Barbara Stanwyck and Ralph Meeker
Few actresses better represented 1940’s Hollywood as perfectly as Barbara Stanwyck. Everything about her seems to have summed up the glamour, sex appeal, and strength of the 40s. For those of us who weren’t yet born, we can get a great idea of what this time must have “felt” like. You get the impression that people were excited about the future – especially in Hollywood. There seemed to have been a feeling of excitement and anticipation of changing times. So much so, you can almost see it on certain star’s faces.
I’ve always been fascinated with Barbara Stanwyck. There’s something different about her that makes her stand apart from other actresses of her time – a kind of strength and non-conformity, a lot like Katharine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, and Olivia de Havilland. Beautiful, without a doubt, but with a strength behind the beauty that seems to say, “You will only get as close to me as I allow and if you try to step over the line I draw, you’ll be very sorry.”
How could you not love that kind of attitude and strength?
Barbara Stanwyck was born Ruby Catherine Stevens on July 16, 1907 in Brooklyn, New York. While working at a local telephone company, Barbara held fast to her dream of making it to Hollywood. She (literally) pounded the pavement, looking for work as a dancer and, at 17, was hired as a chorus girl. This led her to Hollywood and the rest was movie (and television) history.
While Barbara is best remembered as Victoria, the matriarch of the Barkleys, on the TV western “The Big Valley” (1965), she is also fondly remembered as a grand dame from the hit drama “The Colbys” (1985).
However, she is best known to millions of fans for her movie career, which spanned from 1927 to 1964.
As a fan extraordinaire of Old Movies and the Golden Age of Hollywood, I always kind of hate it when a movie star moves on to do television. They become so associated with their television character (after all, he or she is in your living room at least once a week!) that their movie characters fall behind.
It happened with Barbara Stanwyck, Angela Lansbury, Jane Wyman, and many others.
With Barbara Stanwyck, it’s almost frustrating that her name is synonymous with Victoria and The Big Valley. Not that there was anything remotely wrong with this wonderful series or her strong and beautiful character – I was a huge fan of each. How-ev-er… as a movie actress, Barbara Stanwyck knew few equals. She was mesmerizing in each of her roles. The more often you watch her movies, the more you realize how effortlessly she made acting seem. It was never as though she were playing a role, she simply became the character.
No playing involved.
Even her mannerisms were off the chart! Each character had her own individual quirks and specific mannerisms. Honestly, everything this woman did in character was worth watching, rewinding, and watching again.
Is it any wonder it takes me twice as much time to watch her movies as it takes most people?
Barbara Stanwyck’s co-stars considered her to be an ideal co-star, thanks to her serious but easygoing attitude on the set. She worked hard at being an actress, but she never allowed her star quality to go to her head. She was nominated for four Academy Awards, though somehow she never won. However, in 1982 she was awarded an honorary Academy Award for “superlative creativity and unique contribution to the art of screen acting.”
Barbara Stanwyck died on January 20, 1990 in Santa Monica, California from congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive lung disease, and emphysema. She left behind 93 movies and a beautiful, memorable spot in television history. Barbara may be gone, but her wonderful characters will live on forever, along with her beautiful legacy.