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VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Joe Shetina
Where'd they go? Welcome to MsMojo, and we'll be looking at female stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood who disappeared from the silver screen or left the industry completely. Our countdown includes actresses Tippi Hedren, Shirley Temple, Frances Farmer and more!
Welcome to MsMojo, and we’ll be looking at female stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood who disappeared from the silver screen or left the industry completely. Which Hollywood actress do you miss the most? Tell us in the comments!

#10: Clara Bow

The silent film “it girl” was in some of the most iconic movies of the 1920s. Her roles presented her as a modern young woman flouting traditional sexual mores and cultural norms. She was known for her cleverness and sex appeal, but erratic behavior and scandal plagued her offscreen life. Although her retirement from films coincided with the emergence of talkies, it’s not the reason she left. A series of betrayals and studio pressure seemingly drove her out of the business. By 1933, she had married and relocated to a ranch in Nevada. Dogged by mental health crises throughout her life, she made very few public appearances after her time in the sun.

#9: Norma Shearer

As the queen of the MGM Lot, Norma Shearer wielded a lot of power at her home studio. This was due in no small part to her status as the wife of Metro’s head of production, Irving Thalberg. But Shearer was a star in her own right. Her movies were consistent money makers and her roles often pushed the boundaries of femininity on screen. She could be virtuous and noble in one role, and liberated and messy in another. When her husband died unexpectedly in 1936, she was left to advocate for herself, and did so admirably until her eventual retirement in 1942. Though her fame dipped after her disappearance from public life before television, her legacy has been preserved through rebroadcasts of her movies.

#8: Mabel Normand

As a comedy star, writer, and director, Mabel Normand was a trailblazer for women in Hollywood. However, she may be best remembered for her legendary exploits as a reckless party girl, and her proximity to some of the town’s most shocking episodes. She was a frequent co-star of comedian Fatty Arbuckle, whose infamous legal issues rocked the industry in the early 1920s. The whiff of scandal often surrounded her. Her friend, director William Desmond Taylor’s was murdered, and a later shooting committed by her chauffeur further tarnished her reputation. Censorship crackdowns on immoral behavior both on and off-screen led to her films falling out of circulation. Her last movie was released in 1926, and she died of tuberculosis four years later.

#7: Frances Farmer

Though she was discovered by Paramount at the age of 22, she grew tired of being a studio star and returned to the theater. Frances Farmer did then come back to Hollywood, but her battles with addiction and mental illness followed her, making national headlines and forever painting her as a tragic fallen star. These scandals, her conservatorship under her domineering mother, and the various indignities she suffered after her very public breakdowns halted her career. A 1982 biopic starring Jessica Lange illuminated the tragedy of her life decades later, although people who knew Farmer deny the movie’s assertion that Farmer underwent a lobotomy.

#6: Gloria Swanson

In some ways, Billy Wilder’s moody and suspenseful “Sunset Boulevard” allowed Gloria Swanson to play a highly fictionalized version of her own story. Like Norma Desmond, the reclusive relic of the silent era, Swanson had once been at the very top of the Hollywood food chain. She failed to successfully make the transition to talkies, and left Hollywood in the late ‘30s. While she never totally left the spotlight, making a few appearances on stage and on the radio, her star had all but faded when she returned to Hollywood for “Sunset Boulevard.” The revival didn’t last long. She made a few major films afterward, but her status as one of Hollywood’s great fallen goddesses remains.

#5: Luise Rainer

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For such a record-breaker, Luise Rainer is rarely talked about outside the most rarefied cinephile circles. The German-born actress made history not only as the first actor to win two Oscars, but also the first person to win two Oscars in back-to-back years. MGM thought she might be the next Greta Garbo, and that might have happened if not for a series of disappointments that led to her leaving the film business in 1938. Disenchantment with Hollywood, poor career advice, and the death of producer Irving Thalberg, her champion at the studio, cut her film career short. She left the movie business and returned to Europe, making only three film appearances between 1939 and 2003, and taking sporadic roles on television.

#4: Tippi Hedren

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Considering Alfred Hitchcock discovered her in a TV commercial, it’s a wonder Tippi Hedren took to film acting as quickly and as confidently as she does in “The Birds.” Modeled after Hitchcock’s ideal of the cool blonde, Hedren underwent an extensive and increasingly torturous mentorship by the master of suspense that effectively ended her career. Years after his death, Hedren revealed that Hitchcock kept her under contract, effectively disallowing her from taking roles with anyone else after she denied his advances. Unable to cash in on her fame in higher profile roles, Hedren’s career stalled out as a result. She continued to work, but never again in the caliber of movie she made with Hitchcock.

#3: Shirley Temple

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At the height of her career, Temple was Hollywood’s biggest box office draw. The curly-haired cutie tapped, sang, and cried her way into the hearts of Depression-Era moviegoers with a series of charming song-and-dance movies. Although she had the makings to transition into teenage and adult roles, Temple realized she had lost her passion for making movies. She married and retired from films in 1950 at the ripe old age of 22. She lived a quiet life out of the public eye for several years until the late ‘50s, when she began appearing on television. In the late ‘60s, she began a longtime career as a US diplomat.

#2: Hedy Lamarr

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Hedy Lamarr was not an ordinary star. During the height of her film career, she was credited as an inventor of a radio guidance system that is the basis for modern technology like Wi-fi. In her later years, she became known as one of the industry’s biggest recluses. Making her last film in 1958, she made few public appearances afterward. She became increasingly protective of her image, even taking legal action against people for what she thought were attempts to cash in on her fame. By the 1980s, she communicated to her closest friends via telephone and lived out the last two decades of her life in almost total seclusion. Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

Priscilla Lane

One of Hitchcock’s Stars Who Mostly Retired After Six Years in Hollywood

Mae West

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Louise Brooks

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Ann Dvorak

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Married Her Co-Star Against Studio Wishes, Damaging Her Career

Diane Varsi

An Oscar Nominee for Her First Movie, She Left Hollywood to Study Poetry

#1: Greta Garbo

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When Garbo uttered her most famous film line she wasn’t acting. And she wasn’t kidding either. The Swedish silent star came to Hollywood in 1925 to work for MGM. After the failure of her final film, 1941’s “Two-Faced Woman,” she tired of Hollywood and announced her retirement. She was possibly the biggest star in Hollywood at the time. For her to quit at the height of her fame was a shock. As she was later quoted, she felt she’d “made enough faces” in front of a camera. While not exactly a recluse, she led a guarded and private life, intentionally keeping her circle of friends very small. After her retirement, she lived nearly fifty years in semi-solitude.

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