Sophia Loren

We know their names, we’ve seen their films and TV shows, but sometimes we forget that some of the iconic pioneers of Hollywood are still alive today. Some of them have been around since the early golden days of Old Hollywood, so they’ve really seen it all. Many have helped make strides in equality for performers and paved the way for modern stars today — making it easier for future actors to make their mark in Hollywood. They’ve helped shape the way we look at TV and film, and their iconic performances still live in the memories of people from all generations.

Hollywood and the acting profession can be a tough road to take, but those who’ve made it this far wouldn’t change their journey for anything. For better or for worse, these actors are all legends in their own right. These are some of the oldest living actors in Hollywood today.

Sophia Loren, age 86

Sophia Loren

Iconic Italian actress Sophia Loren is known as a legend from the Golden Age of Hollywood and one of the most beautiful actresses in Italy and the United States, and she’s far from slowing down. According to Britannica, Loren was born Sofia Villani Scicolone in Rome to unmarried parents and was raised in poverty-stricken Naples — not the best recipe for a happy childhood in 1930s Italy. However, she grew up to be very beautiful, and Loren’s mother started entering her in beauty pageants when she was 16.

As noted by The Sydney Morning Herald, it was through these pageants that Loren was discovered by film producer Carlo Ponti — who would eventually become her husband. Loren already had natural acting talent, which helped Ponti turn her into the glamorous actress we know today. He started by casting her in small parts in low-budget Italian films, and her big break came when Loren was cast in Vittorio De Sica’s The Gold of Naples. In 1956, Loren was finally introduced to the American public by starring in The Pride and the Passion.

Over the years, Loren has accumulated an impressive and varied list of film credits, both in comedy and drama. She would go on to be nominated for Best Actress in Marriage Italian Style and then receive that treasured Academy Award for Best Actress for the film Two Women. Loren is ranked by the American Film Institute as the 21st greatest film star of classic Hollywood.

Tippi Hedren, age 90

Tippi Hedren

Best remembered as the ultimate, cool Hitchcockian blonde, Tippi Hedren’s most famous performances were in the Hitchcock films The Birds and Marnie. Born in Minnesota before relocating to California, according to Biography, Hedren got her start as a model. After her divorce from actor Peter Griffith, she started doing commercial work. It was through her commercials that director Alfred Hitchcock discovered Hedren and offered her a seven-year contract and the starring role in The Birds.

Being in acclaimed movies and working with a famed director like Alfred Hitchcock should have propelled Hedren to stardom, but unfortunately, that didn’t happen the way it should have. According to an article by Variety, Alfred Hitchcock was very much a bully, preying on Hedren and sexually harassing her. When she refused his advances, Hitchcock threatened her career. Feeling that further dealings with Hitchcock weren’t worth it, Hedren told Hitchcock to do what he wanted. And sadly, he did keep his promise to blackball her career by keeping Hedren under contract and refusing to cast her in any significant movie projects. She wouldn’t be cast in another major film until 1967 — three years after Marnie was released.

While Hedren’s future roles and projects would not carry the prominence of Marnie and The Birds, she managed to find later success on television and became a passionate defender of animal rights. Both her daughter, Melanie Griffith, and her granddaughter, Dakota Johnson, are now well-known film actresses.

James Earl Jones, age 90

James Earl Jones Smiling

James Earl Jones is most well-known as the voice of Darth Vader, and it’s such an iconic role that it’s easy to overlook the rest of his illustrious career on stage and screen.

It didn’t always start out that way, through, and in 2009, he told The Guardian, "I am a redneck, too. I am a Mississippi farm person. I can be foul-mouthed, I can be inarticulate. It’s just that my neck doesn’t get red." Jones was born in 1931 into a Southern family of 13 — and that didn’t include his father, who left before he was born. Jones was shuffled around through various family members before the family moved to Michigan. The stress was too much, and with the move, the five-year-old developed something that would shape the course of the rest of his life: a stutter.

He’s been incredibly honest about his struggles, stating that he was more comfortable talking to the animals on his farm than to other kids because, "Stuttering is painful. […] I’d try to read my lessons and the children behind me were falling on the floor with laughter" (via The Daily Mail).

It was his stutter that encouraged Jones to turn to acting, and he says it also made him appreciate how powerful the spoken word was. That was about the same time his father came back into his life, and it was a simple sentence uttered in honesty — "You can act." — that set him on his path.

Gene Hackman, age 91

Gene Hackman signing autograph

Gene Hackman’s story is the stuff of inspiration, and it shows just how far a gritty sort of determination can get a person. According to The Independent, he went from being voted Least Likely to Succeed by his acting class to one of the most iconic actors of his era. Shockingly, Hackman didn’t get his big break until he was practically ancient (by Hollywood standards, at least). That was in The French Connection, when he was 41 years old — and he says he almost wasn’t cast.

Hackman didn’t just make a living playing the tough guy. He learned at a young age just how hard life could be. Born on January 30, 1930, he was just 13 when his father hopped in his car, waved, and drove away. After a rough few years punctuated with fights and run-ins with the law, he joined the Marines. After four and a half years in the Corps, and right before the Korean War, a severe motorcycle accident ended any hope of a military career.

At 26 years old, already seemingly aged out of young Hollywood, Hackman decided to enroll in acting school at the encouragement of his new wife, where he didn’t get along with anyone … save one friend named Dustin Hoffman. Bonding over their dislike of their fellow students, Hoffman and Hackman redoubled their efforts, and the rest is, as they say, history.

He never heard from the rest of his acting class.

Sidney Poitier, age 93

Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier has made his mark in Hollywood and history as the first Black actor to win an Academy Award. Born in Miami (to Bahamian parents) but raised in the Bahamas, according to Britannica, Poitier returned to the U.S. and served in World War II in a medical unit. After his discharge, he tried to apply to the American Negro Theatre in New York City but was rejected due to his heavy Bahamian accent. In order to lose his accent, Poitier retrained his voice by listening to American radio shows. He reapplied to the ANT six months later, and this time, he was accepted.

Poitier has been credited with redefining Black people’s roles in film, eschewing any parts that would paint African Americans in a stereotypical light. He’s best remembered for his roles as collected, refined gentlemen, and people loved him. As noted in an article by Vanity Fair, 1967 was a time of significant unrest, and the Civil Rights Movement was in full force. And this was the year that Sidney Poitier had three of his most famous pictures released: To Sir, with Love, In the Heat of the Night, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. People were impressed with Poitier’s poise onscreen. He was always cultured and gracious in his roles, while his white colleagues’ characters were usually in need of an attitude adjustment. At the height of the Civil Rights Movement, these films’ message was clear: Do better.

Mel Brooks, age 94

Mel Brooks

Comedian, writer, actor, director, and producer Mel Brooks is a living icon. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, according to Biography, by the time the young Brooks was in high school, he was already an accomplished pianist, drummer, and mimic, having studied under the legendary musician Buddy Rich. After serving in World War II, Brooks worked as a comedian and entertainer at resorts in the Catskills before landing his big break in television as the co-creator of Get Smart. According to Britannica, next came his first full-length feature film, which he wrote and directed, The Producers. The Producers wasn’t well-received at the box offices at first, but Brooks won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay. In later years, this first Mel Brooks film became a well-known cult classic and would be adapted into a hit Broadway musical.

Brooks would go on to create other popular parody films such as Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Spaceballs, and Young Frankenstein. He also started his own production company, Brooksfilms, to showcase more serious work such as The Elephant Man. Brooks was also a longtime partner and friend of comedian Carl Reiner. Reiner and Brooks as well as their wives, Estelle Reiner and Anne Bancroft, were all good friends and often collaborated together. Bancroft passed in 2005 and Estelle Reiner in 2008. Up until Carl Reiner’s death this year, Brooks and Reiner saw each other almost daily, spending their nineties trading jokes on entertainment and politics.

Dick Van Dyke, age 95

Dick Van Dyke

Dancer, comedian, and actor Dick Van Dyke is still going strong at 94 years old. According to History, after serving in the military in World War II and well into the 1950s, Van Dyke held a variety of acting jobs, including game show host gigs. His big break came when he was cast in the Broadway production of Bye Bye Birdie, which earned him a Tony Award. (He would reprise his role in the film adaptation of the musical.) After his Broadway success, Carl Reiner would approach Van Dyke about starring in a sitcom about Reiner’s experiences as a comedy writer for Sid Caesar. Van Dyke signed on, and The Dick Van Dyke Show was born. The Dick Van Dyke Show would also serve as a huge career boost for other actors like Mary Tyler Moore, Morey Amsterdam, and Rose Marie.

In addition to his TV successes, as noted by Biography, Van Dyke would go on to star in major motion pictures such as Mary Poppins and Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang. While critics skewered Van Dyke’s Cockney English accent in Mary Poppins, he received high acclaim for his acting and dancing skills — despite a rough time with the accent, his role as Bert is one of his best known and most highly praised film appearances. Van Dyke is still continuing to act and has been seen in recent films such as Night at the Museum and Mary Poppins Returns.

Angela Lansbury, age 95

Angela Lansbury

Born in London to a politician father and a stage actress mother, Angela Lansbury came by her acting talents honestly. According to Biography, her father died when she was only nine, and the young Angela spent part of her preadolescence attending acting school in Ireland. When World War II broke out, Lansbury, her mother, and her siblings immigrated to the United States to escape the London Blitz — they settled in New York City.

Her breakthrough Hollywood role came in the 1944 film Gaslight, for which Lansbury was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. One year later, Lansbury starred in The Picture of Dorian Gray, for which she received another Academy Award nomination. However, according to Variety, after these major roles, while Lansbury had steady work, she was often cast in secondary roles, usually playing middle-aged women and mothers. She took to Broadway instead, and after a hit performance in Mame, Lansbury found that Broadway offered more variety and more opportunities for starring roles.

Over the years, Lansbury’s career varied from television to stage to the big screen, and she has amassed an impressive body of work. In her later years, she received acclaim for her role as Jessica Fletcher in the TV series Murder, She Wrote — a role she would play for 12 years. In 2014, Lansbury finally received an honorary Academy Award in recognition for her cinematic achievements.

Eva Marie Saint, age 96

Eva Marie Saint

At the age of 96 years old, Eva Marie Saint is currently the oldest living Academy Award winner. Saint was able to claim this title quite recently after Oscar winner Oliva de Havilland passed away on July 26, 2020, at the age of 104. According to Britannica, Saint received her degree from Bowling Green State University in 1946 and jumped straight into a radio acting career in New York City while taking classes at the Actors’ Studio. Her role in the TV, film, and Broadway production of The Trip to Bountiful attracted Hollywood’s much-desired attention, leading to Saint being cast in her debut film On the Waterfront. It was this role that earned Saint her Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

For a long time, Saint was often typecast in parts where she usually played the sweet, saintly character with flowing, blonde hair. However, she did a turnabout when Alfred Hitchcock cast her in North by Northwest as the cool femme fatale spy (with a sophisticated, shorter new hairdo). After the 1960s, Saint worked more on TV movies than in big-screen films. Her most recent notable role was a voice acting part on the hit cartoon series The Legend of Korra.

Betty White, age 99

Betty White

Betty White has enjoyed a long and illustrious career in comedy. According to Biography, White’s first real job was an assistant at a local TV station in Los Angeles. In the 1950s, she launched her first sitcom, Life With Elizabeth. This makes White one of the first women to maintain creative control over her own show — both behind the camera and in front of it. Life With Elizabeth lasted only a few seasons, but it earned White an Emmy Award and plenty of prestige.

As noted by PBS, White went on to appear as the memorable and conniving Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which won her massive praise as well as other parts on shows such as The Carol Burnett Show and Mama’s Family. In the 1980s, White went on to star in what is probably her most memorable role — Rose Nylund in The Golden Girls. Today, White is the only living member of the main cast.

Her memorable performances didn’t end there. In 2010, at the age of 88, White became the oldest person to host Saturday Night Live. And in that same year, she joined the main cast of the sitcom Hot in Cleveland — she starred in the show for all five seasons. Even at the age of 98, White shows no signs of slowing down.

Marsha Hunt, age 103

Marsha Hunt smiling

In December 2020, Turner Classic Movies (via the Associated Press) honored one of their own with a 14-hour marathon of some of her most famous movies. The glamourous Marsha Hunt (born on October 17, 1917) was 103 years old.

Hunt was never the classic starlet, and after deciding she wanted to be an actress when she was 17 — in 1935 — she headed to Hollywood … where she chased supporting roles that she found much more interesting: "I was determined not to just be a leading lady. I didn’t want to always play the sweet young things… I so loved character roles. And being a lead and winning the leading man, that was not the point." She learned the hard way what the business was like after David O. Selznick promised her a role in Gone With the Wind then handed it to someone else, but she didn’t give up — and in her first 16 years in the business, she made 54 movies.

After being caught up in the Communist scare of the ’50s, Hunt’s many movie roles started to dry up. Instead, she turned to charity and humanitarian work and was also a very vocal opponent of the witch hunt that had led to the blacklisting of numerous Hollywood stars. After that, the BBC says most of her work shifted to television and the stage, and even though she’d mostly retired by the 1960s, Hunt remains a bastion of the Golden Age of cinema.

Norman Lloyd, age 106

Norman Lloyd

Norman Lloyd is currently the oldest living Hollywood actor and is still working to this day. Lloyd has had a long and impressive career in TV, film, and Broadway — both as an actor and director. According to The New Yorker, he’s probably the only person alive who could tell you anything personal about the great actor Orson Welles. (The two worked together on a theater production of Julius Caesar in 1937). As The Hollywood Reporter notes, no one alive in Hollywood has a more extensive list of credits than Lloyd. Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, he became captivated by the acting profession through visits to the weekend matinees with his mother.

If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard as much about Lloyd, it’s probably because he was a victim of the blacklist in 1950s Hollywood. Through only his association with other accused Hollywood subversives, Lloyd found his career stagnating. His career was saved, however, when Alfred Hitchock hired Lloyd as an associate producer on his TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In the 1980s, Lloyd received a lead role in the medical drama St. Elsewhere. He was originally just supposed to be a guest star on the show, but he was so loved that he became a series regular. In recent years, Lloyd has continued to perform in small TV and film roles — his most recent film credit was in Judd Apatow’s 2015 movie Trainwreck.