Saturday, December 1, 2012

Star of the Month: Barbara Stanwyck.

Barbara Stanwyck (July 16, 1907 – January 20, 1990) After, a short career as a stage actress, she made 85 films in 38 years in Hollywood, before turning to television. By 1944, Stanwyck was the highest paid woman in the United States. She was nominated for the Academy Award four times, and won three Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe. Stanwyck, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Barbara Stanwyck was born Ruby Catherine Stevens in Brooklyn, New York on July 16, 1907. Ruby, was the fifth and youngest child of Catherine Ann and Byron E. Stevens.

When she was four, her mother was killed when a drunk pushed her off a moving streetcar. Two weeks after the funeral, Byron Stevens joined a work crew digging the Panama canal and never returned.

Ruby and her brother Byron were raised by their sister Mildred, who was five years older than Ruby. When Mildred got a job as a John Cort showgirl, Ruby and Byron were placed in foster homes, from which Ruby often ran away.

During the summers of 1916 and 1917, Ruby toured with Mildred, and practiced her sister's routines backstage. Another influence toward performing was watching the movies of Pearl White, who was known as the "Stunt Queen" of silent films. Perils, most famous performance was in, The Perils of Pauline.
 Please click here to learn more about Pearl White.

At age 14, she dropped out of school to take a job wrapping gifts at a department store in Brooklyn. Soon after, she took a job filing cards at the Brooklyn telephone office which allowed her to become financially independent. Her next job was cutting dress patterns for Vogue, but she was quickly fired. She also, worked as a typist for the Jerome H. Remick Music Company. But... her dream job was to work in show business.

In 1923, Ruby auditioned for a place in the chorus at the Strand Roof, a night club over the Strand Theater in Times Square. A few months later, she landed a job as a dancer in the 1922 and 1923 seasons of the Ziegfeld Follies.

For the next several years, she worked as a chorus girl, performing in nightclubs owned by Texas Guinan. She also worked as a dance instructor at a speakeasy for gays and lesbians owned by Guinan.

In 1926, Ruby was introduced to Willard Mack by Billy LaHiff who owned a popular pub frequented by show-people Mack was casting his play The Noose and LaHiff suggested that the part of the chorus girl be played by a real chorus girl. Mack agreed and gave the part to Ruby after a successful audition. The play was not a success, so Mack decided to expand Ruby's part. The Noose re-opened on October 20, 1926 and became one of the most successful plays of the season, running on Broadway for nine months and 197 performances. At the suggestion of either Mack or David Belasco, Ruby changed her name to Barbara Stanwyck by combining her character's first name, Barbara Frietchie, and Stanwyck, after the name of another actress in the play, Jane Stanwyck.

She became a Broadway star soon after when she was cast in her first leading role in the production of Burlesque (1927). Where, she received rave reviews.

Soon after, Stanwyck was asked by film producer Bob Kane to make a screen test for his upcoming 1927 silent film, Broadway Nights. She lost the lead role because she could not cry in the screen test but got a minor part as a fan dancer. This was Stanwyck's first film appearance.

Frank Fay and Barbara Stanwyck

While playing in Burlesque, Stanwyck had been introduced to her future husband, actor Frank Fay, by Oscar Levant. Stanwyck's and Fay's relationship developed into a romance and they married on August 26, 1928. They soon moved to Hollywood.

Stanwyck's first sound film was: The Locked Door (1929), a drama film based on the play, The Sign on the Door by Channing Pollock. A previous version was the silent film, The Sign on the Door (1921) starring Norma Talmadge. Please click here to read movie review. followed by the film, Mexicali Rose(1929), which begins when Bob, arrives for a honeymoon with his new wife, Rose! Stanwyck, performs in a jaw-dropping dual character that was outrageous by any era's standards.. Even though neither film was successful, Frank Capra chose Stanwyck for his, Ladies of Leisure (1930). A romantic drama film based on the 1924 play Ladies of the Evening by Milton Herbert Gropper.

Many important roles followed: Night Nurse (1931), a Pre-Code,  crime drama and mystery film directed by William A. Wellman.

The film was considered risque, because of the scene where Stanwyck and Blondell are seen in their lingerie. Gable plays a vicious chauffeur gradually starving two little girls to death after having run over and killed their sister with his car.

Shopworn(1932). A Pre-Code romantic/drama starring Barbara Stanwyck and Regis Toomey.
Please click here to read movie review."

Next on the list, was a film about a ambitious woman from "the wrong side of the tracks", Baby Face (1933) Please click here to read movie review. A very dramatic film directed by Alfred E. Green. This Pre-Code film is about a young woman who uses sex to advance her socially and financially. Marketed with the tag line, "She had it and made it pay", the film's open discussion of sex made it one of the most notorious films of the Pre-Code Hollywood era. This film was Warner Bros. answer to MGM's, Red-Headed Woman (1932), another Pre-Code Hollywood film starring Jean Harlow.

Next, is a film about a self-sacrificing character called, Stella Dallas (1937),  based on the Olive Higgins Prouty novel of the same name. It was directed by King Vidor. Stanwyck, was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and Shirley for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

Barbara Stanwyck, played Molly Monahan in, Union Pacific (1939) with Joel McCrea. This dramatic/western film was directed by Cecil B. DeMille. Based on the novel, Trouble Shooter by Western fiction author Ernest Haycox, the film is about the building of the railroad across the American Western wilderness.

Union Pacific was released in 1939 two months after John Ford's Stagecoach, which film historians consider responsible for transforming the Hollywood Western from "B films."

According to a news item in The Hollywood Reporter, DeMille directed much of the film from a stretcher, because of an operation he had months earlier. However, studio records indicate DeMille collapsed from the strain of directing three films simultaneously and used a stretcher for about two weeks.

The golden spike used at the ceremony to mark the end of the construction was the same spike actually used in the May 10, 1869 event, on loan from Stanford University.

For the Indian attack on the train, Paramount hired 100 Navajo Indian extras.

The company had rented many local Pinto horses for the filming of the Indian attack on the train. During filming, however, local cowboys had to be hired to round up the horses, as they would scatter and sometimes stampede because of the noise and confusion of these scenes—all the shooting, yelling, and yards of unfamiliar cloth on the horses, along with kettles and other implements tied to their manes and tails, made them extremely nervous and uncomfortable, and it didn't require much to make them bolt.

In order to operate the number of trains required by the production, Paramount had to get a regulation railroad operating license from the Interstate Commerce Commission.

Up next.. Stanwyck, plays a con artist who falls for her would-be victim (played by Henry Fonda) in, The Lady Eve (1941), a screwball comedy film written and directed by Preston Sturges. The film is based on a story by Monckton Hoffe about a mismatched couple who meet on board a luxury liner.
Please click here to read movie review.

Ball of Fire(1941). Directed by Howard Hawks, with Gary Cooper. A group of professors, writing an encyclopedia and their encounter with a nightclub performer who provides her own twist on words and thier meaning. In 1948, the plot was recycled for a musical film, A Song Is Born, this time starring Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo. Please click here to read movie review.

Next, a story about a woman who talks an infatuated insurance salesman (Fred McMurray) into killing her husband in Double Indemnity (1944). Please click here to read movie review. Many of her roles were strong characters and in Double Indemnity, Stanwyck , performed as the "most notorious femme" in the film noir history.

Stanwyck, was best known for her accessibility and kindness to the backstage crew on any film set. She knew the names of their wives and children, and asked after them by name. Frank Capra said she was "destined to be beloved by all directors, actors, crews and extras. In a Hollywood popularity contest she would win first prize hands down."

Later, she would perform in story about a columnist caught up in white lies and Christmas romance in, Christmas in Connecticut (1945).

She also played the doomed wife in Sorry, Wrong Number (1948). A suspense film noir directed by Anatole Litvak. It tells the story of Leona Stevenson, a spoiled, daughter of a millionaire. The telephone is her only connection with the outside world.

One day, while listening to what seems to be a crossed phone connection, she eavesdrops on two men planning a woman's murder. Leona calls the phone company and police, only to be ignored. Adding to Leona's dilemma is the fact that her husband Henry is missing. After a number of phone calls, the terrorized Leona begins to piece together the mystery. Her husband, who works for her wealthy father, turns out to be not all he seems. Finally, Leona soon realizes she is the intended victim.

Stanwyck was one of the many actresses considered for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in... Gone With The Wind (1939), although she did not receive a screen test.

William Holden and Stanwyck were good friends and when Stanwyck and Holden were presenting the Best Sound Oscar, Holden paused to pay a special tribute to her for saving his career when he was cast in the film, Golden Boy (1939). Please click here to read movie review..

Shortly after Holden's death, Stanwyck recalled the moment when receiving her honorary Oscar: "A few years ago I stood on this stage with William Holden as a presenter. He always wished that I would get an Oscar. And so tonight, my golden boy, you got your wish".

When Stanwyck's film career declined in 1957, she moved onto television. Her 1961–1962 series The Barbara Stanwyck Show, earned her first Emmy Award. The 1965–1969 Western series The Big Valley on ABC made her one of the most popular actresses on television, winning her another Emmy.

Stanwyck's costars included Richard Long as Jarrod Thomas Barkley, (who had been in the film All I Desire (1953) with Stanwyck), Peter Breck as the hot-headed Nick Barkley, Linda Evans as Audra Barkley, and Lee Majors as Heath Barkley, the son fathered out of wedlock by the Stanwyck character's husband with another woman. (pictured above)

Years later, Stanwyck earned her third Emmy in, The Thorn Birds. In 1985, she made three guest performances in the primetime soap opera, Dynasty prior to the launch of its short-lived spin-off series, The Colbys, in which she starred with, Charlton Heston, Stephanie Beacham and Katharine Ross.(pictured below).

Stanwyck, remained with the series for only one season (it lasted for two), and her role as Constance Colby Patterson would prove to be her last. Earl Hamner Jr. (producer of The Waltons) had initially wanted Stanwyck for the lead role of Angela Channing on the successful 1980s soap opera Falcon Crest, but she turned it down and the role went to her best friend, Jane Wyman.

Barbara Stanwyck with Rex Cherryman.

Barbara Stanwyck's love life:

While playing in The Noose, Stanwyck fell in love with her co-star, Rex Cherryman, who became her fiancee in 1928. Cherryman, had become ill early in 1928 and his doctor advised him to take a sea voyage to Paris where he and Stanwyck had arranged to meet.While still at sea, he died of septic poisoning, at the age of 31.

On August 26, 1928, Stanwyck married her Burlesque co-star, Frank Fay. She and Fay later claimed that they disliked each other at first, but became close after the sudden death of Cherryman. After moving to Hollywood, they adopted a son, Dion Anthony "Tony" Fay, on December 5, 1932. The marriage was a troubled one. Fay's successful career on Broadway did not translate to the big screen, whereas Stanwyck achieved Hollywood stardom. Some claim that this union was the basis for the film, A Star is Born. The couple divorced on December 30, 1935. Stanwyck, won custody of their adoptive son.

Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor

In the film, His Brother's Wife (1936), Stanwyck was paired with her co-star, Robert Taylor. Following a whirlwind romance, the couple began living together. Stanwyck, was hesitant to remarry after the failure of her first marriage. However, their 1939 marriage was rumored to have been arranged with the help of Taylor's studio MGM. She and Taylor, were the owners of acres of a large ranch and home in the Mandeville Canyon section of Brentwood, Los Angeles is still referred to by the locals as the old "Robert Taylor ranch".

This picture was taken in 1960 when Robert Taylor, loads his dog Henry, into a station wagon as flames threatened his Mandeville Canyon ranch, which was spared. The two-day Bel Air/Brentwood fire destroyed nearly 500 homes, but no lives were lost. (Los Angeles Times photo).

In 1950, Stanwyck and Robert Taylor mutually decided to divorce and she proceeded with the official filing of divorce. There have been many rumors of the cause of their divorce, but according to several of their friends, they grew apart after World War II.

After the divorce, they acted together in Stanwyck's last feature film, The Night Walker (1964). A black-and-white psychological suspense thriller. Stanwyck never remarried and called Taylor the love of her life, according to her friend and costar, Linda Evans. She took his death in 1969 very hard and began a long break from film and television work.

Stanwyck reportedly had an affair with actor Robert Wagner, whom she met on the set of Titanic (1953). Wagner, who was 22, and Stanwyck, who was 45 at the beginning of the affair, had a four-year romance, which is described in Wagner's 2008 memoir, Pieces of My Heart.

In the 1950s, Stanwyck also, reportedly, had a one-night-stand with the much younger, Farley Granger which he writes about in his memoir, Include Me Out: My Life from Goldwyn to Broadway.

Stanwyck's retirement years were filled with charity work.

She was robbed and assaulted inside her Beverly Hills home in 1981.

The following year, while filming The Thorn Birds, the inhalation of special-effects smoke on the set may have caused her to contract bronchitis. The illness was compounded by her cigarette habit.

Stanwyck died on January 20, 1990 of congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at age 82 at Saint John's Health Center. Her remains were cremated and the ashes scattered in Lone Pine, California.


  1. Lovely tribute, Dawn. I didn't realize that she won so many Emmys.

  2. A terrific post about Stanwyck, and you've chosen some great photos. I just realized what lovely handwriting she had.

  3. silverscreenings, Thank you.. I'm always on the look out for autographed photos.

  4. Wonderful tribute to Stanwyck! She's my favorite actress. :)

  5. The best! I've always been in awe of the way she exuded toughness and vulnerability at the same time. It's a rare quality to master.

  6. Marvelous post about a marvelous actress.

  7. Thank you... She is also one of my favorite actress. I'm going to try and have a month full of Barbara Stanwyck posts.


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