In the early days of film, before “talkies” had been invented, all movies were silent. Despite the lack of sound, talented silent film stars conveyed a variety of characters and emotions through acting. Theda Bara, Zasu Pitts, Clara Bow, and Greta Garbo are some of the most accomplished silent film actresses within American history.
Theda Bara (1885-1955) is a prominent silent film star of the early twentieth century. Bara is most well known for her role as a Femme Fatale, also known as a seductress. She played the character of the Femme Fatale for many of her prominent movies, including Cleopatra and Carmen. However, Theda Bara also enjoyed exploring different roles she could play with the characters she portrayed. Because of her iconic performances as a seducing woman, Theda Bara is remembered as one of the best actresses within silent film.
Another important silent film actress is Zasu Pitts (1889-1963). One of Zasu Pitts most well known silent films is, All Quite on the Western Front. Although she began her career in silent movies, Zasu Pitts transitioned to talking movies in the 1930’s and primarily performed in films with her comedic counterpart, Thelma Todd. Pitts had an extremely successful career on both the stage and the screen and she continued to act as late as the 1960’s. Because of her successful transition from silent movies to the “talkies” of the mid-twentieth century, Zasu Pitts is remembered as a remarkable and versatile actress.
Perhaps the most influential female actress of silent film is
Clara Bow (1905-1965). Clara Bow achieved national fame in the 1920’s with her roles as a seductress and flapper in silent and talking films. Bow’s revealing clothes and spirited character in her films, greatly influenced American women’s fashion and societal roles during the 1920’s. Clara Bow is remembered by American filmmakers to this day for her revolutionary effect on American women and society as a whole.
The Postal Service honored Theda Bara, Zasu Pitts, and Clara Bow by featuring them on postage stamps that were a part of the Silent Screen Stars Issue. The stamps were designed and drawn by Al Hirschfeld, and were issued in San Francisco, California.
Another well known silent film star is Greta Garbo (1905-1990). Greta Garbo received professional acting training at the Royal Dramatic Theatre Academy. After her schooling, Garbo found a mentor in director Mauritz Stiller, and eventually established a professional career in film when she received a contract with MGM. Although Great Garbo performed in primarily silent films, she did receive a role in a talking film as well.
Greta Garbo had a postage stamp released in her honor on her 100th anniversary. The stamp was designed by Carl Herrman and was based on a photograph taken by Clarence Sinclair Bull in 1932 during the filming of Garbo’s movie, “As You Desire Me.”