IS IT MEMORY’S MYOPIA OR WERE STARS REALLY LOVELIER THEN?
Satin-skinned and always elegant, yesterday’s film icons seemed heaven-sent: flawless creatures to jump-start our dreams. Approachable? Perish the thought. Their look was strictly gaze-but-don’t-touch. “The old studios had all the most beautiful people under contract,” says designer Oleg Cassini. “It was a period of romance. Now we’re in a period of realism, so actors don’t look perfect.” But romance, thank goodness, never dies. We asked some modern connoisseurs to feast their eyes.
Vivien Leigh was a porcelain brooch. You had the feeling that she never got a blackhead, never perspired. At most she would glow. Not like these terrible, rumpled actors today. I don’t need Hollywood for that. I can look in the mirror.
—Cindy Adams, syndicated columnist
Greta Garbo was all about a sense of mysterious possibilities. You could look into her eyes and believe you were seeing the wisdom of the ages. To me, her beauty conveyed emotion, thoughtfulness, happiness, despair. Garbo was the epitome.
—Michael Gross, author of Model
If you screwed Clark Gable’s head on anyone else’s body, it could be pretty geeky-looking—he had those Dumbo ears. But he also had that broad smile and that twinkle in his eye. And good shoulders—the kind that didn’t make him look as if he spent his life on a Nautilus machine. It wasn’t “Body by Jake.”
—Wendy Wasserstein, playwright
It always struck me as funny that I would respect Laurence Olivier as the greatest actor of our time and also think he was the best-looking man I had ever seen. But he was both.
—Jack Lemmon, actor
Marlene Dietrich’s most wonderful feature was her domed forehead. She had no brow bone, the forehead just sank into her eyelids. So she could paint her eyebrows on wherever she liked.
—Quentin Crisp, author
Lena Horne’s features are as mobile as quicksand. They move like glycerine on a piece of glass, making her face as ever-changing as the seasons.
—Richard Blackwell, fashion commentator
Cary Grant was beautiful right down to his hands. He was perfectly formed—his head, his hair, his skin. He was almost supernatural. A magnificent male animal.
—Camille Paglia, feminist critic
Elizabeth Taylor’s face is as close to perfection as any human being’s could possibly be. It’s those deep violet eyes with their heavy black lashes and that little-girl smile. She takes your breath away. If Helen of Troy’s face launched 1,000 ships, Elizabeth’s could launch 10,000.
—Nolan Miller, Hollywood designer
I loved Natalie Wood. She was a teeny, tiny thing with a gorgeous figure and big, beautiful, expressive eyes. She could be a real sex kitten or the girl next door.
—RuPaul, drag singer
Elvis was incredible…the eyes, the voice, the whole thing. He looked new, free—a little tacky, but still fresh. Cary Grant and those guys were great too, but Elvis represented America.
—Oribe, celebrity hair stylist
In his day, Marlon Brando was a good-looking guy. He wasn’t real tall, but he was dark and handsome, and his voice was real gravelly. He seemed kind of OUt there—untouched.
—Jonathan Taylor Thomas, actor
Audrey Hepburn was absolutely marvelous. Her beauty was fragile; she had that special vulnerability and innocence. She was very high on my list.
—Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy
Grace Kelly was glacially cool, like a wonderful sherbet in the middle of the desert. Cooling, icy, clean. She was a genetic miracle, a superior woman.
—Oleg Cassini, designer