The Great Ones

updated 02/09/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/09/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

You can call it mystique or magic or just plain old animal magnetism. It is, in the end, an indefinable quality that sets a precious few above the rest of Hollywood's cast of thousands. Whether they charmed or challenged us, dazzled or even angered us, they always left us wanting more. Others may have possessed more talent, better looks or bigger salaries, but none so possessed us as the heroes and heavies, lovers and clowns on the pages that follow. Emulated but never equaled, they represent our choices as the most irreplaceable movie stars in history

Greta Garbo
The Swedish laborer's daughter who showed that a sense of mystery is the sexiest come-on of all...First job: at 13, as soap latherer in a barber shop...Best description: "Her alluring mouth and volcanic, slumberous eyes en-fire men to such passion that friendships collapse" (N.Y. Mirror)...Marriages: None...Best advertisement: "Garbo Talks!" (trumpeting her first sound movie, Anna Christie, in 1930)...Oeuvre: 10 silents, 14 talkies...Last movie: 1941's Two Faced Woman...Age: 82...Untrue confession: "I vant to be alone." The only time Garbo said that was in the movie Grand Hotel.

Cary Grant
The onetime English acrobat whose onscreen mix of wit, charm and debonair dash went down as smoothly as an evening cocktail...First stateside job: $5-a-day stilt-walker at Coney Island...Most forgettable role: a 1931 stint singing operettas in St. Louis...Best supporting role: donated his $125,000 salary from 1940's The Philadelphia Story to the British war effort...Marriages: five (No. 2 was Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton; gossip columnists labeled them Cash and Cary)...Favorite dining spot: a tray in front of his TV...True confession: "I think making love is the best form of exercise."

The Marx Bros.
The comedy brother act whose stopwatch timing and absurdist antics redefined zaniness...Films: 14...Best quirk: Groucho reportedly kept an air rifle by his bed to shoot at howling dogs...Longest drought: Harpo spoke onstage only two times in 47 years...Chico's favorite things: gambling, phones and women. True confession (Groucho): "Harpo inherited all my mother's good qualities—I got what was left."

Katharine Hepburn
Strong-willed eccentric whose angular features and aristocratic style earned a record 12 Oscar nominations. She won four times...Best description of voice: "a cross between Donald Duck and a Stradivarius"...Marriages: one, for six years, to a stockbroker...Likes: icy showers, slacks and turtlenecks, white violets...Dislikes: restaurants, skirts (she wears them only to funerals), crowds...Soul mate: Spencer Tracy, with whom she had a discreet 26-year affair...Age: 79...True confession: "I was born lucky, and I have lived lucky. What I had was used. What I still have is being used. Lucky."

Elizabeth Taylor
Violet-eyed star who has spent her life making movies (61) and marriages (7)...Worst impression: "The kid has nothing; her eyes are too old" (by a casting director)...Best revenge: two Oscars...Crown jewel: a 33.19-carat Krupp diamond costing $305,000...Most believable endorsement: "Nicky is the one I want to spend my life with" (at 18, on her first hubby)...Least believable endorsement: "I want to spend the rest of my life with him" (on sixth hubby John Warner)...Age: 54...True confession: "I always chose to think I was in love and that love was synonymous with marriage."

Rudolph Valentino
Top sex symbol of the silents who parlayed a smoldering gaze and oleaginous sensuality into $1 million per year...Unmentioned in his studio bio: an arrest for a petty crime, a cauliflower ear, a penchant for wearing corsets...Marriages: two, both reputedly to lesbians and unconsummated...Offscreen passion: cooking spaghetti and meatballs...Finis: from peritonitis at 31, after which 200 women claimed him as the father of their children and two Japanese fans jumped into a volcano...Alleged last words: "I'm afraid we won't go fishing together. Perhaps when we meet again, who knows?"...Worst legacy: the seven operations on brother Alberto's nose after studio execs tried to groom him to take the place of "The Great Lover."

Lassie
Canine star who paved the way for thinking dolphins and other cinematic anthropomorphisms...Best trick: female impersonation (the bitch picked to star in 1943's Lassie Come Home was fired when her coat began shedding; no fewer than six male collies took her place)...Highest salary: $1,000 a week...Perks: air-conditioned kennel, personal hairdresser and chiropodist...Best description: "Greer Garson in furs"...Offscreen pursuits: cars, but only as a puppy.

Clark Gable
A roughhouse romancer who ended the reign of Hollywood's hand-kissing smoothies...Worst appendages: ears. "He looks like an ape," said Warner Bros, chief Darryl Zanuck, who refused to sign him...Favorite actor: Spencer Tracy...Biggest break: being disciplined by MGM after complaining of typecasting and loaned out to Columbia for It Happened One Night, for which he won an Oscar...Second dumbest idea ever: balking at doing Mutiny on the Bounty for fear of looking silly in knee breeches and a pigtail...Dumbest idea: balking at doing Gone With the Wind...Marriages: five...True confession: "I can't emote worth a damn."

Marlon Brando
Moody, mumbly, Omaha-born maestro of Method Acting...Earliest career goal: To be a minister...Nickname: Buddy...First big break: Being cast as brutish, T-shirted Stanley Kowalski in Broadway's A Streetcar Named Desire...Second break: His nose, while horsing around backstage...Worst critique to a co-star: "You have black hair in your nostrils" (to Sophia Loren)...Cheekiest prank: During the making of The Godfather, Brando joined James Caan and Robert Duvall in a mooning contest while riding around Manhattan in a limo...Best fake-out: Once drove down Sunset Boulevard in a convertible with a trick arrow "through" his skull...True confession: "Why should anybody care what a movie star has to say? A movie star is nothing important."

Humphrey Bogart
Quintessential tough guy who was hanged, electrocuted, shot or jailed in 29 of his first 34 films...Trademark: a lisp and sneer, from a World War I wound that partially paralyzed his upper lip...Real passion: chess, which he played in person, by telephone, by mail and in the opening scene of Casablanca...Marriages: four...Died: from throat cancer in 1957 at age 58...Not-so-true confession: "I made more lousy pictures than any other actor in history."

Fred Astaire
Song-and-dance man extraordinaire who set the standard for Hollywood hoofers...Real name: Frederick Austerlitz...First screen-test critique: "Can't act. Slightly bald. Also dances."...Wouldn't miss reading: Daily Racing Form...Films: 41...Source of talent: knock-knees, according to a report by the California Osteopathic Association...Age: 87...True confession: "I don't know how it all started, and I don't want to know...I just dance."

Marilyn Monroe
The beauteous erotic whose sashay to stardom-and slide to despair-put a permanent light on fame's dark side...Best description: "She's Mae West, Theda Bara and Bo Peep all rolled into one"...Films: 28...Marriages: three...Death: a presumed suicide by drug overdose in 1962 at 36...Personal choice for an epitaph: "Here lies Marilyn Monroe, 38-23-36."

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