20 Actresses Meme


By Marilyn Ferdinand

Another day, another meme. I was tagged by Rick Olson for the 20 Actresses Meme, which is the brainchild of Nathaniel at The Film Experience.

Once again, I was faced with trying to come up with some criteria that could help me choose 20 noteworthy actresses. Should they be the most beautiful? Should they be the finest at their craft? Should they be of a certain age? Again, I decided to choose 20 actresses I find fascinating to watch, actresses who draw my eye to them no matter what else might be going on, actresses whose work I’m always ready to sample. Here they are, in alphabetical, order.


Louise Brooks is the American Garbo, but with more range. She could play temptresses with an American wildness Garbo lacked, but also was believable in comedic and sentimental roles. And, she’s stunning!

Billie Burke always captivates me with her birdlike voice, her apple cheeks, and her charm. She’s one of the great character actresses of the 1930s who deserves to be remembered for more than playing Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz.


Leslie Caron has the gamine appeal that I am always attracted to in actresses. Beyond that, she is the definition of grace, with a wise innocence that comes through in her best films. I could watch her in Gigi over and over and over.

Peggy Cummins is a face you see every day on this blog. I was so taken with her in Gun Crazy and I so wanted to project what she had in that film, that I took her as my stand-in. As you can see in this picture, she’s not only naughty, she’s also nice, very nice.


Laura del Sol may not be a familiar name and face unless you have seen the dance films of Carlos Saura. Once viewed, she’s unforgettable—an intense beauty and passionate dancer. I’ve seen Carmen more times than I can remember. She’s just amazing.


Catherine Deneuve is easily one of the most beautiful and talented women who ever lived. She can delve deeply into sexual perversion, madness, and bitterness. She can also take a bourgeois character and bring out unknown courage. I always want to go wherever she leads.

Gloria Grahame has a face you never forget. Interestingly beautiful, she often played women whose looks play strongly into their fate, from Violet in It’s a Wonderful Life to Debby in The Big Heat. I can’t pass on a film she’s in.


Shirley Henderson is an actress you’ve seen more than you think you have. She’s been in Trainspotting, 24-Hour Party People, Yes, and even one of the Harry Potter films (as Moaning Myrtle). I was completely captivated by her performance in Topsy-Turvy, where she works her beautiful soprano voice and coquettishness as an alcoholic singer who is the personification of Yum Yum in The Mikado. She puts me into a trance whenever I watch her.


Wendy Hiller is a versatile actress who has had a long career, still as interesting today in look and demeanor as when she was a fresh-faced, cheeky Scots actress in Pygmalion and I Know Where I’m Going. I like her a lot!

Isabelle Huppert is a force to be reckoned with in any film she’s in. Utterly fearless and frequently diabolical and intimidating, she lends authority to any film in which she appears. She’s a miracle.


Milla Jovovich is a little hard to explain. Yes, she’s beautiful and charismatic. But even in her strictly popcorn films, she brings something more than a model’s presence to bear. She’s got a kind of vulnerable command that I find very compelling. So sue me.

Katy Jurado has charisma up the yin yang. It is impossible to take your eyes off her when she’s on screen. She even managed to upstage Grace Kelly in High Noon. She’s a singular and memorable actress.


Nancy Kwan burst on the scene in The World of Suzie Wong. It was a memorable debut film for one of the iconic actresses of the 60s. How can you not enjoy her being a girl!

Angela Lansbury, the thoroughly pleasant Jessica Fletcher on TV, often shows up on most evil villian lists for her turn in The Manchurian Candidate, one of the few women to have this distinction. I love her ruthless Mrs. Iselin, but she always breaks my heart as sweet, doomed Sybil Vane in The Picture of Dorian Gray.


Anna Magnani wears her heart on her sleeve, her hips, her legs, and most especially, her face. A symbol of martyrdom in Rome: Open City, her natural intensity and earthiness were often on display in such films as The Rose Tattoo. She’s simply unforgettable.

Colleen Moore just had to make my list, didn’t she. My love of her is well known and will continue as long as I can watch her perfect comic sensibility and adorably versatile face in action. And then maybe longer.


Cathy O’Donnell is one of those actresses who always seems to pop up in older movies, and I’m always delighted to recognize her. They Live By Night, Side Street, and of course, The Best Years of Our Lives reveal her as a sympathetic, sweet presence. I just always feel warm when she’s around.

Christina Ricci is my favorite contemporary actress. There’s nothing she can’t do. She even made being tied up half-naked in Black Snake Moan interesting. She’d be my only choice for the part of Molly O if The Man with the Golden Arm is ever made into a decent film. I just wish she hadn’t gotten so skinny.


Theresa Russell is a subtle, mysterious actress I’m completely fascinated with. Black Widow is a minor masterpiece of the 1980s because of her duel with Debra Winger.

Michelle Williams is not an actress I ever thought I’d find so watchable when I saw her first film forays. She’s grown into a mesmerizing presence for me, and has improved exponentially as an actress. Only a little more time and she’ll lose all those youthful mannerisms and enter the major leagues.

The “baker’s dozen” silhouette at the beginning of this article is Greta Garbo.

  • Pat spoke:
    12th/12/2008 to 9:07 am

    Marilyn –
    What a great list!
    Shirley Henderson is an inspired choice. I do love her in “Topsy Turvy” (truth be told, I love just about everyone and everything in “Topsy Turvy,” especially her song that ends the film.
    I’m just beginning to apprectiate Lesle Caron. Recently, I watched her interview on the TCM series “Private Screenings.” That program is ususally a showcase for the egos of former stars like Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller, who spend the hour telling us over and over how great they were. Caron, by contrast, was lovely and gracious, and sort of let the film clips speak for themselves. And those clips did make me want to see more.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    12th/12/2008 to 9:22 am

    Thanks, Pat. When I was trying to get the screen caps of her, they only had “Three Little Maids” on YouTube, which is lovely. But I agree, “The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze” is the one I really wanted. Henderson does such an amazing solo-what a voice. Here’s a small excerpt from it.
    I’m glad you’ve come to like Leslie Caron. She’s the opposite of a flashy dancer.

  • bill r. spoke:
    12th/12/2008 to 9:31 am

    Nice! I toyed with putting both Henderson and Lansbury on my list. Lansbury should have made it for The Manchurian Candidate alone. Ah well, live and learn.

  • Jonathan Lapper spoke:
    12th/12/2008 to 9:40 am

    Well Peggy Cummins is no surprise but I was surprised to see Michelle Williams, Christina Ricci and Shirley Henderson if only because of my own bias against younger actors who haven’t yet given me a full career to look back on. Shirley Henderson I’m not really familiar with (except for Moaning Myrtle) but I have to agree that both Ricci and Williams are excellent actresses. Even though it was a small role I thought Williams was superb in Brokeback Mountain. The way she carried herself in the scenes following her accidental viewing of Ennis and Jack kissing was remarkable.

  • Rick Olson spoke:
    12th/12/2008 to 11:03 am

    A great list. Not just a listing of the hottest actresses around like SOME listings I could mention. (Except for that Jovovich pick, I’ve watched her, uh, acting since The Fifth Element
    And like Jonathan, I was surprised by Ricci, but I think she is deserving of it. Good choice!

  • Marilyn spoke:
    12th/12/2008 to 11:13 am

    If you want to call Milla Jovovich my guilty pleasure choice, go right ahead. I really do enjoy her films, expecially the Resident Evil franchise, and I don’t care who knows it. She doesn’t really act, I grant that, but she lends her aura, much like a lot of people say of John Wayne. I don’t think he played himself, as many people do, but he’s really not a great actor. Like Jovovich, he had this thing about him that just worked.
    As for Ricci and Henderson, they’ve been acting for 18 and 20 years, respectively, and both have been attached to some very high-quality projects. I think they have a significant enough body of work to stand with the best of them.

  • Rick Olson spoke:
    12th/12/2008 to 11:37 am

    Marilyn, I never would have pegged you for a Resident Evil-lover.

  • Kimberly spoke:
    12th/12/2008 to 6:47 pm

    You’ve got some great actresses listed that I really love including Leslie Caron and of course Katherine Deneuve who we both listed (Is she the most listed actress in this meme thing?).
    And I loved your inclusion of the gorgeous Katy Jurado (who does totally upstage Grace in High Noon!) and brilliant Anna Magnani who I’m surprised didn’t get more attention during this meme.
    I also like Theresa Russell a lot and I’d love to see her make a big comeback. I also used to like Christina Ricci, but she lost me with the whole starving herself/going blond business I’m afraid. Maybe I should give her another chance?
    And I for one was happy to see Milla Jovovich mentioned. Out of the current crop of actresses making action films and various genre flicks, Milla is one of the most believable. I personally can’t understand why she’s not a bigger star than someone like Angelina Jolie for instance. But what do I know? The appeal of a lot of modern actresses is completely lost on me.

  • Kimberly spoke:
    12th/12/2008 to 6:52 pm

    On a side note, I’m loving the fact that I get to defend Katherine Hepburn on Rick’s blog and now defend Milla Jovovich on Marilyn’s blog. Ha!

  • Marilyn spoke:
    12th/12/2008 to 8:25 pm

    Thanks, Kimberly. I think the thing with Jolie is that she is Hollywood royalty with a pedigree. Jovovich comes through modeling and hasn’t had any high-profile marriages, break-ups, or family quarrels. She just does her work and has a normal homelife. As for Ricci, she’ll come around. She’s just too talented to dismiss.
    Rick, we women do like our action heroes, too, our powerful women. Jovovich really does fill the bill beautifully.

  • MovieMan0283 spoke:
    15th/12/2008 to 4:44 pm

    I just put up my list, along with clips and stills:
    We have one overlap, unless you count the silhouette too…

  • Bob Turnbull spoke:
    17th/12/2008 to 12:14 pm

    Laura del Sol! Terrific choice…Wish I had included her, but I’ve only seen her in Saura’s films. She was amazing in “Carmen” though (“Blood Wedding” is probably my favourite of that trilogy, but they are all superb).
    And I also regret not including Christina Ricci…I considered her, but held off for some reason. She was so good in “The Ice Storm” and keeps getting better.
    Superb list Marilyn.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    17th/12/2008 to 1:36 pm

    Thanks, Bob. I haven’t seen Laura del Sol in much, but she’s just so magnetic that I had to include her. Now I have to pop over and see your list.

  • Cool Bev spoke:
    17th/12/2008 to 2:17 pm

    Laura del Sol instead of Cristina Hoyos, Saura’s other leading lady? I always thought the Hoyos was the more talented, del Sol the prettier. The tension between a blazing beauty and a blazing talent drives most of his films. And of course, I have to root for the talent.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    17th/12/2008 to 2:43 pm

    Cristina is absolutely amazing, Bev, and perhaps I should have made it a tie. I do think she has a slight edge as a dancer, but it’s close.

  • Miranda Wilding spoke:
    23rd/12/2008 to 5:28 am

    This is truly a fabulous, iconoclastic list, Marilyn. I would expect nothing less from you.
    I particularly adore the inclusions of THERESA RUSSELL, MICHELLE WILLIAMS, ANGELA LANSBURY and LESLIE CARON.
    Obviously, no one’s compilation would be complete without the iconic, magnificent CATHERINE DENEUVE. I’ve long had a soft spot for that particular French blonde. According to my circle, she and I have some things in common. Particularly appearance wise.
    I should really be here more often.
    As I’ve told you before, I enjoy the way you think (we share a number of character traits, too, I imagine) and I consider you an excellent writer.
    Can’t help it. Aesthetics mean everything to me. All that pink at FOF is completely overwhelming. IN A GOOD WAY.
    Happy Holidays, Marilyn!

  • Marilyn spoke:
    23rd/12/2008 to 8:04 am

    Thank you, Miranda!!!
    I picked pink because women film bloggers are so outnumbered by the guys. But since Rod is my partner, I’m going to work on a neutral color. This is a fair and balanced blog.
    You look like Deneuve??? Wow, that must keep you busy beating the men off. Kimberly said the French beauty must be the most-listed actress in this meme, and I have to agree. She’s everywhere I’ve looked.
    Enjoy your holidays, too, and thanks for stopping by.

  • Miranda Wilding spoke:
    23rd/12/2008 to 1:52 pm

    Technically I’m taller than Ms. Deneuve and the bod is a closer fit to Marilyn Monroe’s. But we are both fair skinned green eyed blondes. Features are quite similar.
    As far as the male gender is concerned, Marilyn…
    You can go through plenty of them. But there’s always your precious ideal sitting right at the bottom of the cookie jar.
    You just have to bide your time and grab at the correct moment.
    But I KNOW you know what I’m saying. Before you met the man of your dreams, of course…

  • Marilyn spoke:
    23rd/12/2008 to 1:59 pm

    Now I’m SURE you’re beating them off with a stick. I hope you’re as happy as I am when you find your ideal.

  • Rod spoke:
    31st/12/2008 to 9:13 am

    I have no problem with pink. Just not this pink.

  • iris alona wigle-cutforth spoke:
    24th/09/2009 to 5:55 pm

    There is a photo of Wendy Hiller that is NOT Wendy Hiller with a cigarette. That may be the grand niece of Wendy Hiller…rite? Not to be confused with Audrey Hepburn nor Demi Moore. It may be a photo of Estelle Parsons who is also related to Wendy…right?

  • Diana Trimble spoke:
    20th/06/2011 to 5:51 am

    I found your site after looking up information on Laura del Sol, and so was very pleased to see her being recognized for her work. I hadn’t remembered that she’d been in Carmen which I saw a long time ago and which she was obviously great in. But the role that she really deserves to be better known for, the one that made me look her up, was as Maggie in the 1984 Stephen Frears film “The Hit”, with Terence Stamp, John Hurt and an almost unrecognisable young Tim Roth. The movie is a masterpiece on every level, from the terrific script by Peter Prince to the cinematography to the incredible soundtrack featuring Eric Clapton and flamenco guitars, but Laura del Sol is nothing short of amazing as the hostage who refuses to accept her fate. She barely says a word for the majority of the film but her face and her physicality convey worlds of emotion and meaning and when she finally does speak, in broken English, it is a totally shocking moment that is a turning point for her character. The audience suddenly realizes this woman is no victim but a force to be reckoned with and the way the film then develops is a completely counter to any predictable narrative. All the actors are fabulous, with Terence Stamp demonstrating that he should have had the career that was Anthony Hopkin’s fate, but even his central role ultimately comes in second to Del Sol’s 100% fearless performance. Unbelievable.

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