Out of the many women to wander into the public eye, there are those special few who outshined them all. Acknowledged for their beauty, style, grace, and achievements, these women have earned their place in the hearts of the public and will forever be known as 'America's Sweethearts.'
Whether performers of some kind, political figures, writers, or activists, these influential woman are among those most loved in America's history. While many admire their talents and charm, most fail to realize the impact these women have had on society. Each of these women has significantly changed the course of history, they've made their mark in the world.
The fashion model and fitness guru Jane Fonda was admired by the American public, but she was also spied on by the government. Fonda was one of 1,600 Americans being monitored by the NSA between 1967 and 1973. All Fonda’s communications, as well as her husband's Tom Hayden, were monitored by the government. The reason for this, during the 1960s, Fonda engaged heavily in political activism. She was a supporter of the Civil Rights Movement and was extremely vocal about her opposition to the Vietnam War.
Brooke Shields was a child actress who took on some pretty controversial roles. When she was 12 she’d played a child prostitute in Pretty Baby. There were numerous nude scenes which stirred controversy regarding child pornography. After her role in Blue Lagoon, she became a household name. Again there were nude scenes and she was underage. Shields ended up testifying in a Congressional inquiry. She stated body doubles were used in some of the scenes.
Mae West was more than just a beloved bombshell of the 1930s. The actress, singer, comedian, and writer made great contributions to American cinema. She challenged censorship, mocked prudence, and was even jailed for standing up for her right to freedom of speech. The people of the Depression era adored her for it all. By 1935, West was the highest paid woman and the second highest paid person in the United States. West was named 15th of the greatest female classic cinema stars by the American Film Institute.
Sophia Loren, the Italian born beauty who began acting in 1950, at 15-years old. She managed to go from playing bit parts to reaching international stardom by 1958. She won the hearts of Americans and was the first Italian actress to receive an Academy Award for Best Actress, for a non-English-language role.
Former First Lady Jackie Kennedy admired for her grace, impeccable style, and her incredible contributions to the United States. Fluent in three languages, she was able to address voters in their own tongue. She curated pieces of historical significance and did a complete renovation of the White House– even adding a Kindergarten to the third floor. She was a champion of the arts and education. She was also the visionary who compared the Kennedy Administration to “Camelot” in the press, successfully rewriting her husband’s legacy after his death.
Josephine Baker was a dancer and singer in the United States, but it wasn’t until she moved to France that her popularity skyrocketed. During WWII she became a spy and then returned home to the United States to stand with Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement. She was also the first American woman to be given a military funeral in France.
Elizabeth Taylor was more than just a pretty face, she was a force of nature. Actress, businesswoman, and philanthropist. Taylor was one of the first celebrities to devote themselves to HIV/AIDS activism. She organized the very first AIDS fundraiser and went on to found the National AIDS Research Foundation.
Dorothy Dandridge was the first African-American actress to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. In addition to film and theater acting, she was a singer who performed in high profile venues such as the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater. Dandridge refused to be “scandalized” by those who attempted to peddle falsehoods. She sued Confidential (magazine) for libel in 1957. They were ordered to stop publishing stories based on tips they paid for and paid out $10,000 to Dandridge.
Marilyn Monroe is one of the biggest pop-icons in history. Actress, model, sex-icon, and mistress to the president of the United States John F. Kennedy. She was the embodiment of the 1950s entire attitude towards sexuality. She was beautiful, stylish, and died far too young and under suspicious circumstances. Even her death achieved legendary status, as conspiracy theories still surround it decades later.
Raquel Welch may have initially broken the mold, but Lynda Carter swooped in and smashed what was left of it beyond recognition. In the role of Wonder Woman, Carter showed just how much strength and sex appeal a woman could rock at the same time. She reigned supreme as America’s Sweetheart from 1975 to 1979. Then she continued her battle for justice off screen as an advocate for LGBT rights and joined efforts in finding the cure for cancer.
Dimpled cheeks framed in curls, little Shirley Temple sang, danced and acted her way into the hearts of America during the Depression. By six years old she’d won an Academy Award. She starred in a movie with future president Ronald Reagan before leaving show business to embark on a political career of her own. She ran for Congress, served as United States Ambassador to Czechoslovakia, and played a critical role in hastening the end of communism in Czechoslovakia.
The French model, actress, singer, and original blonde bombshell; Brigitte Bardot’s charms and immense talent won the world over. Her style, grace, and eventually her passion for animal rights heavily influenced culture as a whole. Her style has been emulated across the world, she's had fashion trends named after her, and she even has a signature pose models try to reproduce to this very day.
Mary Pickford, known as “America's Sweetheart," "Queen of the Movies," and the "girl with the curls", was more than just a prolific film actress. She was also a producer and a co-founder of both the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio and the United Artists film studio. She was also one of the original 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who present the "Oscar" awards.
Audrey Hepburn, the doe eyed British actress who starred in Breakfast at Tiffany's and became a film and fashion icon seemingly overnight. Over the years, Hepburn began appearing in fewer films and devoting more time to the United Nations Children's Fund. She became a Goodwill Ambassador for the UNICEF and worked in some of the poorest communities in Africa, South America, and Asia. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her efforts.
The child star best known as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, won the hearts of the nation singing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” She grew up to become a major pop culture icon– especially in the gay community. She was the youngest and the first female to receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement. She was the first woman to win a Grammy for "Album of the Year." She’s had several records inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and she was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. She’s among the top ten female stars of classic American cinema by the American Film Institute.
Farrah Fawcett was one of the most successful actresses of her time. Strutting through the 1970s as one of Charlie’s Angels not only cemented her sex-icon status in Hollywood history, but it also earned her four Emmys and six Golden Globe Awards nominations. She became a cultural icon; just about every woman wanted “Farrah Hair” and every man had her iconic swimsuit poster– It became the best selling pin-up poster in history!
Raquel Welch may have been one of the most popular sex icons of the 1960s and 1970s but she also broke the mold of what it meant to be a sex symbol. She helped change America’s view on sexuality by portraying strong female characters at a time where women in submissive roles were desirable.
In addition to being one of the most popular figure skaters of the 1990s, Nancy Kerrigan also won the hearts of Americans after she was viciously attacked in efforts to destroy her career. Suddenly her face was on every magazine and television channel, the entire nation demanded justice for Nancy Kerrigan. Nancy endured the pain of her injuries and won the silver medal after having to drop out of the world-championship.
It was her performance at the 1968 Summer Olympics that popularized artistic gymnastics in the United States as a sport and earned Cathy Rigby the title of America's Sweetheart. In fact, she was the first athlete to earn the title. Rigby was the national champion in 1970 and 1972, and she was the first American woman to win a medal at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships.
Fay Wray was a Canadian/American actress credited as being one of the first “Scream Queens.” Her role in King Kong stole the hearts of Americans. Over the course of her (57-year) acting career, she went on to steal hearts on an international level, becoming known as the best horror movie actresses in the world.
Hollywood’s leading lady for over six decades, Katharine Hepburn was named the greatest female star of Classic Hollywood Cinema. Hepburn was fiercely private, she even wrestled a camera away from a photographer who snapped a picture of her without permission. She was also known to dress in more casual clothes and reject the conventional glamor of the era.
America’s sweetheart, pop-culture icon, and four-time Grammy award winner Olivia Newton John is one of the world's best-selling artists of all time. After starring in the musical film Grease in 1978, her life changed forever. She has also been a long-time, animal rights, and environmental activist. After going into remission from breast cancer, she became an advocate for health awareness and drove fundraising efforts.
The legendary Doris Day was many things; a talented singer, actress, and an animal rights activist. Her rise to fame happened throughout the fifties and sixties. She became the biggest female star in the country and quickly earned the reputation as ‘the quintessential all-American girl.’ In 2004, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush. This is the highest civilian honor in the United States.
Grace Kelly spent six years as an actress during the 1950’s before becoming the Princess of Monaco. A stylish, stunning, brilliant actress, who turned into a real-life Princess? Of course, Americans fell in love with her. Although, she was adored long before her marriage to Prince Rainier III, her love story just reinforced her iconic status.
In addition to her iconic status as a beautiful actress, Ida Lupino was also a feminist and pioneering film director and producer. She was the only female filmmaker working within the Hollywood studio system in the 1950s and was the second woman to be admitted into the Director’s Guild of America. She produced unconventional films no other studio heads would touch. Social issues such as pregnancy out of wedlock, rape, and bigamy were all addressed in her work. She was also the first woman to direct a film noir, The Hitch-Hiker, in 1953.
Hollywood legend Lucille Ball is the very definition of an ‘American Sweetheart.’ She was one of the most beloved comedic actresses of all time. Not only did she star in classics such as I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, Here's Lucy, and Life with Lucy– she also produced them. She went from a model and actress to a big-time studio executive and co-owner of Desilu Productions.
Diana Ross won the hearts of the public in the 1960s, as the lead singer for what became the most successful Motown group in history, “The Supremes”. Following her departure from “The Supremes,” Diana went on to become one of the most successful solo female singers of all time. Diana Ross is credited with paving the way for future African-American R&B and soul acts to achieve mainstream success.
Pam Grier is widely regarded as the first female action star. The beauty was in a string of women-prison and blaxploitation films as she rose to fame throughout the 1970s. It was her role in Foxy Brown, that landed her icon status. She later starred in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe and a SAG Award as Best Actress.
Annette Funicello launched her career on The Mickey Mouse Club, like Shirley Temple, she charmed her way into the hearts of the entire country. The most popular of the "Mouseketeers" took on singing, film acting, and even became a “beach icon” and spokeswoman. Some of her more popular beach themed films were Muscle Beach Party, Bikini Beach, and Pajama Party.