Top Box Office Actors of the 1930's

Posted on 16 May 00:00


The 1930's is considered the movie buff era for Hollywood despite the looming Great Depression. This’s the time Hollywood started to produce global film stars because of the classic movies with talking characters. Some great stars from this era went on to win Academy Awards. In this article, are some of the top box office actors of the 1930's based on 1,297 movies made from 1930 to 1939.

The most prominent actors of the 1930's include James Stewart, Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Henry Fonda, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, and Gary Cooper. 

  1. James Stewart (May 20, 1908 to July 2, 1997, age 89)

James Stewart was born on May 20, 1908 and named James Maitland Stewart nicknamed “Jimmy.” Stewart was a military officer and an adored American actor. Fans love Stewart because of his charm and down to earth persona. Ordinary men identified with him in his long acting career that lasted for 55 years and saw him appear in over 80 films.

Stewart had a strong moral conviction which he lived by both on and off the screen. A strong moral conviction was the ideal in the 20th century America; Stewart epitomized it. He played different characters in his cinematic performances. However, it’s was his outstanding performance in emotional films that earned him accolades from his fans.

Stewart started his acting career on Broadway as a performer. This earned him a film contract with the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He first became a movie star when he took the role of an idyllic and moral persona in the film You Can’t Take it with You (1938) followed by Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and Strategic Air Command (1955). The second film earned Stewart one of his five Academy Award nomination as Best Actor. In 1940, Stewart won an academy award for his role in the comedy The Philadelphia Story (1959).

  1. Cary Grant (January 18, 1904 to November 29, 1986, age 82)

Cary Grant was born on January 18, 1904 and originally named Archibald Alec Leach. He was one of the very top leading actors in Hollywood. Grant was an English-born American actor who became popular for his transatlantic accent, funny approach to acting, and elegant demeanor. He was also popular for including humor in his acting.

Grant started his acting career at an early age growing up in Horfield Bristol where he performed with a troupe called “The Penders.” He started acting at the age of six, at the age of 16, Grant toured the U.S performing with his crew. They held a series of great performances in New York City, which influenced him to stay there.

In the 1920's, Grant became a major actor in Vaudeville and moved to Hollywood in the early 1930's. He jump-started his career by starring in dramas and films such as Blonde Venus (1932) followed by She Done him Wrong (1933). Grant later became very popular for his performance in eccentric and romantic comedies such as The Awful Truth (1937), Bringing Up Baby (1938), The Philadelphia Story (1940), and His Girl Friday (1940). Grant appeared in these movies with some of the greatest movie stars of the time.

  1. Katherine Hepburn (May 12, 1907 to June 29, 2003, age 96)

Katherine Hepburn is considered one of the very top classic leading actresses in America, she was born on May 12, 1907. Katherine had an acting career that spanned over 60 years. Hepburn starred in different movie genres ranging from eccentric comedies to high dramas. Hepburn was awarded four Academy Awards for best leading actress acting performances, and received eight more nominations. The American Film Institute named Hepburn the greatest female star in the Classic Hollywood Cinema category. She became famous for her great independence and light-hearted personality.

Hepburn grew up in Connecticut and was raised by wealthy parents. She started acting while studying at Bryn Mawr College. Her performance on Broadway attracted the attention of Hollywood. Hepburn started her career on a high note. She won an Academy Award for the Best Actress for her third movie called The Morning Glory (1933).

The movies Hepburn starred in soon afterwards were commercial failures, for example, the comedy Bringing Up Baby (1938). Although it was a commercial failure, it is lauded by the the film industry, fans and movie buffs as a great classic comedy today. Hepburn thought outside the box to salvage her situation. She purchased the contract she had with the RKO pictures and acquired rights to the movie The Philadelphia Story (1939) on condition that she would be the star. She appeared in this film with top stars like Cary Grant and James Stewart.  The movie was a commercial success. For which, she received her third Academy Award nomination.

  1. Henry Fonda (May 16, 1905 to August 12, 1982, age 77)

Henry Jaynes Fonda was an American film and stage actor who had career that lasted for 50 years. Fonda develop a strong and attractive screen image by taking the leading roll in several movies that are considered classic. Jaynes won one Academy Award for Best Actor after two nominations.

Fonda started his acting career as a Broadway actor before moving to Hollywood in 1935. His film career blossomed when took roles such as playing Bette Davis’s fiancée in the Academy Award winning movie Jezebel (1938). Davis won the best performance award. Other prominent movies Fonda acted in include Sometimes A Great Notion (1970,  Jesse James (1939) and Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) both the latter were directed by John Ford.

His early acting earned Fonda recognition when he was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in The Grapes of Wrath (1940). In 1941, he co-starred with Barbara Stanwyck in the classic eccentric comedy The Lady Eve.

Notably, he is the father of two screen legends, Jane Fonda and Peter Fonda.

  1. Bette Davis (April 5, 1908 to October 6, 1989, age 81)

Bette Davis, born Ruth Elizabeth Davis nicknamed “Bette” on April 5, 1908. She was an American actress on theater, television and film. Her acting career lasted for more than 60 years and she received 100 different credits. Davis is considered one of the most talented actresses of all time in Hollywood. She became popular on screen for playing unsympathetic, scornful characters. She received accolades for performing in a range of movie genres, including historic films to contemporary crime melodramas.

Davis excelled in romantic dramas and received two Academy Award nominations. She was also the first thespian to receive ten nominations. She moved to Hollywood at the tender age of 22 in 1930. After acting in unsuccessful films, she managed to catch a break by portraying a vulgar waitress in Of Human Bondage (1934). Davis’ role in the film earned a nomination for the Academy Award for best actress. In 1935, her performance in the movie Dangerous won her the Academy Award for the best actress. Her other notable films include The Little Foxes (1941), Jezebel (1938) and The Anniversary (1970) among many.

  1. Humphrey Bogart (April 5, 1908 to October 6, 1989, age 81)

Humphrey Deforest Bogart was born on December 25, 1899. He was an American movie star and theater actor. He is considered an American cultural icon for his roles in many popular classic films. This was evident in 1999 when the American Film Institute nominated Bogart as the greatest male star in the classic American cinema. Like many other great films stars, Bogart nurtured his acting career on Broadway shows.

Bogart started his movie career with the Up the River (1930). He worked as a supporting star for many years before his big break in the movie The Petrified Forest (1936). This movie earned Bogart a contract with Warner Bros in the gangster pantheon series. His big break came when he starred in High Sierra (1941).

Bogart received his first academy award nomination for his role in Casablanca (1942), which earned him his first nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor. In 1944, Bogart met the 19-year old Lauren Bacall during the shooting of the film To Have and Have Not. He divorced his third wife to marry the young actress. They remained a married couple until his death on October 6, 1989.

  1. Gary Cooper (May 7, 1901 to May 13, 1961, age 60)

Gary Cooper was born on May 7, 1901 and was originally named Frank James Cooper. He was an American actor who was popular for his natural, genuine style of acting in addition to screen performance. Cooper’s career lasted for 36 years from 1925 to 1961. During this time, Gary Copper starred in 84 feature films. His career spanned from the era of the salient films to the end of golden age in the classical movie era.

Cooper’s screen persona was attractive to both men and women, and he starred in different film genres from comedies, westerns, high dramas and more. He had the ability to blend his own personality with the characters he played on screen, which contributed to his authentic appearance of screen. Some of the notable films Cooper starred in include A Farewell to Arms (1932), Mr. Deeds go to Town (1936), Ten North Frederick (1958) and Meet the Jon Doe (1941).  He received two Academy Awards for his role in the movies Sergeant York (1941) and the High Noon (1952).

Other notable actors from the 1930's include:

  • Spencer Tracy
  • Clark Gable
  • William Powell
  • James Cagney

This is just a list of the many great actors and actresses of the golden era of the 1930's.

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