The actress Barbara Stanwyck had a 60-year career in the American film industry and became one of the greatest stars who ever appeared on the big screen. Thanks to her outstanding acting talent Barbara Stanwyck rose to the highest-paid actress of America in 1944. The top-class actress received a total of 400,000 dollars (today 5.4 million dollars) for her movies that year and after her retirement and several charitable donations, Barbara Stanwyck was worth one million dollars at the time of her death in 1990.
An industry as old and influential as Hollywood has a history of mystery, excellence, and drama; so does the life of Barbara Stanwyck. Her name is on the list of men and women who were associated with the Cecil B. DeMille Award, an honorary Oscar, and she has been ranked by the American Film Institute as the 11th greatest female star of classic American cinema. Learn more about her life and career in this article.
Barbara Stanwyck’s Bumpy Beginning
The legendary actress was called Barbara Stanwyck for 60 years but she was born on July 16th, 1907 as Ruby Catherine Stevens by two working-class parents, Byron Stevens and Catherine Ann McPhee.
Barbara had a really difficult childhood, so it would have been understandable if she had never made anything meaningful out of her life. She lost her mother at the age of four and only two weeks after her mother’s funeral her father disappeared, who had gone to work with a crew that had dug the Panama Canal. Barbara and her sibling, an older brother named Malcolm Byron, were then raised by her oldest sister, Laura Mildred.
How She Developed Her Love For Acting
To make ends meet and take care of her younger siblings, Mildred began working as a showgirl. As a result, Barbara spent part of her childhood in many foster homes where she never stayed long enough to build up a bond. For two summers (1916 and 1917) Barbara went on tour with her sister Mildred and practiced her dance routines backstage. This, in addition to the movies of her idol, Pearl White, aroused her interest to become an actress.
In the meantime, Barbara began to show the independence and impressive personality that would make her one of the best talents in Hollywood from the very beginning. After realizing that she would never be the girl waiting for a man to take care of her, she left school at 14 and started taking various odd jobs. However, none of them gave her the satisfaction she wanted, because her dream was to get into show business, but unfortunately, her sister was not in favor of this idea.
In the end, after seeing her sister’s unwavering interest in working in show business, Mildred gave her her blessing. As a result, Barbara Stanwyck got a job as a dancer in the 1922 and 1923 editions of the Ziegfeld Follies, which danced at the New Amsterdam Theater.
Accolades and Acting Career Achievements
Barbara’s way to a legendary actress began on Broadway. She was cast for the role of a chorus girl in The Noose and with the success of the play came a lot of admiration for the actress who changed her name after the show by choosing her character’s first name (Barbara Frietchie) and an actress’s last name (Jane Stanwyck) to get Barbara Stanwyck. Not long after The Noose, she was cast in 1927 in a leading role for a play called Burlesque.
Barbara could have had a great career as a Broadway actress, said Arthur Hopkins, but just as the Broadway writers wanted her for their plays, so did the Hollywood producers. In the end, Hollywood won and she became a movie legend. She had her first film appearance in Broadway Nights (1927) – a silent movie. Her first speaking role was in The Locked Door in 1929. It was indeed the beginning of a glamorous film career. During the next more than thirty years, she played in movies like Baby Face, A Lost Lady, Flesh and Fantasy, The Gay Sisters and Stella Dallas.
However, after achieving great success as a film actress, Barbara decided it was time to switch to television, but before that, she had acted in more than 85 films in 38 years. As an accomplished and versatile actress, known for her strong and realistic presence on screen, there is no need to explain why Barbara Stanwyck was a favorite of many film directors. For the same reason, she has received a number of awards and nominations, including Oscar, Golden Globe, and Emmy Awards.
Oscar, Golden Globe, and Emmy Award Recognitions
Eight years before her death, exactly in 1982, the actress was honored with an Oscar for her services to Hollywood. Commenting on Barbara’s reaction to the presentation of the honorary Oscar, Paul Sheehan of GoldDerby.com said that she enjoyed the standing ovations before she took to the podium. The Hollywood star paid tribute to William Holden, who had died four months earlier, and said he had always wished she would win an Oscar, so she dedicated the award to him and said his wish had come true.
Before that, she had already been nominated for an Oscar four times, the first time in 1938 for her role in Stella Dallas, a drama film based on the novel of the same name by Olive Higgins Prouty. The second and third nominations were in 1942 and 1945 for her role in Ball of Fire and Double Indemnity respectively, the last in 1949 for Sorry, Wrong Number.
Barbara was also nominated for four Golden Globe Awards, three of which she received from 1966 to 1968 for her outstanding performance in the television show The Big Valley. Finally, Stanwyck received the Golden Globe in 1984 with the fourth nomination for the best performance by an actress in a supporting role in The Thorn Birds. She also received the Cecil B in 1986. DeMille Award, an honorary award of the Golden Globe.
Barbara Stanwyck received her first Emmy nomination in 1961 for outstanding performance by an actress in a series (The Barbara Stanwyck Show) and won. In 1966 she won another award for the outstanding continuous performance of a leading actress in the series The Big Valley. In the following two years she was nominated in the same category for the same TV series but lost. However, her appearance in The Thorn Birds led to her third Emmy victory in 1983.
Life Achievements And Hollywood Walk of Fame
The Screen Actors Guild awarded Barbara a lifetime achievement award in 1967 and in 1973 she received another award from the Hall of Great Western Performers, Cowboy Hall of Fame Oklahoma City. This was followed in 1981 by a prize for her career from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and in 1987 by a lifetime achievement award from the American Film Institute.
Judging by her work in the American film industry, it was the right decision to give Barbara Stanwyck a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, because in 1960 she was honored with her star at 1751 Vine Street.
Would-Have-Been Major Scandals
Throughout her career, Barbara has never been involved in any form of controversy. But more than a decade after her death, in September 2008 to be exact, information surfaced that would have caused a scandal if it had been published back in the early 1950s. The well-kept secret became known after the publication of the memoirs Pieces of My Heart by actor Robert Wagner, who had an affair with Barbara Stanwyck when he was 22 and she was 45.
According to Robert, he fell in love with the actress, who was one of Hollywood’s biggest names at the time, and it all began on the set of the movie Titanic. While some of her closest friends, like Nancy Sinatra, ex-wife of Frank Sinatra, and Spencer Tracey, knew about their relationship, some others knew nothing about it and the lovers decided to keep the information away from the public and the media. Meanwhile, the duo was single at the time, as Barbara had been divorced from her actor husband for two years. Later, Wagner revealed, the age difference of 23 years caused some friction in their relationship, which caused Barbara to end the relationship.
A 2007 autobiography of Farley Granger entitled “Include Me Out: My Life from Goldwyn to Broadway” also revealed that the actress had a one-night stand with him in the 1950s.
Was Barbara Stanwyck A Lesbian?
Barbara Stanwyck was never confirmed as a lesbian during her lifetime, but various behaviors and statements led to rumors that she was a lesbian. The iconic actress was exposed to the gay community at the age of 16 when she occasionally worked as a dance teacher in a gay and lesbian bar.
While a singer, popularly known as a lesbian, claimed to have had sexual intercourse with Barbara, a biography writer, Axel Madsen is said to have described people’s opinion of Stanwyck as the biggest secret lesbian in Hollywood. There was no confirmation of the actress’s sexuality during her lifetime, but if one is to believe the accounts of those who knew her, she was at least bisexual.
In the meantime, she was married twice, first to the actor Frank Fay and then to Robert Taylor. She met her first husband through Oscar Levant who introduced her to the actor while they (Barbara and Fay) worked on burlesque. At first Barbara and Fay never liked each other but after the death of Barbara’s The Noose co-star and lover Rex Cherryman they finally became closer. Their friendship later culminated in marriage on August 26, 1928, and shortly after they made the alliance for life, they moved to Hollywood.
Sadly their union was full of problems and while Barbara made a smooth transition to the big screen and became a Hollywood star, it was not the same for her husband who reportedly physically abused the actress, especially when he was drunk. This subsequently led to the end of the marriage on December 30, 1935.
Meanwhile, after moving to Hollywood, Barbra Stanwyck and Fay adopted a son on December 5, 1932, because the actress was unable to have children due to complications she suffered at the age of 15 from a botched abortion. After her divorce, Barbara won custody of her son, who by the way was first named Dion and later changed to Anthony Dion.
In 1939, the Hollywood star made the alliance again, this time with her co-star Robert Taylor, his brother’s wife. She was introduced to the actor during the shooting of the above-mentioned movie, but at first, it was only a mentor/student relationship with Barbara, who served as a career advisor for Robert, who was her junior both in age and in the industry. Over time, however, the duo began to live together and publish reports in the newspaper.
Following the usual practice of marrying two stars in Hollywood’s golden age, Robert Taylor’s studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer arranged a marriage between the duo in 1939. Everything was fine between the two until they divorced amicably in 1950 without giving the public any reason for their decision. However, there was speculation that both parties were having extramarital affairs.
After the divorce, Barbara remained unmarried and as her friend and co-star in Big Valley, Linda Evans, revealed, she had told her that Taylor was the love of her life. This explains why his death in 1969 was a heavy blow for the actress which let her take a break from acting.
The Final Days Of Barbara Stanwyck
Barbara Stanwyck died in 1990 at Saint John’s Health Center, Santa Monica, California, of congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Her death probably came as a surprise to the public because she never fell to pieces. Barbara aged gracefully and even in her 80s she never lost her slender stature, her long, narrow waist and her sense of style. But to keep this star image was a hard fight in her last years.
She began to deteriorate after she was robbed and beaten in her Beverly Hills home in 1981. She later inhaled the special effects smoke during the filming of The Thorn Birds 1982, which caused her to contract bronchitis, a disease made worse by Barbara’s cigarette smoking, which she started from the age of nine and continued until four years before her death.
The entertainer was hospitalized from time to time to have her lungs cleaned, but on 9 January 1990 she was hospitalized for a slipped disc due to back problems and she died 11 days later.