Sunday, July 16, 2017

Born Today July 16: Barbara Stanwyck


One of the most popular movie stars ever to grace the big and small screen, Barbara Stanwyck was born Ruby Catherine Stevens today in Brooklyn, New York.  Her childhood was not ideal, as her mother died under tragic circumstances when she was just four, and her father took a job digging the Panama Canal and disappeared--thought dead--shortly after her mother's death.  Fortunately for Ruby and her brother Byron, their eldest sister Mildred was quite a bit older and she was able to care for the pair for a while.  However, when she was forced to get a job, Ruby and Bryon were placed in a series of foster homes.  Ruby made it a habit to run away from these situations.  Mildred's profession was as a showgirl, and at the age of 9, Ruby was back with her sister, who was by this time touring in the entertainment industry.  For two years Ruby traveled with her, often practicing her sister's routines backstage.  She was also a big fan of silent serial specialist Pearl White, which made her determined to become a performer of some sort.  Ruby dropped out of school at the age of 14 to take a wrapping job at a Brooklyn department store, never attending high school (though some made up biographical material was circulated when she was gaining in popularity as an actress, that she performed while attending a famous Brooklyn high school).  She next took a filing job that paid much better than the department store; this allowed her to live independently.  She saw both jobs as a means to an end, and disliked them both; for her they were necessary to enter the entertainment industry.  She briefly worked for Vogue magazine, but was fired do to her lack of experience in cloth cutting; so she went to work as a typist for a music company, this was reported to be the first job that she actually enjoyed.  Despite that her sister had repeatedly tried to keep from attempting to become a performer, Ruby auditioned in 1923, just before her 16th birthday, for a job in chorus at a night club that operated above New York's famous Strand Theater in Times Square.  A few months later found her dancing for the Ziegfeld Follies.  For the next several years she worked hard evening to dawn as a night club dancer.  In 1926 she was introduced to stage producer Willard Mack, for whom she auditioned and gained a part in a play that he was casting as a chorus girl played by a real chorus girl.  The play opened but was not initially successful, so Mack actually decided to expand Ruby's part as the chorus girl, giving her significantly more lines.  When the play reopened, it became a hit and quickly made it's way to Broadway.  It was at this time that one of her mentors (not known exactly which one) suggested to Ruby that she change her name: thus Barbara Stanwyck was born.  Under this name, she quickly became a huge star on Broadway.  In 1927, she was given a screen test for the upcoming silent Broadway Nights. She did not get the main part (that went to Lois Wilson), but she was given a bit part as a fan dancer, thus Stanwyck made her silver screen debut (see the film's entry at IMDb).  This would be the only silent film that Stanwyck acted in.  In 1928, she married a fellow actor whom she had met on the wildly successful Broadway run of the play Burlesque; the couple promptly relocated to Hollywood.  The first full sound film that she acted in came when she starred in The Locked Door in 1929, with mono sound by MovieTone.  She next starred in and received top billing in Mexicali Rose also in 1929, this time with sound provided by Western Electric.  Though neither film stood out in any way, other than being talkies, a curiosity at the time, they were enough for her to get the attention of directing giant Frank Capra, who gave her the starring role in his 1930 Ladies Of Leisure.  It's a cliche, but it's true to say, the rest is history.  She made her television debut in 1956 on the Ford Television Theatre in the episode Sudden Silence.  In the late 1950's her film career began to wane, she made the decision to specialize in television, at one point having her own show The Barbara Stanwyck Show.  Her role on The Big Valley made her one of the most popular actors in television history.  After making a television movie in 1973, she retired from acting full time and didn't make another appearance in front the camera until making one appearance on Charlie's Angels.  She then had recurring roles in 3 additional television series (one a mini-series), including Dynasty.  Her last role was a large one, she agreed to actually star in the Dynasty spin-off The Colby's.  in 1982, while filming the mini-series The Thorn Birds she contracted a very seriously case of bronchitis, due to special smoke effects on the set, the fact that she had been a serious smoker since before the age of 10 only made this worse.  So, it is not surprising that in the late 1980's she began having trouble with COPD, this in turn brought on congestive heart failure.  Stanwyck died of the ailments on the 20th of January 1990 at the age of 82. She was cremated and her ashes were scattered, via helicopter, over Lone Pine, California--where she had found memories of filming some of the westerns that she starred in.  

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