Some stars have beauty, some have smarts, and some have eyes that could make a stone fall in love. Here are five superstars whose career defining moment came literally in the blink of an eye.
The Original Bette Davis’s Eyes
Bette Davis’s eyes have been described as “mesmerizing”, “neurotic,” “poached pears,” and “lovely.” Without them she might not have had a career at all, a turning point Davis explained to talk show host Dick Cavett, “In 1930, Universal was going to drop my option, but decided I had beautiful eyes.” Good thing, or we would have missed the salty wit of lines like, “What a dump!” and “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
With her scorching gaze and wicked tongue, Davis immortalized what she called “bitch heroines” in classic films like All About Eve and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Her bewitching peepers attracted four husbands and lovers including Howard Hughes, but as she admitted on Good Morning America she only had eyes for acting: “The big romance of my life was this work I do.” The star of nearly 100 films, Davis’s passion for acting earned her two Academy Awards, 10 Oscar nominations, and the status of being the highest paid woman in America in 1942. What was the secret to her success? “Brown mascara,” she told a biographer, “I always wear brown mascara… if you are fair, black mascara and dark eye shadow will make you look like a clown, or a harlot.”
Barbra Streisand: Eyes on the Prize
Dubbed “Crazy Barbara” in high school (she dropped the “a” later), Barbra Streisand discovered the alchemy of eyeliner as an awkward teen. At an early age, she set her black-rimmed, jewel-like eyes on her goal to be “the best singer, best actress, best recording star, best Broadway star, and best movie star!”
By 1967, 25-year-old Streisand was well on her way to the heights of stardom with two Grammys, five Emmys, and a Tony nomination, and she was about to take on Hollywood in the film version of her hit Broadway show, Funny Girl. After months of rehearsal and screen tests, a face went up in lights unlike any the world had ever seen before. Beneath a sculpted mountain of hair, Streisand’s eyes were Nefertiti-esque and gorgeous.
“On screen she looked a miracle,” said Funny Girl choreographer Herbert Ross. “How could anyone have known that her skin was going to have that brilliant reflective surface, that she was going to look radiant…!” Who knew? La Streisand! She told author Clive James, “In one test they made me up; one test I made myself up. I looked much better making myself up.” And so the greatest superstar was born.
Liza Minelli: ‘Please Love Me’ Eyes
Liza Minelli set out to make her mother proud. When your mom is Judy Garland, that’s no easy trick. On the New York stage by the age of 16, Minelli had won a Tony by 19, followed by an Oscar nomination in 1969 for The Sterile Cuckoo. But she didn’t find her inner LiZa-with-a-Z until Bob Fosse cast her as Sally Bowles in the film version of Cabaret. Her Oscar-winning director dad, Vincent Minelli (she has his eyes), helped find the look for Sally Bowles by pointing out the raven-haired screen vixens of the 30’s. Minelli embellished the style with huge spiky eyelashes she had spotted in an L.A. make-up shop and special ordered even bigger. Add a black bowler hat, bare shoulders, and a spotlight—and suddenly it was all there. The Oscar-Tony-Grammy-Emmy-award-winning legend, along with pals like Halston and Warhol, would go on to redefine celebrity and star power. With her enormous black-spider lashes and eyes pleading for love—and winning it—Judy’s daughter, Liza, came into her own.
Amy Winehouse: Rebel Eyes
Amy Winehouse didn’t give a rat’s bum about stardom—her own or anyone else’s. The tiny diva with the towering nest of hair and soulful hurricane of a voice once heckled Bono during an award acceptance speech, “Shut up! I don’t give a f***!” What she did care about was music and her on-again-off-again lover and future husband Blake Fielder-Civil, a music video production assistant she had met in a bar. A Jewish girl who quit school to sing jazz in clubs, Winehouse had a record deal at 17, and by 20, a mildly successful debut album, Frank. With Fielder-Civil, she turned to girl groups from the 60’s like the Ronettes, painting slashes of black around her eyes, and teasing up her hair. She told Vogue, “The more insecure I feel, the bigger my beehive gets,” and the thicker the eye make-up, too. She also traded pot for booze and sometimes heroin.
During one of the couple’s tempestuous break-ups, Winehouse wrote the songs for her album Back to Black and recorded them in a voice Rolling Stone described as, “a broken heart marinating in whiskey and cigarette smoke.” The magazine noted her startling change “from a conventionally pretty, promising performer to a tattooed, beehived diva belting songs about desperate love.” The collision of heartbreak, song, and style made Winehouse a star and paparazzi magnet until her death of alcohol poisoning at the age of 27. Back to Black won five Grammys, and Winehouse’s “cat eyes” and Cleopatra-meets-Motown chic went viral, opening the door for a new wave of unconventional female singers. As Lady Gaga told PopEater, “Because of Amy, very strange girls like me go to prom with very good-looking guys.”
Johnny Depp: The ‘Aye’ Eyes of a Pirate
Johnny Depp has been too cool for school since he dropped out of it to play guitar in a rock band. So how could this hipster who once mooned a teacher, star in a movie based on a ride at Disneyland? Acting had been just a “day job” until Depp catapulted to teen heartthrob in the ‘80’s hit series 21 Jump Street. He hated being “a product” for posters and lunchboxes so, for the next decade, he sought out nothing but quirky films like Edward Scissorhands and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Watching Disney movies with his 3-year-old turned him on to the delirious cool of cartoons, and Depp agreed to play Captain Jack Sparrow in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl—but his way.
To Depp, pirates were like rock stars, and who’s the greatest of them all? Legendary Rolling Stone guitarist, Keith Richards. Depp, who is nearly blind in his left eye and nearsighted in his right, opted not to wear a patch for the role, and instead rimmed his eyes with thick black Kohl, just as Richards has been doing since the 70’s. With dread locks, gold teeth, and a gleeful rummy swagger, Depp’s Captain Sparrow stole the film in rock-and-roll pirate fashion. Depp told Rolling Stone his portrayal had Disney execs worried, “What’s wrong with him? …Is he drunk? By the way, is he gay?” But the film grossed $653 million and spawned a golden franchise. Jack Sparrow did ultimately land Depp on a lunchbox, but also on the cover of Rolling Stone.