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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
RankNameReligious Background/
Affiliation
1Humphrey BogartEpiscopalian (lapsed)
2Cary GrantAnglican (lapsed); part-Jewish;
generic spirituality as adult
3Jimmy StewartPresbyterian
4Marlon Brandominimal Christian Science;
Native American spirituality
5Fred AstaireEpiscopalian
6Henry FondaChristian Science (lapsed)
7Clark GableCatholic
8James CagneyCatholic
9Spencer TracyCatholic
10Charlie ChaplinAnglican; agnostic
11Gary CooperCatholic (convert)
12Gregory PeckCatholic
13John WaynePresbyterian; Catholic
14Laurence OlivierAnglican
15Gene KellyCatholic
16Orson WellesProtestant Christian
17Kirk DouglasJudaism
18James DeanQuaker
19Burt LancasterChurch of the Son of Man
("non-denominational" Protestant); ACLU
20The Marx BrothersJewish
21Buster KeatonCatholic (non-practicing)
22Sidney PoitierVodoun; Anglican; Catholic
23Robert MitchumMethodist (nominal)
24Edward G. RobinsonJudaism
25William HoldenCongregationalist
AFI Top 50 Screen Legends of all Time: Actresses
RankNameReligious Background/
Affiliation
1Katharine Hepburnnominal Episcopalian background; atheist
2Bette DavisBaptist/Episcopalian family background;
Christian Science (temporary)
3Audrey HepburnChristian Science
4Ingrid BergmanLutheran
5Greta GarboLutheran
6Marilyn MonroeChristian Science;
temporary convert to Judaism
7Elizabeth TaylorChristian Science;
convert to Reform Judaism
8Judy GarlandEpiscopalian
9Marlene Dietrichmostly nonreligious but superstitious;
nominal Lutheran background
10Joan Crawfordraised Catholic;
Christian Science (convert)
11Barbara StanwyckProtestant (nominal)
12Claudette ColbertCatholic
13Grace KellyCatholic
14Ginger RogersChristian Science
15Mae WestCatholic; Spiritualism
16Vivien LeighCatholic
17Lillian GishEpiscopalian
18Shirley TemplePresbyterian, Episcopalian
19Rita HayworthCatholic
20Lauren BacallJewish (non-observant)
21Sophia LorenCatholic
22Jean Harlownominal Christian background,
incl. Christian Science
23Carole LombardBaha'i
24Mary PickfordCatholic; Christian Science (convert)
25Ava GardnerSouthern Baptist

Discussion:
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.