Barbara finally got her big break in Frank Capra’s, Ladies of Leisure, although initially she was not his idea of the rather tarnished heroine of his latest project.
Discouraged and withdrawn after two box office flops, she arrived in his office without makeup, plainly attired, and her manner was sullen and uncooperative. When Capra asked her to make a test for him he said that she jumped up and yelled, “Oh hell! You don’t want any part of me!”, and stormed out of his office. When her husband at that time, Frank Fay heard of the ill fated audition, he persuaded Capra to view a three minute Warners test that she had done from her Broadway smash hit, The Noose. He explained that his wife’s negative behaviour was the result of her natural shyness, coupled with professional doldrums. Capra reluctantly viewed the test, determined to hate it, he later confessed that it put a lump in his throat the size of an egg. He insisted that Columbia head Harry Cohn sign her at once for Ladies of Leisure ,beginning a wonderful working partnership that would encompass five films, two of which would be among the milestones of her whole career.
Released in 1930, Ladies of Leisure became Columbia’s greatest box office success to date. With Barbara, Capra discovered an actress of rare honesty and sensitivity. “Stanwyck doesn’t act a scene,” he has said, “she lives it. Her best work is the result, not of timing and rehearsing, but of pure feminine reaction.” He also discovered that his new actress had a peculiar problem, her natural approach to a scene resulted in her giving everything on the first take, after which both her energy and honesty flagged. To combat this, he took to rehearsing the other actors without her, taking her aside for a brief coaching conference before she went on camera, and then capturing her performance at it’s most natural and spontaneous. “She remembered everything I said,” he recalled later, “and she never blew a line.” As a result of Capra’s care and sensitivity in working with Barbara, she turned in a performance that still looks fresh and exciting 82 years later. Capra said that the only reason that she wasn’t nominated for a Best Actress Oscar was that Columbia was a very minor studio at that time. It would all change just a couple of years later when It Happened One Night swept the Oscar board.
Nevertheless, Ladies of Leisure made Barbara an important new star, and it also made Frank Capra a lifelong friend and admirer.
In the film she played a good time girl who’s life is changed when she meets a wealthy artist who wants to capture her unique beauty on canvas., They fall in love, but his snobbish parents don’t think that she is good enough for him, there are trials and tribulations before they are finally reconciled.
She is vibrant and full of life from her first appearance, and alternately touching as well as very funny in her scenes with Ralph Graves, her leading man.
Note: Ray’s Review features in this website courtesy of Ray Johnson, as published in britmovie.co.uk website’s forum legendary Barbara Stanwyck thread. Ray also manages the best forum on Barbara Stanwyck, Yahoo Groups’s Miss Barbara Stanwyck, click on the Forum menu item to be redirected.