A Tribute To Old Hollywood Style Starlets

by Coco + Creme

We talk about the most beautiful black women in Hollywood today all the time, but we figured we need to pay a little homage to the starlets of old Hollywood’s past who wore many of the classic styles that have been revived today first. In a time when black beauty was celebrated even less than it is now in the United States and abroad, there were a handful of black actresses and singers who defied status quo with their beautiful looks, sultry style, and gorgeous voices. While the mainstream is still honoring icons like Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Jean Harlow, we wanted to shout out a few of our own and give you some vintage black beauty from old Hollywood to be inspired by.

Nina Mae McKinney

Nina McKinney was one of the first African-American film stars in the United States and British television and she was the first African-American actress to hold a principal role in a mainstream film in 1929′s Hallelujah. Nina’s looks set the beauty standard for women during her time and she became known as the “Black Garbo” in Europe because she was stunningly gorgeous like the Swedish actress Greta Garbo.

Lena Horne

Not much needs to be said about this timeless beauty. Right up until her death, Ms. Lena Horne was a stunningly gorgeous woman with an angelic voice to match. But Lena was more than a pretty face behind the mic at the Cotton Club in signature one-shoulder dresses, she also fought hard for racial equality and civil rights and looked amazing while at it.

Dorothy Dandridge

The original Halle Berry, also from Cleveland, captured audience’s hearts long before the Monster’s Ball Academy Award winner was even a thought and she became the first African-American to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her leading role in Carmen Jones. Despite internal struggles, Dorothy Dandridge was flawlessly beautiful on the outside, from rich brown skin to a perfectly maintained coif, and dresses that looked like they were made just for her frame, Ms. Dandridge was truly a style maven.

Pearl Mae Bailey

Pearl Bailey starred alongside Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones as Frankie, but her beauty was not overlooked. Notes on the actress’s online biography remember her as “the first black beauty to make waves [in the postwar era],” and say she certainly did not fit old Hollywood’s mold. “[Pearl] was hardly anyone’s idea of a woman who might use sex to stalk a man down or to lash out at society,” it says. “Instead Pearlie Mae personified the lively down-home diva, the ordinary, chatty, wise cracking neighborly lady who was telling a generation scared of its own shadow to just cool it honey, sit back, relax, and have some fun.” We love that about her.

Eartha Kitt

Long before she was after Marcus in Boomerang, Eartha Kitt’s sultry, unique voice and cat purrs made men weak. Her rendition of “Santa Baby” is one of the best known and her cabaret style of singing made her a household name on stage and in movies.  Eartha was also as active off-screen as she was on as a huge advocate of same-sex marriage and gay rights.

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker was an international sex symbol before there was such a thing. Her nicknames from “Bronze Venus” to the “Black Pearl” and “Créole Goddess” say it all. But more than being the most successful American entertainer working in France during her day, Josephine was also a political figure who led by example in her quest for civil rights when she adopted 12 multi-ethnic children which she dubbed “the rainbow tribe.” It’s hard to resist beauty and bravery like that.

  • Anthony

    One great looker who is still among us is Della Reese! I saw a postcard of her from 1958, and believe me, she was a knockout!

    It is also great to see an older picture of Pearl Bailey, by the time I knew of her, she was an older woman. She was certainly a pretty woman.

    Finally, Dorothy Dandridge seriously had an awesome figure! If she were around today, rappers would be lined up around the block trying to get her in their videos, although I suspect that she would be much too big for their budgets.

  • CJ

    I have always loved Lena Horne. She was even MORE lovely as she aged! Absolutely gorgeous! And Josephine Baker was lovely, talented, and courageous! Thank you so much for this article!

  • Marcia

    Love them! When I was young my auntie gave me these classic posters of Dorothy and I had them on my walls until college. Just to remind me of the great black beauties. Great post!

  • Cocochanel31

    All of these women are stunning..WOW!
    Something though about Dorothy Dandridge..she was a flawless natural beauty..wow!!

  • Bronze

    All these women were beautiful and made it a mission to spread humanity in a time when it was popular to be a blatant devil. I’m glad I grew up appreciating these women and what they stood for.

  • Starla

    I am simply amazed at Pearl Mae’s hairdo. That’s a work of art.

  • KitKat

    Allow me to share my new favorite tumblr. http://classicladiesofcolor.tumblr.com/

  • Dalili

    Beauty personified! There was something special about Eartha Kitt!

  • Lady P

    These women are so beautiful and they also aged well. Always wondered what would have been in store for Ms. Dorothy Dandridge had she not left us early on.

    I love them all, but I must ask, “where is my favorite ~ Ms. Diahann Carroll?” I admire everything about her.

  • Rakel

    Thanks for honoring these women Clutch! I love them all, but Josephine is probably my favorite. I agree where is Ms. Carroll and Ms. Ruby Dee?

  • http://gravatar.com/lovegiraffes onegirl

    Excellent!! I could look at these ladies all day. And ladies they were…

  • The Other Jess

    They are ALL soooo beautiful! Forget the lies the media has told you (and our own self hate tells us)- we are beautiful!

  • Ms. Information

    Black women are gorgeous…..

  • Shirl

    Dorothy Dandrdge was flawless. Absolutely stunning.

  • __A

    Nina Mae McKinney looks sooo tiny. Those are some beautiful ladies. People think being a lady makes you boring these days.

  • http://gravatar.com/nolakiss16 binks

    All these ladies are so freaking gorgeous, I personally love them all but Lena Horne is my personal favorite I swear I wanted to be her when I grew up…lol sighs…to be smart, beautiful, lady-like, and sexy naturally like these woken is a rarity these days because as _A said it is seen as boring…smh

  • Support black businesses FM on instagram @DetroitCupcakes :-)

    Im so glad this was written. All black girls seem to know is Marlyin Monroe. Im not knocking her but she isn’t the only old hollywood star thats ever lived ..Moral of the story is Know your people.

  • http://gravatar.com/jamesfrmphilly jamesfrmphilly

    black is beautiful…….

  • Rosey

    Thanks for this article. I see young black girls and women rep Marilyn Monroe all day. Nothing against Marilyn but I prefer Josephine Baker. I could go on a long rant about black women and Marilyn but I’ll refrain.

  • Barbara2

    My favorite is Doothy Dandridge too.

    I wish you had included Diana Sands, another of my favorites (I know you did a story on her not too long ago, but still…)

  • Pingback: “Sweetest” joy, the “wildest” woe is love | rosewalto

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