My Hair Is Naturally Natural

Guest blogger Katie from The Scarlet Olive writes:

When it comes to hair colour, blondes and brunettes have been best “frenemies” for a very long time. Even film titles contribute to this battle between the two different hair colours: My Favorite Blonde (1942), My Favorite Brunette (1947), and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953).  If blondes are ditzy and have more fun and brunettes are sensible, where do redheads fit in?

Many of classic Hollywood’s greatest stars have been redheads.  The “Queen of Technicolour” herself, Maureen O’Hara, features radiant red locks (we do not say “ginger” on The Scarlett Olive).

In many classic films, redheads are portrayed as sexually forward, tempestuous, dangerous, spunky, and zany.

Ann Sheridan was considered an “oomph” girl in the 1940s.  Rita Hayworth (although not a genuine redhead) built her star persona on her attractiveness.  Ona Munson will always be remembered by her role as the “madame” from Gone with the Wind (1939), Belle Watling.  Another redhead not to be trifled with is Mary Astor in her role as Brigid O’Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon (1941).

Billie Burke (or “Glinda the Good Witch” as most people know her) was typecast as the dizzy, rich mother who wasn’t ever sure of what was going on.  Of course, we can’t forget the zany antics of Lucille Ball in all of her television series and films – another bottle redhead.

Okay, so redheads are either sexually aggressive, dangerous, or comedic.  Must redheads be confined to these categories?

Thankfully, women such as Katharine Hepburn, Deborah Kerr, and Greer Garson were not characterised by their hair colour (although Katharine Hepburn was nicknamed “Red” by Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story (1940).  Their red hair was just an added feature to their star quality – not the thing that defined them.  These actresses played women who fell in love, had families, faced tragedies, and lived their lives.

Now what about the red-haired actors?  Compared to the actresses, there is a significantly smaller amount of red-haired actors.  They tend to be comedians/second bananas (Red Skelton, Danny Kaye, Mickey Rooney) or the sensitive types (Leslie Howard and Van Johnson).  I personally do not think of Van Johnson as a romantic lead.  He seems more of the “boy-next-door” type which implies less masculinity than the typical romantic lead of say, oh,Clark Gable.

One burly actor who fits into the assumed/culturally accepted definition of masculinity is Howard Keel and his baritone singing voice.  Also, don’t forget his six dancing red-haired brothers in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954): Jeff Richards, Russ Tamblyn, Tommy Rall, Marc Platt, Matt Mattox, and Jacques d’Amboise.  The red hair of that family is part of the Technicolor spectacle.  Another family in the limelight of Technicolor spectacle is the Day family from Life with Father (1947).

But is that it for the actors?  Actors in musicals are typically feminised by males in this day and age.  So is Howard Keel the only somewhat “manly” representation for red-haired men?  Why aren’t there more red-haired romantic leads?  If there are a number of redheads on screen at one time, why are they a spectacle?  It wouldn’t matter in black-and-white films.  Even in contemporary Hollywood there are not many famous actors who have red hair.  Perhaps the stigma around red hair is still influencing society’s perception of this certain shade of hair.

During the Middle Ages, it is supposedly believed that red hair and green eyes were an indication of someone being a witch, werewolf, or vampire.  Another possibly true fact says male redheads in ancient Egypt were sacrificed to the god Osiris because his enemy, Typhon, was a redhead.

Although the appeal for red-haired women has increased since these ancient times, I think the men could be shown a little bit more love.  Don’t you think?

Shifting back to actresses, overall, they can be a diverse group.  They can be sexually aggressive, typically hot-tempered, normal, and as sweet as Janet Gaynor.  Oddly, red-haired actresses and characters are portrayed as stronger than their male counterparts if you compare how each gender is framed in classic films.

Here is a list of red-haired actors and actresses of the Golden Era not mentioned in this blog that I found while doing some research:

-Burl Ives

-James Cagney

-Spencer Tracy

-Agnes Moorehead

-Angela Lansbury

-Ann-Margret

Angela Lansbury

-Clara Bow

-Eleanor Parker

-Elsa Lanchester

-Janet Gaynor

-Jeanette MacDonald

-Lucille Bremer

-Mary Astor

-Mitzi Gaynor

-Myrna Loy

-Shirley Booth

-Susan Hayward

Can you think of any more red-haired actors or actresses not seen in this list?

Katie is a Film Studies student in Canada and the co-host of a classic film podcast called The Scarlett Olive.  The biggest star she and her co-host have interviewed so far is Ed Asner. For more information be sure to check out her website, The Scarlett Olive.

  • JIM RICK

    NOT AS WELL KNOWN SINCE SHE PLAYED SUPPORTING ROLES, WAS BETTY LYNN….YEP ANDY’S GIRLFRIEND IN MAYBERRY USA. STILL AROUND TODAY, I ALWAYS LIKED HER ENTHUSIAM IN HER ROLES…BEST THING IN THE ORIGINAL “CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN”. OTHER “SOMETIMES” REDHEADS WERE JANE POWELL, ARLENE DAHL, RHONDA FLEMING, ETC…ALL HAD SEX APPEAL GALORE.

  • Tito Pannaggi

    Among many others redheads;

    Molly Rinwald, Jill St. John, (Sissy Spacek), Wendell Corey, Jessica (from Roger Rabitt)etc.

  • mike jaral

    red skelton–lucille ball

  • Juanita Curtis

    Never thought of Howard Keel as a redhead !!! Maureen O’Hara will always be at the top of the flame haired beauties.

  • BDavisFan

    Maureen O’Hara definitely, yes; one of the five most beautiful tributes to femininity I have ever seen in my life:

    1. Elizabeth Taylor
    2. Maureen O’Hara
    3. Marilyn Monroe(Bottle Blonde)
    4. Angela Bassett
    5. Susan Hayward

  • Tito Pannaggi

    Sorry!
    But I had forgotten Julianne Moore, one of our time’s greatest actor!!!

  • Robin

    I’ve seen photos of Jeanne Crain adorned with red hair. Was that her natural colour? I’ve also seen photos of Stella Stevens as a red-head, about the time of Girls, Girls, Girls.

    Of course the fabulous Rhonda Fleming and the equally fabulous Maureen O’Hara are the two front runners in the red-headed league.

  • Ron C Clair

    Shirley Mclaine

  • Kai Ferano

    Is Shirley Jones considered a redhead? I think so, in a strawberry-blonde sort of way. I think she’s gorgeous.

  • Kai Ferano

    Did anyone mention Burt Lancaster? Red-haired, freckled, very masculine looking.

  • Gil

    What about Kim Novak in the classic “Picnic” from 1956? The only time she wasn’t a lavendar blonde.

  • BRIAN

    Ann Sheridan

  • Joseph Imhoff

    Gil got that one wrong, just think that Kim was made over by Jimmy Stewart to resemble the made over Kim that he had fallen in love with! Many of the actors and actresses appeared only in black and white, or made only one or two color movies. I will add Greer Garson and Deborah Kerr to the list.

  • Tom S.

    You can’t leave Rhonda Fleming off of a list like that!

  • CAP

    And the other 50′s siren RedHead “Arlene Dahl”. And who can forget Robert Horton not only a romantic lead, but singer, too.

    Of course there is Ron Howard (whatever became of that little child actor?) Only kidding!

  • Dar

    You forgot Irene Dunne.

  • speedle

    You seem to have forgotten Peter O’toole – definitely red headed, and he has played every possible type of role.

  • Hilary

    There are so many redheads in old and new Hollywood and you can only write about so many. She didn’t necessarily forget them, she just didn’t include them.. which makes for great discussion. :) Great blog, friend!

  • jim martin

    Ah! Tís Herself Maureen O’Hara Fitzsimmons-Blair The most beautiful & gifted Red-Headed Irish Colleen ever to grace Hollywood & the Silver Screen. There is no other Actress to beat her then or now.

  • Robert P.

    Kim Novak’s makeover by Jimmy Stewart was in the movie “Vertigo” – not “Picnic”. However, both were great films.

  • Tom S

    Redheads in the movies can be summed up in two names Rita and Maureen.

  • Jim Foster

    How about Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl, who co-starred in the nearly forgotten SLIGHTLY SCARLET, a rare noir shot in color? And wouldn’t you agree that classic clown Richard “Red” Skelton belongs on the list?

  • Trish

    While you mentioned “bottled” red heads, I would like to add the most famous red haired WIG wearing actor, Harpo Marx! While the industry had made his caricatured image a *blonde* on posters, in TWO different movies he’s referred to as a red head by Groucho Marx’s cvharacters.

  • F.G. Kaye

    Q. Can you think of any more red-haired actors or actresses

    not seen in this list ?

    A. Tina Louise…

    And before you say she never did any movies;

    check out the Matt Helm movie, ” The Wrecking Crew “.

    She plays a gypsy & former lover of the villain, thrown over

    for the blonde Elke Sommers.

    • Linda

      The very talented andgorgeous Jesica Chastain and the redheaded beautiful bombshell, Ms. Hendricks in Madmen!! Ve been a dark strawberry-blonde all my life and now that Im over 50 , my hair is naturally lightening to platinum blonde. I feel like Im lising my identity! Im thinking of coloring back to as close to my natural color as possible…Ive alwayd been told by hairstylists that my natural strwaberry blonde hair was beautiful and many women ask for their hair to be colored in my hue. Im still pondering about coloring my now much lighter hair…ugh!!! I wish it was the color I was born with…the same as my dear, late dad! Also inherited his bluish-green eyes and a few freckles and fair skin. The only thing I dont like are my blonde eyelashes..as a woman who does use asmall amount of cosmetics to enhance, I always must use mascara! If not, I look like Im have no eyelashes. I wish there was a safe dye to dye them atleast brown…they are long, but can hardly tell as they are so ligjt! Any otjer redheads or strwberry blondes have this problem? Thanks for this site…love it!

  • F.G. Kaye

    I almost forgot Nicole Kidman

  • Arthur G

    Billie Burke. The good witch Glenda from Wizard of Oz. Carol Burnett, who did a few movies in the sixties, before doing her hit tv show.

  • Rob in L.A.

    Happy 91st birthday, Maureen O’Hara!

  • Buff

    Ginger Rogers was an original redhead, in fact, one of the most glamorous redheads to appear on the silver screen.

  • Diane

    A great redhead that comes to my mind is an English actress – Samantha Eggar. She was fabulous in The Collector with Terrance Stamp. She was also in Doctor Dolittle with Rex Harrison. And what about Diana Rigg, another English lady who is famous for her role of Mrs. Peel in The Avengers tv show. Granted Diana’s hair was a dark red, but still red. I think the greatest redhead though was Myrna Loy – she could do it all, so talented and her career spanned so many years. She also aged very gracefully and was a beautiful women well into her senior years.

  • WT

    Ah the glorious redheads. I love them. Redhead actresses have shown an indomitable strength in movies and addition to their beauty. Greer Garson, Maureen O’Hara, Irene Dunne, Myrna Loy, Katherine Hepburn, and Susan Hayward . . . all redheads and all exceptionally versatile actresses. They looked delicate and fragile but don’t cross them. The most amazing thing about Maureen O’Hara is that she performed many of her own stunts. Hollywood would have been VERY dull without the natural AND bottled redheads.

  • WT

    Sorry but I forgot about the most wickedly wonderful redhead to grace both the big and small screeen . . . Agnes Moorehead. Even when she was very bad, one had to love her because she could upstage a leading lady in a minute. Like Bette Davis, she didn’t mind getting “ugly” for a part (Velma in ‘Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte’). That’s the sign of a truly gifted and great actor. He or she can take a small part and make it memorable (like Claude Rains). Hats off to Ms. Moorehead for her sophistication, elegance, versatility, and superb talent.

  • JohnCougar’sMelonCamp

    Okay.Most definitely Maureen O’Hara!!
    She was beautiful and tough!!
    Look at who she made movies with:
    The Duke;Hank Fonda;Jimmy Stewart;Anthony Quinn and she even came out of retirement20 years ago to star in”Only the Lonely”with the late John Candy!!!

    Rhonda Fleming was just as beautiful and feisty.
    She made movies with such various actors as Bob Hope;Van Heflin;Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas.

    On TV,we’ve laughed along with redheads Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett not to mention the beautiful Christina Hendricks of”Mad Men”and Marcia Cross of”Desperate Housewives”!!

    And last but certainly least Ann Margaret.

  • Tito Pannaggi

    Three Europian actesses:
    Marlène Jobert (France)
    Lea Massari (Italiy)
    Kari Simonsen (Norway)

  • Tito Pannaggi

    And of course Isabelle Huppert!

  • Anne

    Eric Stoltz — a pale-skinned redhead, but still toothsome!

  • VKMfanHuey

    …concur with ‘Buff’ regarding Ginger Rogers…while best remembered as a blonde in the Ginger-Fred films, as well in her later years, her ‘natural’ color was ‘chestnut’, but had red highlights… while not ‘orange-y red’, still in the realm of redhead…in fact, in ‘Swing Time’, she is called a redhead in the finale tune…
    so there ya go. Ginger was one of the few ladies who could go blonde or ‘dark’, and look awesome either way!!! BTW, please check out my Ginger Rogers blog, Gingerology, at:

    http://jwhueyblog.blogspot.com/

    • Lorraine Chandler

      Nelson Eddy, Jeanette MacDonald, Claudette Colbert, Clara Bow.

  • John

    Lana Turner supposedly a natural redhead that became more famous as a blonde.