There are fewer things that express the legacy and magnitude of Hollywood as a giant industry than the career of Barbara Stanwyck. The American actress had a career that lasted for 60 years in the industry, becoming one of the greatest stars to ever grace the screen in the process.
An industry as old and influential as Hollywood has a history filled with secrets, excellence, and drama; so does the life of Barbara Stanwyck. Her name is in the roster of the men and women who have received the Cecil B. DeMille Award, an Honorary Oscar and is ranked as the 11th greatest female star of classic American Cinema by the American Film Institute.
Barbara Stanwyck Biography
Today and for 60 years of excellence, the legendary actress went by the name Barbara Stanwyck but she was born Ruby Catherine Stevens to two working-class parents, Byron Stevens and Catherine Ann McPhee. She was born on the 16th of July 1907.
Barbara had a really difficult childhood, such that it would have been understandable if she never made anything meaningful off her life. She lost her mother at the age of four and also her father, just two weeks after the mother’s funeral. Barbara, along with her sibling, an older brother named Malcolm Byron was raised by their eldest sibling, Laura Mildred.
Barbara’s young life was spent in a lot of foster homes which she never stayed in long enough to develop an attachment. Right from her early days, she started displaying the independence and formidable personality that would make her one of Hollywood’s best talents. Having realized she was never going to be the girl who hung around waiting for a man to take care of her, she started taking different odd jobs as a teenager which eventually led her to a job as a Ziegfeld girl, dancing at the New Amsterdam Theatre. She was 16 years old when she was already a well-liked member of the Ziegfeld girls and a dance instructor for a speakeasy for gays and lesbians.
Barbara’s journey to a life as a legendary actress began on Broadway. She was cast to play a chorus girl in The Noose and with the play’s success came a lot of admiration for Barbara Stanwyck who changed her name after the success of the show, picking her character’s first name (Barbara Frietchie) and an actress’ last name, Jane Stanwyck.
She was cast in a leading role immediately after for a play in 1927. Barbara could have had a magnificent career as a Broadway actress and she would have, according to Arthur Hopkins, but just as Broadway writers wanted her for their plays, so did Hollywood producers. In the end, Hollywood won and she rose to become a film legend.
She had her first film appearance in Broadway Nights, 1927. It was a silent film. Her first speaking role was in The Locked Door in 1929. It was indeed the beginning of an illustrious film career.
Over the course of the next 60 years, she would appear in films like Baby Face, A Lost Lady, Flesh and Fantasy, The Gay Sisters and Stella Dallas, which brought in her first Oscar nomination. She was nominated for four Academy Awards in total during her career but never won any. She did, however, win an Honorary Oscar in 1982. Her other awards include Golden Globe Awards for The Thorn Birds, and in Television, she won the Emmy for The Barbara Stanwyck Show and The Big Valley.
Her Net Worth
Barbara Stanwyck was once the highest paid woman in America in 1944. The high profile actress was paid $400,000 ($5.4 million today) in total for her films that year. After her retirement and several charity donations, Barbara Stanwyck was worth $1 million at her death in 1990.
Was She a Lesbian?
Barbara Stanwyck was never confirmed to be gay during her lifetime but several behaviours and statements lent themselves to the rumours that she was a lesbian. The iconic actress had been exposed to the homosexual community since the age of 16. A singer, who was popularly known to be a lesbian, claimed to have had sexual intercourse with Barbara and biography writer, Axel Madsen is said to have described people’s opinion of Stanwyck as the biggest closet lesbian in Hollywood.
There is no confirmation from the actress while she was alive of her sexuality, but if accounts of those who knew her are to be believed, she was at the very least, bisexual.
Meanwhile, she was married twice, first to Frank Fay and then Robert Taylor. The union with Frank lasted from 1928 to 1935. In 1939, Robert became her husband and the marriage endured until 1952.
How Did She Die?
One could say Barbara had been courting death since she was a child. The iconic actress was a prolific smoker right from the age of nine and continued until four years before her eventual death. She died in Saint John’s Health Center, Santa Monica in California after a congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in 1990. She never had children.