Barbara Stanwyck - Biography - IMDb
Barbara Stanwyck Poster


Jump to: Overview (5)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Family (4)  | Trade Mark (3)  | Trivia (65)  | Personal Quotes (32)  | Salary (6)

Overview (5)

Born in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA
Died in Santa Monica, California, USA  (congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive lung disease, emphysema)
Birth NameRuby Catherine Stevens
Nicknames Missy
The Queen
Height 5' 5" (1.65 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Today Barbara Stanwyck is remembered primarily as the matriarch of the family known as the Barkleys on the TV western The Big Valley (1965), wherein she played Victoria, and from the hit drama The Colbys (1985). But she was known to millions of other fans for her movie career, which spanned the period from 1927 until 1964, after which she appeared on television until 1986. It was a career that lasted for 59 years.

Barbara Stanwyck was born Ruby Catherine Stevens on July 16, 1907, in Brooklyn, New York, to working class parents Catherine Ann (McPhee) and Byron E. Stevens. Her father, from Massachusetts, had English ancestry, and her Canadian mother, from Nova Scotia, was of Scottish and Irish descent. Stanwyck went to work at the local telephone company for fourteen dollars a week, but she had the urge (a dream--that was all it was) somehow to enter show business. When not working, she pounded the pavement in search of dancing jobs. The persistence paid off. Barbara was hired as a chorus girl for the princely sum of $40 a week, much better than the wages she was getting from the phone company. She was seventeen, and was going to make the most of the opportunity that had been given her.

In 1928 Barbara moved to Hollywood, where she was to start one of the most lucrative careers filmdom had ever seen. She was an extremely versatile actress who could adapt to any role. Barbara was equally at home in all genres, from melodramas, such as Forbidden (1932) and Stella Dallas (1937), to thrillers, such as Double Indemnity (1944), one of her best films, also starring Fred MacMurray (as you have never seen him before). She also excelled in comedies such as Remember the Night (1940) and The Lady Eve (1941). Another genre she excelled in was westerns, Union Pacific (1939) being one of her first and TV's The Big Valley (1965) (her most memorable role) being her last. In 1983, she played in the ABC hit mini-series The Thorn Birds (1983), which did much to keep her in the eye of the public. She turned in an outstanding performance as Mary Carson.

Barbara was considered a gem to work with for her serious but easygoing attitude on the set. She worked hard at being an actress, and she never allowed her star quality to go to her head. She was nominated for four Academy Awards, though she never won. She turned in magnificent performances for all the roles she was nominated for, but the "powers that be" always awarded the Oscar to someone else. However, in 1982 she was awarded an honorary Academy Award for "superlative creativity and unique contribution to the art of screen acting." Sadly, Barbara died on January 20, 1990, leaving 93 movies and a host of TV appearances as her legacy to us.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Denny Jackson

Family (4)

Spouse Robert Taylor (14 May 1939 - 25 February 1952)  (divorced)
Frank Fay (26 August 1928 - 30 December 1935)  (divorced)  (1 child)
Children Fay, Dion Anthony "Tony"
Parents Stevens (McPhee), Catherine Ann
Stevens, Byron E
Relatives Bert Stevens (sibling)
Stevens, Mable (sibling)
Stevens, Maude (sibling)
Stevens, Mildre "Millie" (sibling)

Trade Mark (3)

Seductive husky voice with Brooklyn accent
Frequently played women who must deal with their low class standing
Her shapely legs

Trivia (65)

Her stage name was inspired by a theatrical poster that read "Jane Stanwyck in 'Barbara Frietchie.'".
Her nickname among co-workers was "Missy" or "The Queen."
In 1944, when she earned $400,000, the government listed her as the nation's highest-paid woman.
Often called "The Best Actress Who Never Won an Oscar."
According to the biographical film Barbara Stanwyck: Fire and Desire (1991), Stanwyck became a role model for female actors. Such stars as Sally Field and Virginia Madsen have publicly declared Stanwyck their role model.
American Film Institute Life Achievement Award. [1987]
Sister of actor Bert Stevens and sister-in-law of actress Caryl Lincoln. Godmother of Bobbie Poledouris.
Inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1973.
Worked briefly as a fashion model in the late 1920s.
Was listed #11 on the American Film Institute's "100 Years of The Greatest Screen Legends."
Her role as Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity (1944) was ranked #8 on the American Film Institute's "100 Greatest Screen Heroes and Villains" list. The performance also was ranked #98 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time list (2006) and #58 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time list.
She was voted the 40th "Greatest Movie Star of All Time" by Entertainment Weekly.
Her stormy, seven-year marriage to Frank Fay finally ended after a drunken brawl, during which he tossed their adopted son, Dion, into the swimming pool. Their divorce was finalized on December 30, 1935. The couple had adopted Dion on December 5, 1932. Dion (born John Charles Greene, February 5, 1932, Los Angeles County, California - died May 17, 2006, Van Nuys, Los Angeles County, California) became permanently estranged from Stanwyck in February 1951, when he was 19 years old; the rift never healed.

In 1957, Dion 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." He and Stanwyck only saw each other a few times after their falling out. He was reportedly bequeathed some money from Stanwyck's estate on condition he never speak publicly about her.
Picked up the starring role in Ball of Fire (1941) after Ginger Rogers dropped out.
On October 27, 1981, Stanwyck was awakened by a burglar at 1:00 in the morning. She was hit on the head with an unknown object then forced into a closet while the intruder ransacked the house and got away with $5,000 worth of jewels. She was treated for minor head wounds at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and released the next day. Four years later, in 1985, the house was destroyed in a fire. She expressed upset at losing personal keepsakes, including love letters from Robert Taylor.
Stanwyck had no funeral. She was cremated and the ashes scattered from a helicopter over Lone Pine, California, where she had made some of her Western films.
She was replaced by Susan Hayward in Heat of Anger (1972), which was to have been a pilot for a prospective TV series to be called "Fitzgerald and Pride".
Has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 1751 Vine St.
Her papers are in the American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming, PO Box 3924, Laramie, WY 82071.
Turned down the role of Angela Channing on Falcon Crest (1981).
Was best friends for many years with Frank Sinatra's first wife, Nancy.
A Star Is Born (1937) starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March is said to be modeled after Stanwyck's rise to stardom and first husband Frank Fay's descent into obscurity.
William Holden was considered to be too lightweight for the lead role in Golden Boy (1939), but Stanwyck urged producers to keep him in the picture and it was through her efforts he was kept in the picture, and the role made him a star. In 1978, at the The 50th Annual Academy Awards (1978), before starting the presentation of the sound award, Holden publicly thanked her for what she did. She nearly broke down in tears and kissed Holden, and the exchange received thunderous audience applause.
In Italy, almost all of her films were dubbed by Lydia Simoneschi. She was occasionally dubbed by Tina Lattanzi and Marcella Rovena. As Leona Stevenson in Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), she was dubbed by Andreina Pagnani. This was the only time the Italian actress lent her voice to Stanwyck.
Biography in "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives", Volume Two, 1986-1990, pages 796-798. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999.
Planned to play the lead in Mildred Pierce (1945), but Joan Crawford was faster and got the role.
She worked with Linda Evans in two series: The Big Valley (1965) and Dynasty (1981).
Profiled in "Killer Tomatoes: Fifteen Tough Film Dames" by Ray Hagen and Laura Wagner (McFarland, 2004).
Profiled in "Back in the Saddle: Essays on Western Film and Television Actors", Gary Yoggy, ed. (McFarland, 1998).
Throughout her career she was known for her kindness and patience with younger performers. Marilyn Monroe, who worked with Stanwyck in the 1952 film Clash by Night (1952) said that Stanwyck was the only member of Hollywood's older generation who was kind to her.
When she was awarded an Honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement, the statuette was presented to her by John Travolta who later confessed that the experience was his supreme Oscar moment. Stanwyck had been a Travolta family favorite for years. [1982]
She twice played a character named Jessica Drummond in two completely different movies: My Reputation (1946) and Forty Guns (1957).
Peter Breck, Lee Majors, and Linda Evans were said to be huge fans of hers, as little children. As adults, all three co-starred with her in the hit western series The Big Valley (1965).
Stanwyck, a staunch Republican, along with, among others, Ginger Rogers, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Irene Dunne, was a member of The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, a right-wing political action group during the McCarthy Era of the early to mid-1950s.
Lived near Joan Crawford during her marriage to Frank Fay. According to Christina Crawford, between 1932 and 1934, Stanwyck would escape from the alcoholic and volatile Fay when things got too hot by scaling a fence on their property. She would stay with Crawford, who lived across the street, until the heat died down. Stanwyck and Crawford had been friends since the days when they were single young actresses and remained friends until Crawford's death.
Profiled in book "Funny Ladies" by Stephen Silverman. [1999]
In February 1955, she was rumored to be one of the female stars of Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) but she didn't make the film.
Was a heavy smoker who later developed bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); the latter claimed her life in 1990, aged 82.
She was honored as Turner Classic Movie's Star of the Month for December 2012.
Acting mentor and friend of Linda Evans and Lee Majors.
Was considered for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939).
Forty of the movies she appeared in in her 35-year-long career were screened through the month of December 2013 in a special tribute at New York City's Film Forum.
Stanwyck vehemently opposed the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. She felt that if someone from her disadvantaged background had risen to success, others should be able to do the same without government intervention or assistance.
A massive, 1000-page biography of Stanwyck, published in 2013 by Victoria Wilson, is merely the first volume of an ongoing narrative of the star, one that covers only the first 33 years of Stanwyck's life.
Born at 8:55 PM.
Through his friend Oscar Levant, Frank Fay met Stanwyck, a former chorus girl who had just gotten her first acting role on Broadway (in "Burlesque", 1927), earning good reviews. He and Stanwyck wed on August 26, 1928. In 1929, they performed a dramatic sketch as "Fay and Stanwyck" at the Palace. Later that year, they were called to Hollywood so Fay could star in the film. Show of Shows (1929).
In Hollywood, as everywhere he went, Frank Fay did not make a lot of friends. A standard joke of the time went "Who's got the biggest prick in Hollywood?" Answer: "Barbara Stanwyck." The womanizing, alcoholic Fay's career floundered, while Stanwyck's flourished for decades. In 1935, the two were divorced, and Fay continued his downward spiral until 1944, when he was chosen to play Elwood P. Dowd in the original New York City Broadway production of "Harvey".
In a first-season episode of The Big Valley (1965) (called "Tunnel of Gold"), Stanwyck's character, Victoria Barkley, explained that she lost both of her parents as a young child and was raised in a foster home. Years later, Stanwyck explained it written that way because the exact same thing had happened to her as a child.
Actor Robert Wagner, more than 20 years Stanwyck's junior, claimed in his biography that he had a four-year relationship with the actress.
She drew praise in 1984 when, during her Golden Globes acceptance speech for "The Thorn Birds," she spent much of her own limited time praising Ann-Margret for her performance in "Who Will Love My Children?", which was in a completely different category. It was noted in the press that this was typical of her, given Stanwyck's reputation for complimenting other actors during her own productions.
Starred in only one film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture: Double Indemnity (1944). She also starred in Union Pacific (1939), which won the Cannes Film Festival's first Palme d'Or Award.
Born Ruby Catherine Stevens of English, Scottish, and Irish ancestry, the youngest child of Massachusetts-born Byron Stevens (1872-1954), and Nova Scotia, Canada-born Catherine (née McPhee) Stevens (1870-1911). Ruby's siblings were Maude, Mable, Mildred, and Malcolm Byron ("Bert") Stevens (Bert Stevens). Not long after their mother's death, their father abandoned the family. Young Ruby was raised by her sisters.
Three comedies that she starred in during 1941 (Meet John Doe (1941), Ball of Fire (1941), and The Lady Eve (1941)) were Oscar-nominated for Best Story, but none of them won the award.
Appears in the trailer for Hollywood Mouth 3 (2018) in clips from The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946).
She starred in Cecil B. DeMille's Union Pacific (1939) and received the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 1986. Her acceptance speech: "Thank you very, very much. To my beloved television brother, Charlton Heston [in The Colbys (1985)]. As Moses he parted the Red Sea for Mr. DeMille, and I helped Mr. DeMille build the Union Pacific Railroad. And we both loved him. I considered it a privilege to work for him. And to the Foreign Press Awards, I thank them for giving me another privilege: his very own award. I thank the Foreign Press, I thank Mr. DeMille, and I thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you".
She appeared in four films that have been selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant: Baby Face (1933), The Lady Eve (1941), Ball of Fire (1941), and Double Indemnity (1944).
In his autobiography, Cecil B. DeMille wrote that, among the actresses he directed, Barbara Stanwyck was his favorite. He said, "Barbara's name is the first that comes to mind, as one on whom a director can always count to do her work with all her heart".
Her image appears on the cover of The Electro Swing Revolution Vol. 4 CD (Released by Lola's World on October 4, 2013).
On August 1, 2020, she was honored with a day of her film work during the Turner Classic Movies Summer Under the Stars Festival.
Her real-life older brother, Malcolm Byron ("Bert") Stevens, plays a courtroom defense aide in The File on Thelma Jordan.
Worked with Robert Young in two films: Red Salute (1935) and The Bride Walks Out (1936).
Starred in nine films with the words Lady or Ladies in the titles but didn't start playing classically defined ladies until later in her career.
Stanwyck told journalist Ron Miller that her favorite leading man was her second husband, Robert Taylor. They made three movies together: His Brother's Wife (1936), This Is My Affair (1937), and The Night Walker (1964).
At the 1953 Laurel Awards, Stanwyck and ex-husband Robert Taylor won the 5th Top Dramatic Actress and 5th Top Dramatic Actor awards for their performances in Clash by Night (1952) and Ivanhoe (1952), respectively.
Cecil B. DeMille cast Stanwyck as Mollie Monahan in Union Pacific (1939) after offering the role to Claudette Colbert and Vivien Leigh. Colbert did not want to work with DeMille again as their temperaments had clashed while making their previous movies. Leigh purposefully asked DeMille for a higher salary because she wanted to play Scarlett O'Hara instead. He then gave the part to Stanwyck and was immediately impressed with her great talent and professionalism. She holds the distinction of being DeMille's all-time favorite actress. The movie also won the first Palme d'Or award, one of the most prestigious accolades in the film industry.

Personal Quotes (32)

During Double Indemnity (1944), Fred MacMurray would go to rushes [viewings of daily completed shots]. I remember asking Fred, "How was I?" [Fred's response was] "I don't know about you, but I was wonderful!" Such a true remark. Actors only look at themselves.
I'm a tough old broad from Brooklyn. I intend to go on acting until I'm ninety and they won't need to paste my face with make-up.
[referring to director Frank Capra] Eyes are the greatest tool in film. Mr. Capra taught me that. Sure, it's nice to say very good dialogue, if you can get it. But great movie acting - watch the eyes!
Put me in the last fifteen minutes of a picture and I don't care what happened before. I don't even care if I was IN the rest of the damned thing - I'll take it in those fifteen minutes.
My only problem is finding a way to play my fortieth fallen female in a different way from my thirty-ninth.
[in 1939 on the fact that her fiancé, Robert Taylor, was four years younger than she] The boy's got a lot to learn and I've got a lot to teach.
It's perhaps not the future I would choose. I still think it's possible to make a success of both marriage and career, even though I didn't. But it's not a bad future. And I'm not afraid of it.
I couldn't remember my name for weeks. I'd be at the theater and hear them calling, "Miss Stanwyck, Miss Stanwyck", and I'd think, "Where is that dame? Why doesn't she answer? By crickie, it's me!"
Egotism - usually just a case of mistaken nonentity.
There's nothing more fun in the whole world than seeing a child open a present at Christmas. To have a six-year-old boy stroke a bicycle with his eyes and, not daring to touch, turn and ask, "Is it mine, Missy? Really mine?" That's part of my future. The rest is work. And, I hope, some wisdom.
[1981] I had my job, my work. People talk about "my career," but "career" is too pompous a word. It was a job, and I always have felt very privileged to be paid for doing what I love doing. I still look forward to living. I wake up looking forward to each day. Whatever comes, I'm alive! I'm existing. I'm part of it.
Attention embarrasses me. I don't like to be on display.
I want to go on until they have to shoot me.
[on filming Titanic (1953)] The night we were making the scene of the dying ship in the outdoor tank at Twentieth, it was bitter cold. I was 47 feet up in the air in a lifeboat swinging on the davits. The water below was agitated into a heavy rolling mass and it was thick with other lifeboats full of women and children. I looked down and thought, "If one of these ropes snaps now, it's good-by for you". Then I looked up at the faces lined along the rail -those left behind to die with the ship. I thought of the men and women who had been through this thing in our time. We were re-creating an actual tragedy and I burst into tears. I shook with great racking sobs and couldn't stop.
[in the 1960s, explaining her four-year absence from films after Forty Guns (1957)] Nobody asked me. They don't normally write parts for women my age because America is now a country of youth. We've matured and moved on. The past belongs to the past.
Some kids are born with bad blood just like horses. When a parent has done everything possible, the only solution is to save yourself.
[on performing her favorite title role in Stella Dallas (1937)] The task was to convince audiences that Stella's instincts were fine and noble even though, on the surface she was loud, flamboyant, and a bit vulgar.
[on her character in Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)] Almost from the word go, she is way up there emotionally, and stays there day after day... I decided I'd prefer to jump in, bam, go, stay there, up, try to sustain it all the way and shoot the works.
[on making Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)] Five days I was handling it, starting the next day's work where I'd picked up, sustaining it all, and then I had two whole days to relax and not to worry about the character, and I tell you it was strange. It was really hard to pump myself up on Monday morning to try to feel that desperate tension.
[on stardom] We are all very privileged people. The Good Lord gave us that much more, to walk ahead of somebody, and He showed us how to do it and we did it. But we're survivors. But we didn't do it on our own. We didn't do it on our own. The Man Upstairs was pushing me.
[Cecil B. DeMille had] a style of his own. Something you don't see too much of.
[on Cecil B. DeMille] You certainly knew where his pictures were going [and] why they were made. I loved DeMille and he loved me. We only made Union Pacific (1939) together, but we did lots of radio. We got along great.
[her Cecil B. DeMille Golden Globe acceptance speech] Thank you very, very much. To my beloved television brother, Charlton Heston [in The Colbys (1985)]. As Moses he parted the Red Sea for Mr. DeMille [in The Ten Commandments (1956)], and I helped Mr. DeMille build the Union Pacific Railroad [in Union Pacific (1939)]. And we both loved him. I considered it a privilege to work for him. And to the Foreign Press Awards, I thank them for giving me another privilege: his very own award. I thank the Foreign Press, I thank Mr. DeMille, and I thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you.
I'm not a yesterday's woman. I'm a tomorrow's woman. If I don't have a job, what am I going to give interviews about?
[explaining why she is 10 minutes early to any appointment] I'd rather wait for people than have them wait for me.
[1982] You have to know when you've had your hour. I pity an actor who doesn't understand that.
[on Robert Taylor] 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.
I couldn't stand being passive. I couldn't play the placid girl.
[I was] an interloper, a usurper from the theater in 1932, and Ronald Colman, walking toward me, was the most beautiful man I had ever seen.
[on Samuel Goldwyn] Make all the jokes you want of the way Sam talked, but he instinctively knew what was right. He wanted real flowers on his sets because he didn't want an actress to have to put her face in a piece of wax.
[on the Golden Age of Hollywood] The amount of security that the star had - Crawford, Gable, Tracy, Taylor - was wonderful. Two or three pictures a year written for them by the top writers. It was like a baby being bathed and all wrapped in a blanket. You were safe. Today it's catch as catch can. Today someone buys a book or a play and asks, "Who can we go to the bank with?" not "Who's right for it?" It was a good system for a while, but Hollywood today is like a series of Mobil or Standard Oil stations leased to a distributor.
[on leaving her stage career behind in favor of Hollywood] But I fell in love with film. Besides, how do you keep a marriage together if you're back there and he's here? Now I'm scared to try [to return to the stage]. Now I'm a coward. They keep asking me, and I wish I had the courage, honey.

Salary (6)

Forbidden (1932) $50,000
Ever in My Heart (1933) $50,000
Gambling Lady (1934) $50 .000
Stella Dallas (1937) $50 .000
The Mad Miss Manton (1938) $60,000
Titanic (1953) $75,000

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