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Gary Cooper with Pope
Hollywood superstar Gary Cooper with Pope Pius XII. Cooper was a convert to Catholicism.

Religious Affiliation of
Famous Actors and Actresses

The 25 male actors and 25 actresses listed below were chosen in 1999 by the American Film Institute (AFI) as their list of the "Greatest American Screen Legends" of all time. The list was announced during the "100 Years . . . 100 Stars" prime-time special, originally broadcast 15 June 1999 on CBS, hosted by Shirley Temple Black.

Fred Astaire | Lauren Bacall | Ingrid Bergman | Humphrey Bogart | Marlon Brando | James Cagney | Charlie Chaplin | Claudette Colbert | Gary Cooper | Joan Crawford | Bette Davis | James Dean | Marlene Dietrich | Kirk Douglas | Henry Fonda | Clark Gable | Greta Garbo | Ava Gardner | Judy Garland | Lillian Gish | Cary Grant | Jean Harlow | Rita Hayworth | Audrey Hepburn | Katharine Hepburn | William Holden | Buster Keaton | Gene Kelly | Grace Kelly | Burt Lancaster | Vivien Leigh | Carole Lombard | Sophia Loren | The Marx Brothers | Robert Mitchum | Marilyn Monroe | Laurence Olivier | Gregory Peck | Mary Pickford | Sidney Poitier | Edward G. Robinson | Ginger Rogers | Barbara Stanwyck | Jimmy Stewart | Elizabeth Taylor | Shirley Temple | Spencer Tracy | John Wayne | Orson Welles | Mae West
Related Pages:
- Religious Affiliation of the 100 Most Influential People in Movie History

- Religious Affiliation of Winners of the Academy Award for Best Actor, Actress and Best Supporting Actor, Actress

- Religious Affiliation of Top Box Office Stars

- Should an actor's religious affiliation matter?

AFI Top 50 Screen Legends of all Time: Actors
Rank Name Religious Background/
1 Humphrey Bogart Episcopalian (lapsed)
2 Cary Grant Anglican (lapsed); part-Jewish;
generic spirituality as adult
3 Jimmy Stewart Presbyterian
4 Marlon Brando minimal Christian Science;
Native American spirituality
5 Fred Astaire Episcopalian
6 Henry Fonda Christian Science (lapsed)
7 Clark Gable Catholic
8 James Cagney Catholic
9 Spencer Tracy Catholic
10 Charlie Chaplin Anglican; agnostic
11 Gary Cooper Catholic (convert)
12 Gregory Peck Catholic
13 John Wayne Presbyterian; Catholic
14 Laurence Olivier Anglican
15 Gene Kelly Catholic
16 Orson Welles Protestant Christian
17 Kirk Douglas Judaism
18 James Dean Quaker
19 Burt Lancaster Church of the Son of Man
("non-denominational" Protestant); ACLU
20 The Marx Brothers Jewish
21 Buster Keaton Catholic (non-practicing)
22 Sidney Poitier Vodoun; Anglican; Catholic
23 Robert Mitchum Methodist (nominal)
24 Edward G. Robinson Judaism
25 William Holden Congregationalist
AFI Top 50 Screen Legends of all Time: Actresses
Rank Name Religious Background/
1 Katharine Hepburn nominal Episcopalian background; atheist
2 Bette Davis Baptist/Episcopalian family background;
Christian Science (temporary)
3 Audrey Hepburn Christian Science
4 Ingrid Bergman Lutheran
5 Greta Garbo Lutheran
6 Marilyn Monroe Christian Science;
temporary convert to Judaism
7 Elizabeth Taylor Christian Science;
convert to Reform Judaism
8 Judy Garland Episcopalian
9 Marlene Dietrich mostly nonreligious but superstitious;
nominal Lutheran background
10 Joan Crawford raised Catholic;
Christian Science (convert)
11 Barbara Stanwyck Protestant (nominal)
12 Claudette Colbert Catholic
13 Grace Kelly Catholic
14 Ginger Rogers Christian Science
15 Mae West Catholic; Spiritualism
16 Vivien Leigh Catholic
17 Lillian Gish Episcopalian
18 Shirley Temple Presbyterian, Episcopalian
19 Rita Hayworth Catholic
20 Lauren Bacall Jewish (non-observant)
21 Sophia Loren Catholic
22 Jean Harlow nominal Christian background,
incl. Christian Science
23 Carole Lombard Baha'i
24 Mary Pickford Catholic; Christian Science (convert)
25 Ava Gardner Southern Baptist

The AFI's Greatest Screen Legends and the Religious Affiliation of Movie Stars

In 1999 the American Film Institute (AFI) announced their list of the 50 greatest screen legends of the century. The list was announced during a three-hour prime-time special on CBS. In order to compile the list, the AFI asked approximately 1,800 film experts to rank 500 actors and actress whose careers began in or before 1951, or who debuted after 1950 but have died. These criteria largely mean that the biggest contemporary stars are ineligible. So don't look for Greek Orthodox actor Tom Hanks (who wasn't born until 1956) or Catholic actor Robert De Niro (who was born before 1951, but didn't start acting until 1965) on the AFI list. Keep in mind that the AFI calls this a list of the "greatest screen legends." This is not necessarily a list of the "most talented actors."

For many of Hollywood's most celebrated actors, the most important thing in their lives, at least at some point in their career, was acting. To read the biographies of many of these individuals, it becomes clear that they were driven by an obsession for fame, celebrity, accolades and/or the process of film acting itself, to a degree that cannot be explained simply by the desire for wealth and comfort. Acting was their religion.

Other movie stars on this list lived lives which most people would regard as more "balanced" or "normal." Acting was their profession, but not their raison d'être. Some of these stars were openly contemptuous of the notion of acting as a great calling or art. Katharine Hepburn (the highest ranked actress on this list) famously observed, "Acting is the most minor of gifts and not a very high-class way to earn a living. After all, Shirley Temple could do it at the age of four." Marlon Brando, who is considered by many to be the greatest actor of the Twentieth Century, told Time magazine: "Freud, Gandhi, Marx--those people are important. Movie acting is just dull, boring, childish work. Everybody acts--when we want something, when we want someone to do something; we all act all the time."

During their careers, many of these actors were actively religious and spiritual in a more traditional sense. Many others were not. Some were active members of congregations and supporters of fairly traditional religious bodies or denominations. Others exhibited more personalized, non-communal forms of spirituality and belief. Nearly all of these individuals had at least some upbringing in a religious denomination. Among AFI's top 50 greatest screen legends, Katharine Hepburn and possibly Marlon Brando are the only ones known to identify themselves as atheists.


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Web page created 7 August 2001. Last modified 18 November 2005.