Just a reminder to add your own choices in the comments. Don’t forget, surnames beginning with ‘B’, not first names. I have tried to feature some lesser-known names, and leave lots of scope for your own favourites.
I am starting with one of my favourite actresses. She is from the Silent Film era, so may not be that well known. However, few actresses have ever held me so spellbound to watch on screen, or ever had such a wonderful hairstyle. Louise Brooks was an American, but best known for a short career in European cinema, specifically in Germany between the wars. She also retired from acting in 1938, though she was only 32 years old at the time. Famous for three starring roles, she captivated as Lulu, in ‘Pandora’s Box’ (1929), going on to roles in ‘Diary Of A Lost Girl’ (1929), and ‘Miss Europe’ (1930). Though she later returned to America and made more films, she was never well-received at home, and ended up dancing for a living, after going bankrupt. For the time, she was considered to be outrageous. Openly bisexual, and not afraid to pose for photos that were considered to border on pornography. She died in 1985, but remains an icon of style, loved by many.
British actress Kathy Burke has managed to prove that you don’t have to be a ‘glamour girl’ to have a successful career. With a long list of TV credits to her name, as well as stage and film appearances, she has also branched out into direction, and has most recently directed a revival of ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’ on the London stage. If you don’t recognise her name, you may have seen her in ‘Elizabeth’ (1998) playing the dying Queen Mary with great conviction. She was also cast as Connie the former spy, in ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ (2011). But without doubt, her greatest work was as the abused wife in ‘Nil By Mouth’ (1997). Directed by Gary Oldman, she stars alongside Ray Winstone in a powerful and critically-acclaimed film that won numerous awards, including Best Actress for her, at the Cannes Film Festival. Still only 53, we can expect much more from this talented lady.
Australian actor Bryan Brown is one of those faces that tended to pop up in any Australian film for a while. But he managed to expand his career outside of that country, and is still very active today, at the age of 70. Very much the ‘leading man’ figure, he actually began his acting in London, performing at The Old Vic in the 1960s, before returning to his home country. I first noticed him in the Australian Vietnam War film ‘The Odd Angry Shot’ (1979), and a year later, he achieved some fame with his role in ‘Breaker Morant’ (1980), a true story set during the Boer War. He then transferred to television with the mini-series ‘The Thorn Birds’, and ‘A Town Like Alice’. Now noticed in America, he starred in ‘FX Murder By illusion’ in 1986, then in ‘Gorillas In The Mist’ two years later. One of his best known roles is alongside Tom Cruise, as a bartender in ‘Cocktail’ (1998). He has been in numerous films since, and recently supplied the voice for Mr Rabbit in ‘Peter Rabbit’ (2018).
Another Australian, Eric Bana seemed to appear out of nowhere in 2000, with the crime thriller ‘Chopper’ gaining him instant recognition. But he had worked hard in his native country before that, with over ten years of constant parts on television, and in films. In 2001, he was cast in ‘Black Hawk Down’. Star status followed, and he was soon on the screens in ‘Hulk’ (2003), followed by ‘Troy’ (2004) where he played one of the leads, Prince Hector. His role in ‘Munich’ (2005) showed more nuance, and he also delivered a convincing Henry VIII, in ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ (2008). Since then, he has made fourteen more films, and he is not yet fifty years old. I have always thought he was one role away from gaining real acknowledgement, and has a lot more to give.
My last choice today is someone I mentioned recently, in a review of the film ‘Taras Bulba’. Yul Brynner was a true Hollywood star, and someone I grew up watching at the cinema. His distinctive look meant that he would always be noticed, and he worked in many film genres too. Perhaps best known for having a shaved head at a time when it was unusual, it is perhaps too easy to forget what a consummate actor he was. Born in the far east of Russia, in 1920, he was taken to Paris by his mother, in 1932. During his time there, he played guitar, sang songs, and worked as an acrobat in the circus. The family emigrated to America in 1940, and the following year, Yul was on the Broadway stage, in small roles. His breakout part was as the King of Siam, in ‘The King And I’, which he famously also played on film in the 1956 Hollywood version. Other film credits are well known, but I will list some, to highlight his career. ‘The Ten Commandments’ (1956), ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (1960), ‘Cast A Giant Shadow’ (1965), ‘Villa Rides’ (1968), and ‘Westworld’ (1970).
He died in 1985, leaving behind an unusual legacy in addition to his acting. As a heavy smoker, he suffered from lung cancer. Shortly before his death, he made a powerful commercial for the anti-smoking lobby which was shown just after he died. It is credited with helping to change the laws on the availability of cigarettes, and public smoking.