Barbara Stanwyck

Barbara Stanwyck
Paramount Pictures


Barbara Stanwyck
Film: West side of the 1700 block of Vine Street
Born Ruby Stevens on July 16, 1907 in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Died Jan. 20, 1990 of heart failure in St. John's Hospital, CA

Barbara Stanwyck's talent, blue eyes and memorable husky voice made her a dominant presence on stage, screen and TV in a career that spanned 60 years.

Born Ruby Stevens on July 16, 1907, in Brooklyn, Stanwyck was an orphan who said she never knew her parents. The task of raising her fell to an unmarried sister, a chorus girl who boarded her with a series of families while she traveled with roadhouse musicals.

From early childhood, Stanwyck wanted to become a dancer. She quit school at 13 to wrap packages in a Brooklyn store and taught herself to dance. Just after her 15th birthday, she got her first performing job — hanging from the ceiling as part of a living chandelier in a Ziegfeld Follies number.

A year later, in 1923, she became a chorus girl in a New York musical revue. After dancing in numerous chorus lines, she tried out for a part in a production put together by Willard Mack, a top producer and director of the day. This part transformed Stanwyck from dancer to actress, the kind of break many would-be stars only dream about.

As a performer in 88 films, Stanwyck emerged as one of the silver screen's strong, independent women. The Barbara Stanwyck persona in film was often the femme fatale or the "good bad girl," able to project simultaneously toughness and warmth, cynicism and sensitivity.

She was nominated four times for an Academy Award — for roles in "Stella Dallas" (1937), "Double Indemnity" (1944), "Ball of Fire" (1941) and "Sorry, Wrong Number" (1948), and received an honorary Oscar in 1982 for her acting achievements.

In the early 1940s, she reached a career peak with films such as "The Lady Eve" (1941), "Meet John Doe" (1941) and "Double Indemnity." The latter, a Billy Wilder film in which she starred alongside Fred MacMurray, brought her particular acclaim as a woman scheming to kill her husband.

Film biographers have maintained that Stanwyck's career faltered in the 1950s, although she acted in more than 20 films during that decade. Her career in television took off in the 1960s, when she played the stern matriarch of the Barkley clan in the series "The Big Valley" from 1965 to 1969. She also starred in the 1983 miniseries "The Thorn Birds" and appeared for one season (1985-86) as Constance Colby in "The Colbys," the prime-time melodrama.

When she was honored with the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award in 1987, a reporter asked if Stanwyck was satisfied with what she had accomplished.

"It's not . . . satisfaction exactly," she answered. "Let's say I did what I was supposed to do. I did my work."

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    Academy Awards

    Year Category Work
    1937 Best Actress Stella Dallas Nomination
    1941 Best Actress Ball of Fire Nomination
    1944 Best Actress Double Indemnity Nomination
    1948 Best Actress Sorry, Wrong Number Nomination
    1981 Honorary Award Win

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