The 10 Most Beautiful Women of the 20th and 21st Centuries

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A Brief History

On September 22, 1692, 8 women went on trial in Salem, Massachusetts for witchcraft, an event we used as motivation for our article, 10 More Things History Got Wrong About Women (Part 2)Today we will use this historic attack against women to speak highly about the 10 women that lived in the 20th or 21st Century that we personally find to be the most beautiful, most delectable, sexiest, most attractive, prettiest, and most desirable of all.  The lack of quality photography prior to the 20th Century is what limits our list to modern times. We are using the appearance of these women at their most desirable, not current condition. Since this is a highly subjective subject, we invite you to nominate those beautiful women you think belong on this list.  (There are SO MANY fantastically gorgeous gals out there, it is hard to pick only 10, but easy to find plenty of candidates.)  Apologies to those many, many beautiful models and actresses out there that are not listed, but perhaps should be (Ursula Andress, Kim Novak, Sharon Stone, Nicole Kidman, etc, etc).  Maybe the next list…

Digging Deeper

1. Mata Hari, exotic dancer. 

Born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in 1876 in the Netherlands, this Dutch beauty left a bad marriage to go to Paris and become a Circus rider in 1903, and then an exotic dancer in 1905.  She took the alias Mata Hari and claimed to be Javanese and a Hindu.  Fantastically popular, she also became the mistress of a millionaire.  Her success sparked many imitators in the exotic dancing circuit.  Not surprisingly, her success waned as she aged, and by 1915 was done with exotic dancing, but her sexual allure was still strong and she became a courtesan to the rich and powerful.  Able to travel freely due to her Dutch nationality during World War I, she went back and forth between allied and neutral nations, sparking distrust about her intentions.  Her latest lover, a Russian pilot named Captain Maslov flying in France was shot down and injured, and Mata was told she would only be allowed to visit him if she spied against the Germans.  Mata agreed, and did just that.  Hari was first arrested in England in 1916, suspected of spying for Germany, but was released.  She was again arrested in France in February of 1917, this time tried as a spy on trumped up charges, convicted, and sentenced to be executed by firing squad.  When she was shot, she refused a blindfold and blew a kiss to the firing squad.  Her embalmed head was sent to the Museum of Anatomy in Paris, but disappeared at an unknown time, perhaps as early as 1954.  Likewise, the rest of her body is also unaccounted for.  She most certainly was a scapegoat tried and shot for political reasons, as France had suffered mutinies in its Army in 1917 and the French people were restless and tired of war.  The sealed French records concerning her case are supposed to be released in 2017, so we will see then!  Recently released British records seem to indicate Hari was not guilty.

2. Grace Kelly, actress, Princess.

Born in 1929, Grace had a fantastic career as a Hollywood actress from 1950 to 1956, her wholesome beauty adorning the screen with rare “grace.”  Being perhaps the most beautiful woman in the world, Grace caught the eye of Prince Ranier of Monaco, a billionaire and head of state of Monaco since 1949.  Their marriage in 1956 was a fairy tale event, drooled over across the world by jealous girls and the press.  In fact, the Kelly family was required to pay a dowry of $2 million for the wedding to go forward!  (Apparently those European royals have traditions.)  It had been speculated that Ranier had gone to the US in 1955 for the express purpose of finding a wife, as a stipulation in his reign was that if he did not produce an heir, Monaco would revert to become part of France.  The wedding required 2 ceremonies, as the Napleonic Code of Monaco demanded a civil ceremony and the Catholic Church of course required a Church wedding.  Grace did produce 3 children for Ranier, 2 princesses and a prince, and was popular in Monaco as well as the rest of the world.  She died tragically in 1982 when she had a stroke while driving a car on a mountain road, killed by her injuries.  Her daughter, Princess Stephanie, was in the car with her but survived.  Among mourners at her funeral were Cary Grant, Princess Diana, Nancy Reagan (First Lady of the US), and jimmy Stewart.

3. Charlize Theron, actress, producer.

Born in Benoni, South Africa in 1975, Charlize began modeling in Italy at the age of 16 before moving to the US and attending the Joffrey Ballet School until injuring her knee.  Jetting to Los Angeles at 19 years old to become an actress, she landed her first movie role in Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest in 1995.  Better roles followed, and in 2000 she starred in 5 films.  In January of 1999, Vanity Fair put her on the cover of the magazine and called her “The White Hot Venus.”  Her signature role as a serial killer in Monster in 2003 landed her the Best Actress Oscar, as well as the top awards from the Screen Actors’ Guild and the golden Globes.  Did we mention she has adorable dimples when she smiles?  She does!

4. Christie Brinkley, model, actress.

Christine Hudson entered the world at Monroe, Michigan in 1954, and today at the age of 62 still looks great.  Brinkley became mega-famous as having graced the cover of the Swimsuit Issue of Sports Illustrated Magazine in 1979, 1980 and 1981.  Her beautiful face has been on the cover of over 500 magazine issues, and she worked for 5 years (longer than any other cosmetics model) as the face of Cover Girl cosmetics.  Christie had moved to Paris, France, to study art in 1973 when she was discovered by an American photographer, and the rest, as they say, is history (and headlines!).  Brinkley has many awards for humanitarian and charity work in many fields.

5. Marilyn Monroe, model,actress, singer.

Norma Jean Mortenson was born in Los Angeles in 1926, and died tragically at the age of 36 in 1962 of a drug overdose, ruled “probable suicide.”  Controversy surrounded her death, and gives fodder to conspiracy theories to this day, a sad testament to such a beautiful lady.  Famous as the first Playboy centerfold of them all in December of 1953, Marilyn’s acting career really took off in 1950 when she landed parts in 6 films, and by 1952 she was a bona fide box office star.  Marriages to famous men included baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, and playwright Arthur Miller.  There is good reason to believe Monroe may have had an affair with President John F. Kennedy, and her sultry crooning of “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” in 1962 was nearly a scandal.  Monroe had a clear, sexy, appealing singing voice, and became a decent actress as well.  She remains perhaps the iconic Hollywood Blonde Bombshell.

6. Jayne Mansfield, actress, model, singer.

A Pennsylvanian born in 1933, Jayne (Vera Jayne Palmer) was one of the silver screen’s hottest sex symbols, the “dumb blonde” prototype, although she was actually quite intelligent, claiming to have an IQ of 163.  She got B’s in college and besides English spoke 4 other languages.  She also complained that the public was only interested in “41-21-35,” her curvaceous measurements.  Deliciously voluptuous, Jayne found her Hollywood stardom fade in the 1960’s, and turned to night club work and singing.  Never afraid to appear nude on film or in person, she was a Playboy Magazine centerfold in 1955.  She died tragically in 1967 in an automobile crash, leaving her daughter, Mariska Hargitay (the actress) and 4 other children.

7. Denise Richards, model, actress.

Born in Illinois in 1971, Denise worked as a model after high school, getting international work.  Switching her attention to acting, she suffered through working on television and B movies until her breakout role in Starship Troopers in 1997.  Other killer roles came in Wild Things (1998) and of course she appeared in 1999’s  Drop Dead Gorgeous!  That same year she became a “Bond Girl” starring as Christmas Jones, a scientist, in The World is Not Enough across from Pierce Brosnan as James Bond.  Unfortunately, Richards is also known for her tumultuous marriage to bona fide weirdo Charlie Sheen, from 2002-2006.

8. Halle Berry, actress.

Born Maria Halle Berry (the Halle came from the name of a department store) in 1966 in Cleveland, Berry is of half White and half African American lineage.  In 2001, Berry became the first African American woman to win the Best Actress Oscar (Academy Award), and remains the only Black woman to win the big acting prize to date.  She took First Runner Up in the Miss USA beauty pageant in 1986 and went on to a 6th place finish in the Miss World contest.  She has also won Best Actress Emmy and Golden Globe awards, and anyone this beautiful certainly does some modeling and commercials as well.  She attended Cuyahoga Community College, and while at Bedford High School in suburban Cleveland was a cheerleader, honor student, and Prom Queen.  (Well duh!)  During the 21st Century she has been one of the highest paid actresses.

9. Queen Rania of Jordan, Queen Noor of Jordan.

Seriously, when it comes to picking a real looker as your Queen, the Kings of Jordan hit the jackpot with these 2 beauties.  Queen Noor was born in Washington, DC in 1951 as Lisa Najeeb Halaby, and is of Syrian and Swedish descent.  She is a graduate of Princeton and married King Hussein in 1978, a widower at the time.  Queen Rania was born Rania Al-Yassin in Kuwait in 1970 of Palestinian parents.  She married Crown Prince Hussein in 1993, and he became King Abdullah II in 1999, making her the Queen.  She is a graduate of the American University in Cairo, Egypt.  (Rest assured, we are aware of the several other extremely gorgeous Royal ladies out there.)

10. Anna Kournikova, tennis player.

Made fun of by late night hosts for not being all that good at tennis, but who cares?  When you look this good, other talents are secondary.  Born in Moscow in 1981, she was called “The Britney Spears of Tennis” when she came to international attention.  Her good looks have helped her get modeling and acting jobs.  For our money, this is the best looking Sports Woman we can think of.  Her highest ranking in professional tennis was #8 among women, although she was actually more accomplished in doubles, where she was ranked #1 as a partner in 1999.  She is now retired from tennis.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

100 Most Beautiful Women of Painting (Hardcover)


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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.