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About Barbara Stanwyck
From Stella Dallas in 1937
Barbara Stanwyck (July 16, 1907 – January 20, 1990) was an American actress. A film and television star, known during her 60-year career as a consummate and versatile professional with a strong screen presence, and a favorite of directors including Cecil B. DeMille, Fritz Lang and Frank Capra. After a short but notable career as a stage actress in the late 1920s, she made 85 films in 38 years in Hollywood, before turning to television.
Stanwyck was nominated for the Academy Award four times, and won three Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe. She was the recipient of honorary lifetime awards from the Motion Picture Academy, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Golden Globes, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and the Screen Actors Guild, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and is ranked as the eleventh greatest female star of all time by the American Film Institute.
Early life and career
Barbara Stanwyck was born Ruby Catherine Stevens in Brooklyn, New York on July 16, 1907. She was the fifth and youngest child of Byron and Catherine (née McGee) Stevens; the couple were working-class natives of Chelsea, Massachusetts, of English and Irish extraction, respectively. When Ruby was four, her mother was killed when a drunken stranger pushed her off a moving streetcar. Two weeks after the funeral, Byron Stevens joined a work crew digging the Panama canal; and was never seen again. Ruby and her brother Byron were raised by their elder sister Mildred, five years Ruby's senior. When Mildred got a job as a John Cort showgirl, Ruby and Byron were placed in a series of foster homes (as many as four in a year), from which Ruby often ran away. Ruby attended various public schools in Brooklyn, where she received uniformly poor grades and routinely picked fights with the other students.
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, whom Ruby idolized. At age 14, she dropped out of school to take a job wrapping packages at a Brooklyn department store. Soon after she took a job filing cards at the Brooklyn telephone office for a salary of $14 a week, a salary that allowed her to become financially independent. She disliked both jobs; she was interested in show business, but her sister Mildred discouraged the idea, so Ruby next took a job cutting dress patterns for Vogue, however customers complained about her work and she was fired. Her next job was as a typist for the Jerome H. Remick Music Company, a job she reportedly enjoyed; however her true interest was still show business and her sister gave up trying to dissuade her.
In 1923, a few months short of her 16th birthday, Ruby auditioned for a place in the chorus at the Strand Roof, a night club over the Strand Theatre in Times Square. A few months thereafter she obtained a job as a Ziegfeld girl in the 1922 and 1923 editions of the Ziegfeld Follies. For the next several years, she worked as a chorus girl, performing from midnight to seven a.m. at nightclubs owned by Texas Guinan; she also occasionally served as a dance instructor[clarification needed]at a speakeasy for gays and lesbians owned by Guinan.
"I knew that after fourteen I'd have to earn my own living, but I was willing to do that.... I've always been a little sorry for pampered people, and of course, they're very sorry for me."
Barbara Stanwyck, in a 1937 interview
In 1926, Ruby was introduced to Willard Mack by Billy LaHiff, who owned a popular pub frequented by showpeople. Mack was casting his play The Noose; LaHiff suggested that the part of the chorus girl could be played by a real chorus girl, and Mack agreed to let Ruby audition. Ruby obtained the part, but the play was not a success. In a bid to add pathos to the drama, Ruby's part was expanded. At the suggestion of either Mack or David Belasco, Ruby adopted the stage name of Barbara Stanwyck; the "Barbara" came from Barbara Frietchie and the "Stanwyck" from English actress Jane Stanwyck. The Noose re-opened on October 20, 1926, became one of the most successful of the season, running for nine months and 197 performances. Stanwyck co-starred with actors Rex Cherryman and Wilfred Lucas.
Her performance in The Noose earned rave reviews, and she was summoned by film producer Bob Kane to make a screen test for his upcoming 1927 silent film Broadway Nights where she won a minor part of a fan dancer after losing out on the lead role, because she could not cry during the screen test. This marked Stanwyck's first film appearance. She played her first lead part on stage that year in Burlesque; the play was critically panned, but Stanwyck's performance netted her rave reviews. While playing in Burlesque, Stanwyck was introduced to actor Frank Fay by Oscar Levant; Stanwyck and Fay both later claimed they had hated each other immediately, but became close after the sudden death of fellow actor Rex Cherryman at the age of 30. Cherryman had become ill early in 1928, and his doctor had advised a sea voyage; while on a ship to Paris, where he and Stanwyck had arranged to meet, Cherryman died of septic poisoning. Stanwyck and Fay married on August 26, 1928, and moved to Hollywood.
Stanwyck's first sound film was The Locked Door (1929), followed by Mexicali Rose in 1929. Neither film was successful; nonetheless, Frank Capra chose Stanwyck for his Ladies of Leisure (1930). Numerous memorable roles followed, among them the children's nurse who saves two would be juvenile murder victims in Night Nurse (1931), the ambitious woman from "the wrong side of the tracks" in Baby Face (1933), the self-sacrificing mother in Stella Dallas (1937), the con artist who falls for her would-be victim (played by Henry Fonda) in The Lady Eve (1941), the woman who talks an infatuated insurance salesman (Fred McMurray) into killing her husband in Double Indemnity (1944), the columnist caught up in white lies and Christmas romance in Christmas in Connecticut (1945) and the doomed wife in Sorry, Wrong Number (1948). Stanwyck was reportedly one of the many actresses considered for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind (1939), although she wasn't given a screen test. In 1944, Stanwyck was the highest-paid woman in the United States.
"That is the kind of woman that makes whole civilizations topple."
Kathleen Howard of Stanwyck's character in Ball of Fire
Pauline Kael described Stanwyck's acting, "[she] seems to have an intuitive understanding of the fluid physical movements that work best on camera" and in reference to her early 1930s film work "early talkies sentimentality ... only emphasizes Stanwyck's remarkable modernism."
Stanwyck was 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."
When Stanwyck's film career declined in 1957, she moved to television. Her 1961–1962 series The Barbara Stanwyck Show was not a ratings success but 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. She was billed as "Miss Barbara Stanwyck", and her role as frontier family matron Victoria Barkley was likened to that of Ben Cartwright, played by Lorne Greene in the series Bonanza. Stanwyck's costars included Richard Long as Jarrod Thomas Barkley, (who had been in Stanwyck's 1953 film All I Desire), Peter Breck as the hot headed Nick Barkley, Linda Evans as the seductress Audra Barkley, and Lee Majors as Heath Barkley, the son fathered out-of-wedlock by the Stanwyck character's husband.
Years later, Stanwyck earned her third Emmy for The Thorn Birds. In 1985, she made three guest appearances on the hit primetime soap opera Dynasty prior to the launch of its ill-fated spin-off series The Colbys in which she starred alongside Charlton Heston, Stephanie Beacham and Katharine Ross. Unhappy with the experience, 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; the role was ultimately given to her best friend Jane Wyman.
William Holden credited her with saving his career when they co-starred in Golden Boy (1939). They remained lifelong friends. When Stanwyck and Holden were presenting the Best Sound Oscar, Holden paused to pay a special tribute to Stanwyck. Shortly after Holden's death, Stanwyck returned the favor. Upon receiving her honorary Oscar, she said aloud: "And tonight, my golden boy, you got your wish."
Her first husband was actor Frank Fay. They were married on August 26, 1928. On December 5, 1932, they adopted a son, Dion Anthony "Tony" Fay. (He and Stanwyck eventually became estranged.) The marriage was a troubled one; Fay's successful career on Broadway did not translate to the big screen, whereas Stanwyck achieved Hollywood stardom, after a bumpy start. Fay did not shy from physical confrontations with his young wife, especially when he was inebriated. Some claim that this union was the basis for A Star is Born. The couple divorced on December 30, 1935. Subsequently, Stanwyck won custody of their adoptive son.
In 1936, while making the film His Brother's Wife, Stanwyck met and fell in love with her co-star, Robert Taylor. Following a whirlwind romance, the couple began living together. Their 1939 marriage was arranged with the help of Taylor's studio MGM, a common practice in Hollywood's golden age. She and Taylor enjoyed time together outdoors during the early years of their marriage, and were the owners of acres of prime West Los Angeles property. Their large ranch and home in the Mandeville Canyon section of Brentwood, Los Angeles is to this day referred to by locals as the old "Robert Taylor ranch".
Taylor reportedly had affairs during the marriage. When Stanwyck learned of Taylor's fling with Lana Turner, she filed for divorce in 1950 when a starlet made Turner's romance with Taylor public. The decree was granted on February 21, 1951. After the divorce, they acted together in Stanwyck's last feature film The Night Walker (1964). Stanwyck never remarried, collecting alimony of 15 percent of Taylor's salary until his death in 1969.
Stanwyck had an affair with actor Robert Wagner, whom she met on the set of Titanic. Wagner, who was 22, and Stanwyck, who was 45 at the beginning of the affair, had a four-year romance, as described in Wagner's 2008 memoir, Pieces of My Heart. Stanwyck broke off the relationship.
She was reportedly a conservative-minded Republican along with such contemporaries as William Holden, Ginger Rogers, and Gary Cooper.
Stanwyck's retirement years were active, with charity work outside the limelight. Her decline began after 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 caused her to contract bronchitis. The illness was compounded by her cigarette habit; she had been a smoker since age 9 until four years before her death.
Stanwyck died of congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at Saint John's Health Center, in Santa Monica, California, in 1990. Her body was cremated, and her ashes scattered in Lone Pine, California.
Awards and honors
1938 - nominated - "Best Actress in a Leading Role" - Stella Dallas
1942 - nominated - "Best Actress in a Leading Role" - Ball of Fire
1945 - nominated - "Best Actress in a Leading Role" - Double Indemnity
1949 - nominated - "Best Actress in a Leading Role" - Sorry, Wrong Number
1982 - won - Honorary Award: "For superlative creativity and unique contribution to the art of screen acting."
1961 - won - "Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Series (Lead)" - The Barbara Stanwyck Show
1966 - won - "Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series" - The Big Valley
1967 - nominated - "Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series" - The Big Valley
1968 - nominated - "Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series" - The Big Valley
1983 - won "Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or a Special" - The Thorn Birds (part 1)
1966 - nominated - "Best TV Star - Female" - The Big Valley
1967 - nominated - "Best TV Star - Female" - The Big Valley
1968 - nominated - "Best TV Star - Female" - The Big Valley
1984 - won - "Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV" - The Thorn Birds
1986 - won - Cecil B. DeMille Award
1967 - won - Screen Actors Guild - Life Achievement Award
1981 - won - Film Society of Lincoln Center - Gala Tribute
1981 - won - Los Angeles Film Critics Association - Career Achievement Award
1987 - won - American Film Institute - Life Achievement Award
Hollywood Walk of Fame - star at 1751 Vine Street
In 1973, she was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.