Synopses & Reviews
Frank Capra called her “The greatest emotional actress the screen has yet known.” She was one of its most natural, timeless, and underrated stars. Now, Victoria Wilson gives us the first full-scale life of Barbara Stanwyck, whose astonishing career in movies (eighty-eight in all) spanned four decades beginning with the coming of sound, and lasted in television from its infancy in the 1950s through the 1980s — a book that delves deeply into her rich, complex life and explores her extraordinary range of motion pictures, many of them iconic. Here is her work, her world, her Hollywood.
We see the quintessential Brooklyn girl whose family was in fact of old New England stock... her years in New York as a dancer and Broadway star... her fraught marriage to Frank Fay, Broadway genius, who influenced a generation of actors and comedians (among them, Jack Benny and Stanwyck herself )... the adoption of a son, embattled from the outset; her partnership with the “unfunny” Marx brother, Zeppo, crucial in shaping the direction of her work, and who, together with his wife, formed a trio that created one of the finest horse-breeding farms in the west; her fairy-tale romance and marriage to the younger Robert Taylor, America’s most sought-after — and beautiful — male star.
Here is the shaping of her career with many of Hollywood's most important directors: among them, Frank Capra, “Wild Bill” William Wellman (“When you get beauty and brains together,” he said, “there’s no stopping the lucky girl who possesses them. The best example I can think of is Barbara”), King Vidor, Cecil B. De Mille, and Preston Sturges, all set against the times — the Depression, the New Deal, the rise of the unions, the advent of World War II — and a fast-changing, coming-of-age motion picture industry.
And here is Stanwyck's evolution as an actress in the pictures she made from 1929 through the summer of 1940, where Volume One ends — from her first starring movie, The Locked Door ("An all-time low," she said. "By then I was certain that Hollywood and I had nothing in common"); and Ladies of Leisure, the first of her six-picture collaboration with Frank Capra ("He sensed things that you were trying to keep hidden from people. He knew. He just knew"), to the scorching Baby Face, and the height of her screen perfection, beginning with Stella Dallas ("I was scared to death all the time we were making the picture"), from Clifford Odets's Golden Boy and the epic Union Pacific to the first of her collaborations with Preston Sturges, who wrote Remember the Night, in which she starred.
And at the heart of the book, Stanwyck herself — her strengths, her fears, her frailties, her losses and desires; how she made use of the darkness in her soul in her work and kept it at bay in her private life, and finally, her transformation from shunned outsider to one of Hollywood's — and America's — most revered screen actresses.
Writing with the full cooperation of Stanwyck's family and friends, and drawing on more than two hundred interviews with actors, directors, cameramen, screenwriters, costume designers, et al., as well as making use of letters, journals, and private papers, Victoria Wilson has brought this complex artist brilliantly alive. Her book is a revelation of the actor's life and work.
“What you have done is extraordinary. It is an amazing book, brilliantly written, enhancing the whole life, Barbaras life, happenings around her—people of the industry, people in the theater and in politics. The way you have shown her life to include other situations, all that you interject . . . it makes her life, to me, more historically important. My father fell in love with Barbara after he saw her in Ladies of Leisure. He loved to go to the opera and to the movies and the only star he talked about was Barbara Stanwyck. He used to say she was an incredible actress. And she was. She really was. You have brought her wonderful career magnificently to life, and as her friend, I thank you.” Geoffrey O ' Brien - BookForu - m
Nancy Sinatra, Sr., Barbara Stanwyck & rsquo;s closest friend
- “What you have done is extraordinary. It is an amazing book, brilliantly written enhancing the whole life, Barbara’s life, happenings around her—people of the industry, people in the theater and in politics. The way you have shown her life to include other situations, all that you interject . . . it makes her life, to me, more historically important. My father fell in love with Barbara after he saw her in Ladies of Leisure. He loved to go to the opera and to the movies and the only star he talked about was Barbara Stanwyck. He used to say she was an incredible actress. And she was. She really was. You have brought her wonderful career magnificently to life, and as her friend, I thank you.”
"I was blown away, absorbed, riveted. What great smooth style, what brilliance, what depth. I collect celebrity biographies and this one is transcendent. This is huge and wonderful and rich. What an achievement!" Michael Lindsay-Hogg - Town - & - amp; Country
“Wilsons book is indeed a monument of research. . . . A Life of Barbara Stanwyck will unquestionably remain the biography of record; beyond Wilsons excavation of so much that would otherwise have been lost, her book has a deep sensitivity to the seriousness and subtlety of Stanwycks craft. This is the biography not of a Hollywood phenomenon but of a serious artist.” Kirkus
“Monumental in every sense. . .sweeping and Authoritative . . .written with verve and with great empathy and relish for her subject. The author loves Barbara Stanwyck, but she is also shrewd about the actresss complexity and human limitations. Wilson knows all the facts, but she is never overwhelmed by them, and, throughout, she is smart about the films and about the history and business of Hollywood in the Golden Age. Not the least of her achievement is leaving the reader eager to read volume two.” Christine Presley, Barbara Stanwyck & #8217;s great-n
"Wilson gives us an appropriately large, thrilling, and sensitive biography to go with this staggering career. . . . What she discovered--and shares in this indelible, revelatory book--is an artist's extraordinary transformation from homeless child to one of the most magnetic stars in the history of Hollywood." Peter Bogdanovich
“Richly researched, this biography offers insights into the strengths and insecurities of a woman famous for her trademark toughness and vulnerability. Photographs enhance this fabulous and expansive examination of the life of an iconic American actress.” James Curtis - author of Spencer Tracy
“Youve really done it. Its one of the handful of truly definitive works about a great American actor. As such, it will doubtlessly come to be considered a classic. Its everything I expected it to be - immensely detailed, authoritative, and compulsively readable. Stanwyck chose not to write her own book, but youve done it for her. She would have every reason to be grateful, as do your readers.” Susan Cheever
“An ambitious portrait of a young actress…Wilson provides a very real sense of Hollywood from the inside. She deeply scrutinizes every Stanwyck performance up to 1940, letting us see the actress work and, in some key roles, sweat…A first volume that should whet readers appetite for the second.” Foster Hirsch - author of The Dark Side of the Cinema; A Method to Their Madness
"Victoria Wilsons monumental Life of Barbara Stanwyck is not only an extraordinarily well researched and documented biography of a great star actress from the Golden Age of Hollywood, it is also a vivid portrait of the entire era in which she flourished. Her films and her private life are both chronicled in great detail in this excellently written work, the first of a two-volume labor of love that will surely stand as definitive on an important subject, Stanwyck being perhaps the most modern of all female screen stars." New York Times
“I am loving your Barbara Stanwyck--you bring that whole period of time so brilliantly to life. I am already in love with her and so so angry at Frank Fay! Thank you for this wonderful, delicious book!" Anne Rice
“Your book is wonderful! The no-nonsense, hard working woman that was Missy, is so well described. The Hollywood history and the stories behind Missys individual movies were so interesting and informative. I cant wait to start watching them again and will do so with your book on my lap. From cover to cover the book was entertaining, informative and just good reading…This will be a treasure for our family and the many generations to come.” Booklist starred review
“860 glittering pages... it ends with a cliffhanger, creating eager anticipation for Ms. Wilsons concluding volume... ‘A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True, 1907-1940 is not about the actress alone. Its bigger and splashier. Stanwyck knew the most notable directors, writers, actors, studio chiefs and Broadway impresarios of her day, and Ms. Wilson is interested in all of them. A remarkable array of still photographs present supporting characters like Florenz Ziegfeld, Annie Oakley, Clark Gable and Zeppo Marx, all of whom have their places in this account. An even more startling collection of movie ads and posters tells a riveting tale of sexism (about ‘Baby Face: ‘Youve never seen anything like this frank, man-to-man story of a man-to-man girl!), even as they chronicle Stanwycks career... The book describes how she evolved from an emotion-wringing actress into a sullen, bad-girl bombshell into Stella Dallas, arguably the most soapily self-sacrificing mother ever seen on camera... Regarding Ms. Wilsons follow-up, no studios publicity department could offer a better set of coming attractions.” Janet Maslin
Fifteen years in the making, the first volume of the full-scale astonishing life of one of our greatest screen actresses whose career in pictures spanned four decades beginning with the coming of sound — the first to delve deeply into Stanwyck’s rich, complex life and to explore her extraordinary range of eighty-eight motion pictures, many of them iconic; her work, her world, her Hollywood through an American century.
Frank Capra called her, “The greatest emotional actress the screen has yet known.” Yet she was one of its most natural, timeless, and underrated stars.
Now Victoria Wilson, gives us the most complete portrait we have yet had, or will have, of this magnificent actresses, seen as the quintessential Brooklyn girl whose family was in fact of old New England stock… her years in New York as dancer and Broadway star… her fraught marriage to Frank Fay, Broadway genius, who influenced a generation of actors and comedians (among them, Jack Benny and Stanwyck herself)… the adoption of a son, embattled from the outset; her partnership with the “unfunny” Marx brother, Zeppo, together creating one of the finest horse breeding farms in the west; her fairytale romance and marriage to the younger Robert Taylor, America’s most sought-after male star… Here is the shaping of her career working with many of Hollywood’s most important directors: among them, Capra, King Vidor, Cecil B. Demille, Preston Sturges, all set against the times — the Depression, the rise of the unions, the coming of World War II and a fast-evolving coming-of-age motion picture industry.
At the heart of the book, Stanwyck herself — her strengths, her fears, her desires — how she made use of the darkness in her soul, keeping it at bay in her private life, transforming herself from shunned outsider into one of Hollywood’s — and America’s — most revered screen actresses.
Written with full access to Stanwyck’s family, friends, colleagues, and never-before-seen letters, journals and photographs.
About the Author
Victoria Wilson is a vice president and senior editor at Alfred Knopf. She was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the US Commission on Civil Rights and has served on the boards of PEN American Center, the National Board Review of Motion Pictures, the Writing Program of the New School of Social Research, and Poets & Writers. She lives in New York City and upstate New York.