Hollywood History IV: B-Movie Queens

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The end of the 1920s saw the birth of “talkie” films, introducing audiences across the country to a whole new form of entertainment. Hundreds of starry eyed actresses descended on Hollywood, hoping for their chance at the big time, and for every Jean Harlow and Carole Lombard, there was a sad farm girl on the train home. Some actresses were able to pull through and found their place in Tinseltown in roles that cemented them in movie history. Here are five screen sirens who enchanted audiences throughout the 1930s and beyond.


Marion Martin knew how to flaunt it in early comedies.

Sex sells and actress and singer Marion Martin learned early on that this combination led to show biz gold. The talented actress appeared in minor roles (often as showgirls or other saucy gals) in movies throughout the 1930s, but she found her real niche in B movies, like the 1938 flick, Sinners in Paradise. She was often overlooked for the lead in major studio films, but held her own against some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. One of her most notable roles was in Lady of Burlesque, a murder mystery starring Barbara Stanwyck. She eventually married a physicist and retired from show business in 1952.


Lupe Velez started her career as a dancer in Mexico before coming to the United States.

This Mexican beauty began her career as a dancer before touring the vaudeville circuit stateside. She caught the attention of filmmakers and made her big screen debut in 1924. Known as the “Mexican Spitfire” and “The Hot Pepper,” Velez quickly rose to leading lady status and appeared in some of the most popular comedies of the decade. She left Hollywood to work on Broadway and made several films in Mexico before Hollywood lured her back. She was also known for her much publicized affairs with leading men such as Gary Cooper before marrying Johnny Weissmuller, the Olympic swimmer who starred as Tarzan. She committed suicide in 1944 at the age of 36 when she found out she was pregnant.


You Tarzan, me Jane!

Irish lass Maureen O’Sullivan captured hearts around the world when she starred as Jane in Tarzan the Ape Man in the early 1930s. The role made her a star and she appeared in numerous movies throughout the decades. She went on to play Jane six times over a ten year span, and while she appreciated the the films successes, she was terrified of being typecast. She left Hollywood in the early 1940s to raise her seven children.


Toby Wing was known for her scantily clad costumes.

One of Hollywood’s early sex symbols, Toby Wing was known for pushing boundaries (and taking her clothes off) for a role. In pre-Code Hollywood she was often shown in barely there costumes that left little to the imagination. Her personal life was just as colorful as the characters she played and she romanced some of Hollywood’s most powerful men including Jackie Coogan, who she was engaged to at one point. She continued to star in B-movies and appear in magazines throughout the ‘30s.


Whatever happened to Fay Wray??? Frank-N-Furter famously asks at the end of the cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Signed to Paramount Pictures while still a teenager, Fay Wray achieved superstardom and a place in cinema history for her star turn in the 1933 classic, King Kong. One of six children, Wray grew up Mormon, and the family moved often until they finally settled in Hollywood, California. Wray soon found jobs in silent films and made the successful transition over to “talkies.” In the 1930s she appeared in countless horror films, most notably, Kong, where she played Ann Darrow. She wore a blonde wig for the role, and the film’s dramatic conclusion atop the Empire State Building, is one of the most famous scenes in cinematic history. Wray continued to act throughout her life, but she will forever be known as one of the world’s first “scream queens.”