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These Actresses Broke Down Barriers In Hollywood

This past year, many female entertainers — like Amy Schumer, Jennifer Lawrence, Ashley Judd and others — received well-deserved attention for their commitment to fiercely confronting sexism in Hollywood. But most people are unaware that a collection of smart, savvy and oh-so talented women blazed the trail for them years ago.

These actresses were not content to buy into the sexist status quo set by the powerful, male-dominated studio system that required them to objectify themselves to make their mark. They insisted on doing it their way and,  in doing so, not only challenged the gendered stereotypes of the time, but also gave women new and dynamic role models for years to come.

Jean Harlow

When Harlow burst onto the scene in 1929 at the tender age of 17, the public was far less accepting of smart, beautiful women than they are today. Harlow had an uphill battle ahead of her, but she was intent on proving she was far more valuable than her trademark platinum hair. Even when playing gun molls and femme fatales, the actress found a way for her fierce side shine through and always let the audience know who was in control thanks to her sharp, smart dialogue and knowing looks. By the age of 26, the actress was an international star who in turn inspired another icon years later: Marilyn Monroe.

Katherine Hepburn

No actress was more fiercely independent or anyone more steadfast in refusing to conform to ‘societal norms’ for women than Katharine Hepburn was in the 1940s. Raised by progressive parents, “Kate” was outspoken and assertive long before it was in vogue. Not only did she shun the Hollywood publicity machine, but she orchestrated her own career comeback when the studios discounted her films as flops. Hepburn bought the film rights to a project she believed in then insisted she be the one to star in it. In her 60 year career, she achieved every success possible as an actress including 4 Academy Awards.

Rosalind Russell

Rosalind Russell found fame as a smart, fast-talking newspaper reporter in My Girl Friday, and was already a well-established star by the 1950s. The actress was also a talented comedienne, and her humor and savvy led her to win five Golden Globes, a Tony, and four Academy Award nominations. When she didn't like how she was treated, the performer insisted on getting out of her contracts on her own terms, even negotiating her way into MGM at one point. She proudly attributed her career to the fact that, while she often played glamorous roles, she refused to become a sex symbol.

Diane Keaton

Diane Keaton is a prime example of one such bold icon. Keaton showed the women of the 1970s that an actress could and should color outside the lines. Her portrayal of Annie Hall in the movie of the same name not only won her the Academy Award, but perfectly embodied her broader commitment to breaking down barriers for women. She perhaps did this most obviously by establishing her own, non-traditional style — complete with fabulous neckties and fedoras — but also by championing women's rights and working as a writer, producer and director.

 



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Anne Girard
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