The Golden Age of Hollywood lasted from the 1910s to the 1960s, with the period shaping Western cinema as we now know it. The era also gave us movies that are still beloved today: Citizen Kane, Singin’ in the Rain, and The Wizard of Oz, to name just three. But while that time may now be long over, there are still some people alive today who were once Golden Age stars. Not only that, but some actors who found fame in Hollywood over the decades also reached 100 years old or more before passing away – with many having lived utterly extraordinary lives.
20. Connie Sawyer
Connie Sawyer had a remarkable career – and a remarkably long one to boot. Encouraged by her mother to get into showbiz, she began appearing in vaudeville and on television in the ’50s. In 1959 she even featured alongside Frank Sinatra in comedy movie A Hole in the Head. But fame wasn’t necessarily the path she’d have chosen for herself. Indeed, her 2017 autobiography was even named I Never Wanted to Be a Star — and I Wasn’t.
However, Sawyer continued to act long after the Golden Age was over, making appearances in TV shows such as Laverne & Shirley, Seinfeld and How I Met Your Mother. She celebrated her 100th birthday on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, too, after which she made a jokey cameo on New Girl as “the oldest woman in the world.” Sawyer passed away in 2018 at the incredible age of 105.
19. Diana Serra Cary
As a child star of the silent film era, Diana Serra Cary was first known as Baby Peggy. Yet while she was paid $1.5 million by Universal for her work, her parents squandered it all. By the time Cary was a teenager, in fact, there was no money left to set her up for the rest of her life. Her case was one of those that helped bring about the Coogan Act, which was named after Cary’s contemporary Jackie Coogan and protects the rights of child actors.
Cary’s later years, then, were spent defying her parents. Ultimately, she fled her home, after which she married actor Gordon Ayres – although she divorced him ten years later. Cary later wed once again and had a son. And right into her twilight years, she has both spoken out about the abuses that child actors of her era were subjected to and pushed for better laws to protect them. In October 2018, moreover, Cary reached the grand old age of 100.
18. Caren Marsh Doll
While Caren Marsh Doll was cast in The Wizard of Oz, you wouldn’t have seen her: she was Judy Garland’s dance double. She did however appear on screen in a large handful of other lesser-known films from that era, including That Night in Rio, Best Foot Forward and Seven Sweethearts. Not only that, but Marsh also had a tiny role in Gone With the Wind – meaning she has two of the biggest movies of all time on her resume.
But Marsh’s fascinating life also includes a plane crash that almost killed her. In 1949 the aircraft she was in collided with a mountain. She was one of only 13 survivors out of 49 individuals, and doctors told her in turn that her severe injuries would put an end to her dancing career. Nevertheless, Marsh proved the prognosis incorrect and became a dance instructor; in April 2019 she also turned 100 years old.
17. Herb Jeffries
While Herb Jeffries claimed many different ethnic identities throughout his career, he often appeared in multiple films aimed at African-American audiences. These were usually Westerns, and Jeffries was sometimes billed as a “Sensational Singing Cowboy.” In fact, his debut movie, Harlem on the Prairie, has even been called “the first black Western.”
Jeffries earned another nickname in time, too, being dubbed the “last of the singing cowboys” after Roy Rogers and Gene Autry both passed away. And in 1995 he released an album called The Bronze Buckaroo (Rides Again) – a reference to yet another name that audiences knew him by. Jeffries passed away as a result of heart failure in 2014, having hit 100 years old.
16. Gloria Stuart
Gloria Stuart was signed to Universal Pictures in the ’30s and appeared in several of the studio’s horror films, including The Invisible Man. Despite her success, though, she quit acting the following decade in favor of being an artist. Yet it seems that Stuart couldn’t completely stay away from the big screen, as she returned to her original career in the ’70s. And the star may be very familiar to some…
Yes, Stuart played the elderly Rose in James Cameron’s smash hit Titanic. Her performance gained her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, too, and to this day she remains the oldest person ever to receive that accolade. And just like Rose, Stuart herself made it to 100, although she died three months after reaching the milestone.
15. Carla Laemmle
Carla Laemmle may have been the niece of Universal Studios co-founder Carl Laemmle, but she was nevertheless hightly accomplished in her own right. Laemmle was an icon of the horror world, in fact, having danced in The Phantom of the Opera and delivered the first line in Dracula. She also held horror parties apparently so scary that at least one guest is reported to have fainted.
And Laemmle kept active in the entertainment world as she grew older, thanks in part to appearances in documentaries about horror movies and the Hollywood system. She also continued to act right up until 2014 – the same year she passed away. When she died in her Los Angeles home, then, she was a truly impressive 104.
14. George Burns
Comedian George Burns became an icon of entertainment both during the Golden Age and the period that followed. To begin with, he and his wife Gracie Allen worked as a duo on film and TV; Burns continued to work after Allen’s death, though, using his career to distract himself from his grief. And the funnyman once claimed that performers rarely retired out of choice; instead, they just faded away when no one wanted them.
Burns hardly faded away, though, as in 1975 the then-80-year-old became the eldest actor to ever win an Oscar at the time. He kept that record for 14 years, too, until actress Jessica Tandy took it in 1989. Burns died in 1996 and was buried alongside Allen, with her gravestone changed to read “Together Again.” And the star lived to the age of 100 – not bad at all for someone who had reportedly smoked since the age of 14.
13. Doris Eaton Travis
Doris Eaton Travis became involved with show business while she was still a child. In 1918, you see, she became a “Ziegfeld girl” – the youngest ever. And as Travis performed in silent films throughout the Golden Age, she met all manner of famous people during the course of her career. As she grew older and the era came to an end, however, she became a dance instructor.
Perhaps that early start did Travis good, though, as she was blessed, it seemed, with remarkable longevity and health. At the age of 103 she could still dance a little for her friends at parties, while at 105 she did a small performance at a Broadway benefit. When she died from an aneurysm in 2010, then, she had reached an impressive 106.
12. Fay McKenzie
Fay McKenzie was the leading lady of many Gene Autry films, although she had actually been appearing in movies since infanthood. Yes, at just ten weeks old she showed up in Station Content as Gloria Swanson’s on-screen child. And it turns out that McKenzie’s showbiz background was one of the things that led to her being cast opposite Autry. “I could sing, and that was something the earlier girls couldn’t do,” she told Western Clippings in an interview.
McKenzie’s later marriage to screenwriter Tom Waldman resulted in two children, both of whom followed in their parents’ footsteps: one became an actor and one a writer. McKenzie took a break from film acting to raise them, too, but returned in the ’60s, during which she had a small role in the iconic Breakfast at Tiffany’s. She died in 2019 at the age of 101.
11. Marsha Hunt
Marsha Hunt was initially an actress, appearing in Born to the West and the 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice among other movies. But after being blacklisted from Hollywood in the wake of McCarthyism, she also became a devoted activist. Hunt traveled throughout America giving speeches about the importance of helping the developing world, in fact, and engaged in work helping the homeless.
Sadly, though, Hunt has seemingly fallen victim to ailments that afflict many in old age. In 2018 NPR reported, for instance, that the former star uses both a hearing aid and a walker; in addition, the station said, her eyesight had deteriorated to the point that she could no longer read. “I hope I know what’s going on – but not in the detail that I used to and that I treasured,” Hunt told NPR. Nevertheless, she’s still alive and kicking – and celebrated her 101st birthday in October 2018.
10. Marc Platt
Marc Platt was a ballet dancer who appeared in several big films of his day. He played Daniel Pontipee in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, for instance, as well as having a small part in smash-hit musical Oklahoma! Once he had retired from performing, though, Platt became director of the Radio City Music Hall Ballet; he also worked as a teacher.
And Platt continued to dance on stage even after he turned 90 – long past the point where most people would have given up. He gave an explanation for this choice at his 100th birthday party, when he told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Always do what you love for as long as you can. I was a dancer, and I’m always a dancer.” Sadly, he died not long after that event in 2014.
9. Patricia Morison
After some time as a stage performer, Patricia Morison started film acting in 1939. She gained a reputation as a “femme fatale” type, too, which she put to good use in films such as Dressed to Kill. And Morison continued to act on Broadway throughout her life, although she also made a foray into TV in an episode of Cheers.
Yet while Morison began focusing on painting more than acting as she aged, she nevertheless still made some stage appearances. At the age of 97, for instance, she appeared in a show aptly named Ladies of an Indeterminate Age; she also sang at the Pasadena Playhouse during a celebration of her reaching 100. Morison was 103 when she passed away in 2018.
8. Marta Eggerth
Marta Eggerth was truly an international film star. Throughout her prolific career, you see, she made films in not only English, but also Italian, French, German and her mother tongue of Hungarian. And Eggerth can also be seen in two movies with fellow star Judy Garland: For Me and My Gal and Presenting Lily Mars. Both were hits and so proved profitable for MGM Studios.
After her beloved husband, Jan Kiepura, passed away in 1966, however, Eggerth stopped performing for a while. Yet she eventually returned to her career again, appearing in both Europe and America. And because the star was extremely careful with her voice and health – barely ever even drinking alcohol – she was able to continue singing well into her 90s. Her final show took place when she was 99, and she died two years later at 101.
7. Etta Moten Barnett
Etta Moten Barnett was somewhat of a trailblazer for black women in entertainment by appearing in several films throughout the ’30s, including Ladies They Talk About and A Day at the Races. In the movie Professional Sweetheart, too, Theresa Harris’ singing voice is actually Barnett’s. And she was also one of the first black people to perform at the White House, which she did in 1933.
By the ’50s, though, Barnett was suffering from vocal cord troubles and had to stop performing. Instead, then, she became involved with social groups, including the National Council of Negro Women. And in 1957 she interviewed none other than Martin Luther King Jr.; the recording of that meeting is still preserved for historians today. Barnett died in 2014 at the age of 102, having lived quite an extraordinary life.
6. Kirk Douglas
As many know, Kirk Douglas was not only a famous actor of the Golden Age of Hollywood, but he is also father to accomplished actor Michael Douglas. And as Michael is now well into his 70s, that suggests just how long-lived Kirk himself is. Yes, while the three-time Oscar nominee may not act anymore or appear in public very much, he’s nevertheless reached the impressive age of 102.
The iconic film star’s last major public appearance to date came when his son earned a place on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in November 2018. There, Michael told Kirk, “Thank you for your advice [and] inspiration. And I’ll say it simply and with all my heart: I’m so proud to be your son.” Aww.
5. Norman Lloyd
Norman Lloyd had such a long and prolific career that he was known to people from several different generations by the time he passed away. Initially, he found fame as an actor for legendary director Alfred Hitchcock, appearing in his movies Saboteur and Spellbound. Then, after World War II, Lloyd began directing, producing and starring on television.
Lloyd didn’t rest on his laurels as he approached old age, however. In the ’80s, for example, he starred in both St. Elsewhere and the movie Dead Poets Society. He also constantly appeared as a guest actor in shows such as The Twilight Zone, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Murder, She Wrote. And, believe it or not, he’s still alive and acting. Lloyd is now 104 years old, and his most recent TV series was in 2018.
4. Luise Rainer
Luise Rainer set many records during her brief time as an actress. For a start, she was not only the first person to win two Oscars, but also the first person to achieve this honor at back-to-back ceremonies. Rainer is similarly only one of only two people to scoop two Academy Awards before the age of 30 – the other star in question being Jodie Foster. And she’s still to this day the longest-lived winner of any Oscar, as well.
However, Rainer disliked the pressure that came with being an Oscar winner, and so she decided that stardom wasn’t for her after all. By the ’40s, then, she had left the business and was working with war orphans in Europe. But Rainer is still chiefly remembered for her screen career, which earned her a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She died at 104 in 2014.
3. Danielle Darrieux
Danielle Darrieux was once among France’s most famous film stars. After living through World War II and the German occupation of France, though, she began to make more movies in America, with her acting resume stretching to include Rich, Young and Pretty, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Alexander the Great. All in all, she made over 110 pictures throughout her life, in fact.
In 1985 Darrieux was awarded an Honorary César Award – the César being a very high accolade for entertainers in France. Even after that, though, she kept working as an actress, with one of her most high-profile projects being Persepolis in 2007. She died ten years later at 100 following complications from a prior fall.
2. Mary Carlisle
Mary Carlisle was blonde and attractive, so she was often cast in ingénue or damsel-in-distress parts. And arguably her most famous films are the ones in which she starred with Bing Crosby: the comedies College Humor, Double or Nothing and Doctor Rhythm. Yet she walked away from it all. Yes, after marrying in 1942, she stopped acting.
Carlisle maintained privacy for the rest of her life, in fact, although it’s known that she had a son and later became a grandmother of two. She ultimately passed away in August 2018 while living at an LA-based retirement home for actors. Carlisle was thought to be 104 at the time, although her true age hadn’t been verified.
1. Olivia de Havilland
Olivia de Havilland – or to give her her full title, Dame Olivia Mary de Havilland DBE – was one of the leads in 1939’s Gone with the Wind. Yet while the classic film may be the picture she’s most famous for, it’s far from the only one in which she starred: in all, she made appearances in almost 50 movies over a more than five-decade-long career.
And De Havilland is still alive to this day. She set a record in 2017, too, by becoming the oldest woman ever to receive an Order of the British Empire for services to drama. Plus, she may well end up achieving more milestones in the future; even though she’s now 102, she shows little sign of fading away.