The Golden Globes might be the Oscars’ slightly less gilded little sister, but it has bestowed that golden statuette to some of history's finest actresses — on both big screen and small — since its inaugural ceremony in 1944.
Years before Amy and Tina took the stage, before your Benings and your Blanchetts, your Dunhams and your Daneses, a different crop of actresses commanded the attention of the Hollywood Foreign Press. Queens of comedy like Carol Burnett paved the way for comediennes to come. The Comedy or Musical category saw more of the latter than today’s awards do, dominated by the voices of Judy Garland, Julie Andrews and Barbra Streisand. Shirley MacLaine and Rosalind Russell reigned with five wins apiece until they were finally, inevitably, eclipsed by Meryl Streep.
It’s hard not to notice the staggering lack of diversity among winners and nominees alike — not until 1986, when Whoopi Goldberg won for The Color Purple, did a black actress take home a Globe. The homogeneity of ceremonies past represents as much a lack of opportunity for black actresses as anything else, a situation which is changing, if gradually. This year, the directors’ field could see its first win by a black woman, with the nomination of Ava DuVernay for the highly acclaimed Selma.
These stars of Hollywood past — some of whom, like MacLaine and Streisand, continue to churn out new work — were invariably documented in the pages of LIFE. And what better time than now, as we wait to find out which of this year’s nominees will emerge victorious, to take a walk down memory lane and revisit the forebears of today’s red carpet royalty.
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.