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Barbara Stanwyck
November 27, 2011 4:19 PM   Subscribe

Yet by 1944 the IRS named Barbara Stanwyck the highest-paid woman in America. From 1930-57, she did a minimum of two pictures a year, sometimes even four or five. Yet it wasn't workaholism, according to the actress: "I was afraid they'd get somebody better, frankly. I never really thought I had any clout. For a lot of years I was free-lancing, by choice, but I think discipline stays with you. It's this fear that maybe somebody can come in and take over. Maybe a Redford or a Streep can take the luxury of a year off, but I never thought I could. Of course, we were more workable in those days. And they make more money now. Anyway, I never had self-assurance about leaving."
posted by Trurl (41 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
"I don't have very much integrity, but I have enough integrity that I got out." - Barbara Stanwyck on her experience on The Colbys.
posted by birdherder at 4:28 PM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Big Valley
posted by robbyrobs at 4:48 PM on November 27, 2011


Martin Scorsese once called 'The Lady Eve' a perfect film. There are a lot the other things that work very well in it, but the single biggest factor that makes it so great for me is Barbara Stanwyck. I had watched her in Double Indemnity a very long time ago and thought she was wonderful in that, but her work in The Lady Eve is one of the finest performances I have ever seen.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 4:49 PM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


One of the single most chilling moments in moviedom is near the end of Sunset Blvd when Norma Desmond turns to the camera AND LOOKS RIGHT AT YOU YES YOU REACHING WITH HER HANDS

All in the eyes indeed.
posted by The Whelk at 4:50 PM on November 27, 2011


One of my favorite actresses of the entire era. She's electric. Anthony Lane did a great piece on her for the New Yorker a few years ago.
posted by Miko at 4:51 PM on November 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


Barbara Stanwyck didn't play Norma Desmond. That was Gloria Swanson.
posted by grumblebee at 4:53 PM on November 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


The Big Valley used to be on after school when I was a kid. I loved Lee Majors and Linda Evans (I thought "Audra" was a very cool name.) And I loved how strong Barbara Stanwyk's character was. She took no guff from no one.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 4:54 PM on November 27, 2011


HOW THE FUCK DID I MIX THAT UP

Someone delete me from life
posted by The Whelk at 4:55 PM on November 27, 2011 [10 favorites]


Welk, strong, gorgeous women were not that common on film back then. It's not hard to call them all to mind at once when one's name comes up.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:01 PM on November 27, 2011


strong, gorgeous women were not that common on film back then.

So true. Dear Actresses of the 21st Century: Sorry.
posted by Miko at 5:05 PM on November 27, 2011


HOW THE FUCK DID I MIX THAT UP

Two magnetic actresses, both stars of Billy Wilder films?
posted by grumblebee at 5:20 PM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd say strong, gorgeous women were what kept Hollywood going in those days. Far more strong female characters than now--women opened pictures then, and didn't play just the girlfriend, the wife or the bimbo.
Stanwyck's competition for Best Actress when she was nominated for Double Indemnity was only such weak sisters as Ingrid Bergman (who won for Gaslight), Claudette Colbert, Greer Garson and Bette Davis.
It's a huge mistake to think that Hollywood films have always been as bad for women as they are in the last few years.

Sturges wrote The Lady Eve for Stanwyck because he was disappointed at how A Night to Remember (her first pairing with Fred McMurray) was butchered.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:34 PM on November 27, 2011 [10 favorites]


I remember watching The Big Valley so many times as a kid, and even though she was middle-aged, her name in the opening sequence came up onscreen as "Miss Barbara Stanwyck", to which my brother and I always said in unison to the screen, "Miss Barbara - AVAAAAILABLE - Stanwyck", which is the only way I can remember her name now. We didn't have Wikipedia to tell us about her stormy personal life. Sorry, Miss Stanwyck.
posted by planetkyoto at 5:36 PM on November 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


One of my all time favorite actresses. Favorite role? Probably Ball of Fire. If you've never seen it, treat yourself. For some reason it isn't as well-known as the other great screwball comedies of the era, but it's right up there, in my view, with the best of them. Stanwyck is both hilarious and sexy opposite Gary Cooper.
posted by yoink at 5:42 PM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


ideefixe has it, methinks. Tried and failed to find a cite, but I believe that the primary filmgoing audience in Stanwyck's prime ('30s-'40s) was adult women out for the afternoon before the kids got home from school, and studios catered to them. I'm not sure when things started to change, but they definitely haven't changed for the better in terms of strong and varied female roles, at least not in Hollywood.

Interestingly enough, the Breen office (enforcer of the production code as of 1934) may have actively encouraged film roles for women as independent careerists, as opposed to sex objects (because heaven knows you can't be both!) (cite) Of course, precode Hollywood turned out many movies in which the female "sex object" is also an interesting and often sympathetic human being - Stanwyck herself starred in many of these precode films. Jean Harlow is another good example.

Check out Clash By Night, Jeopardy, and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers in addition to the films mentioned above for great Stanwyck work. I prefer Stanwyck's post-1934 work to her precode films, but YMMV.
posted by Currer Belfry at 5:52 PM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ball of Fire is excellent, as is Meet John Doe, also with Gary Cooper. [MJD screenplay] Remarkably, Stanwyck made both of them, plus The Lady Eve and another film with Henry Fonda, all in the same year, 1941.
posted by LeLiLo at 5:54 PM on November 27, 2011


Yes, "Ball of Fire" is great! Goofy, smart movie. Stanwyck ruled in whatever she did, I must say, even the very uneven, pre-code "Night Nurse". Every other shot was of Stanwyck and Joan Blondell undressing for bed, or dressing for work, or justt hanging out in slips, but she was great. "Baby Face" was another excellent, pre-code film in which Stanwyck is furiously and determinedly AWESOME.
posted by but no cigar at 5:57 PM on November 27, 2011


She's also pretty great in Baby Face and Stella Dallas, although the two roles couldn't be farther apart.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:58 PM on November 27, 2011


Gonna throw in some love for "Sorry, Wrong Number". Practically a one-women show for Stanwyck, who manages to be both contemptible and sympathetic.
posted by ShutterBun at 5:59 PM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm alerting the authorities, and they're going to dock a corner from The Whelk's pink card.

Three more such transgressions, and he'll have to be heterosexual.
posted by hippybear at 6:31 PM on November 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


Ooh, ShutterBun: I just watched that the other night. I recall it made a real impression on me when I watched it on some late show at age 11. And even now, I was truck by how good a job she did at making you care about the fate of someone you really disliked.
posted by tyllwin at 6:42 PM on November 27, 2011


Barbara Stanwyck didn't play Norma Desmond. That was Gloria Swanson.

There is a connection, though, at least according to legend. After the premiere of the film, Swanson exited the theater and the assembled cream of Hollywood stood on the sidewalk and applauded her. Suddenly Barbara Stanwyck darted out of the crowd and fell to her knees... to kiss the hem of Swanson's gown.
posted by La Cieca at 6:43 PM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


My first thing with Barbara Stanwyck was The Big Valley. HATED HER

Didn’t know jack about her other than that until a late night b/w flick The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.

Stunning film noir. Made sure to buy it on DVD. HATED HER EVEN MORE.

Best thing really, was I got introduced to the drop dead gorgeous, tragic femme fatale, Lizbeth Scott. Never seen her in anything before or after but she haunts me in all the good ways. Seriously, it was love at first sight. I have never forgotten that moment I saw her face.
posted by timsteil at 6:44 PM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Stanwyck (as the lesbian proprietress of a French Quarter brothel!) and the Saul Bass credits sequence are the only touches of class in the skeevy 1962 potboiler Walk on the Wild Side.
posted by La Cieca at 7:03 PM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ball of Fire, was the film that I thought was going to be my Stanwyck card, the one that gave me true fandom because of its obscurity, and then it was chosen by other Mefis.

I love this.
posted by PinkMoose at 7:49 PM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Stanwyck (as the lesbian proprietress of a French Quarter brothel!) and the Saul Bass credits sequence are the only touches of class in the skeevy 1962 potboiler Walk on the Wild Side.

Haven't seen it yet. Sad that it sounds mediocre. The Nelson Algren novel is superb. And Lou Reed's song of the same name comes from an attempt to turn the novel into a musical.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:01 PM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Back off, noobs. Anyone who wants into the Barbara Stanwyck Metafilter Fan Club will have to fight me or Skygazer first.
posted by Rangeboy at 8:04 PM on November 27, 2011


Thirding the love here for Stanwyck in The Lady Eve. Vootie.
posted by Kinbote at 8:37 PM on November 27, 2011


Not to mention her turn as a black-clad, whip-wielding force of nature in Sam Fuller's Forty Guns. Vootie vootie.
posted by Kinbote at 8:41 PM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


My first semester at Smith College, I took a course entitled Melodrama in Film with three other students (!). It was amazing, and all the more so because we viewed Stella Dallas in all of its weepy glory. The film rolled. It ended. The lights came on in the classroom...I and all three of my classmates were audibly bawling, much to our embarrassment and the teacher's delight. Only Barbara, with her rough edges and her ability to switch from young sex appeal to matronly pathos, could have made it happen.
posted by mynameisluka at 9:54 PM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Bunny Ultramod The film has some camp appeal from the bizarre casting of 35-year-old Laurence Harvey as teenaged Link, chic French diva Capucine as the schoolteacher-turned-prostitute Hallie (with a Depression-era wardrobe of Pierre Cardin evening gowns) and, most hilariously of all, patrician WASP Anne Baxter as Mexican cantina waitress Terasina. These three actors were represented by agent Charles K. Feldman, who produced the picture and was apparently more interested in his 10% fees than in dramatic verisimilitude. The young Jane Fonda has some nice moments at Kitty Twist, but only she and Stanwyck manage to avoid the general impression that everyone involved would rather be doing something else.

But, back on subject, in Lady of Burlesque Stanwyck not only balanced melodrama and wisecracking comedy, but also sang and danced "Take it Off the E-String, Put it On the G-String" with an easy assurance Ginger Rogers might be proud of.
posted by La Cieca at 1:27 AM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I went through an absolute obsession with golden age Hollywood when I was in my twenties and somehow I missed Barbara Stanwyck. She's just gorgeous. I've seen Meet John Doe so many times and I know her name as well as my own but I've never really seen her until now. Thanks, Trurl.
posted by h00py at 4:41 AM on November 28, 2011


I'm surprised no one has mentioned Stanwyck's pre-Code flicks, many of which which are stunning. I'm thinking about "Baby Face" in particular. If you've not watched it, well, watch it. She's a tour de force in it.

On another topic, it seems to me that in some ways, there was more diversity (within the confines of what roles actresses could get in the studio system) for actresses in movies in the 1930s and 1940s than there is now. Someone mentioned the lack of strong roles back in the old days. Well, strong roles today are the exception rather than the rule. Many movies that use our most talented actresses put them in roles that call for them to be merely tragic victims, comic foils, (very secondary and lifeless) love interests, window dressing, or all of the above. There isn't one movie in the 2011 box office top 20 that features a strong leading role for actresses, other than "Bridesmaids" (which was hyped because it was so much the exception to the rule) and (maybe) "The Help." If you think that Bella Swan is a strong role, well, I'm not sure what to say to that.
posted by blucevalo at 5:15 AM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


there was more diversity (within the confines of what roles actresses could get in the studio system) for actresses in movies in the 1930s and 1940s than there is now.

Part of it is simply that stories about women and their lives were considered good content for film. Studios understood that a large percentage of their audiences were women and programmed for them, and audiences responded by going to see the movies. That's how we got the incredible pantheon of Golden Age stars: there were scripts for them.

When you do go on a fun Golden Age bender, it's absolutely amazing how many films are entirely about women, with the men in secondary roles. That hardly ever - really, hardly ever - happens today. Hollywood has become convinced that (a) women aren't interesting in film and (b) if they make films about women, no one will go to see them. There's been some good writing about this recently in The New Yorker - the piece on Anna Farris, though not fully available online, went into the "women aren't funny" problem Hollywood is certain it has, and this longer piece on movie marketing goes more deeply into how Hollywood is completely driven by marketing concerns, which has made it less experimental and less willing to put out movies that don't fit the blockbuster categories.

This all makes me really mad when I stop and think about it.
posted by Miko at 5:46 AM on November 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm surprised no one has mentioned Stanwyck's pre-Code flicks

Currer Belfry discussed them above, blucevalo:

precode Hollywood turned out many movies in which the female "sex object" is also an interesting and often sympathetic human being - Stanwyck herself starred in many of these precode films.

Worth repeating, and so is Miko's point about Golden Age films that were primarily about women. That a shitty movie like Bridesmaids is supposed to be some sort of new balance is hilarious.
posted by mediareport at 5:56 AM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Stanwyck was one-of-a-kind, and she had "it"--certainly enough of it to interest a man half her age.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:30 AM on November 28, 2011


Of course, we were more workable in those days.

Boy, were they ever. Back in the spring, I was at the Jimmy Stewart Museum, and in the stairway up, they have a list of his credits running up the entire length of the wall. Pre-war, he was doing five or so movies a year, and not bit parts, either. I knew he'd done a lot, but it was a knockout to see it all laid out like that. Of course, that pace was partly due to the studio system; still, it's hard to imagine anyone doing that kind of pace now.

The inequities of the old system aside, there's a bit of a loss. Acting is one of those things that the more you do it, the better you are. So many more hours working the craft than working the carpet? Such a difference in quality.

They really don't make 'em like that anymore.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:46 AM on November 28, 2011


Rangeboy: Back off, noobs. Anyone who wants into the Barbara Stanwyck Metafilter Fan Club will have to fight me or Skygazer first.

Um..Rangeboy, Stanwyck's ghost just appeared laughing heartily and she says we're a couple of "silly boobs..."

Anyhow, you know how certain women were so beautiful in visage and personality, with the fierce intelligence and the quick laughter, that it hurts a little to look at them. Yeah. That.

Stanwyck was the whole guacamole and then some...

The character she plays in The loves of Martha Ivers alone should've gotten her an Oscar every year after that, even post-posthumously.



ON GUARD YOU DOG!!

*Goes back to sword-fighting with Rangeboy*

posted by Skygazer at 6:47 AM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Currer Belfry discussed them above, blucevalo:

Good point. Sorry about that.
posted by blucevalo at 12:56 PM on November 28, 2011


The inequities of the old system aside, there's a bit of a loss. Acting is one of those things that the more you do it, the better you are. So many more hours working the craft than working the carpet? Such a difference in quality.

Everyone who worked in the studios was vastly more skilled and experienced than people working since then. Grips, set decorators, editors, seamstresses, specialty painters, directors--when all you do is make movies, you get to be really, really good at what you do. Your scripts might not be the most brilliant, but the level of craftsmanship in even the lamest sub-B movie made at a Poverty Row studio was outstanding.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:00 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I actually agree - I think the studio system had a lot going for it that the free-agent system doesn't. The products speak for themselves. Of course, we only watch the best of the era any more. As a Golden Age junkie, I can verify that there's a lot of dross out there that just doesn't make the 'legend' list. But when these films are good, they're head and shoulders above most of the very best films of recent decades.
posted by Miko at 5:32 AM on November 29, 2011


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