Barbara Stanwyck Overview:

Legendary actress, Barbara Stanwyck, was born Ruby Catherine Stevens on Jul 16, 1907 in Brooklyn, NY. Stanwyck appeared in over 100 film and TV roles. Her best known films include Stella Dallas, Double Indemnity, The Lady Eve, Meet John Doe, Union Pacific, Christmas in Connecticut, Lady of Burlesque, Sorry, Wrong Number, All I and Titanic. Stanwyck hosted her own television series, The Barbara Stanwyck Show (1960-1961) for which she won her first Emmy Award, and also starred as Victoria Barkley in the television series, The Big Valley (1965-1969) for which she also won an Emmy. Stanwyck won her third Emmy for her role as Mary Carson in the TV mini series The Thorn Birds (1983). Stanwyck died at the age of 82 on Jan 20, 1990 in Santa Monica, CA and was cremated and her ashes scattered in Los Pine CA.

Early Life and Career

Barbara Stawyck was born Ruby Stevens on July 16th, 1907 to a working class family in Brooklyn, New York. When she was four her mother died, push off a moving street by random drunkard. She and her siblings were left to a father with little interest such responsibilities and not a month later went to work on the Panama Canal, never to be heard from again. For a short while, Stanwyck and her younger brother were raised by their older sister, Mildred. It wasn't long, however, before Mildred started work as a showgirl and neighbors then forced the two younger siblings in foster care. In 1916, Stanwyck had show business dreams of her own and accompanied Mildred on summer tours. At the age of 14, Stanwyck dropped out of high school to join the workforce. She worked a series of odd jobs including package wrapping, card filling, dress cutting and  typist, gaining the financial independence she always craved.  Despite starting to work at such a young age, Stanwyck never lost sight of her show business dreams. At 16, Stanwyck secured her spot in the chorus of the Strand Roof nightclub. Soon after that she was dancing in the chorus of Ziegfeld Follies and while still also getting gigs at speakeasies.

Broadway and Early Hollywood

In 1926, she made her Broadway debut in The Noose. Originally dismissed by the critics, the play was re-tooled to give Stanwyck a more substantial role. Upon it's re-opening the play was a hit but Stanwyck was bigger hit helping the play run for nine months. She then landed the lead role in 1927's Burlesque. Again, Stanwyck was a hit and that year she also made her film debut playing a small roll in the silent movie Broadway Nights. Soon after, in 1928, she and her first husband, Frank Fay, relocated to Hollywood.

In 1929 she appeared in her first sound picture, The Locked Door. It was not successful. Afterwards, she did six months of nothing but constant screen tests. Finally, in 1930, up-and-coming director Frank Capra took notice of the young actress and cast her in Ladies of Leisure. The film proved successful, with Stanwyck gaining praise from both the movie going public and critics alike. Soon after, she accepted a long-term contract with Columbia Studios. Immediately being placed on the track to stardom, Stanwyck was offered some of the most prominent role the small studio had to offer. In 1931 she starred in The Miracle Woman and the next year Forbidden. Both films were modest hits and Stanwyck's star began to shine. During this time, Stanwyck also began to shape her screen persona as the bright, self-sufficient girl on the wrong side of the tracks who must rely on her force of will and unyielding determination to realize her dreams of economic/social prosperity. She continued to grow more popular with the release of the 1933 hit The Bitter Tea of General Yen. Stanwyck also gained a reputation around the studio for her hard work and earnest professionalism, fast becoming a favorite amongst the Columbia Studio's working class film crew.

Pre-code years and Freelance

After starring in hit after hit, Stanwyck understood her growing value and asked Columbia for more money. The studio, lacking the funds and resources of its competitors, could not afford to do so. Luckily for Stanwyck her contact was non-exclusive, and she signed another non-exclusive contract with Warner Brothers Studios. For her first big studio outing she starred with Clark Gable in Night Nurse and in the western So Big!. In 1933 she starred in the scandalous pre-code film, Baby Face. In the film Stanwyck plays a ruthlessly ambitious woman who is not ashamed to use her sexuality to advance her socio-economic standing out of poverty and into wealth. Although her next film, Ever in my Heart, was a success, the quality of her roles began to decline. When both her Warner Brothers and Columbia contracts came to an end, she chose not to renew them and opted instead to become a free agent; a very bold move at the time.

In 1935, she teamed with director George Steven to star in his production of Annie Oakley. She then demonstrated her ability as a comedic actress in the 1936 film The Bride Walks Out. In 1937, she starred as the title role in Stella Dallas. In the film, Stanwyck plays a working class social climber who, over the years, transforms into a self-sacrificing mother. The film and her heart-wrenching performance earned her the first of four Oscar nominations.  That same year she starred the comedy Breakfast for Two. Further demonstrating her comedic prowess, in 1938 she starred with Henry Fonda in the screwball comedy The Mad Miss Morton. The next year  sheco-starred with William Holden in Golden Boy. Originally, the studio had planned on firing the young actor but Stanwyck insisted he stay and thus helped launch the young actor into super stardom.

Career High Point and Gradual Decline

Stanwyck began the 1940's with some of biggest successes of her career. She was once again paired with Henry Fonda for the Preston Struges comedy, The Lady Eve, putting a comical spin on her social-climbing, tough-girl screen persona. In 1941, she starred another comedy, Ball of Fire opposite Gary Cooper and was nominated for her second academy award. Later that year, she starred in her last Frank Capra Film Meet John Doe, also opposite Gary Cooper as journalist Ann Mitchell In 1944 Stanwyck was cast as the female lead in Billy Wilder's quintessential film-noir, Double Indemnity. Although she initially thought herself miscast as femme fatale, Phyllis Dietrichson, Stanwyck's performance generated some of the best reviews of her life and earned her yet another Oscar nomination. At this point in her career, Stanwyck was highest paid woman in the United States.

After proving herself as femme fatale, she was continually offered roles in film noirs. In 1946, she starred in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and in 1948 she nominated for last Academy Award in Sorry, Wrong Number opposite Burt Lancaster. She closed the decade with yet another noir, this time opposite Wendell Cory in The File on Thelma Jordon. However, as the new decade slowly creped forward, Stanwyck's star seemed to be faltering. In 1950 she starred in the Anthony Mann Western The Furies and in 1952 she starred in the Fritz Lang's Clash by Night. Soon after, however, Stanwyck found her career on the decline and with exception of the star-studded film Executive Suit, Stanwyck starred in mostly low-budget westerns. With her film career lagging, Stanwyck moved to television.

Television and later Life

  In the early 1960's, Stanwyck had her own series, The Barbara Stanwyck Show. Although it was cancelled after one season due to low rated, Stanwyck won an Emmy for role. She returned to the silver screen in 1962, this time playing a lesbian madam in Walk on the Wild Side. Next, She played the monarch of the Barkley Clan in the popular ABC Western series The Big Valley from 1965-1969. Not only did the role restore her popularity but also earned her another Emmy Award. She appeared a couple made for TV movies in the early 1970's but soon after quietly went into retirement. In 1981, she was awarded with an honorary Oscar and in 1983 she received the Lincoln Center Life Achievement Award. She returned to television, briefly, to star in the Dynasty spin-off, The Colby's. Due to poor, she was forced once more to retire in 1986. The next year she was the recipient of the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award. On January 20th, 1990, Barbara Stanwyck died of heart failure at Saint John's Health Center. She was 82 years old.

(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).



Although Stanwyck was nominated for four Oscars, she never won a competitive Academy Award. However she won one Honorary Oscar Award in 1981 for superlative creativity and unique contribution to the art of screen acting .

Academy Awards

YearAwardFilm nameRoleResult
1937Best ActressStella Dallas (1937)Stella DallasNominated
1941Best ActressBall of Fire (1941)Sugarpuss O'SheaNominated
1944Best ActressDouble Indemnity (1944)Phyllis DietrichsonNominated
1948Best ActressSorry, Wrong Number (1948)Leona StevensonNominated

Academy Awards (Honorary Oscars)

1981Honorary Awardfor superlative creativity and unique contribution to the art of screen acting


She was honored with one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of Motion Pictures. Barbara Stanwyck's handprints and footprints were 'set in stone' at Grauman's Chinese Theater during imprint ceremony #57 on Jun 11, 1941. In addition, Stanwyck was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum .

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Barbara Stanwyck Quotes:

Helen Stilwin: That's good perfume you got on yuh.
Lawson, the Fugitive: Yes.
Helen Stilwin: I like cheap perfume. It doesn't last as long, but it hits harder.

Sam Masterson: [seeing she's married Walter] Aren't you glad now you missed that circus train?
Martha Ivers: ...I'm not sure.

Elizabeth Lane: [Jefferson Jones arrives in the middle of Liz and John's wedding] Oh no, John! It's the sailor! He's two hours early! What'll I do!

read more quotes from Barbara Stanwyck...

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Barbara Stanwyck Facts
Lived near Joan Crawford during her marriage to Frank Fay. According to Christina Crawford, Barbara scaled a fence on their property and stayed with the Crawfords for several days.

In 1957 Tony, her adopted son, was arrested for trying to sell lewd pictures while waiting to cash his unemployment check. When questioned by the press about his famous mother, he replied, "We don't speak." She saw him only a few times after his childhood.

Her performance as Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity (1944) is ranked #98 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time list (2006).

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