Classic film stars are known for their impeccable style and flawless looks. But like everyone else, they didn’t always look perfect.
One thing that I am very aware of with movie stars and on daily life is a bad dye job. Here are a few actresses that suffered from bad hair color changes in films or changed their look that helped state their career.
Some of these hair color made and broke careers.
Through the main part of Cyd Charisse’s career, she was brunette. The dark hair opening up Hispanic roles like in “Sombrero” and “Fiesta” or as a Native American in “The Wild North.” However, as her career began to wind down in the 1960s Cyd started styling her hair with blonde highlights that she wore until her death, a style that didn’t look bad on her. However, Cyd Charisse did not look good with red hair in “Two Weeks In Another Town (1962). I think it’s safe to assume though, that more people look at Cyd’s legs rather than her hair.
Doris Day is known for her sunny demeanor and blond locks. But in the comedy “It’s a Great Feeling” (1949), we get to see what brunette Doris would’ve looked like. In the film Doris is desperately trying to land a job as an actress. To trick a producer she dresses up like a French woman with a brown wig and sings “At the Cafe Rendezvous.” Later she is brunette again wearing the above outfit in a dream sequence singing “There is Nothing Rougher Than Love.” I don’t think Doris looks bad as a brunette, but I prefer her as a blonde.
In my opinion, Dorothy Malone looked prettiest with her natural brown color, however her career didn’t take off until she dyed her hair blonde in 1956 for “Written on the Wind” and started playing bad girl roles in movies. Prior to this she played small or forgettable parts in movies like “Janie Gets Married” (1946), “One Sunday Afternoon” (1948) or -the role that got her noticed-the sexy library in “The Big Sleep.”
Eleanor Parker is another example of role types changing with hair colors. A natural red-head, Parker started her career playing in war-time comedies and romances in the 1940s, such as “The Very Thought of You” (1944), “Never Say Goodbye” (1947) and “Pride of the Marines” (1945). She was beautiful, fresh-faced, sweet and gave heartfelt performances. With the dawn of the 1950s, Parker’s roles started to change- with prison drama “Caged!” (1950) catapulting her into disturbed women and bad girl characters. Her hair was dyed blonde in a few films, particularly ones that she was up to no good. Movies like “Detective Story” (1951), “Lizzie” (1957) and “The Man with the Golden Arm” (1955) showed a different side of Parker. Though she still made some lighter films, they weren’t the same heartwarming movies from the 1940s. In my opinion, red-hair Eleanor Parker is much prettier than blonde Parker, which really washes her out.
Jane Russell was a natural brunette but went red in “The Revolt of Mamie Stover” (1956) and blonde in “Fuzzy Pink Nightgown” (1957). She’s perfect with her natural color, but red doesn’t look that bad. However, Russell’s blonde hair is about as bad as the film she had it in.
Jeanne Crain is another sweet 1940s sweetheart with natural brown locks who starred in light, family comedies like “State Fair” (1945), “Margie” (1946) or “Cheaper By the Dozen” (1950). However, younger actresses like Terry Moore and Jean Peters were signed to 20th Century Fox and replaced actresses like Crain and Betty Grable, according to Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen. In 1953, Crain dyed her hair red, hoping to appear sexier and get sexy, young roles to help boost her career. But this didn’t work out for her. She continued acting in films until the 1960s, but nothing overly notable. Her only sexy role was in “Gentlemen Marry Brunettes” (1955) with Jane Russell. I really hated when Jeanne Crain dyed her hair red. I think it looks horrible.
Through all of her career, Jennifer Jones had brown hair. But in the quirky film, “Beat the Devil” (1953), Jones sported a blonde hair-do. It looked pretty bad, and I’m not sure why they decided Jones needed to blonde in this film. However, her character is very flighty and talkative so it may have been a way to enhance that persona.
Joan Bennett started off her career as a natural honey blonde. Bennett starred in several forgettable films, until “Trade Winds” (1938) with Frederic March. In the film, Bennett kills a man, dyes her hair brown and flees the county. Dying her hair in this film changed her career for the better and she was a brunette for the rest of her life, according to TCM’s host Robert Osborne. At the time Bennett dyed her hair, actress Hedy Lamarr was emerging as a success in “Algiers” (1938). Several comparisons were made about the two actresses’ appearance, and they were publicized as rivals, according to Hedy Lamarr’s autobiography “Ecstasy and Me: My Life As A Woman.” To make matters even more interesting, Lamarr also married Bennett’s ex-husband Gene Markey. Personally I think Bennett looks better as a blond, brunette made her look harsh and older.
Linda Darnell is a natural brunette, usually cast in Spanish roles such as in “My Darling Clementine” (1946) or “Blood & Sand” (1941). But in 1947, Darnell went red for the film adaptation of the spicy novel “Forever Amber.” The film was supposed to help Darnell’s career and was the most expensive 20th Century Fox film at the time. The film was successful in the box office, but did not get very good reviews-not reviving Darnell’s career. Though Darnell doesn’t look bad with reddish hair, she certainly looks her best as a brunette.
Academy Award-winning actress Olivia de Havilland went platinum blonde for her role in “Not As A Stranger” (1955). In the medical drama she plays Swedish nurse Kristina Hedvigson, and de Havilland’s accent in the film is just as bad as her hair.
Famous for her flaming red-hair, Rita Hayworth is of Spanish decent and has naturally dark hair. When she signed to a studio, studio heads decided her hair-line was too low and performed electrolysis for years to raise it, and dyed her hair red. The hair color transformation made her famous, but another hair color change wasn’t so popular. Hayworth’s husband Orson Welles decided she needed to cut her hair short and dye it platinum blonde. Welles wrote the screen play and directed “The Lady From Shanghai” (1948) and wanted his wife to play the wicked lead woman; thinking no one would believe her in the role with red hair. The film bombed, because of Hayworth’s blond hair. I think Hayworth is beautiful with any hair color, but looks the best as a red-head, hands down.
Like Hayworth, the hair color Ginger Rogers is most famous for, isn’t her own. Through the 1930s until her death, Roger’s usually had blonde hair. Her natural hair color is actually auburn, which you can see in some of her very early films likes those with Joe E. Brown, according to Ginger Rogers’ autobiography. In the 1940s, Ginger Rogers decided to change her look and wore her hair brown in a few films such as “Primrose Path” (1940), “Kitty Foyle” (1940) and “TTom; Dick & Harry” (1941). Rogers is one of the few people who can pull off both brunette and blond hair. I’m really not sure which I like better.
Who knew hair color could be so important?
What do you think? How do you feel about these actresses’ hair colors? What are some other actresses who changed the color of their feathers and either looked great, bad or changed their career?
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This was a really fun post. I think I agree with you on just about all of them. Most I think tend to look better with their normal hair color.
Thanks! I’ve just noticed odd hair colors as I watch movies and wanted to do a post. I didn’t realize/think about how important hair color was in some of these people’s career until I was writing this! lol
I’m with you on Ginger Rogers; however, I like Rita Hayworth’s bizarre blondeness in Lady from Shanghai. I always thought maybe Orson Welles picked that both to throw people off-kilter with its absurdity and to reference Double Indemnity (in which Barbara Stanwyck exudes sex appeal even buried under that horrible, horrible wig).
So, while I don’t particularly like the way Rita Hayworth looks with blonde hair (although you are totally right that it’s almost impossible for her to look less than beautiful), I think it really fits the movie and stands as a good choice.
I agree with you that the blonde worked in Lady from Shanghai-though it was very unpopular. I tried to think how the long red would’ve been in the movie and it wouldn’t work, I dont think. The blonde hair really works with her wardrobe in the film too.
P.S. I can’t beleive I forgot Double Indemnity! haha
I definitely agree that her blonde hair definitely works with really well with her wardrobe, but also in the way it pops in contrast with B&W tones the film was shot in (if that makes sense…). It’s still a bit amusing to me that they actually held a photo shoot of her signature red locks getting chopped and dyed. That would NEVER happen today!
PS Great post!
Doris Day looks cute with brown hair; it gives her a smart, gamine look. But you’re right about Jane Russell’s blonde job; it looks ghastly and it washes her out. I also prefer Linda Darnell as a brunette; it makes her look much sexier.
Doris does look cute with brown hair! I’m kinda surprised they didn’t do it more, but I guess it wasn’t part of her image. Linda brunette is definitely sexier. The blondish/red made her look tired.
Wonderful and detailed post. I like brunette Ginger Rogers and Dorothy Malone, absolutely hate blonde Olivia de Havilland and redheaded Jeanne Crain. I tend to agree with Audrey that natural is best, even if Rita Hayworth could pull off pretty much everything.
Blonde Olivia is ridiculous and the red on Jeanne is just tooo red. I think later on it was more of a reddish brown, but still bad. Glad I’m not alone about Dorothy Malone-the blonde was just….too light, especially when she kept the dark brows.
I agree with just about everything you said–except I like Joan Bennett with dark hair. She looks more refined and her dark hair allowed her to play more demanding roles.
I mean I think Joan B. looks pretty either way and brunette does give her more presence and not blend in to the back ground. But I do feel she looks pretty blonde too 🙂
I knew you’d feel that way about Jane and Rita 🙂
ANOTHER WHO HAD SEVERAL COLORS WAS JANE POWELL, AND SHE LOOKED HER WORST IN “THREE SAILORS AND A GIRL” JANIE WAS CUTE BUT NEVER “SEXY”. SHE LOOKED HER BEST IN FILMS LIKE “ROYAL WEDDING”. AS HER FILM CAREER EBBED DOWN, SO DID THE BLONDE LOOK…SHE LOOKS GREAT AT 82…SAW HER AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL LAST YEAR….
Really good and entertaining post! I was thinking while reading that a lot of the actresses started lightening their hair as they got older — most brunettes should not try to keep the dark hair as time goes by. For instance, my favorite dancing gal Ann Miller — she always died her hair that jet black, and when she got old it just looked awful. A lot of brunettes can handle going to some shade of red, but usually the really carrot red doesn’t do it. It was fun seeing all those wonderful pictures!
Oh man I agree. I see those old women at the mall who have dyed their hair jet black and they look ridiculous. I think Cyd Charisse did the right thing with the light highlights as she was older
I agree about Rita Hayworth, she looks good with any of the three hair colors but I definitely think she looks best as a red-head.
When I watched “Beat the Devil” it took me FOREVER to recognize Jennifer Jones, it was strange that just changing her hair color would make her look so incredibly different!
As for Ginger, she was very obviously blonde in her pics with Fred Astaire, but in “Swing Time” he refers to her as having red hair. Wonder if that happened in any other of her films. With her porcelain complexion and those crystal clear blue eyes, I think that she pulled-off every color & shade she had. In regards to Rita: As far as I’m concerned, she could shave all of her hair off and still look like a goddess!
I enjoyed reading your piece. I’d like to suggest a few edits with regard to grammar. I’m a professional editor and think your ideas are great, and I liked your choice of actresses as well. Why not do William Holden as a blond in Sabrina? Also Lucille Ball.
Another thought. One actress who famously was herself, keeping her natural dark blonde locks was Ingrid Bergman. Fabulous naturalness. Never any artificiality, and her freshness and natural vivaciousness always shone through. She didn’t need artifice.