12 things you never knew about Barbara Stanwyck
Few have led so full a life. Learn fascinating facts about the actress' schooling, wigs, salary and friendships.
How does one condense so great a life into a dozen bullet points? It is impossible. Barbara Stanwyck is carved into the Mount Rushmore of Hollywood actresses. The recent biography of the legend, A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940, packed a whopping 1,056 pages — and that is just the first volume, the first third of her life.
Born Ruby Stevens, the Brooklyn native had a hard, full childhood that led to an uncommonly precocious start in showbiz. She went on to become one of the most beloved figures in the industry, by her peers as well as her fans. Frank Capra once said, "In a Hollywood popularity contest she would win first prize hands down."
Let's take a look at some fascinating facts about the entertainment titan.
1. She never attended high school.
At the age of 14, after completing the eighth grade at P.S. 152, Ruby decided to get a full time job instead of matriculating onward to Erasmus Hall High School. The teenager worked as a switchboard operator, a file clerk, a package wrapper at Abraham & Straus, and at the Vogue Pattern Center. There is still some confusion about her education, as even an Erasmus Hall alumni page lists Stanwyck, as well as the school's Wikipedia page.
Image: AP Photo
2. She became a Ziegfeld's Follies dancer at the age of 15.
She was hired under the name Dolly Evans. In the 1922 Follies revue, the soon-to-be-Stanwyck danced in a ballet scene called "Frolicking Gods," which was a bit like those Night at the Museum movies.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
3. Her crime film 'Night Nurse' was one of the films that led to the Motion Picture Production Code.
In 1934, the Production Code, also known as the Hayes Code, began to be strictly enforced in Hollywood, a way to try and clean up "indecency" from movies. Everything from profanity and drug use to childbirth and interracial relationships were white washed from movies. Everything needed a happy ending. What spurred the puritanical policing were gritty flicks like Night Nurse, which featured Stanwyck in lingerie, the attempted murder of children, and a dead Clark Gable at the close. Ironically, the staunchly conservative Stanwyck would become a member of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals and support the blacklisting House Committee on Un-American Activities.
Image: Night Nurse
4. She truly went blonde for just one role, Stella Dallas.
Stanwyck bleached her hair once, for the lead in 1937's Stella Dallas, a film so popular it spawned a radio soap opera that ran for two decades. In other roles in which she played a blonde, the actress would wear a wig. Most notably in a brilliant classic…
Image: Stella Dallas
5. Billy Wilder intentionally dressed her in a terrible wig for 'Double Indemnity.'
For what is arguably the greatest noir film ever made, director Billy Wilder opted to slap a shoddy, cheap wig on his beautiful star. Critics moaned that the piece was too fake, but that was Wilder's intent. Wilder wanted "to make her look as sleazy as possible."
Image: Double Indemnity
6. She was the highest paid woman in America in 1944.
That wig was the only thing cheap about Stanwyck in 1944. She was named the highest earning woman in the land, raking in $400,000 that year. To put that in perspective, that's approximately $5.4 million in today's cash, a third of what Reese Witherspoon earned last year.
Image: Double Indemnity
7. William Holden remained forever grateful to Stanwyck for his career.
Producers were more than reluctant to cast the unknown Holden as the lead in the 1939 boxing flick. Stanwyck insisted on his casting. Holden earned the role of the violinist-pugilist, and remained so grateful to Stanwyck, his first big role, that he reportedly shipped her flowers every year to mark the anniversary of the first day of the filming. Four decades later, at the 50th Academy Awards, Holden and Stanwyck were presenting a Sound Oscar, when Holden publicly thanked her for all she did in a tearful, eternal moment.
Image: Golden Boy
8. 'The Barbara Stanwyck Show' unsuccessfully attempted to launch a few pilots for new series.
In the 1960s, the star turned to the small screen. Her first television gig, The Barbara Stanwyck Show, was an anthology show, but also a vehicle that repeatedly attempted to set up the actress with another series. In one concept, she was an American running an import-export shop in Hong Kong. Somehow, none of these were picked up by the network as full series. Though it lasted just a season, the show earned Stanwyck her first Emmy.
9. She was a big fan of author Ayn Rand.
A believer of objectivism, Stanwyck pushed for Warner Bros. to purchase the rights to the novel The Fountainhead, which was a slow seller in its first few years in print.
Image: AP Photo / Associated Press
10. Victoria was the only member of the Barkley family to not get shot on 'The Big Valley.'
Heath was hit the most, and Nick has the unfortunate honor of being the only Barkley who is shot twice in the same episode.
11. She was in a 'Dynasty' spin-off with Charlton Heston and Ricardo Montalban.
Produced by Aaron Spelling, the primetime soap The Colbys featured a stellar cast, yet the Dynasty spin-off only ran from November 20, 1985 to March 26, 1987. In the final episode, one of the Colbys is abducted by aliens.
12. Her ashes were scattered over Lone Pine, California.
Though she was everything from a dancer to a femme fatale, Stanwyck remained a cowgirl at heart. She requested no funeral, no burial upon her death. Instead, her ashes were scattered over Lone Pine, California, the rustic setting for dozens of Hollywood Westerns.
Image: Annie Oakley
AN UNEXPECTED HAPPY ENDING - Unlike the men in various versions of A STAR IS BORN, Frank Fay did not commit suicide. And for a long time, he also failed to achieve professional success. But about ten years after his marriage to Stanwyck ended, Frank Fay achieved a mammoth success on Broadway, playing a slightly crazed rabbit lover in the play HARVEY, which a couple of years later became a huge film success for Jimmy Stewart. So things ended up working out for everyone. Anyway, if you were doing a list of things people didn't know about Barbara Stanwyck, you'd figure that her connection to A STAR IS BORN would get a mention.
Politically she was closer to a liberal Republican, a thing that used to exist. She gets identified as a right winger for some unfair reasons. First and above all, people assume her politics were similar to Robert Taylor's, when in fact one of the reasons she divorced him was his increasing involvement in McCarthyism. Not only did she NOT work to blacklist anyone, she actually went out of her way to get behind the scenes work for blacklisted individuals. Another reason she gets identified as an ultra right winger was Ayn Rand. She liked Rand as a novelist, not as a thinker. She was a passionate reader of popular fiction (that is, detective fiction, mysteries, and best sellers, but not so much classic writers like Hugo and Dickens). For thr past several decades of her life she would get into bed early with a book, and read until she dosed off. The third reason she is unfairly identified as a right winger is the fact that when a young, struggling, not very talented actress kept getting rejected by the Screen Actors Guild for roles (SAG was not, as many think, a union at the time - it was created by the studios and all its officers for the first couple of decades were appointed by the studios, and the presidents were named by studio heads, not voted on by members). The actress had discovered that a writer with a name the same has hers had been
lefty in the thirties, and she had been confused with her. Stanwyck told her she knew the actor the studios had appointed to the SAG presidency for that year, and she could arrange for the actress, Nancy Walker, to meet with Ronald Reagan to get matters straightened out. So Stanwyck is the one who introduced Ron and Nancy. But, again, Barbara had much more in common with many of her leftist friends like Henry Fonda (one of the most passionate leftwingers in Hollywood) and Zeppo Marx (a sometimes next door neighbor and business partner and horse riding buddy); both loved to bred dogs (many Hollywood stars bought their German Shepherds from Zeppo). The truth is that Stanwyck, like many in Hollywoodbat the time, quickly came to hate the political games of the Fifties. Very, very few actors - though there were exceptions like Reagan and Forrest Tucker and Robert Taylor and Adolph Menjou and Donald Crisp). The studios mainly liked to used the Commie scare as a way to control the writers. whom they saw as the ones behind the unions in Hollywood. They didn't give a flip about Communists, but they HATED unions, which is why they started creating fake unions like SAG.
It's official name was the Breen Code, after Joseph Breen, who drew it up and and administered.
"Producers were more than reluctant to cast the unknown Holden as the lead in the 1939 boxing flick."
The writers of this piece seem not to know that that film actually has a title: "Golden Boy."
Two of her three sons on Big Valley were made of Samsonite.
Or so I've been led to understand.