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Barbara Stanwyck Was Hollywood’s Most Elusive Star

Posted by Hera Teole on 05:31

One thousand pages into a multivolume biography, Barbara Stanwyck feels as mysterious as ever.

131101_SBR_illoStanwyck

Illustration by Greg Ruth
Though it belongs—or appears to belong—to the gutter-bound caste of celebrity biography, A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True, 1907-1940 puts one in a philosophical frame of mind. Author Victoria Wilson, vice president and long-time editor at Knopf, has devoted over 15 years and nearly 1,000 pages (including endnotes, but not the index) to what is only the first of a two volume affair. Meeting this effort raises, at a particular slant, the questions that forever dog biography, the tireless, thankless, pack mule of the literary arts: What amount of detail makes a life? What quality, what selection?

Stanwyck is 33 at the conclusion of Steel-True, which averages 26 pages for every year of her life. I made the calculation to suggest extravagance, but the number instantly looked a little cheap: That’s about two pages per month, a few lines a day. Faced with what Janet Malcolm, in The Silent Woman, calls the teeming, “disorderly actuality that is a life,” all biography is doomed to some nagging sense of failure, the whiff of ghostly insult. Its most popular form—in the last century anyway—the newspaper obituary, rated by the word, suggests complete surrender to this fate.

Despite all that, by its heft and by other means, Steel-True courts the definitive. Barbara Stanwyck, born Ruby Stevens of Brooklyn in 1907, star of stage and screen, died of congestive heart failure in 1990. The first posthumous Stanwyck biography—a brisk, gossipy volume by Axel Madsen—appeared four years later; Wilson’s book joins two others published in the last year. Steel-True’s first pages tell a sad tale: By age 4, Ruby had lost her Canadian-born mother to a trolley accident and her father to the Panama Canal. She spent the rest of her childhood shuttling between the care of foster homes and that of her three much older sisters (one of whom, Millie, performed on stage). “And some of this story is true,” Wilson observes of the Stanwyck foundling legend—the whole truth requiring the kind of myth-busting industry the author is clearly prepared to apply.

After staggering to the finish of Steel-True (which concludes, in typically centrifugal style, not with Stanwyck, but with a long, evocative quote from Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent), I turned to the Madsen, if only to satisfy one of biography’s most powerful illusions—that of presenting a story in full. No matter how humane or respectful the treatment, the form’s appeal remains somewhat morbid: They do tend to die in the end. Prone to this strain of morbidity as a teenager, I returned over and over to biography, especially Hollywood biography. Manny Farber said that every movie transmits the DNA of its time. Movie stars are carriers too, their images touched with myth, their lives with myth’s human shading and frailties. As much as anything else, that junction seemed to hold the secret of how the best lives are lived.

131108_SBR_VictoriaWilsonBarbaraStanwick_COVER

For Stanwyck, as for most movie stars, timing was key. Her style, which favors unfussy naturalism and pure wellsprings of emotion, appealed to directors like Frank Capra, and fell in sync with depression-era Hollywood’s burgeoning interest in realism. Alongside Busby Berkeley fantasias came The Miracle Woman (1931), So Big (1932, based on the Edna Ferber novel), and Stella Dallas (1937), for which Stanwyck received her first Academy Award nomination. Later, her roles in The Lady Eve and Double Indemnity would fuse the words “tough-talking” to her name. But at 14 she thrilled to Sarah Bernhardt’s Memories of My Life, and had this to say of her early reading habits: “I read nothing good, but I read an awful lot. Here was escape! I read lurid stuff about ladies who smelled sweet and looked like flowers and were betrayed. I read about gardens and ballrooms and moonlight trysts and murders. I felt a sense of doors opening. And I began to be conscious of myself, the way I looked, the clothes I wore.”

In a later era, young Ruby might have inhaled grotty paperbacks about the drama kings and queens—Joan Crawford, Frank Capra, Clark Gable, William Holden—who became her friends. Lurid Steel-True is not; Ruby Stevens would have scratched her head. Wilson’s measured style and scholarly application suggest an affinity with Peter Guralnick’s double-volume life of Elvis Presley, alpha specimen of the “serious” celebrity biography. Guralnick didn’t hedge or shy from his subject’s outsize, gaudy legend, but persisted at its side, where he found and treated with intelligence, compassion, and healthy skepticism an exceptional human being and significant product of his time.

If more icon-friendly contemporaries like Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, and Katherine Hepburn burn brighter in the cultural imagination, Stanwyck doesn’t lack for critical respect. Wilson treats her with a restorative seriousness, a great capacity for discursion, and a biblical grasp of lineage. The author appears most comfortable building around her subject—pouring foundations, scraping connective bricks, lowering signposted turrets into place, raising crested flags. The result is a curious blend of excess and restraint, where astonishing contextual and historical detail presides over a more attenuated grasp of the woman at the center of the story. Rather than whittling from research materials the figure of a notable woman, her experience and character, Wilson uses a mountainous volume and density of information to set her subject into a kind of molded relief.

For someone like Stanwyck—so stubbornly elusive that she’s hardly recognizable from one of this volume’s many photographs to the next—the latter approach makes sense. Double sense, given that her life grazed so much 20th-century mythos. Hoofing on Broadway by age 16 (and eventually in Ziegfeld’s Follies), Ruby Stevens wasn’t much of a dancer, but she could work, and she could move—even in the chorus, she held the stage. She also had an expressive, richly authoritative voice. Within a few years, technology would meet the challenge of these combined gifts: After Stevens made her successful debut as Barbara Stanwyck, dramatic stage actress, the talking pictures came to collect one of their most electric, emotionally daring performers.

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The Bitter Tea of General Yen

Posted by Hera Teole on 05:28
The Bitter Tea of General Yen is a 1933 American Pre-Code drama film directed by Frank Capra, and starring Barbara Stanwyck and featuring Nils Asther and Walter Connolly. Based on the 1930 novel The Bitter Tea of General Yen by Grace Zaring Stone, the film is about an American missionary in Shanghai during the Chinese Civil War who gets caught in a battle while trying to save a group of orphans. Knocked unconscious, she is saved by a Chinese general warlord who brings her to his palace. When the general falls in love with the naive young woman, she fights her attraction to the powerful general and resists his flirtation, yet remains at his side when his fortune turns.

The Bitter Tea of General Yen was the first film to play at Radio City Music Hall upon its opening on January 3, 1933. It was also one of the first films to deal openly with interracial sexual attraction.[1] The film was a box office failure upon its release and has since been overshadowed by Capra's later efforts. In recent years, the film has grown in critical opinion. In 2000, the film was chosen by British film critic Derek Malcolm as one of the hundred best films in The Century of Films.

In the late 1920s in Shanghai during the Chinese Civil War, as throngs of refugees flee the rainswept city, a couple of elderly missionaries welcomes guests to their home for the wedding of Dr. Robert Strike (Gavin Gordon), a fellow missionary, and Megan Davis (Barbara Stanwyck), his childhood sweetheart whom he has not seen in three years. Some of the missionaries have a cynical view of the Chinese people they have come to save. Shortly after Megan arrives, her fiancé Bob rushes in and postpones the wedding so he can rescue a group of orphans who are in danger from the spreading civil war. Megan insists on accompanying him on his mission.

On the way they stop at the headquarters of General Yen (Nils Asther), a powerful Chinese warlord who controls the Shanghai region. While Megan waits in the car, Bob pleads with the general for a safe passage pass so he can save the orphans. Contemptuous of Bob's missionary zeal, General Yen gives him a worthless paper that describes Bob's foolishness. Bob and Megan reach St. Andrews orphanage safely, but the pass only makes the soldiers laugh and steal their car when they try to leave with the children. The missionaries and children eventually reach the train station, but in the chaos, Bob and Megan are both knocked unconscious and are separated.

Sometime later, Megan regains consciousness in the private troop train of General Yen, attended by his concubine, Mah-Li (Toshia Mori). When they arrive at the general's summer palace, they are greeted by a man named Jones (Walter Connolly), Yen's American financial advisor, who tells him that he has succeeded in raising six million dollars, hidden in a nearby boxcar, for General Yen's war chest. Megan is shocked by the brutality of the executions conducted outside her window. Fascinated and attracted by the young beautiful missionary, the general has his men move the executions out of earshot and assures her that he will send her back to Shanghai as soon as it is safe.

One evening, Megan drifts off to sleep and has an unsettling erotic dream about the general who comes to her rescue and kisses her passionately. Soon after, she accepts the general's invitation to dinner. While they are dining, the general learns that his concubine Mah-Li has betrayed him with Captain Li (Richard Loo), one of his soldiers. Later, after General Yen arrests Mah-Li for being a spy, Megan tries to intervene, appealing to his better nature. The general challenges her to prove her Christian ideals by forfeiting her own life if Mah-Li proves unfaithful again. Megan naively accepts and ends up unwittingly helping Mah-Li betray the general by passing information to his enemies about the location of his hidden fortune.

With the information provided by Mah-Li, the general's enemies steal his fortune, leaving him financially ruined and deserted by his soldiers and servants. General Yen is unable to take Megan's life—it is too precious to him. When she leaves his room in tears, he prepares a cup of poisoned tea for himself. Megan returns, dressed in the fine Chinese garments he gave her. She waits on him in the gentle manner of a concubine. When she says she could never leave him, he only smiles, then drinks the poisoned tea.

Sometime later, Megan and Jones are on a boat headed back to Shanghai. While discussing the beauty and tragedy of the general's life, Jones comforts Megan by saying that one day she will be with him again in another life.

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Book Review: 'A Life of Barbara Stanwyck' by Victoria Wilson

Posted by Hera Teole on 07:57
Barbara Stanwyck rarely played refined, upscale types. One of her favorite directors, William Wellman, told her, "You can't play a lady." Street-wise party girls, brassy mothers, gambling ladies, dancers for hire, gum-chewing prison inmates, man-eating home wreckers, jewel thieves and sharpshooting westerners suited her better. Whatever the role at hand, she conveyed the flinty sass of a woman who has seen it all and can fend for herself. A reporter called her "the screen's mistress in the art of telling the world where to get off." As early as Wellman's "Night Nurse" (1931), Victoria Wilson notes, Stanwyck shattered expectations as the spitfire title character, who shows her "steeliness and street grit" when she realizes her young charges are being exploited: First she strikes their mother's leering boyfriend, then she dumps a bucket of ice water over the drunken mother's head.

"The only game I remember playing," Barbara Stanwyck said of her childhood, "is the game of fighting." Ms. Wilson's epic biography of the actress—of which the 1,000-page "Steel-True" (the title alludes to a Robert Louis Stevenson poem) is only the first volume—suggests she never stopped.
In 1930s Hollywood, George Hurrell defined glamour, and he shot Stanwyck many times. For 'Ball of Fire' she was come-hither; for 'Meet John Doe,' earnest and intimate. But his favorite image was this 1937 shot—just one among dozens of portraits of screen greats that make 'George Hurrell's Hollywood' (Running Press, 416 pages, $60) a cinephile's delight.ENLARGE
In 1930s Hollywood, George Hurrell defined glamour, and he shot Stanwyck many times. For 'Ball of Fire' she was come-hither; for 'Meet John Doe,' earnest and intimate. But his favorite image was this 1937 shot—just one among dozens of portraits of screen greats that make 'George Hurrell's Hollywood' (Running Press, 416 pages, $60) a cinephile's delight. GEORGE HURRELL’S HOLLYWOOD © 2013 BY MARK A. VIEIRA, RUNNING PRESS, A MEMBER OF THE PERSEUS BOOKS GROUP
Born Ruby Stevens in Brooklyn in 1907, Stanwyck lost her mother at age 4 when a drunk on a trolley kicked the pregnant Kitty Stevens and she fell to the street. Her father deserted the family, so she lived with aunts and uncles and families who were paid to take her in. Stanwyck's older sisters provided some support, and she formed a fierce bond with her brother, Malcolm Byron, but for the most part she looked after herself. She would always identify with strong, self-sufficient women such as Pearl White, the fearless star of "The Perils of Pauline," whom she idolized as a child, and Annie Oakley, whom she would portray in George Stevens's 1935 film.
Stanwyck endured a brutal abortion at 15 that left her unable to have children. By that time she had left school and gone to work, taking whatever positions she could find: store clerk, switchboard operator, package wrapper. She developed a fierce work ethic that never left her. But ever since the age of 8, when she tagged along on the road with her older sister, Millie, who was an actress, Stanwyck had set her sights on performing. "She experienced an ecstasy just being in theaters," Ms. Wilson writes, "and made up her mind that she was going to be 'a great dancer.' "
The young hoofer began getting chorus girl jobs in Manhattan nightclubs. She did her first tour with the Ziegfeld Follies before she was 16 and in a few years moved on to speaking roles in plays. By age 20 her stage name (invented by David Belasco, who thought Ruby Stevens sounded too much like a burlesque queen) was up in lights on Broadway. Her powerful, smoky voice set her apart, and she knew, seemingly by instinct, how to reach an audience. "Barbara Stanwyck brings forth the handkerchiefs with expediency," the New York Telegram wrote of an early performance.
Two men played key roles in establishing her as a screen actress in Hollywood: the comic vaudevillian Frank Fay and the director Frank Capra. Known as the King of Vaudeville Gulch, Fay wielded considerable influence in New York show business. Performers like Jack Benny and Milton Berle copied his arch manner, and crowds thronged to see his routines. A thrice-divorced, devout Catholic, he was 16 years older than Stanwyck when she met him in 1927. Stanwyck accepted his dominance, convinced that "I was nothing until he came along," and after they married insisted, "Frank comes first with me and always will." She turned down offers from Hollywood and went west only after Fay had signed a movie contract. They both headlined their first films in 1929.
In Hollywood, however, Stanwyck soon outstripped her husband, winning accolades for her powerful, natural performances even as his erratic behavior—drinking binges, wild spending and violence—was turning him into a Hollywood has-been. They would divorce by 1935—when she was still only 28—and Ms. Wilson's account of the deterioration of the Stanwyck-Fay marriage is riveting: "Barbara went home at the end of the day. Fay was drunk and argumentative. He hit her and knocked her down the staircase. She knew she had to get out. She was lucky to be alive."
It was Capra, still quite young and unheralded himself, who assigned Stanwyck the role that made her a star: a party girl in "Ladies of Leisure" (1930). In these years before the puritanical Production Code took hold, adultery could be depicted with a wink, unmarried women could be frankly sexual and sinful characters didn't have to be punished for their transgressions. Capra—who would go on to direct Stanwyck in "The Miracle Woman" (1931), "Forbidden" (1932), "The Bitter Tea of General Yen" (1933) and "Meet John Doe" (1941)—felt she had a fierce and "childlike" innocence that gave his films a moral center. He preferred her with minimal makeup, unadorned and exhibiting her raw power, a gutsy truthfulness. Capra called her "a primitive emotional," and said, "I let her play herself, no one else." "This chorus girl," he said, "could grab your heart and tear it to pieces."
Victoria Wilson's pages on Capra owe much to her interviews with Edward Bernds, a sound mixer who worked with both Stanwyck and Capra. Bernds, who died in 2000, witnessed the attraction and closeness that developed between the actress and director. According to Bernds, Capra was the smitten one; Barbara didn't want to leave Fay for Capra or anyone else. It comes as a surprise when Ms. Wilson reports casually that Stanwyck was in love with both Fay and Capra. Stanwyck was such a private person that some aspects of her emotional life remain opaque even in a book of this length.
Bernds's disclosures are hardly the only revelations in these pages. The author's resourcefulness as a researcher and doggedness in tracking down an amazing array of firsthand observers inspire awe. She spoke to Stanwyck's adopted son, Tony Fay, and Walda Mansfield, one of her roommates in New York. She quotes from a revealing unpublished memoir by actor Joel McCrea, who first worked with Stanwyck in "Gambling Lady" (1934).
But Ms. Wilson is a completist. Every Stanwyck movie must take its place in her chronicle, every live performance and radio appearance. When she mentions a director or co-star, we're given that person's back story: previous credits, character quirks, reputation. The author also devotes many pages to American politics in the eras of Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt, the economics of the Depression, the effect of censorship on Hollywood, and the growing importance of the Academy Awards.
The goal is to place the actress's life and work in context. But we often lose sight of Stanwyck in the thickets of information. In her chapter devoted to "Stella Dallas" (1937), a major film in which Stanwyck delivered a harrowing performance, Ms. Wilson lavishes attention on a precursor, the silent version of "Stella Dallas," starring Belle Bennett. Elsewhere she devotes several pages to Woody Van Dyke, the colorful director of the artistically undistinguished "His Brother's Wife" (1936). The reason that movie matters, however, is that Stanwyck co-starred with Robert Taylor, the Nebraska-bred actor who would become her second husband, and MGM promoted the co-stars as "America's Grand New Love Team."
Ms. Wilson, meanwhile, has much further to go: This volume takes us only through the year 1940 and fewer than half of Stanwyck's more than 80 films. Stanwyck has performed none of her signature roles in "The Lady Eve" (1941), "Meet John Doe" (1941), "Ball of Fire" (1941), "Double Indemnity" (1944) and "Sorry, Wrong Number" (1948)—the roles that established her as a doyenne of film noir and as one of the screen's most accomplished comic actresses. Her decades of work in television must also come under scrutiny. Even Stanwyck aficionados—and there are many who consider her the finest, most versatile and truthful actress that Hollywood has produced—may be discouraged by the detail of "Steel-True."
Too much of a good thing, as Mae West said, can be wonderful; it can also be just too much.

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The Long Hello

Posted by Hera Teole on 07:55

One thousand pages into a multivolume biography, Barbara Stanwyck feels as mysterious as ever.

131101_SBR_illoStanwyck

Illustration by Greg Ruth
Though it belongs—or appears to belong—to the gutter-bound caste of celebrity biography, A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True, 1907-1940 puts one in a philosophical frame of mind. Author Victoria Wilson, vice president and long-time editor at Knopf, has devoted over 15 years and nearly 1,000 pages (including endnotes, but not the index) to what is only the first of a two volume affair. Meeting this effort raises, at a particular slant, the questions that forever dog biography, the tireless, thankless, pack mule of the literary arts: What amount of detail makes a life? What quality, what selection?
Stanwyck is 33 at the conclusion of Steel-True, which averages 26 pages for every year of her life. I made the calculation to suggest extravagance, but the number instantly looked a little cheap: That’s about two pages per month, a few lines a day. Faced with what Janet Malcolm, in The Silent Woman, calls the teeming, “disorderly actuality that is a life,” all biography is doomed to some nagging sense of failure, the whiff of ghostly insult. Its most popular form—in the last century anyway—the newspaper obituary, rated by the word, suggests complete surrender to this fate.
Despite all that, by its heft and by other means, Steel-True courts the definitive. Barbara Stanwyck, born Ruby Stevens of Brooklyn in 1907, star of stage and screen, died of congestive heart failure in 1990. The first posthumous Stanwyck biography—a brisk, gossipy volume by Axel Madsen—appeared four years later; Wilson’s book joins two others published in the last year. Steel-True’s first pages tell a sad tale: By age 4, Ruby had lost her Canadian-born mother to a trolley accident and her father to the Panama Canal. She spent the rest of her childhood shuttling between the care of foster homes and that of her three much older sisters (one of whom, Millie, performed on stage). “And some of this story is true,” Wilson observes of the Stanwyck foundling legend—the whole truth requiring the kind of myth-busting industry the author is clearly prepared to apply.
After staggering to the finish of Steel-True(which concludes, in typically centrifugal style, not with Stanwyck, but with a long, evocative quote from Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent), I turned to the Madsen, if only to satisfy one of biography’s most powerful illusions—that of presenting a story in full. No matter how humane or respectful the treatment, the form’s appeal remains somewhat morbid: They do tend to die in the end. Prone to this strain of morbidity as a teenager, I returned over and over to biography, especially Hollywood biography. Manny Farber said that every movie transmits the DNA of its time. Movie stars are carriers too, their images touched with myth, their lives with myth’s human shading and frailties. As much as anything else, that junction seemed to hold the secret of how the best lives are lived.
131108_SBR_VictoriaWilsonBarbaraStanwick_COVER

For Stanwyck, as for most movie stars, timing was key. Her style, which favors unfussy naturalism and pure wellsprings of emotion, appealed to directors like Frank Capra, and fell in sync with depression-era Hollywood’s burgeoning interest in realism. Alongside Busby Berkeley fantasias came The Miracle Woman (1931), So Big (1932, based on the Edna Ferber novel), and Stella Dallas (1937), for which Stanwyck received her first Academy Award nomination. Later, her roles in The Lady Eve and Double Indemnity would fuse the words “tough-talking” to her name. But at 14 she thrilled to Sarah Bernhardt’s Memories of My Life, and had this to say of her early reading habits: “I read nothing good, but I read an awful lot. Here was escape! I read lurid stuff about ladies who smelled sweet and looked like flowers and were betrayed. I read about gardens and ballrooms and moonlight trysts and murders. I felt a sense of doors opening. And I began to be conscious of myself, the way I looked, the clothes I wore.”
In a later era, young Ruby might have inhaled grotty paperbacks about the drama kings and queens—Joan Crawford, Frank Capra, Clark Gable, William Holden—who became her friends. Lurid Steel-True is not; Ruby Stevens would have scratched her head. Wilson’s measured style and scholarly application suggest an affinity with Peter Guralnick’s double-volume life of Elvis Presley, alpha specimen of the “serious” celebrity biography. Guralnick didn’t hedge or shy from his subject’s outsize, gaudy legend, but persisted at its side, where he found and treated with intelligence, compassion, and healthy skepticism an exceptional human being and significant product of his time.
If more icon-friendly contemporaries like Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, and Katherine Hepburn burn brighter in the cultural imagination, Stanwyck doesn’t lack for critical respect. Wilson treats her with a restorative seriousness, a great capacity for discursion, and a biblical grasp of lineage. The author appears most comfortable building around her subject—pouring foundations, scraping connective bricks, lowering signposted turrets into place, raising crested flags. The result is a curious blend of excess and restraint, where astonishing contextual and historical detail presides over a more attenuated grasp of the woman at the center of the story. Rather than whittling from research materials the figure of a notable woman, her experience and character, Wilson uses a mountainous volume and density of information to set her subject into a kind of molded relief.
For someone like Stanwyck—so stubbornly elusive that she’s hardly recognizable from one of this volume’s many photographs to the next—the latter approach makes sense. Double sense, given that her life grazed so much 20th-century mythos. Hoofing on Broadway by age 16 (and eventually in Ziegfeld’s Follies), Ruby Stevens wasn’t much of a dancer, but she could work, and she could move—even in the chorus, she held the stage. She also had an expressive, richly authoritative voice. Within a few years, technology would meet the challenge of these combined gifts: After Stevens made her successful debut as Barbara Stanwyck, dramatic stage actress, the talking pictures came to collect one of their most electric, emotionally daring performers.

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Barbara Stanwyck, Actress, Dead at 82

Posted by Hera Teole on 07:54
Barbara Stanwyck, the luminous star of such classic movies as ''Stella Dallas,'' ''The Lady Eve'' and ''Double Indemnity'' and the award-winning western television series ''The Big Valley,'' died of congestive heart failure late Saturday at St. John's Hospital and Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. She was 82 years old. The actress played a rich mix of characterizations in more than 80 films but developed a distinctive image as a gutsy, self-reliant and self-assured woman whose husky voice and cool exterior usually masked a warm heart.
She was a tough-talking but vulnerable mother in ''Stella Dallas'' (1937), a slang-slinging showgirl in ''Ball of Fire'' (1941), a lurid blonde who orchestrates her husband's murder in ''Double Indemnity'' (1944) and a bedridden neurotic who learns from telephone quirks that she is marked for murder in ''Sorry, Wrong Number'' (1948).
Miss Stanwyck was nominated for best-actress Academy Awards for all four of those performances but won none. But in 1982 the Motion Picture Academy awarded her an honorary Oscar for being ''an artist of impeccable grace and beauty, a dedicated actress and one of the great ladies of Hollywood.''
A year earlier, she became the eighth person, and second woman, to be honored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center for career-long excellence. And, in 1987, her colleagues and admirers added their tributes to her independent spirit and professionalism as she received the 15th annual life achievement award of the American Film Institute.
Her outstanding roles included a card-sharp and pseudo-British socialite who dupes a naive scientist (Henry Fonda) in ''The Lady Eve'' (1941), a manipulative reporter redeemed by an idealist (Gary Cooper) in ''Meet John Doe'' (1941), a millionaire haunted by a childhood murder in ''The Strange Love of Martha Ivers'' (1946) and a shrewd stockholder in ''Executive Suite'' (1954).
Some of Her Other Films
Other memorable Stanwyck films were ''The Bitter Tea of General Yen,'' which opened Radio City Music Hall in 1933, ''Annie Oakley'' (1935), ''Banjo on My Knee'' (1936), ''The Plough and the Stars'' (1937), ''Union Pacific'' (1939), ''Golden Boy'' (1939), ''Remember the Night'' (1940), ''The Great Man's Lady'' (1942), ''Lady of Burlesque'' (1943), ''Clash by Night'' (1952) and ''Titanic'' (1953).
The actress commanded increasingly higher salaries in the 1930's and early 40's, and in 1944 the Government listed her as the nation's highest-paid woman, earning $400,000.
From the mid-50's on, she lent distinction to a string of otherwise lackluster movies. Turning to televison, she made many guest appearances and then starred in an anthology series, ''The Barbara Stanwyck Show,'' in 1960-61, and the highly popular series ''The Big Valley,'' in which she portrayed a frontier rancher and matriarch from 1965 to 1969. Her television performances won her three Emmys and a cluster of other awards.
The actress's take-charge, down-to-earth screen image mirrored her childhood as Ruby Stevens, born into a poor family of Scottish-Irish descent in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn on July 16, 1907.
When she was 4 years old, her mother was killed when a drunken stranger pushed her off a moving streetcar. The loss devasted her father, a bricklayer, who deserted his five children. They never saw him again.
Left School at Age 13
Young Ruby, who had to board with family friends, sought solace by seeing as many movies as her pennies allowed. At the age of 13, she had to leave school to earn a living. She started as a wrapper in a department store and worked in other low-paying clerical jobs while studying dancing with a vaudevillian friend of her family.
At 15, Ruby entered show business as a chorus girl, first dancing in speakeasies and soon advancing to Broadway and touring stints in the Ziegfeld Follies and other revues. At 18, she won a leading role as a cabaret dancer in a melodrama, ''The Noose,'' which ran on Broadway for nine months. The program introduced her as Barbara Stanwyck, a glamorous name inspired by a theatrical poster: ''Jane Stanwyck in 'Barbara Frietchie.' ''
In 1927, at the age of 20, she won a leading role in the Broadway play ''Burlesque.'' She received good notices, played the part for two years and won nonexclusive contracts with Columbia Pictures and Warner Brothers.
Her first important movie role was classic Stanwyck - a shallow adventuress redeemed by love in a 1930 melodrama, ''Ladies of Leisure,'' directed by a youthful Frank Capra.
'Beloved by All' Involved
Mr. Capra, who also directed her in four later movies, wrote in his 1971 autobiography, ''The Name Above the Title,'' that she was unique in not requiring rehearsals because she ''gave her all the first time she tried a scene.'' Her dedication, he wrote, made her ''beloved by all directors, actors, crews and extras.''
Miss Stanwyck was also the favorite of Cecil B. DeMille, who wrote, ''I have never worked with an actress who was more cooperative, less temperamental and a better workman, to use my term of highest compliment.'' She was also the favorite leading lady of William Holden, Henry Fonda and Robert Preston.
Friends and colleagues described the actress as modest, generous and outspoken, and co-workers fondly called her ''Missy.'' If a cameraman she worked with decades earlier was having financial problems, she invariably gave him enough money to ease his troubles. She repeatedly refused to use a double and was seriously injured several times.
Miss Stanwyck's hair began silvering in her mid-40's, but she refused to dye it, just as she refused to conceal her age. In a 1981 interview at her longtime Beverly Hills home, she offered this advice:
''You have to know when you've had your hour, your place in the sun. To be old is death here. I think it's kind of silly. Be glad you're healthy. Be glad you can get out of bed on your own.''
Even in her 70's Miss Stanwyck began every day by walking half a mile on an uphill treadmill that dominated her bedroom.
Praise for 'Thorn Birds'
In the early 1970's the actress became semi-reclusive. But in 1983 she appeared in a television mini-series, ''The Thorn Birds.'' Of her performance as a wealthy Australian who lusts after a young priest, John J. O'Connor of The New York Times concluded, ''When it comes to the big moments, she demonstrates the kind of disarming toughness that made her a major movie star.''
Miss Stanwyck was married twice, to the comedian Frank Fay from 1928 to 1935, and to the actor Robert Taylor from 1939 to 1951. With Mr. Fay, she adopted a son, Dion Anthony Fay, from whom she had been estranged for decades. In 1981 she said of her second divorce:
''Losing somebody you love by death or divorce is hard. But if they decide they want to be free, there's nothing to battle for. You have to let go. Bob and I didn't stay friends. We became friends again. Time does take care of things.''
In 1965, she and Mr. Taylor co-starred in her last movie, ''The Night Walker,'' four years before his death.
Survivors include a nephew, Eugene Vaslett of San Raphael, Calif.; a grandnephew, and three grandnieces.
At Miss Stanwyck's request, no funeral service is planned.
photos: Barbara Stanwyck in ''Stella Dallas'' in 1937.; Miss Stanwyck with Fred MacMurray in ''Double Indemnity'' in 1944.; Miss Stanwyck as Victoria Barkley in the 1960's television series ''The Big Valley.'' (Bettman Archive & AP)

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Barbara Stanwyck

Posted by Hera Teole on 07:52
Barbara Stanwyck, original name Ruby Stevens    (born July 16, 1907, Brooklyn, N.Y., U.S.—died Jan. 20, 1990, Santa Monica, Calif.), American motion-picture and television actress.
“Meet John Doe”: still with Brennan, Cooper, and Stanwyck from “Meet John Doe” [Credit: © 1941 Warner Brothers, Inc.; photograph from a private collection]She became a chorus girl at the age of 15 and danced in nightclubs and in touring companies before being picked to play the role of a cabaret dancer in the Broadway play The Noose in 1926. At that time she adopted the name Barbara Stanwyck. Her performance in the leading role inBurlesque (1927) resulted in movie offers, and she appeared in her first leading role in a motion picture, The Locked Door, in 1929. She went on to appear in more than 80 films, among the more notable of which were Union Pacific and Golden Boy (both 1939), Meet John Doe and The Lady Eve (both 1941), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), Clash by Night(1952), and Executive Suite (1954). She received Academy Award nominations for her performances in Stella Dallas (1937), Ball of Fire (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), and Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), but she did not win an Oscar until 1982, when she received an honorary award. She played a wide variety of roles but was best in dramatic parts as a strong-willed, independent woman of complex character. She worked mainly in television during the 1960s and early ’70s, notably as a proud widow, matriarch of the Barkley clan, in The Big Valley (1965–69), a western series.

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Movie Poster of the Week: The Posters of Barbara Stanwyck

Posted by Hera Teole on 07:52
Above: US poster for Forbidden (Frank Capra, USA, 1932)
In honor of  the month-long retrospective of the films of the great Barbara Stanwyck starting today at Film Forum in New York, I thought I’d select my favorite Stanwyck posters. Brooklyn-born Ruby Catherine Stevens made 85 films over 37 years in Hollywood so there is an awful lot to choose from. But the remarkable thing about looking back at these posters is how artists seemed to have had a hard time capturing her likeness. The poster for one of her earliest films, Capra’s 1932 Forbidden, above, captures her beautifully, but the poster for Stella Dallas (1937), her first Oscar-nominated role (she never won, shockingly), seems to be of a different actress entirely. As for the sexed-up illustration on the flyer for The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933), in that she looks more like Jean Harlow. Some of my favorite posters for her films are the Swedish and Danish designs, perhaps because their penchant for ink outlines was well suited to Stanwyck’s own elegant lines. I also love Vargas’s pin-up portrait for Ladies They Talk About (1933), which led off my pre-Code post a couple of years ago, but there are plenty of other gems here, not least the various international designs for The Two Mrs Carrolls (1947). Not all of the films here are in Film Forum’s 40-film retrospective, including her only 3D film (“Never such man-woman excitement in 3D”) featured below, but all of the great ones are.
Above: US poster for Ten Cents a Dance (Lionel Barrymore, USA, 1931)
Above: US promotional flyers for The Bitter Tea of General Yen (Frank Capra, USA, 1933)
Above: Swedish poster for Ever in My Heart (Archie Mayo, USA, 1933)
Above: US poster by Alberto Vargas for Ladies They Talk About (Howard Bretherton and William Keighley, USA, 1933)
Above: US herald for A Lost Lady (Alfred E. Green, USA, 1934)
Above: US poster for Annie Oakley (George Stevens, USA, 1935)
Above: Swedish poster for The Woman in Red (Robert Florey, USA, 1935)
Above: Swedish poster for A Message to Garcia (George Marshall, USA, 1936)
Above: US poster for Stella Dallas (King Vidor, USA, 1937)
Above: Swedish poster for Golden Boy (Rouben Mamoulian, USA, 1939)
Above: US poster for Golden Boy (Rouben Mamoulian, USA, 1939)
Above: US poster for Remember the Night (Mitchell Leisen, USA, 1940)
Above: Danish poster for Ball of Fire (Howard Hawks, USA, 1941)
Above: Spanish poster for Ball of Fire (Howard Hawks, USA, 1941)
Above: Danish poster for The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, USA, 1941)
Above: US poster for Lady of Burlesque (William A. Wellman, USA, 1943)
Above: German poster for Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, USA, 1944)
Above: Danish poster for Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, USA, 1944)
Above: Italian poster for My Reputation (Curtis Bernhardt, USA, 1946)
Above: French poster for The Two Mrs. Carrolls (Peter Godfrey, USA, 1947)
Above: French poster for The Two Mrs. Carrolls (Peter Godfrey, USA, 1947)
Above: Italian poster for The Two Mrs. Carrolls (Peter Godfrey, USA, 1947)
Above: Belgian poster for Sorry, Wrong Number (Anatole Litvak, USA, 1948)
Above: Swedish poster for Sorry, Wrong Number (Anatole Litvak, USA, 1948)
Above: US poster for Clash by Night (Fritz Lang, USA, 1952).
Above: US six-sheet poster for All I Desire (Douglas Sirk, USA, 1953)
Above: German poster for Jeopardy (John Sturges, USA, 1953)
Above: US poster for The Moonlighter (Roy Rowland, USA, 1953)

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