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Barbara Stanwyck: From Early Ashes to Movie Star

Updated on February 20, 2012
After Hollywood fame 1940s.
After Hollywood fame 1940s.
Before fame a hollywood 1920s.
Before fame a hollywood 1920s.
Posing to make money gig long before fame and fortune
Posing to make money gig long before fame and fortune

If you are under 40, depending on your interests and careers, you probably have missed Hollywood's greatest female actresses in some capacity. This is because all of these fantastic leading ladies were in their prime in the 40's and 50's. I'm talking about Lauren Becall, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor and so many more. If you grew up in the 60's, maybe 70's (pushing it) you witnessed their great acting and screen presence on either black and white reruns of their movies or the actresses in their less than prime period. If you ever doubted how much difference an actor makes when reading their lines, get the dialogue on paper. Read it. Then, watch how the famous make it come alive.

Like other contemporaries of her time, Barbara Stanwyck was a powerhouse actress. In her prime, an appealing physical body for sure, but not a knock out, coupled with a tough, yet firm veneer of a personality. Not one to cry much with emotion. She stood toe to toe with the men in most of her screen roles. She was casted like that because that "was" her personality. She had a steely, yet, appealing look.

Like most actors in this field, it usually is their prior years that formed their personalities and made them seek approval and love. Acting is like a magnet to this type of person. Look at Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando and tons of others then and today.

Stanwyck's life would itself make an interesting "rags to riches" film. She was born Ruby Stevens in 1907 in Brooklyn, NY (today, the Pratt Institute is there). After her birth, the father just walked out never to heard from again. Her mother raised her for a few years until she was killed by a streetcar in 1910. She was then raised by her much older sister, dirt poor until Ruby was given to the foster care system. Life was somewhat normal once a foster care home was o found, yet then she suffered child abuse as the she turned into a teen. So, this greatly shaped her into the steely, appealing woman she would become. Love was not part of the vocabulary in her world. When she tried "love" in her first marriage in 1927, it was to an alcoholic man, Frank Fay. Then, she got mixed up with a gangster and then with Al Jolson, a man she called a "real SOB". Love seldom worked for her. Her marriage to Robert Taylor and Robert Wagoner failed.

Her first movies from 1929-31, were bad. It was a combination of miscues and she was new. Things rapidly changed when Frank Capra made a series of films with her from 1930-32. People began to notice her and liked her. This kept her going on the steady rise to stardom with some of her best movies occurring between 1936-50, like Stella Dallas, Pacific Union, The Lady Eve, Meet John Doe, Ball of Fire and Double Indemnity.

As a middle ages woman, fewer roles happened in the 1960s, she was in Elvis' Roustabout (1964) and the TV series, The Big Valley (1965-69). The latter was like a "Bonanza" show but with a woman at the head of the table. She could play a real nasty woman very well. Her last roles were in the TV series, The Thorn Birds (1983) and a few episodes of "Dynasty", until she thought the scripts were trash.

She died in 1990. Google her and find one of Hollywood's great actresses!


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