These Beautiful Women Entranced The World 100 Years Ago – And Their Pictures Are Breathtaking

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It’s so easy to find pictures of today’s most beautiful women. You can flip through a magazine or log onto social media to find stunning, high-quality portraits – some of which the subjects snapped themselves. But 100 years ago, photography was a different ballgame. People sat and posed for their pictures, which proved tough to share both then and now. And yet, we have photos of 20 of the most beautiful women from this era in history. You might want to keep scrolling to see them for yourself.

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20. Anna Held

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Florenz Ziegfeld traveled to Europe at the turn of the 20th century, searching for girls with the It factor. It didn’t take long for him to find the epitome of the gorgeous, talented women he sought. He discovered Polish-born Anna Held, a café singer with a sultry voice and an hourglass figure. Ziegfeld hoped to manage her career, but Held had bigger plans for the both of them.

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After the couple married, Held came up with an idea for the showbiz career Ziegfeld sought for them both. The singer saw first-hand the success of the Folies-Bergere, a Parisian cabaret. She then suggested her husband form the same type of troupe in the U.S. So, he brought together The Ziegfeld Follies, a stunning group of chorus girls who performed on Broadway stages from 1907 until the mid 1930s. Being pregnant at the time meant the singer couldn’t perform with them. But her idea sparked the most lucrative stretch of her husband’s career.

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19. Louise Brooks

Starting out as a dancer, Louise Brooks then pivoted when she joined the sultry ranks of the Ziegfeld Follies. The famous stage show marked a turning point in her career – she soon nabbed a movie contract with Paramount. But when her Hollywood dreams didn’t work out, she flew to Europe, where she filmed a trio of hit pictures.

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Brooks’ roles in Diary of a Lost Girl, Pandora’s Box and Miss Europe made her into a bona fide star of the silent-film era. Fans looked to her for style inspiration, too, copying her short, sassy bob. But the actor’s career eventually dwindled when she refused to make the jump from silent film to “talkies.” She struggled for decades until finding her place as an acclaimed writer and memoirist before her death in 1985.

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18. Maude Adams

A career in acting made sense for Maude Adams – she simply followed in her mother’s footsteps. However, the precocious girl who went on tour with her mom would later rate among the most successful stars of her era. In her heyday, in fact, the actor made over a million dollars a year.

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Image: via Wikimedia Commons – 1901

At just 16 years of age, Adams made her Broadway debut. Over the next ten years, she’d star in a string of J.M. Barrie plays, including Peter Pan, in which she performed the titular role. These stage appearances launched her into super-stardom. The actor remained on Broadway until 1916, at which point she retired from the Great White Way.

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17. Myrna Darby

Some place Myrna Darby among the most attractive women to join the ranks of the Ziegfeld Follies. Indeed, it was the man himself who plucked the then-17-year-old from Pittsburgh-based obscurity and put her in his big-time shows. She then parlayed her Broadway fame into an ad campaign for Lucky Strike cigarettes, in which she starred with her fellow cabaret girls.

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In spite of Darby’s rising fame, her potential was never fully realized. Touring Europe during her early 20s, the star suffered an acute sunburn. Plus, her engagement had recently come to an end, which devastated her. As a result some attribute her untimely death at 21 to a potential sunstroke, while others say the beauty died from a broken heart.

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16. Mary Pickford

In the 1920s, many girls took their style and hair inspiration from flappers, but not Mary Pickford. The actor preferred instead a sweet, feminine aesthetic, right down to the ringlets that framed her face. But the Canadian-born woman who came to be known as “America’s Sweetheart” was not to be underestimated due to her apparent softness.

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Image: Rufus Porter Moody, 1910 – 1920/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C

Pickford was among the biggest movies stars at the turn of the century, opening films in her own right. She also co-founded the Pickford–Banks and the United Artists film studios. And, along with 35 other industry figures, the star helped set up the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She then won the second-ever Oscar for Best Actress – which, of course, came with a golden statuette – for her role in Coquette.

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15. Jean Arthur

All of today’s kooky comedians have Jean Arthur to thank for paving the way. As James Harvey put it in is 1987 book, Romantic Comedy in Hollywood, “No one was more closely identified with the screwball comedy than Jean Arthur. So much was she part of it, so much was her star personality defined by it, that the screwball style itself seems almost unimaginable without her.”

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Arthur’s filmography includes classics such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, You Can’t Take It With You and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. And yet, for all of her star power, the comedian couldn’t stand life in the Hollywood spotlight. According to Marie Claire magazine, the star once said she’d “rather have slit [her] throat” than sit down for an interview.

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Image: via IMDb

14. Dolores del Río

Dolores del Río, discovered in her native Mexico, became a Hollywood film star in 1925. Her silent movie roles framed her as the female Latin lover, but she pivoted into more varied flicks when they began to feature sound. The 1930s saw the actor appear in everything from comedies to crime dramas and romantic films. Her most famous pictures include Bird of Paradise and Madame Du Barry.

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So, del Río survived the switch from silent films to talkies. She’d also overcome the decline in her Hollywood career, which came in the 1940s. At that point, the star jetted back to her home country of Mexico, which had entered its own Golden Age of cinema. Soon enough, the stunning actor also became a pivotal figure in that movement.

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13. Marie of Romania

As the country’s last queen, Marie of Romania certainly made her mark. Her subjects – and the rest of the world – loved the beautiful monarch, who married King Ferdinand I. And it appears she also wielded great power over her husband, as he guided the country through World War I. During that time, she suggested the country declare war on Germany, which it eventually did.

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Marie, as you’ve probably already guessed, wasn’t the typical, hands-off queen. During WWI, for instance, the monarch and her daughters served as nurses to sick and injured soldiers. And, when her husband passed away, she served as the country’s queen dowager until her son, Carol, usurped the throne and tried to squelch his mother’s popularity with her people. She left the capital behind after that, spending her remaining years in the countryside and by the sea.

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12. Dorothy Sebastian

Dorothy Sebastian’s family didn’t approve of her aspirations of stardom as both an actor and dancer. So, she ran away to New York City at just 15 years old, her southern drawl giving away her Alabama roots. She struggled to find work, but was persistent. The teenager even followed theatrical agents around all day long, hoping for a break.

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Eventually, Sebastian nabbed a contract with United Studios. There, she starred alongside Anita Page and Joan Crawford in a string of romantic dramas that proved popular with audiences. She mostly retired from acting by the mid-1930s, but returned to Hollywood after her 1936 divorce. However, she saw less success this time than during her first go-round.

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11. Dorothy Mackaill

English-born Dorothy Mackaill moved to Paris, where she met a choreographer from Broadway. And he, in turn, encouraged her to relocate to New York. Once in the Big Apple, the gorgeous Mackaill found her place among the Ziegfeld Follies. Her role with the cabaret then served as the foundation for a leap to film, which she made in 1920.

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It would, however, take four more years for Mackaill to reach leading-lady status. That came with the film The Man Who Came Back, in which the British actor played a chanteuse by the name of Marcelle. Her later career saw her starring in talkies, including opposite a young Humphrey Bogart. But star stepped away from the spotlight in 1937 when her mother fell ill, and she eventually moved to Hawaii in 1955.

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10. Anna May Wong

Long before becoming Hollywood’s first Chinese-American star, Anna May Wong spent her childhood dreaming of being an actor. And that fantasy became a reality in 1922, when she nabbed her first role in the silent film, The Toll of the Sea. Within two years, she became a star and fashion icon, but wasn’t pleased with her place in the film industry.

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Wong disliked the stereotypical roles in which she was cast. Still, she moved to Europe and continued to work throughout the 20s and 30s, both there and in the U.S. She eventually had the chance to appear in films featuring positive portrayals of Chinese-Americans. And, before her death in 1956, she became the star of the first-ever U.S. TV show with an Asian-American leading actor.

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9. Pola Negri

Pola Negri overcame some serious odds to become a Hollywood star. For starters, she was born in Poland and raised by an impoverished mother. Plus, as a teen, she battled tuberculosis. But Negri went on to become a ballet dancer and actor, first breaking into the Berlin silent-film scene in 1917. Soon enough, Paramount Pictures came knocking, and she became Europe’s first-ever female Hollywood actor.

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Negri, though, brought more than just her acting talents across the Atlantic. She also had great style, which included the then-novel idea of painting your toenails bright red. When movies started to feature sound, though, the Polish-born actor returned to Europe, where she continued to work in film until the 1940s.

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8. Gloria Swanson

Of all the silent film stars on this list, or in fact, ever, Gloria Swanson was the medium’s most successful. In the mid-20s, she raked in an average of $20,000 a week, amounting to a $8 million fortune after working from 1918 to 1929. But the actor was just as incredible off-screen as she was on, managing to spend nearly all of her incredible earnings.

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Swanson made her mark as a producer, as well, creating her own movies at a time when not many women were able to. Eventually, her popularity waned in the post-silent film era, but she wasn’t down for the count. After spending some time in the theater, the actor made a spectacular comeback in 1950. Starring in Sunset Boulevard, her role as a reclusive silent-movie star won her a Golden Globe.

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7. Anita Page

Some said Anita Page was among the most beautiful women all of Hollywood. That would explain why the silent film actor – who came into her fame as the era ended – received more fan mail than any other MGM player at the time. By the 1930s, she was one of the busiest stars out there. Her roles included appearing opposite the likes of off-screen love interest Clark Gable.

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So, it shocked the world when Page, at just 23 years of age, decided to leave Hollywood behind in 1933. Nearly 70 years later, the actor offered an explanation for her departure. She alleged that studio heads asked her for sexual favors, which she refused, thus ending her career with MGM. The star staged a comeback to acting during her 80s, and performed in a handful of movies during the 2000s before her death in 2008.

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6. Doris Stocker

London’s National Portrait Gallery has 16 images of Doris Stocker on file. The shots, which range from crisp black-and-white images to surreal, colorful pictures, prove at least one thing true about their mysterious subject. Stocker was, at the very least, an extremely photogenic woman.

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What we know about Stocker’s life, though, is limited, despite the gallery’s collection of her photos. Although she was English, the star’s birth took place in India. And she grew up to be more than just a portrait model. You could find this beauty performing in music halls and acting throughout the 1900s.

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Image: Gertrude Käsebier

5. Evelyn Nesbit

Evelyn Nesbit’s journey to celebrity took in many fields. Firstly, her visage began to appear in newspapers, advertisements, calendars and on souvenirs – and, in the early 20th century, that was enough to make her famous. She then became a pin-up and fashion model, as well as an actor and chorus girl.

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Nesbit’s personal relationships also pushed her into the spotlight. In 1906, her husband, Harry Kendall Thaw, murdered New York socialite and architect Stanford White in front of a crowd. At the subsequent trial, the model testified on Thaw’s behalf, claiming White had previously made unwanted advances toward her. Afterward, she couldn’t shake her reputation as a woman to kill for, so she left acting to teach and consult on movie sets instead.

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4. Fay Wray

Movie buffs will, no doubt, recognize the name Fay Wray. The Canadian-born actor starred in the 1933 classic King Kong, as well as a slew of other horror films over her six-decade-long career. As such, many people consider her one of Hollywood’s original “scream queens.” Or, more specifically, women who regularly acted in gory, scary movies.

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Before Wray took on her iconic horror roles, though, she was a gorgeous starlet with plenty of style. According to Marie Claire magazine, old photos of the actor show she had “a penchant for Art Deco jewelry like no other.” She also donned traditional flapper garb and spruced it up with chokers and geometric bracelets.

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3. Josephine Baker

Even if you don’t know Josephine Baker by name, you may well recognize the dancer’s most iconic costume from her time hot-footing it at Paris’ Folies Bergère. She caused a stir when she appeared on stage wearing only a skirt crafted from a bunch of artificial bananas. On top, she had on just a beaded necklace and nothing else.

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That look became a symbol of the Jazz Age, as well as of the 1920s itself. And yet, Baker deserves recognition for more than her daring costume choices. A talented dancer, she also excelled at acting. In fact, she became the first-ever African-American actor to bag a lead role in a major movie. Her turn came in 1927’s Siren of the Tropics.

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2. Gabrielle Ray

At one time, Gabrielle Ray was on top of the world. She first hit the London stages at the start of the 20th century. And theatergoers couldn’t help but notice that the actor was truly stunning. Eventually, people came to know Ray as one of the city’s most beautiful starlets, which also brought photographers her way.

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Soon enough, Ray’s beauty had been captured on film time and again as she became one of the world’s most photographed ladies. But life wasn’t kind to the star, especially after her marriage fell apart in 1914. Following that, she spent the rest of her days in and out of psychiatric institutions until her death in 1973.

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1. Cléo de Mérode

The gorgeous Cléo de Mérode studied to become a dancer, but she got her first taste of fame when her face began to appear on decks of cards and postcards. From there, she became a style icon – other Parisian women would copy her hairstyles. Artists also sculpted, photographed and painted her form.

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Eventually, though, Mérode also became known for her dancing abilities. She performed throughout Europe and the U.S., and even diverted from traditional ballet to perform at the Folies Bergère, a decision at which other dance elitists might scoff. But that gamble paid off. The star continued to gather up new fans to bolster her career until she retired to Biarritz, France.

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