and Fernanda). She spent her youth in a picturesque mountain village. In her youth, Gina did some modeling, and from there she went to participate successfully in several beauty contests. At around this time, she began appearing in Italian language films. In 1947, Gina entered the Miss Italy pageant and came in 3rd place.

She is one of four daughters of a furniture manufacturer (her sisters are Giuliana, Maria and Fernanda). She spent her youth in a picturesque mountain village. In her youth, Gina did some modeling, and from there she went to participate successfully in several beauty contests. At around this time, she began appearing in Italian language films. In 1947, Gina entered the Miss Italy pageant and came in 3rd place. Her appearance in Italian films brought her to the attention of Hollywood and she made her first American film, Beat the Devil, in 1953. As her popularity increased, Lollobrigida earned the nickname "The World's Most Beautiful Woman" after her signature 1955 movie.

Now virtually retired from acting, she has not made a film since 1997, she told Parade magazine in April 2000: "I studied painting and sculpting at school and became an actress by mistake .... I've had many lovers and still have romances. I am very spoiled. All my life, I've had too many admirers."

Jean Harlow

Jean in 'Dinner at Eight'

Jean Harlow

Jean Harlow (b. Harlean Harlow Carpenter, March 3, 1911 - June 7, 1937) was an American film actress and top sex symbol of the 1930s. Known as the "Platinum Blonde" for her famous hair, Harlow starred in several films mainly designed to showcase her magnetic sex appeal and strong screen presence before transitioning to more developed roles and achieving massive fame under contract to MGM. Known as "the baby" to family and close friends, Harlow's enormous popularity and "laughing vamp" image were in distinct contrast to her personal life, which was marred by disappointment, tragedy, and ultimately her sudden and untimely death from kidney failure at 26.

Harlow was always a sensation with cinema audiences; critics however were less than besotted. The New Yorker called Harlow "plain awful" though Variety was a bit more lenient in remarking "It doesn't matter what degree of talent she possesses....nobody ever starved possessing what she's got", referring to her sex appeal. She was the first of the Hollywood world famous Sex Goddesses.

The IT Girl

Clara Bow

Clara Gordon Bow, destined to become THE flapper of the 1920's, was born and raised in poverty in Brooklyn, New York, on July 29, 1905. Her family was also beset with violence. Her mother tried to slit Clara's throat when she attempted to enter the film industry. She won a photo beauty contest which launched her movie career that would eventually number 58 films, from 1922 to 1933.

At the height of her popularity she received over 45,000 fan letters a month. She, too, was probably the most overworked and underpaid star in the industry. With the coming of sound, which did not lend itself to her thick Brooklyn accent, her popularity waned and her last film was made in 1933. She, then, married cowboy star, Rex Bell and retired from the film world at the age of 26. She was a doting mother of her two sons and would do anything to please them. Haunted by a weight problem, and a mental imbalance, she never entered show business again. Clara was confined to a sanitarium from time to time and was not allowed access to the loving sons she adored so much.

She died of a heart attack in West Los Angeles, on September 26, 1965. She was 60 years old. She was America's first true sex symbol.

Mae sings Now I'm A Lady (1935)

Mae West

"Good sex is like good Bridge... If you don't have a good partner, you'd better have a good hand" --

Mary Jane West was born, in Brooklyn, New York, on August 17, 1893 to parents involved in prize-fighting and vaudeville. Mae, herself, worked on the stage and in vaudeville from the time she was five years old. She never was academically inclined because she was too busy performing. She studied dance as a child and by the time she was 14, she was billed as "The Baby Vamp" for her performances on stage. Later Mae began writing her own plays. One of those plays, entitled SEX, landed her in jail for ten days on obscenity charges in 1926. Two years later her play, DIAMOND LIL, became a huge Broadway success. Mae caught the attention of the Hollywood moguls and was given her first movie role with George Raft in 1932's NIGHT AFTER NIGHT.

Her last film was in 1978 called SEXTETTE. Mae suffered a series of strokes which finally resulted in her death on November 22, 1980 in Hollywood, California and was buried in New York. She was 87.

Suddenly Last Summer

Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor is considered one of the last, if not the last major star, to have come out of the old Hollywood studio system. And not just any studio, the top of the heap: MGM.

Her early movies, as a child in the early 1940s, starred such Hollywood luminaries as Orson Welles and Spencer Tracy. She quickly grew up, however, and by 1950 was, if not starring in, assuming major responsibilities for the success of motion pictures she appeared in.

Then with major roles onscreen, came worldwide attention off-screen, most notably due to a succession of famous and/or rich husbands and a series of health crises throughout her life. To put it simply, Elizabeth Taylor has lived a life far more exciting and dramatic than any movie she's ever appeared in and probably most any other movie you could name.

She's known internationally for her beauty, especially for those violet eyes, with which she captured audiences early on in her youth and has kept the world hooked on ever since. She's won the Oscar twice and she's earned her place in and out of the sun.

Questions & Answers


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      • profile image


        2 years ago

        I don't remember these gorgeous ladies, but they look so classy! When someone says, classic beauty's, this is the look I imagine...also they don't look like they have on a ton of makeup, which proves they are true naturally beautiful and not all smoke and mirrors! I love that about them!!

      • WesternHistory profile image


        8 years ago from California

        At least Hollywood had a bit of class in those golden years. Today it's all shock value and junk. Enjoyed reading your hub.

      • profile image


        8 years ago

        Great job! But I also missed seeing Ava Gardner up there. She was one of the most beautiful brunette sex goddesses, along with Hedy Lamarr (going back to the forties).

        Thank you for posting this site.

      • profile image


        8 years ago

        Fantastic! Really enjoyed this! I must say I lived in Hollywood for about ten years and one could literally do a Ph.D about all of this!

      • hglick profile image


        8 years ago from Ronkonkoma, NY

        This is a wonderful blog gunsock. However this is like putting together the great classic rock bands from the British invasion and leaving out the Beatles. Now I do apologize If my senility has kicked in and I missed her mentioned here, but If I didn't, Where is the most glamorous and beautiful hollywood star of all time, Greta Garbo???

      • gunsock profile imageAUTHOR


        9 years ago from South Coast of England

        Thanks for pointing that out raideoman1. That's a book I didn't know and it sounds just great.

      • profile image


        9 years ago

        I notice Forgotten Hollywood Forgotten History in your Ebay section of the page.

        Wonderful book that tells America's story through the eyes of great character actors including Claude Rains, Walter Brennan, Basil Rathbone, and Thelma Ritter.

        I noticed the book has been added to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, Margaret Herrick Library.

        Great read!

      • Robwrite profile image


        10 years ago from Oviedo, FL

        Nice. I love the classic, glamorous leading ladies of 20th century filmdom.

      • profile image


        10 years ago


      • Princessa profile image

        Wendy Iturrizaga 

        11 years ago from France

        Great selection. I love the glamour of those ladies!

      • profile image


        11 years ago

        Why stop with the Fifties? Why not anything on Ursula Andress or Raquel Welch?

      • profile image


        12 years ago

        Oh yea. Bring em on! Real lookers - thanks a lot!


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