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Pottermore's guide to the twenties: 20 jazz age film stars

With cinema enjoying a post-war boom and the release of the first talking pictures, the film stars of the 1920s, with their Queenie Goldstein-esque glamour, helped kick-start Hollywood’s Golden Age. Here are a few…

An illuminated sign outside the Astor Theatre in New York advertising the Swedish born American actress Greta Garbo's latest film 'Queen Christina'.
The Astor Theatre in New York advertising Greta Garbo's 1933 film Queen Christina. John Kobal Foundation/ Contributor/ Getty Images.

This is part of a Pottermore series celebrating the era of the 1920s, the decade where Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them takes place.

1. Clara Bow

Clara Bow was the epitome of 1920s glamour. Her onscreen appeal owed a lot to her effortless energy and carefree nature. Her career declined with the advent of the talkies, and she retired to live on a cattle ranch at 28.

1920s actress Clara Bow
Clara Bow, nicknamed the 'It Girl' successfully transitioned from silent films to 'talkies'. General Photographic Agency / Stringer/ Getty Images.

2. Greta Garbo

Greta Garbo was a relative rarity: a silent film actress who went on to enjoy success with the transition to sound. Her first speaking role in the 1930 film Anna Christie was the highest-grossing film of the year.

3. Rudolph Valentino

Italian-born Rudolph Valentino’s death in 1926, aged 31, ended a career that saw him idolised as the ‘Great Lover’ of the silent film era. Some female fans reportedly fainted when they saw him in 1921’s The Sheik.

4. Louise Brooks

Louise Brooks’ stylish bobbed hair caused a furore in the 1920s, but it was as a silent film star in German film Die Buchse der Pandora, or Pandora’s Box, that she made her name. Her reputation was revived in the 1950s and she became a respected film writer.

1920s icon Louise Brooks
Louise Brooks made her stamp on European cinema, particularly in German silent film Pandora's Box. Eugene Robert Richee/Contributor/Getty Images.

5. Lillian Gish

Lillian Gish was one of the stand-out stars of the silent film era. Her career was bound up with renowned director D.W. Griffith. She successfully transitioned to talkies and was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award in 1946.

6. Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton — Harry Houdini’s godson — was appearing onstage as part of his parents’ vaudeville act by the age of three. He put that training to good use during the 1920s, when his physical comedy skills made him a star.

7. Mary Pickford

Born Gladys Louise Smith, Canada’s Mary Pickford was also known in her prime as ‘America’s Sweetheart’. She cemented her star status by marrying Douglas Fairbanks after both had divorced their previous spouses, causing something of a scandal.

8. Douglas Fairbanks

Douglas Fairbanks was best known for his swashbuckling roles in silent films like Robin Hood and The Mask of Zorro. His career declined with the advent of the talkies.

9. Anna May Wong

Considered by many to be the first Chinese-American star, Anna May Wong had a varied career in America and Europe, blazing a trail in silent and talking films despite working in an openly racist industry.

10. John Barrymore

John Barrymore — grandfather of Drew — was a Shakespearean stage actor when he came to the attention of Warner Bros. His training meant he was in demand for talking films but, dogged by alcoholism and scandal, his career took a nosedive in the 1930s.

11. Anita Page

Anita Page came to prominence in the later part of the 1920s, starring in a handful of silent films and early talkies — most notably alongside Joan Crawford in Our Dancing Daughters, Our Modern Maidens and Our Blushing Brides.

12. Lon Chaney

Known as ‘The Man of a Thousand Faces,’ Lon Chaney was a master of pantomime, and played a variety of villains during the 1920s including The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera.

13. Pola Negri

Polish-born Pola Negri started her career in Poland and Germany, becoming the first European star to be invited to Hollywood. She was one of the most popular actresses of the era and later successfully transitioned into talkies.

14. Al Jolson

Al Jolson was the star of the first movie to feature sound, The Jazz Singer, in 1927. He went on to make several other feature films with Warner Bros. including The Singing Fool, which broke box office records.

A scene from The Jazz Singer, featuring lead actor Al Jolson
A scene from The Jazz Singer, featuring lead actor Al Jolson. John Springer Collection/Contributor/Getty Images.

15. Gloria Swanson

Best known for playing a reclusive silent film star in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard — ‘we didn’t need dialogue, we had faces…’ — Gloria Swanson was herself a silent film star, but she successfully transitioned to talkies before making a return to the stage in the 1940s.

16. Gary Cooper

Gary Cooper’s 35-year career began in 1925 when he appeared in a number of silent-era westerns, including The Winning of Barbara Worth. He became the archetypal American hero, winning two Academy Awards for Best Actor.

17. Harold Lloyd

Actor and stunt performer Harold Lloyd rivalled Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton as one of the 1920s most influential comedians. He was best known for his work in the silent era, but he made nearly 200 comedy films — talkies included — between 1914 and 1947.

A film crew shooting scenes on a New York street for a Harold Lloyd film in 1925
A film crew shooting scenes on a New York street for a Harold Lloyd film in 1925. Hulton Archive/Stringer/Getty Images.

18. Claudette Colbert

French-born Claudette Colbert made her name at the end of the 1920s. Paramount Pictures was looking for stage actors to appear in its newest talkies, and Colbert fitted the bill. She quickly became a critical and commercial success.

19. William Powell

William Powell’s career began in 1922, when he appeared alongside John Barrymore in a silent film version of Sherlock Holmes. He had great success with the transition to talkies and was nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award three times.

20. Marion Davies

Marion Davies’s career was largely enabled, and tarnished, by her relationship with newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. She starred in a number of films financed and promoted by Hearst, but many were ill-suited to her talents and she is better remembered as his mistress.