In the early days of cinema it was rare for actors (and crew!) to have college degrees, since acting and film education wasn’t as accessible as it is now. There wasn’t much financial help and some degrees related to the arts didn’t even exist back then! As most are aware of, it was common for people to leave school in their teens or younger for a variety of reasons such as to work. This isn’t saying everyone left school or that those who did leave left for that particular reason. Also contrary to what some may believe, out of bachelors degrees earned in the 1930s, 40% were by women, a stat that remained so until the mid century and rising back up to 43% by the 1970s (National Center for Education Statistics).
The birth of this post came from my own curiosity after reading about Ruth Hussey recently, where I saw she had gone to college and it made me wonder who else did. Below is what I gathered from different stars and the concentration/major their degree was in and where they earned it from.
Ruth Hussey: Art at Pembroke College (now part of Brown), theatre at University of Michigan
Greer Garson:French at King’s College London and 18th Cent Literature at University of Grenoble
James Stewart: Architecture at Princeton University, began to perform in university plays
Gregory Peck:English at University of California Berkeley
Eva Marie Saint: Acting at Bowling Green State University
Pedro Armendáriz: Engineering at California Polytechnic State University
Jean Peters: Literature at Ohio State University, with plans to become a teacher.
Vincent Price: Art History at Yale University
Katharine Hepburn: History and philosophy at Bryn Mawr College. Performed in school plays where she decided to enter the theatre upon graduation.
Gene Kelly: Economics at University of Pittsburg
Gloria Stuart: Philosophy and Drama at University of California at Berkeley
Jeffrey Hunter: Theatre at Northwestern University
Madeleine Carroll: French at University of Birmingham, where she became interested in acting her senior year after starring in a play at the university.
Rod Taylor: Art at East Sydney Technical and Fine Arts College, becoming a commercial illustrator before focusing on acting
Ruby Dee: Romance languages at Hunter College
Irene Dunne: Teaching certificate for art at Indianapolis Conservatory of Music. Vocal degree from Chicago College of Music
Joel McCrea: Exact degree/major unknown but studied acting and public speaking at Ponoma College. Graduated in 1928.
Margaret Hamilton: Teaching certificate from Wheelock College, taught kindergarten before acting.