A Life of Barbara Stanwyck
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Frank Capra called her “The greatest emotional actress the screen has yet known.” She was one of its most natural, timeless, and underrated stars. Now, Victoria Wilson gives us the first full-scale life of Barbara Stanwyck, whose astonishing career in movies (eighty-eight in all) spanned four decades beginning with the coming of sound, and lasted in television from its infancy in the 1950s through the 1980s—a book that delves deeply into her rich, complex life and explores her extraordinary range of motion pictures, many of them iconic. Here is her work, her world, her Hollywood.
We see the quintessential Brooklyn girl whose family was in fact of old New England stock . . . her years in New York as a dancer and Broadway star . . . her fraught marriage to Frank Fay, Broadway genius, who influenced a generation of actors and comedians (among them, Jack Benny and Stanwyck herself ) . . . the adoption of a son, embattled from the outset; her partnership with the “unfunny” Marx brother, Zeppo, crucial in shaping the direction of her work, and who, together with his wife, formed a trio that created one of the finest horse-breeding farms in the west; her fairy-tale romance and marriage to the younger Robert Taylor, America’s most sought-after— and beautiful—male star.
Here is the shaping of her career with many of Hollywood’s most important directors: among them, Frank Capra, “Wild Bill” William Wellman (“When you get beauty and brains together,” he said, “there’s no stopping the lucky girl who possesses them. The best example I can think of is Barbara”), King Vidor, Cecil B. De Mille, and Preston Sturges, all set against the times—the Depression, the New Deal, the rise of the unions, the advent of World War II—and a fast-changing, coming-of-age motion picture industry.
And here is Stanwyck’s evolution as an actress in the pictures she made from 1929 through the summer of 1940, where Volume One ends—from her first starring movie, The Locked Door (“An all-time low,” she said. “By then I was certain that Hollywood and I had nothing in common”); and Ladies of Leisure, the first of her six-picture collaboration with Frank Capra (“He sensed things that you were trying to keep hidden from people. He knew. He just knew”), to the scorching Baby Face, and the height of her screen perfection, beginning with Stella Dallas (“I was scared to death all the time we were making the picture”), from Clifford Odets’s Golden Boy and the epic Union Pacific to the first of her collaborations with Preston Sturges, who wrote Remember the Night, in which she starred.
And at the heart of the book, Stanwyck herself—her strengths, her fears, her frailties, her losses and desires; how she made use of the darkness in her soul in her work and kept it at bay in her private life, and finally, her transformation from shunned outsider to one of Hollywood’s—and America’s—most revered screen actresses.
Writing with the full cooperation of Stanwyck’s family and friends, and drawing on more than two hundred interviews with actors, directors, cameramen, screenwriters, costume designers, et al., as well as making use of letters, journals, and private papers, Victoria Wilson has brought this complex artist brilliantly alive. Her book is a revelation of the actor’s life and work.
Parts of this very long, often very dry book were interesting and good to read. In many ways this book covers the times, the burgeoning movie business and many of those who were pioneers of film. At times, this story is not so much a biography of Barbara Stanwyck as much as it is a story of the film business. Still, I read the book because I was interested to learn about Barbara Stanwyck and much of the dry parts of this book did tie in to Stanwyck's life. The very worst and unforgivable part of this whole book, as long as the book was, is that there is no ending to the Barbara Stanwyck story!! This book ends in 1949 and Ms Stanwyck lived for another 30+? years. We are never told if her marriage to a younger man lasts, how her child grew up, how and when Ms Stanwyck even died. Not a satisfying book to read and I would not recommend it to anyone who is at all curious about the life of Barbara Stanwyck. Sorry I wasted my time and money.
To the reviewer who said no ending,,..
...book says it goes up to 1940, so why would it have an ending--like up to her death. This book is the first of two books about Stanwyck, so it only would cover the first half of her life.
unfocused and rambling
I've read many biographies of hollywood stars, and there is always some back story, hearsay, pieces missing in the timeline that the author has to fill in. Therein lies the skill of the biographer to quilt all the parts into a coherent story. Unfortunately, this is not. The first part describing the beginning of Ruby Stevens is "hurky-jerky". The names of friends who eventually become famous stars in their own rights is not noted. Why not include it in a footnote, if not in an apposition.
The history of Stanwyck is amazing and interesting especially as it parallels the rise of Hollywood. The problem is that the set up for B.S's movie roles go on too long. While the information might be interesting, it detracts from the story. All this other information should have been handled differently and more creatively. AS it stands its like reading two books that have been mashed into one.
- Category: Biographies & Memoirs
- Published: Nov 12, 2013
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster
- Seller: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc.
- Print Length: 1056 Pages
- Language: English