Some stars seem as though they’d live forever. These screen icons got their starts during the Golden Age (and silent film era) of Hollywood, and now, as some of these living legends celebrate their 100th birthday, they aren’t showing any signs of slowing down. What’s the secret to their success? And how did they maintain their careers in Hollywood for decades? Read on to find out!
Small town gal Julie Gibson got her start in vaudeville before winning a national radio contest that landed her a spot in Eddie Duchins Orchestra. However, Gibson is perhaps most well recognized for her work opposite three of the biggest names in 1940s Hollywood, Moe, Larry and Curly. Perhaps they ring a bell?
Acting alongside The Three Stooges in Three Smart Saps and Sock-a-Bye Baby, Gibson landed her first featured role shortly thereafter. After being busy all throughout the ’40s and ’50s, Gibson retired from Hollywood in 1984, and has since been living a quiet life. Julie Gibson celebrated her 105th(!) birthday in September 2018.
Often known as the “Forces’ Sweetheart,” Vera Lynn joined the ENSA (a sort of UK version of the USO) and performed for the troops fighting in World War II. Lynn is most commonly linked to her hits “We’ll Meet Again,” “The White Cliffs of Dover,” and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.”
Lynn’s hits have been featured in films from the early 1940s until today. In honor of her centennial birthday Lynn released a compilation of her hits which rose to number three on the charts. “Vera Lynn 100” made Lynn the first centenarian performer to have an album on the charts — she’s as beloved now as she’s always been.
Getting her start as a model and pin-up girl in the early 1940s, Dusty Anderson became a cover girl in film too, debuting as one of the cover girls from the Rita Hayworth-starred Cover Girl, released by Paramount Pictures in 1944. It would only take a year for Anderson to start snagging named roles.
Most memorably, Andreson was featured in a few mystery films, such as The Crime Doctor’s Warning, and The Phantom Thief. After marrying director Jean Negulesco Anderson decided to retire from acting after only a decade in the industry. The couple settled in Paris, where Anderson has been living ever since.
Upon his casting in a starring role in 1951’s Pool of London, Earl Cameron became one of the first black actors to break the “colour bar” in the United Kingdom. Pool of London and of course Cameron, broke barriers by confronting racial prejudice head-on, and is largely credited with being the first British film to feature an interracial relationship.
Cameron’s career has gone on to span decades, with the acclaimed actor making appearances in popular shows such as Doctor Who, EastEnders and most recently appearing in the massively successful Christopher Nolan film Inception. As he turned 100 in 2017 Cameron stated “I’m not convinced I’ve retired yet.”
When thinking of famous on-screen couplings from the Golden Age of Hollywood, Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn always comes to mind. The two starred together in classic adventure films like Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood, with de Havilland stealing away some much deserved attention.
De Havilland then famously starred alongside Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable in the endlessly beloved Gone With The Wind, playing Leigh’s romantic foil, Melanie Hamilton. De Havilland continued working in Hollywood well into the ’80s, and in that time won countless awards, was given an honorary doctorate, and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
With that impossible to replicate (although many women have tried) French girl je ne sais quoi, Suzy Delair seemed destined for stardom. Discovered by French film director Henri-Georges Clouzot, Delair impressed him with her charm and sweet singing voice. It was then that Clouzot would change the course of Delair’s life.
Clouzot directed Delair in her two most memorable film roles, as Mila Malou in 1941’s The Last One of the Six and again in 1942’s The Murderer Lives at Number 21, and as Jenny Lamour in Quai de Orfevres (1947). Delair kept up acting and performing well into the late ’80s, before retiring in her 70s.
As a young student at Sarah Lawrence College, Jean Erdman would meet the two most influential people of her life, famed literature professor (and eventual life partner) Joseph Campbell, and avant-garde choreographer and dance legend, Martha Graham. It was through their support and tutelage that Erdman became an important dancer and choreographer in her own right.
Erdman worked alongside some of the most notable figures in modern and avant-garde art, like John Cage and Merce Cunningham. Erdman kept performing well into the 1980s, and has stage retrospectives of her work. Since retiring from performing, Erdman has been living in idyllic Hawaii.
As World War II came to a close, recent UCLA graduate Harriet Frank Jr. entered the young writers’ training program at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It was there that she’d meet her future husband and writing partner, Irving Ravetch. The two would go on to collaborate on some of the biggest pictures of Golden Age Hollywood.
Together with Ravetch, Frank wrote the film adaptation of “The Sound and The Fury” by William Faulkner, and “A Case of Need” by Michael Crichton. After taking some six years off, Frank and Ravetch were lured back into scriptwriting for Norma Rae which went on to win multiple Academy Awards.
In her more than 70 year career, Marsha Hunt has faced more dips and round-abouts than most, but she’s come out the other side as a Hollywood legend of the highest order. After starring in a string of successful and celebrated films such as Born To The West, Pride and Prejudice and The Happy Time, Hunt was then blacklisted during McCarthyism.
Hunt got involved in the fight against the House Un-American Activities Committee while her career slowed down quite considerably. Still, the starlet bounced back, scoring a part in Johnny Got His Gun in 1971. Since then Hunt continued to make appearances in TV and film up until 2008.
Having been in the entertainment industry for more than 90 years, there isn’t any facet of Hollywood Norman Lloyd hasn’t tried his hand at. As an actor Lloyd appeared in two Alfred Hitchcock films, Saboteur and Spellbound. Then, he would go on to direct and produce the long-running anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents throughout the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.
Lloyd kept up acting, directing and producing, taking part in films such as Dead Poets Society, The Age of Innocence and the series St. Elsewhere. And he has continued to do so, with his last acting role in the 2015 Amy Schumer comedy Trainwreck.
Dancer Caren Marsh Doll landed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1937 for her skills specifically as a tap dancer. After appearing in a few small roles, like an uncredited part in Gone With the Wind, Doll was tasked with taking on the role of Judy Garland’s dance stand-in for The Wizard of Oz.
Doll was even given her own pair of Dorothy’s famous ruby red slippers! Since her performance in The Wizard of Oz was so seamless, Doll was brought in as Garland’s stand-in for Ziegfeld Girl in 1941. Doll released an autobiography in 2007, where she reveals all about her time on The Wizard of Oz.
Getting his start on radio and Broadway, Dick Van Dyke really gained recognition for his role as Rob Petrie on the CBS sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show, airing from 1961-1966. It was during that time that Van Dyke gained some serious popularity in films like Bye Bye Birdie, and of course, playing Cockney chimney sweep Bert in Mary Poppins.
To the delight of fans everywhere of the original Mary Poppins, a 93 year old Dick Van Dyke surprised everyone with a brief but unbelievable cameo role in the sequel movie Mary Poppins Returns. In the film Van Dyke stood on a desk and did a dance – age be damned!
Sweet singing crooner Tony Bennett has no intention of slowing down any time soon. Reaching a real career peak in the 1950s singing jazz standards and original songs, Bennett is constantly reinventing himself and his career. Bringing big band music and jazzy ballads to a younger audience, Bennett is as relevant as ever.
As a living legend, Bennett has worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry, spanning decades and decades. Bennett has done duets with Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, Billy Joel, and of course, close friend Frank Sinatra. Today, younger audiences may know Bennett for his Cheek to Cheek tour with pop sensation Lady Gaga.
Model and actress Cicely Tyson got her start in a few small roles on television, before grabbing everyone’s attention playing Rebecca Morgan in the 1972 movie Sounder. From there Tyson moved from success to success, receiving more acclaim for the title role in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.
Tyson’s career has carried on well into the 21st century. The actress has had roles in films such as The Help and was written an exciting character arc on the Shonda Rhimes drama How To Get Away With Murder, a role she is still currently in, and for the foreseeable future.
Starting out on an NBC Page Program in the early 1940s, actress Eva Marie Saint has had one of the longest and most celebrated acting careers in Hollywood. Her impressive tenure in Hollywood has spanned more than 70 years, and includes roles in the acclaimed Elia Kazan film On the Waterfront for which she won an Oscar.
Saint also starred as the female counterpart to Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, alongside Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in Raintree County, and opposite Paul Newman in Exodus. Most recently, Eva Marie Saint was featured in the 2014 film Winter’s Tale, and appeared at the Academy Awards Ceremony in 2018.
Giving us all friendship goals for decades, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks first realized they’d found their comedy soulmate when they collaborated on The 2,000 Year Old Man skit in 1961. Forming a duo, the two went on to create the endlessly hilarious film The Russians Are Coming, the Russians are Coming.
Now both widowed, the legends spend almost every day together, reminiscing, watching old movies, and above all, making each other laugh. In an interview the two said of one another, “If you have one good friend, you’re lucky. And I have one good friend. I call him my best friend.” We’re not crying, you are.
Did you know that Bob Barker wasn’t the original host of The Price is Right? That’s right! So step on down and learn a little more about Bob Barker. Taking the show to new heights of popularity, Bob Barker served as host of what is currently America’s longest running game show The Price is Right for an impressive 35 years, starting in 1972.
Since retiring from The Price is Right in 2007, Barker has made the occasional appearance on the game show, to the surprise and sheer delight of the in-studio audience and everyone watching at home. Enjoying his well-earned retirement, Barker still wants everyone to remember one thing “have your pets spayed or neutered.”
Beloved television and movie star Betty White is busier than most actors a third of her age. Celebrated as one of the premiere pioneers of television, White is credited with being the first woman to not only act but also produce a television show. Already by 1955, White was given the honorary title of Mayor of Hollywood for her work.
Most famous for her roles on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and as the sweet yet naive Rose on Golden Girls, White is always unforgettable whenever she’s on screen. Showing no signs of slowing down, 97 year old White just voiced a character in Toy Story 4.
After a series of relocations, from Maine to Massachusetts, and then finally to California, it was once the family settled in Los Angeles that Ruthie Tompson would wind up on the course which would shape her life. See, young Ruthie was serendipitously living on the same block as Robert Disney, uncle of Walt.
Tompson grew up around Walt Disney and his first cartoon studio, so when she was 18, Walt Disney remembered her, and offered her a job as an inker. In her time at The Walt Disney Company Tompson contributed animation work for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and featurettes starring Mickey Mouse.
Coming from humble beginnings, Scottish actress Ida Schuster has been working consistently in television since the 1960s. With more than 30 acting credits to her name, Schuster is most remembered for her roles in the Scottish medical drama Dr. Finley’s Casebook and long-running crime show Taggart.
Barring the brief time Ida Schuster stepped away from her role in the television show Steamie after the death of her husband, the actress has kept herself busy with work. Schuster was still appearing in Taggart as late as 2005, when she was 87 years old, while her last role was in the 2007 series Dear Green Place.
Born Jeanne Renée Deneuve, the French actress decided to take the stage name Renée Simonot at the start of her career. Making her debut at the Odeon Theatre in Paris in 1918, Simonot held the post of “leading lady” for the next 28 years. But her career on stage isn’t all Simonot is known for.
Renée Simonot is credited as being one of the first actresses to dub American movies into French. Simonot served as the French voice for Olivia de Havilland in most of her films, as well as Judy Garland and Esther Williams. Now retired, Simonot’s acting legacy lives on in her daughter, actress Catherine Deneuve.
Born in Australia, Mary Ward Breheny, or as she was known professionally — Mary Ward, moved to England to work as an actress on the stage in the 1940s. Having studied acting in both England and Australia, Ward moved back to Australia in the early 1950s, where she would become one of the first female radio announcers for ABC Australia.
After returning to Australia Ward was cast in her most notable roles, as “Mum” Jeanette Brooks in the television series Prisoner, Dee Morrell in the soap opera Sons and Daughters and finally in a brief role on Blue Heelers. Ward formally retired from acting in 2000.
British born Sheila Betty Mercier was talent scouted while touring with Donald Wolfitt’s Shakespeare company when she was only twenty years old. But Mercier’s career would be put on hold during WWII, when she joined the Royal Air Force, serving in a fighter command, and eventually rising to adjutant.
Once the war ended, Mercier returned to her true calling, acting. Taking to the stage, Mercier moved from one repertory theater to another, always receiving rave reviews. It was in 1972 that Mercier was cast as the matriarch Annie Sugden on the new British soap Emmerdale Farm, a role she has reprised often, and for the last time in 2009.
Originally hailing from Chicago, Doris Merrick was one of ten children. Doris and her sisters started singing early on, and before long Doris’ talent seemed worth pursuing. She took vocal lessons, eventually becoming an NBC soloist. Still, Doris wanted to make it in movies, and until that dream could come true, she worked as a model.
By 1941 Doris tested with Warner Bros. and was signed under the name Beth Drake. Her name was changed to Doris Merrick shortly thereafter, and she finally made her film debut in Girl Trouble. Between 1942 and 1955 when she retired from acting, Merrick made eighteen films, including The Big Noise alongside Laurel and Hardy.
Moving from her hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana to Los Angeles when she was still a teenager, Gloria Henry got her start working on radio shows and in commercials. Signed by an agent of Columbia Studios in 1946, Henry was already being cast as the leading lady a year later in the horse-racing film Sport of Kings.
While much of the 1950s was a little less exciting of a time in the actress’ career, Henry landed the role for which she is easily the most well-known in 1959. Henry had been cast as “Alice Mitchell” the mother on the CBS comedy hit Dennis the Menace.
Dancing is basically in Marge Champion’s DNA. As the daughter of dance director Ernest Belcher, and half-sister of actress/dancer Lina Basquette, Champion was destined to be a dancer. Progressing quickly, she became a ballet instructor by the time she was 12-years old.
Champion’s Hollywood career started in one of the most incredible ways, as a dance model for Walt Disney Studios. Champion’s movements were copied for the creation of Snow White in Disney’s first-ever animated feature-length film. After marrying dancer Gower Champion in 1947, the couple appeared in many of MGM’s major musicals of the 40s and 50s, including Show Boat and Everything I Have Is Yours.
Nicknamed the “Queen of Technicolor” for how well she photographed, Rhonda Fleming started working as an actress while she was still a student at Beverly Hills High School. In fact, Fleming was discovered unexpectedly, by famed Hollywood agent Henry Wilson. Later Fleming would describe it as, “He signed me to a seven-year contract without a screen test. It was a Cinderella story…”
After getting discovered at 16 or 17 years old, Fleming’s career took off. Her resume includes multiple David O. Selznick films, an Alfred Hitchock thriller, acting opposite Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Eonald Reagan and Charlton Heston, to name a few.
A Beverly Hills native, Jacqueline White wasn’t so far from Hollywood – certainly close enough to hear its siren call. After graduating from Beverly Hills High School White was discovered by a casting director while she was acting in a UCLA drama class production of Ah, Wilderness!. After arranging for a screen test, White was signed to a contract with MGM.
While under contract at MGM White was often cast the lead actress in a B-movie, or as the supporting character in an A-movie, but when she left MGM for rival studio RKO she finally landed the leading lady roles. White was the female lead in Crossfire and The Narrow Margin, her two most memorable roles.
There’s no slowing down Annette Warren! As of 2017, at the age of 95, Warren was still actively performing. The jazz and song stylist has been in the entertainment industry since she was discovered in 1945 by Phil Moore, a famed vocal coach and musical arranger.
Headlining clubs and theaters across America and in London too, Warren was already quite accomplished when she started doing dubbing in Hollywood. Warren dubbed the singing voice for some of the biggest actresses of the day, such as Lucille Ball in Sorrowful Jones and Fancy Pants, and for Ava Gardner in the MGM remake of Show Boat.
Moving to Los Angeles right after high school, Janis Paige was hired as a singer at the notorious Hollywood Canteen. It was there that a Warner Bros. agent spotted her and signed her to a contract. Starring in a few movie musicals like Romance on the High Seas, Paige wasn’t sure the silver screen was for her, and decided to take to the stage.
Making a name for herself on Broadway, Paige really garnered attention for her star turn as “Babe” in The Pajama Game. Paige eventually re-entered Hollywood, and did so in fantastic fashion, starring opposite Fred Astair in Silk Stockings. She’d continue to bounce between Broadway and the screen throughout her nearly 60-year career.
Nope – this Martha Stewart isn’t known for her homemade crafts or home cooked meals. Stewart, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, got her start close to home on Broadway. Her one and only appearance on the stage was in the musical Park Avenue in 1946.
Stewart’s first big screen role was as a supporting actress in the Carmen Miranda starring film Doll Face. Perhaps her most famous role is as the murder victim in the 1950 film noir classic In a Lonely Place, which also starred Humphrey Bogart. Stewart retired from acting in 1964, with her final film appearance in the 20th Century Fox beach party film Surf Party.
Actress Maria Riva had a pretty impressive role model in the form of her mother, famed actress Marlene Dietrich. Dietrich liked to have her daughter close to her, and thus, the youngster spent much of her time on the Paramount Studios lot learning from the best.
Riva’s first film role was as the younger version of her mother’s character in the Josef von Sternberg film The Scarlet Empress, playing Catherine the Great as a child. Eventually she signed a contract with CBS, appearing in more than 500 live teleplays. Riva’s most recent role was in a short-film, All Aboard, directed by her grandson J Michael Riva Jr. in 2018.
Born a far way from Hollywood in Jerusalem, Nehemiah Persoff moved to the United States with his family in 1929. Persoff went on to serve in the US Military during World War II, and later worked as a subway electrician. So how did he get into acting, you may ask?
Persoff was accepted into the Actors Studio in 1947, and was one of the students taught by famed director Elia Kazan. By 1948 his career had kicked into full swing, and he was cast in films like Some Like It Hot, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and Yentl. Spanning 52 years, his career also includes appearances in more than 200 television series.
Sources: Boredom Therapy, Miss Penny Stocks, Wikipedia