aNewDomain — Marilyn Monroe is pretty famous. Her legendary figure and face are printed on millions of posters and T-shirts, and she’s just one (albeit the most well-known) of a handful of the silver and golden era dames of Hollywood. Other iconic names include: Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, Jayne Mansfield, Clara Bow, Joan Crawford, Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor (to name a few).
But the popular ladies of Hollywood’s past extend far beyond the above list, and many sexy actresses have slipped through the cracks of our cultural memory. This is unfortunate, because these beauties should be remembered — not just for how hot of a sex symbol they were, but for their incredible, stunning and intense personalities on film and in real life. To honor the late Anita Ekberg — arguably the most underappreciated, radiant woman of them all — I’ve compiled a list of seven actresses that brought electricity to the silver screen.
1. Pola Negri
Pola Negri exuded exotic realism and shocked the silent movie world with her pure sexuality. In film she wore scant clothing, danced provocatively and even portrayed sex — all this before 1925. Off screen Negri was an enigma, bedding an equally sexy Rudolph Valentino and, if the rumor mill runs true, having her way with legendary comedian Charlie Chaplin.
Negri’s star was dimmed to a glimmer as the movie styles and times changed. Flappers with bubbly and bright personalities became sexy, and the overdramatic vamp motif — Negri’s wheelhouse — faded out. Likewise, her over-the-top dramatics when Valentino died early turned some of the community against her — they thought she seemed out of control or phony. All that aside, her early German films display an actress full of sex, orgasmic rapture in dance and an iconic woman in every right. Before the Roaring Twenties began there was Pola Negri, a wild child incarnate, stunning the world.
2. Louise Brooks
That bobbed wig you have to buy for your flapper costume is all thanks to Louise Brooks. Her slick black coif inspired millions to lop off their long locks and leap into the modern age. It’s hard to deny the sex appeal there.
But Brooks never had it easy — she starred in several American films but, as a headstrong career woman with her own ideas, she ended up wanting nothing to do with Hollywood. She fled to Europe to make more serious movies and was blacklisted by Paramount in the U.S. This was harsh, but her European revolution inspired some of the most intriguing roles of her career. Despite a career overseas, Brooks holds an undeniable place as one of the truly talented actresses of the 1920s.
3. Diana Dors
A blonde bombshell like Monroe, Dors never made it big in the States. But that had nothing to do with her looks. She called herself “the only sex symbol Britain has produced since Lady Godiva” and had a few successful films, like “Blonde Sinner” and “I Married a Woman.” But Dors never engineered a smash hit, partially due to her manipulative husband.
She became infamous for appearing semi-nude in a book of 3D pictures and became tabloid-famous for holding “adult parties.” Eventually she became a talented cabaret performer. Her life was never easy, but she had such a glowing and voluptuous presence that we are all lucky to have her.
4. Barbara Stanwyck
Alright, you might have heard of Barbara Stanwyck. She’s in the limelight more than some of these beauties, but, still, many people have not — and that’s a shame. In her roles Stanwyck represents the kind of woman you’d follow anywhere. Her deep voice, slow smiles and — more than anything — that glint of obvious intelligence behind every character she played made her the most scintillating, self-possessed heroine in everything from film noir to screwball comedies.
In real life, she was a hard-boiled conservative with a taste for Ayn Rand, tough as nails and touted a work ethic that would shame just about anybody. She was a seductive go-getter, an excellent (and unique) quality in a sexy actresses.
5. Joan Bennett
A blonde-haired ingénue at the start of her career, a dark and supple noir goddess in her prime and a sophisticated matriarch as she aged, Joan Bennett wore many faces, and wore all of them well. She embodied wide-eyed adorableness as Amy in “Little Women” back in the ’30s, but as film noir became popular Bennett dyed her hair black and slinked about in bias cut dresses, murmuring life-destroying lies in her velvety voice.
Her beauty never paled as she aged and she slipped into the somewhat limited role of a mother in movies like “Father of the Bride” and TV shows like “Dark Shadows.” She never ceased to be fascinating, though, and never ceased to look exquisitely put together. Bennett was certainly the only woman who made ordering a man to paint her toes spine-chillingly sexy.
6. Anna May Wong
In case you haven’t noticed, this list is looking a little white. The prohibitive racism of the time kept most women of color from even entering the movie business. One woman, though, didn’t succumb to the racial limitations of the era. A Chinese-American, Wong could never get the guy (she could be arrested for kissing her white costars), so she became the Tiger Woman, a femme fatale who leads helpless men to their doom.
She starred alongside Douglas Fairbanks in the ’20s and Marlene Dietrich in the ’30s, and though she often played cunning, lower-class women like slaves and prostitutes, she brought an uncanny sophistication to those parts. Wong had a deep resonating voice as intelligent and unwavering as her large, dark eyes.
7. Anita Ekberg
Anita Ekberg, who passed away Jan. 11, was possibly the sexiest individual human to walk among us — or at least, she was the sexiest person to frolic in the Trevi Fountain wearing a strapless gown. She portrayed playful and often superhumanly sexy goddesses in Fellini movies like “Boccaccio ’70” and “La Dolce Vita,” and mainly acted in Italian films despite her Swedish background.
Though she never would hit it big in America like fellow Fellini alum Sophia Loren, she brought an unapologetic whimsy to her busty seductresses. She wasn’t simmering and dramatic — she was winsome and effervescent, and that made her all the more powerful against the men who sought her.
In real life, Ekberg was outspoken, frank and cocky — she frequently said Fellini owed his success to her, not the other way around. She was a breath of fresh air and tended to play a little too fast and loose with the press. Unfortunately, the star lost much of her fortune by the time she was in her ’80s, and suffered from several illnesses before passing away this year. But that’s not how she will be remembered — she will be remembered as a glowing, voluptuous on-screen presence, representing both overpowering sexual desire and unadulterated joy.
For aNewDomain, I’m Alison Maney.
All screenshots: Alison Maney