Top 10 Male & Female Sex Symbols of the 50s & 60s

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In popular culture a “sex symbol” is a person that is admired for their sex appeal.  Most of these individuals are famous actors, musicians, or models that have an extensive media following.  During the 1950s and 60s a generation of people began to question and challenge the traditionally accepted cultural norms.  The relatively conservative ideals that were formed around international war and population growth were beginning to evolve.  During this time in history the foundation for rock and roll music was formed, racial segregation was an issue, and the strict laws around sexual expression were being challenged.  For this reason, the people that emerged as sex symbols during this era were extremely influential and important to popular culture.

10. Ursula Andress

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Ursula Andress is a Swiss actress that became an international sex symbol in the 1960s.  Andress began her career as an art model in Rome, which led to film spots in the Italian movie industry.  She landed her breakout role in the 1962 James Bond film Dr. No.  Her famous character in the movie led to many modeling opportunities and Andress face became internationally known.  She would star alongside notable actors such as Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and Marcello Mastroianni.  Ursula Andress also played Vesper Lynd in the 1967 James Bond parody Casino Royale.

Why So Sexy

In the movie Dr. No Andress plays a shell diver named Honey Ryder who becomes the center of James Bond’s desire.  In a well-known scene, she rises out of the Caribbean Sea in a white bikini.  The movie moment is routinely listed as one of the sexiest in film history.  It made Ursula Andress the object of affection for millions of young men and women.  In 2001, the bikini worn by Andress in the film was sold for 35,000 Euros.  Ursula Andress has a short and curvy frame.  During the 1960s she dated some of Hollywood’s leading men, including James Dean, Sean Connery, and Marlon Brando.  She posed nude for Playboy Magazine in 1965 and her issue was one of the most popular in the magazines history.

9. Paul Newman

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In 1925 Paul Newman was born in Shaker Heights, Ohio.  During World War II Newman served in the United States Navy and fought in the Pacific theater.  He would later study drama at Yale University and Newman’s first Hollywood movie was The Silver Chalice (1954).  During the 1950s and 60s he held a rebellious persona and women idealized his movie characters.  Paul Newman has starred in numerous blockbusters, including Exodus, The Hustler, Hud, Cool Hand Luke, A New Kind of Love, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  In his later years Newman became known as an entrepreneur, humanitarian, and auto racing enthusiast.  He passed away in 2008 at the age of 83.

Why So Sexy

During the 1950s and 60s Paul Newman had a legendary sex appeal.  He came across as an intelligent and stern individual, who rarely smiled in photographs.  Newman was a class act in his daily activities, but wasn’t afraid to inform you on his opinions.  Paul Newman was one of the most famous movie stars of the 1960s and his characteristic blue eyes were admired by women from all over the world.

In the late 1960s Paul Newman showed strong opposition towards the Vietnam War and was ultimately placed on President Richard Nixon’s enemies list.  He would later claim that this was his greatest accomplishment.  Newman also supported initiatives on same sex marriage, global warming, and nuclear energy development.  During his lifetime Paul Newman was known as a “man’s man” and in the 1950s and 60s ladies from all around the world would have done anything to get close to him.

8. Raquel Welch

Raquel Welch was born in Chicago, Illinois.  In her early years Raquel worked various jobs, including a position as a weather forecaster, cocktail hostess, and various modeling gigs.  By the middle of the 1960s Welch turned her attention to acting and signed a film contract with 20th Century Fox.  She became internationally recognized after starring in the sci-fi hit Fantastic Voyage (1966).  To date Raquel Welch has starred in over a hundred films and television programs.

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Why So Sexy

During her early modeling career Raquel Welch quickly became known for her long chestnut hair and big brown eyes.  She is a busty woman and helped expand the popularity of bikini swimwear in the early 1960s.  In 1966 she starred in the film remake of One Million Years B.C.  A movie still of Welch used to promote the film showed her striking a pose in a prehistoric animal-skin bikini.  The picture was made into a poster and the photo would eventually become one of the best-selling posters in history.

Raquel Welch’s sexy roles and fashion sense helped her become an international sex symbol during the 1960s and 70s.  As most beautiful ladies do, Welch caught the attention of Hugh Hefner who published a photo of her iconic poster with the title “Most Desired Woman” of the 1970s.  In December of 1979 Raquel Welch was featured on the cover of Playboy’s Christmas edition, but she did not publish any nude photographs.  Raquel Welch has never appeared nude in a film or posed naked for a magazine.

7. Mick Jagger

Mick Jagger was born at the Livingstone Hospital in Dartford, Kent, England in 1943.  From a young age Jagger loved to sing.  In 1961, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards moved into a flat in Chelsea with a guitarist they had encountered named Brian Jones.  The trio would form a rock band named The Rolling Stones.  The stones would premiere on July 12, 1962.  During the 1960s The Rolling Stones released numerous popular albums and cemented themselves as rock legends.  The band’s free spirit and rock and roll lifestyle helped make them all international sex symbols, but the ladies especially loved Brian Jones and Mick Jagger.  During the 1960s and 70s Mick Jagger had many publicized romantic affairs.  The list of women he dated is extensive and Jagger has seven children by four different women.

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Why So Sexy

A number of rock stars from the 1950s and 1960s could have been mentioned as sex symbols, but none are quite as provocative as Mick Jagger.  His distinctive facial features are among the most recognizable in the world, but what makes Jagger so attractive is his music.  His confidence and stage presence has helped propel him to the status of international superstar.  Even at the age of 66, Mick Jagger can get ladies of all ages.  Similar to other rock stars, Mick Jagger’s most famous physical feature has to be his large lips and wide mouth.  Some other major musical sex symbols of the 1960s were Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and Jimi Hendrix.

6. Bettie Page

In 1923 Bettie Page was born in Nashville, Tennessee.  At a young age Bettie worked various modeling jobs, but didn’t get noticed by the mainstream media until 1952 when she started posing for mail-order photography.  During this time many of her pinups contained bondage and sadomasochistic themes.  Bettie Page was the first famous bondage model and she soon became the top selling pin-up girl in New York.  Bettie would often time pose nude for her posters and she was soon recognized by Hugh Hefner.  In January of 1955 Bettie Page was featured as the centerfold in Playboy Magazine.

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Why So Sexy

Bettie Page was a southern beauty with jet black hair and trademark bangs.  She was made famous by her controversial photographs that displayed the female body in a way that many people had not seen.  Page never appeared in any pictures or movie scenes using explicit sexual content, only nude photography.  Her provocative poses helped her stand out and attract the masses.  Bettie Page has been praised for her impact on fashion and the modeling world.  She played an important role in expanding the acceptance of sexuality in popular culture.

Bettie Page has been labeled the “Queen of the Pinup” and is known for her black lacy outfits.  She was also known for erratic and strange behavior.  After the end of the 1950s Bettie Page experienced a nervous breakdown and was put into a mental Hospital after assaulting and stabbing her landlady.  Bettie was diagnosed with acute schizophrenia and was released from the hospital in 1992.  She then hired an estate agency and started making money off her image.  Bettie Page died in 2008 at the age of 85.

5. Jayne Mansfield

Jayne Mansfield was an American actress that became an international sex symbol during the 1950s and 60s.  She was a smart young woman who fluently spoke five different languages and could play the piano and violin.  In the middle of the 1950s Jayne Mansfield became a Hollywood attraction.  She starred in numerous films and signed a long term movie contract with 20th Century Fox.  In 1963 Mansfield was persuaded to become the first mainstream actress to appear nude in an American film since the adoption of the Hays Code in 1934.  Mansfield was filmed topless for the production Promises! Promises!  Nude photographs of her taken on the set were published in Playboy Magazine.  As one would expect, the Playboy issue was one of the best selling in history.

Why So Sexy

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Jayne Mansfield was a natural brunette, but became famous for her long blond hair.  Her flamboyant image was attractive and inviting.  She had a distinctive soft voice and a voluptuous figure.  Between the years 1956 and 1957 Mansfield’s photo was published in over 2,500 separate newspapers.  She was a household name and received many comparisons to Marilyn Monroe.  In response to this she was quoted as saying, “cleavage, of course, helped me get to where I am.  I don’t know how she got there.”

Jayne Mansfield was not afraid to show her cleavage and one of her most famous photographs was taken at a party in 1957.  In the photo she is sitting with Sophia Loren who is starring down at her bosom.  During her career Mansfield gained a lot of publicity for her attempts to accidently expose her breasts in public.  Jack Paar even introduced her on The Tonight Show with the phrase “Here they are, Jayne Mansfield.”  Jayne Mansfield is credited with expanding the sexual image of popular culture that we enjoy today.  On June 29, 1967, Jayne Mansfield was killed in an automobile accident.  She was only 34-years-old.

4. Elvis Presley

In 1935, Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi.  At a young age Elvis was crazy about music, but was often times described as a “loner” by his schoolmates.  During his junior year of high school Elvis began to stand out.  He started to grow sideburns and styled his hair with rose oil and Vaseline.  Elvis also dressed in flashy clothing with high collars and open shirts.  In 1956, Presley made his first recordings for RCA in Nashville.  He was soon making television appearances and a national debate was formed surrounding his controversial stage antics, which included hip thrusts and “vulgar dancing.”

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During the 1950s Elvis released a series of chart topping records and became the king of rock and roll.  He staged only a limited number of concerts during the late 1950s and 60s and spent the majority of his time making films and writing movie soundtracks.  In 1973, Presley staged the first concert broadcasted globally via satellite.  It was titled Aloha from Hawaii and the concert was seen by around 1.5 billion people.  Prescription drug abuse compromised Elvis health and he died suddenly in 1977 at the age of 42.

Why So Sexy

Elvis Presley is one of the most important figures in 20th century popular culture.  He helped change the perception of popular music and expand the views of an entire generation of teenagers.  In the 1950s Elvis relentless dance moves, dark black hair, sideburns, and deep voice made him an international sex symbol.  Girls would go crazy at the sight of Elvis and swarm around him like no other previous performer.

Elvis Presley helped launch a youth subculture known as the greasers or hoods.  The hoods were labeled for their greased back hair, which involved using wax, gel, creams, tonics or pomade.  The estate of Elvis Presley continues to make tens of millions of dollars annually and he is still regarded as a symbol of rock and roll.

3. Brigitte Bardot

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In 1934 Brigitte Bardot was born in Paris, France.  At a young age she was interested in dance, but was soon recognized for her sharp beauty.  By the end of the 1940s Bardot began a modeling and acting career.  She was one of the few European actresses of the 1950s and 60s to reach high success in the United States.  During her career, Brigitte Bardot was portrayed as a sex symbol and idealized by many stars, including John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Bob Dylan.  Brigitte Bardot and John Lennon met on only one occasion in 1968.  The incident was recalled in Lennon’s memoir, which states that a nervous Lennon took LSD before arriving, and neither star impressed the other. “I was on acid, and she was on her way out.”  Brigitte Bardot starred in 48 films and recorded 80 songs during her career.

Why So Sexy

Brigitte Bardot’s body image had a significant impact on fashion trends during the 1950s and 60s.  She popularized the Bardot neckline, which is a wide open neck that exposes both shoulders.  Bardot helped expand the popularity of bikini swimwear.  Today, bikinis are widely used all over the world and I think many people reading this article agree that Bardot’s contributions are admirable.  She popularized the choucroute hairstyle (beehive type) and gingham clothes.

It was Brigitte Bardot’s “sex kitten” image that made her so recognizable.  In 1956 she became known all over the world after starring in the seductive thriller And God Created Woman.  The movie was criticized by some for having a sexist point of view, as Bardot was portrayed as a young woman with a high level a sexual energy.  The film pushed the limits of censorship in America and the public loved it.  During the 1960s Bardot held the image of a free spirit and had many publicized relationships and marriages.  In her later years she became an animal rights activist and has even been fined for inciting racial hatred.

2. James Dean

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In 1931 James Dean was born in Marion, Indiana.  His family moved to Santa Monica, California at a young age and his mother passed away when James was 9-years-old.  Dean attended drama classes at UCLA University until he landed the professional role of Malcolm in the play Macbeth.  In the early 1950s James Dean starred in many small time television and film roles, but he didn’t become internationally famous until the release of the 1953 adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel East of Eden, in which Dean played the loner Cal Trask.

The movie was successful and James Dean began to gain a strong fan following.  In 1955 James starred in the film Rebel without a Cause, in which he played the character of troubled Los Angeles teenager Jim Stark.  Jim Stark would give James Dean a youth following and was a close representation of his true nature.  James Dean loved fast cars, adrenaline, car racing, and bullfighting.  His last film role was his portrayal of farmer Jett Rink in the movie Giant.  Sadly, James Dean died in an automobile accident on September 30, 1955.  He was only 24-years-old.

Why So Sexy

During the 1950s James Dean became a sexual icon as a generation of teenagers looked upon him for freedom.  James Dean had a wild and documented sexual history, which included experimental relationships with both men and women.  He was always quick to dismiss the question about his sexual orientation and in one interview gave the famous quote “Well, I’m certainly not going through life with one hand tied behind my back.”

During the early 1950s the U.S. government classified homosexuality as a mental disorder.  James Dean was idealized by both men and women alike for his characteristic hairstyle, bad boy image, fashion, and famous eyes.  He brought the topic of sexual orientation into the mainstream media.  The impression that James Dean made was immediate and like many stars that died young, James Dean will continue live as a sex symbol because his fans will forever remember him as the 24-year-old rebel without a cause.

1. Marilyn Monroe

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Marilyn Monroe was considered the ultimate sex symbol of the 1950s and early 60s.  She was born in Los Angeles and was raised under the name Norma Jeane Baker.  In the early 1940s Marilyn became a successful model and was featured in many magazines.  She was noticed by movie executives and was signed to a long term film contract with 20th Century Fox in 1950.  In 1952 Marilyn Monroe caught the attention of the entire United States when nude photos of her were published in a calendar.  The pictures were taken from a 1949 shoot with photographer Tom Kelley.

In response to this Monroe claimed that she took the photos only because she had no money at the time.  This generated a widely publicized sympathy story and Monroe was featured on the cover of major magazines.  During her lifetime, Marilyn Monroe was married to three separate men, James Dougherty, Joe DiMaggio, and playwright Arthur Miller.  During the 1950s Marilyn starred in many successful films and was a popular actress.

Why So Sexy

Marilyn Monroe was often times casted in movie roles as the hot and sexy blond.  She became internationally known for her blond hair, fashion, soft voice, and rowdy behavior.  In December of 1953 Marilyn Monroe was featured in the first issue of Playboy Magazine.  She was pictured on the cover and nude photos of her were used in the issue.  This helped make Monroe a sexual icon and she gained interest from many powerful men, including the Kennedy brothers.

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During her career, Marilyn Monroe was a popular singer and released many singles.  She notably traveled overseas to perform and dance for thousands of soldiers fighting in the Korean War.  During the 1950s Marilyn Monroe was idealized by millions of American men and women.  Sadly she died on August 5, 1962 under suspicious circumstances.  The official cause of death was an overdose of barbiturates and her death was initially ruled a “probable suicide.”


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40 Comments

  1. I am a huge Audrey Hepburn fan, but I am not sure if "sex symbol" is a decent definition for her. I think she is possibly the most beautiful woman to have ever worked in Hollywood but I don't find her as outright sexual as say Racquel Welch.

    But yeah, I was a bit surprised Brando was not on the list and Newman was. Still, a great list.

    • I totally agree with you about Audrey Hepburn. Beauty defined in a human being, but not a sex symbol. Same for Grace Kelly. Now, I could have easily seen Robert Redford and Ann Margret on this list too.

  2. Monroe is one of those women who everyone remembers as being beautiful, but when actually sees again her photos, one realizes that she was simply beyond beautiful, she was divine!

  3. Marilyn monroe is kind of ugly no offense, I always thought she was, shes really curvy and her hair is bad and that face is just too plain, she looks just like any other woman.

    • Not gonna disagree w/ you on the beauty of Monroe, as sexiness/beauty is a subjective quality. Saying that she looks just like any other woman, though, is a bit of an innacurate statement.

      The truth (and the reason she’s #1 on most/all lists like this) is that she became a definitive model of what it was to be sexy. She didn’t look just like any every other woman. Every other woman wanted to look like her.

      And just to be clear, I don’t think she’s the most beautiful woman to ever live, either. Not by a long shot.

  4. Wedha Abdul rasyid on

    I’m a Pop- art painter live in Indonesia. I want to paint Mick Jagger based on the photograph shown in this site. I don’t know who the photographer is. To whom I should ask the permision, so that I can paint him legally? To every body who happen to read this message, please help me. Thanks.

  5. I knew Marilyn Monroe would be #1 before even reading the article.
    Personally, I would put Brigitte Bardot at number one. She was beautiful by what I’ve seen in her younger years and still is, for her age, today. I can’t get Comic Strip (a song she is featured in, only making noises though in honesty) out of my head!
    I really admire her. Thus she was gorgeous whatever colour she dyed it – blonde, brunette or black. She still is an inspiration, as today I believe she is an animal rights activist?

  6. I don’t think Mick Jagger has ever been hot. He’s just ugly. I mean, yuck. This is coming from a 21 year old female. I wouldn’t have ever thought he was sexy. All the women on the list are just simply beautiful and James Dean, he was hot. Ow ow!

    • Yes of course. He is much more sexier then any of the others on this list. He was also original and not your “typical” male star that cared what people thought. He was just himself. He is and will always be number one in my eyes. gone too soon !

  7. raquel is my all-time favorite from that era and she was still unbelievably HOT in her 40s when i watched mork and mindy as a kid. lol. leaving sophia loren off the list is crazy!! wow. ann margaret and jane russell too. paul newman was really a 70s sex symbol when he got older. butch cassidy was made in ’69 followed by the sting a slew of other big movies to follow. you can’t have paul newman and leave marlon brando. a pretty good list though but sophia HAS to be on ANY top 10 list of ALL sex symbols ever.

  8. raquel is my all-time favorite from that era and she was still unbelievably HOT in her 40s when i watched mork and mindy as a kid. lol. leaving sophia loren off the list is crazy!! wow. ann margaret and jane russell too.

  9. Y’ALL full of CRAP!!! U couldn’t come up with one person of color!!! DOROTHY DANDRIDGE IS JUST AS PRETTY OR MORE PRETTIER THAN ALL OF THE FAIR CHICKS!!!!! PLEASE!!!!!!

  10. What about Cyd Charisse and her one million dollar leg? What about Gene Kelly? Liz Taylor?
    I agree for Elvis, Betty and Bardot.
    About Marilyn :” She became internationally known for her blond hair, fashion, soft voice, and rowdy behavior.”= Lili St Cyr taught her all that.

  11. The sexiest woman ever created Ann-Margret is not on this list????? She is sexier than all these people on this list combined. Ann-Margret is the sex symbol of all sex symbols.

    • I agree Ann-Margret has been so Gorgeous!!!!! To me she is the best!!!! Why in the world is, she not in the list. I agree she should be no.1 and Elvis? #4 he should be higher. By the way I am a Straight Female young but I can recognize sex appeal and beauty!!!!!!!! She can dance, sing, and act!!!! So yeah the very White Tall Green Eye Girl me, is upset! Arghhhhhhhh

  12. How do you have the Top 10 sex symbols of the 50’s and 60’s without even putting MARLON BRANDO on the list AT ALL! He was the epitome of sexiness back then, not to mention, STILL has girls melting over him that are 16 year olds. To me, a sex symbol was one back when they were popular, but also still bringing new fans from a whole new generation to fall in love with him and the golden age of movies.

    Also, why not put Sophia Loren, Rita Hayworth, or Vivian Leigh(although I would say that she is more of beauty and less of sex symbol as Audrey Hepburn is). I know that your list is only for 10 people, but the people you chose and the order you put them in, is incredibly wrong in my opinion.

  13. Dead Flowers on

    From a 15 years old french girl :

    To all the peoples who think Jagger is ugly : You might not be attracted by androgyne guys, that’s all. My friends react the same way : Buuurk. But Mick was really sexy at his time, the way he lloks, he sings, everything !
    He has tiny hips, unhaired torso, blue eyes, and plushed lips. He IS hot, sorry. He is sex on legs, honestly. Did you ever seen him on stage. He stare at the audience or the camera like he is gonna rape them ! He know he is attractive and he plays with it. Both gender were found of him in the 6O’s.
    I think he uses sexual energy on stage. That’s all his music is about, anyway, sex. Of course, there’s girls, rock, drugs, parties, love affair, money. But where is Mick, Sex is too.

    Forgive my english, I’m only 15 ^^

  14. Elvis Presley was put at #4? Did the writer of this article shoot some heroin before writing this? Elvis is one apart in his looks, for both males and females. He’s an adonis. Easily #1.

  15. I think that Elizabeth Taylor not being on this list is just wrong! I agree Audrey is beautiful but not in a way that these stars were sexy. She was innocent beautiful and stunning. Elvis should have been higher up though. My favorites on this list are by far James Dean and Elvis Presley for the females Marilyn and Jayne but if Elizabeth would have been on this list it would have been different!

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