Thursday, 7 October 2010
all the king's women #25 - Barbara Stanwyck
the legendary Barbara Stanwyck was born Ruby Catherine Stevens in Brooklyn, NewYork on July 16, 1907. when Ruby was only 4 years old, her mother was killed by a drunk stranger who pushed her from a moving streetcar. two weeks after her mother's funeral, Ruby's father joined a work crew digging the Panama Canal and was never heard from again. she and her brother Byron were raised by their sister Mildred, who was just five years older than Ruby. Mildred found a job as a showgirl to support her siblings.
Ruby had always dreamed of being in show business and when she was 16, she auditioned for a place in the chorus at the Strand Roof, a night club over the Strand Theatre in Times Square. a few months later she was working as a Ziegfeld girl in the famous Ziegfeld Follies. for several years Ruby performed as a chorus girl from midnight to 7am, occasionally working as a dance instructor at a speakeasy.
in 1926, playwright Willard Mack was looking to cast a real chorus girl to play the part of a fictional chorus girl in one of his plays. he chose Ruby, who adopted the stage name Barbara Stanwyck for the production. the play was a great success and rave reviews for Barbara led to a Hollywood screen test and subsequent contract. Stanwyck went on to make 93 films before moving to the small screen in 1964, the most notable of which being Stella Dallas (1937) and Double Indemnity (1944).
it seems a bit silly to be writing of Barbara's connection with Elvis, given that it was but a drop in the pail of her illustrious career, but that is the point of this series, so i may as well...
in 1964, in her second to last film role, Barbara brought a touch of class to an otherwise mediocre movie [and remember, i adore Elvis movies, but this is not one of my favourites] when she played Maggie Morgan, a carnie matriarch, in Elvis' Roustabout. Elvis was a life long movie fan and was reportedly overjoyed to be sharing the screen with Stanwyck.
in fact, in researching for this post, what struck me is that everyone who worked with Barbara seemed to be overjoyed. Stanwyck was known for her accessibility and kindness to the backstage crew on film sets. she knew the names of their wives and children, and asked after them by name. legendary director Frank Capra, who worked with Barbara on numerous films, 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."
often called "The Best Actress Who Never Won an Oscar", Barbara retired in 1986 after a twenty year successful television career. she died on January 20, 1990 at the age of 82. her ashes are scattered in Lone Pine, California.