It wasn’t always glitz and glamour for Barbara Stanwyck. The story of the famous Hollywood actress is a testament to the notion that hard work really does pay off. She was undoubtedly dealt a rough hand in her early life, but she managed to work her way up to stardom in spite of it all. So, let’s take a trip down memory lane and delve into the captivating and colourful Barbara Stanwyck bio…
Barbara Stanwyck was born on July 16th 1907 in Brooklyn, New York. She was born as ‘Ruby Catherine Stevens’ and was the youngest of five children. Barbara encountered her first tragedy at the mere age of four years old when she lost her mother, Catherine Ann. Her death was caused by a drunken stranger who pushed her off a moving streetcar. Unfortunately, things were only set to get worse, as two weeks after her mother’s funeral, her father (Byron E. Stevens) disappeared. He never came back again. After that Barbara’s tale was a series of foster homes – as many as four a year. But as we dig deeper into the Barbara Stanwyck bio you will soon find that this didn’t stop her.
At the mere age of 14 Barbara dropped out of school. She took a job at a department store wrapping packages. She said: “I knew that after fourteen I’d have to earn my own living, but I was willing to do that… I’ve always been a little sorry for pampered people, and of course, they’re ‘very’ sorry for me.” After the department store she worked at a telephone office. Her $14 p/w salary allowed her to become financially independent. Yet Barbara was already having dreams of stardom by now. She watched movies and practised routines, she knew show business was what she really wanted. Her sister tried to discourage her, but in the end she had to give in.
So, how did Barbara hop on the path to Hollywood success? This is where the Barbara Stanwyck bio truly turns around for the better. It all began just before her 16th birthday. She auditioned for a chorus place at a night club in Times Square called Strand Roof. Only a few months later and she was dancing at the New Amsterdam Theater in Ziegfeld Follies. She spent the next year as a chorus girl in nightclubs, yet the young girl definitely had a wise head on her shoulders. The hard work paid off because three years after she got her first job at Strand Roof there was a play being cast called ‘The Noose’. The Noose included a part for a chorus girl and the creator of the play wanted a real one to take the role. Needless to say, Barbara was chosen. Initially the play was what you’d call a flop, but when it reopened a few months later it became one of the most successful plays of the season. Why? They’d made Barbara’s part more prominent; she tugged at the audience’s heartstrings. It was after this play that she changed her name; taking ‘Barbara’ from her character and ‘Stanwyck’ from another actress who featured in the play.
The sky was the limit after The Noose. Barbara was casted for the leading role of ‘Burlesque’ and her name started to appear everywhere. The play also changed Barbara’s life in another way; she met her future husband – Frank Fay. Fay was a popular comedic actor and the pair got married on August 26th 1928 and moved to Hollywood. It was here where Barbara’s career truly took off. She quickly swapped Broadway for the big screen. But back to the Barbara Stanwyck bio of love. The pair had actually become close after Rex Cherryman, Barbara’s former fiancé, passed away of septic poisoning at the mere age of 31. Unfortunately, Barbara’s marriage to Frank Fay didn’t turn out the way she would have liked either as she often found herself in physical confrontations with her husband. After seven years of marriage they filed for divorce. Nonetheless, Barbara and Frank did adopt a son whilst together, non-surprisingly Barbara won custody.
So, back to the heights of Hollywood. Stanwyck’s first film came in 1929 and was The Locked Door. It wasn’t a success, nor was her following film; Mexicali Rose. Nevertheless, in 1930 she was cast in Ladies of Leisure, which was a roaring hit. This was the beginning of great things for the lady who had a not so great beginning. She then made 85 films throughout a 38 year period in Hollywood. She is unsurprisingly deemed to be one of the greatest female stars of all time in American Film. Other films she featured in include; Ball of Fire, Sorry Wrong Number, Stella Dallas, Night Nurse, Baby Face, Gone with the Wind, The Other Love and Lady Eve. Her on-screen persona tended to be one of strong and unflinching characters. Yet her off-screen personality couldn’t be more different. She was kind and always available to others. Perhaps this is what appealed to her next lover. That’s right; back to the Barbara Stanwyck bio of love for a moment! When shooting the 1936 film ‘His Brother’s Wife’ Barbara and her co-star Robert Taylor feel in love. They married three years later, yet after 11 years of marriage they mutually filed for divorce. The true reason why will always remain unknown. There are rumours about affairs whereas others state Taylor wanted a life away from Hollywood but Barbara didn’t. Nonetheless, when her former husband died in 1969 (19 years after divorce) it hit Barbara hard and it saw her take a long break away from the big screen.
But let’s roll back the clock a bit to the Barbara Stanwyck bio of Hollywood. Unfortunately, Stanwyck’s film career began to decline in 1957. But her career as a whole didn’t, because she merely moved into television. She had her own series called the ‘Barbara Stanwyck Show’. It won her an Emmy Award yet many would agree the show underperformed. Nevertheless, she continued to win more awards as she featured in an array of series, such as; The Big Valley, Bonanza, The Colbys and Bonanza. Her career took her right through to the late 1980s. But during her years of retirement she didn’t rest either, showing her kind nature by engaging in lots of charity work. Barbara died at the age of 82 due to congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Her legacy undoubtedly lives on.
If this page felt too short and want to get to know her even more, please visit our upgraded page The Ultimate Guide to Barbara Stanwyck, Top 10 Things to know about Barbara Stanwyck Biography and Career.