Actresses Born Before My Grandma Ranked by How Badly I Want Them to Top Me

Since I was a young closeted lesbian, I’ve been cursed to crush on actresses who died before I was born. Celebrity crushes always live in a fantasy space, but at least if I crushed on my contemporaries the fantasy would be possible. Alas I am a sucker for a mid-atlantic accent and a beauty in black and white.

My crushes may be consistent but my sexuality is not! I’ve long considered myself a switch and yet only in the last few years have I really explored and enjoyed the bottoming part of that. So let’s combine old fantasy with new and rank some crushes based on how much I’d like them to top me.

This list could’ve been infinite so I’ve set the cutoff at my (dead) grandma’s birthday which was August 1922. Unfortunately, this means Dorothy Dandridge just misses the cutoff — based on Carmen Jones alone she would’ve ranked high.


15. Ingrid Bergman

A close up of Ingrid Bergman

Ingrid Bergman in Notorious (1944)

Beautiful, talented, bottom. If Ingrid Bergman tried to top me it wouldn’t even be fun and goofy like some of the other bottoms on this list — it would be cold and awkward. Love watching her on-screen, don’t lust for her much IRL.

14. Greta Garbo

Greta Garbo laughing at a table

Greta Garbo in Ninotchka (1939)

Another bottom but at least this one is bratty. She’d try to top me and then get pouty when I laughed. But then she’d laugh too! It would be fun!

13. Jennifer Jones

Jennifer Jones holds a hammer and wears a bowtie

Jennifer Jones in Cluny Brown (1946)

Her performance in Duel in the Sun was a sexual awakening for me, but there’s a reason she was better suited for roles like Cluny Brown and Portrait of Jennie. I’m not sure how it would go if she topped me but I’d love to have her try!

12. Myrna Loy

Myrna Loy leans back in bed with her hands behind her head

Myrna Loy in The Thin Man (1934)

Sure, we can all imagine Nora topping Nick in the Thin Man movies, but for some reason Myrna Loy feels like a top with men/bottom with women bisexual. Maybe it’s because of her body language in those pictures with Amelia Earhart.

11. Katharine Hepburn

Katharine Hepburn dressed like a man leans on a porch

Katharine Hepburn in Sylvia Scarlett (1935)

The highest ranked bottom on this list and my longest held Old Hollywood crush. I have a “want to be” and “want to be with” crush on Katharine Hepburn unmatched by any celebrity of any era. But there’s a difference between having top energy and being a top! I think Kate was more masc but less toppy than her reputation.

10. Ginger Rogers

Ginger Rogers sits with Fred Astaire serenading her behind him

Ginger Rogers in Top Hat (1935)

She topped Fred Astaire in all ten collaborations and she did it backwards and in heels !

9. Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford in a button down and pants leans over a railing.

Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar (1954)

Obviously, one of the great tops in Hollywood history, but, personally, I like a top who is a bit more playful! Johnny Guitar is one of the greatest movies ever and she wears pants better than anyone and still I can’t imagine a night with her being all that fun.

8. Bette Davis

Bette Davis cloaked in shadows.

Bette Davis in The Letter (1944)

Bette Davis wins this round of the feud. I mean, have you seen The Letter? I will say I think I’m possibly being influenced by Susan Sarandon’s portrayal of Davis. And while Sarandon would top my overall top list, she was not born before my grandma and should not factor into my feelings about Bette.

7. Anna May Wong

Anna May Wong grips a knife as Marlene Dietrich approaches behind her

Anna May Wong in Shanghai Express (1932)

Due to, you know, racism, Anna May Wong’s roles were split between underwritten characters who were dangerous sexpots and underwritten characters who were passive and suffering. She was talented enough to breathe life and add dimensionality to both. Freed from this dichotomy would Anna May Wong be a top? I don’t know but I’d like to be the one to find out!

6. Tallulah Bankhead

Close up of Tallulah Bankhead as she holds lipstick.

Tallulah Bankhead in Lifeboat (1944)

I would love to be topped by Tallulah Bankhead. By all accounts, she was an incredible lover. That said, I do think she’d be the kind of cis woman who would top other cis women but then call me the “best of both worlds” and expect me to top her. Or she’d top me but insist on calling it pegging. She has that dangerous mix of progressive politics and freewheeling entitlement I’ve found to be a red flag!

5. Ida Lupino

A close up of Ida Lupino

Ida Lupino in On Dangerous Ground (1951), which she co-directed

I love a multi-hyphenate!! Sorry to be such a Capricorn. Actually not sorry. My type is multi-hyphenate. And Ida Lupino was one of the best. Yes, this is largely a talent crush. But I also think she’d bring some of her directorial forcefulness to my body.

4. Maya Deren

Maya Deren grips a tree on a beach

Maya Deren in At Land (1944), which she directed

An auteur working within the system is hot, but an auteur working outside the system?? Creating an entirely new film language?? While I’m not exactly sure what sex with Maya Deren would be like, I’m sure it would be a totally new experience. Also she was a dancer which is one of the hottest things a person can be.

3. Barbara Stanwyck

Barbara Stanwyck grips a chair, her back to a man.

Barbara Stanwyck in The Furies (1949)

Almost any list of Old Hollywood stars is going to include some people with questionable politics. But Barbara Stanwyck was so right-wing it’s prevented her from getting the number one spot on this list. It’s a shame because if I was just focusing on her on-screen persona… my God. Double Indemnity, The Lady Eve, The Furies?? Even as a bitter old lesbian in Walk On the Wild Side she’s swinging her hypothetical strap all over the screen. But even though she’s been dead for over 30 years… I’m still struggling to crush on a Republican.

2. Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich smokes a cigarette wearing a top hat and a tux

Marlene Dietrich in Morocco (1930)

Puts the top in top hat! Marlene Dietrich was so powerful she seduced half of Hollywood. I do think I’d fall in love with her afterward and it would take me 1-3 years to get over it, but, hey, it would be worth it for even just one night with the blue angel.

1. Ava Gardner

Ava Gardner leans on a bar as a man and woman watch her.

Ava Gardner in The Killers (1946)

That’s right! This top list is topped by not one but two Capricorns. And Ava Gardner isn’t just any Capricorn — she’s my Christmas Eve birthday twin! While she may not have the best filmography on this list, she overpowered the screen with every appearance. She was beautiful, she was forceful, and she was very active in progressive politics. What more could anyone want from a top??

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 568 articles for us.

22 Comments

  1. Cannot express how relevant this post is to my interests. I agree with many of these choices, but no Joan Blondell? No Mae West??

    She’s ineligible by a mere *month*, but I’m going to mention Lizabeth Scott because I’ll take any chance to. She was also, infamously (courtesy of a Confidential magazine article she sued over), part of the club.

    Oh, and I’d rank Ida higher on my personal list. If you haven’t seen her in Road House (the 1948 version, not the Swayze one…hopefully obvs), she’s impeccable.

    • Wow I haven’t seen ANY Lizabeth Scott movies! I shall bump The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers up my list.

      I also haven’t seen Road House (1948)!

      There are so many people I left off. Where would you rank Joan Blondell and Mae West?

      • Omg, Martha Ivers is great but you’ve *gotta* see Desert Fury. It’s incredibly queer (Lizabeth Scott in a weird mother/daughter relationship with Mary Astor, and Burt Lancaster doing some Extremely Heterosexual Male Tanning) but doesn’t seem to have any awareness that it’s a super super gay film? I’m a little obsessed with it.

        I’d probably replace Garbo with Blondell; she seems like she’d be a “let’s have a few cocktails and make out every weekend but we’ll never actually talk about it” kinda girl, but I’d put up with it because she’s cute as hell. And while I know I’d just be one in the lengthy, LENGTHY roll call, I’d probably put Mae West at the top. She is, IMO, the original mommi.

        Meanwhile I’ve never even heard of Maya Deren before this article, so remedying that ASAP!

  2. This list is so damn good!

    And I absolutely adore Lupino’s multi-hyphenate brilliance being on this list. With Hollywood’s love of an old Hollywood biopic (and Jodie Comer is an obvious choice to play her), I’m surprised one about her hasn’t been made yet.

  3. i was mildly incensed that Tallulah was #6, but then saw that Maya was #4 and was like, okay.

    but Anna May topped Marlene. look at Shanghai Express, Marlene is helplessly praying for her man to be released from the warlord and renouncing her harlotry. there is all this build up. then Anna May comes from offscreen, says she killed the warlord and they’re ready to go. the end. okay, sure, mebbe Anna’s too intense, point taken.

  4. My fun fact is that my great uncle briefly dated Greta Garbo. While I wish I’d inherited whatever rizz and gumption lead to that affair, I only got his taste in women (and probably hereditary eye disease.)

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