First Movie I Saw Her In: Double Indemnity (1944)
Three Favorite Movies: Ball of Fire (1941); The Lady Eve (1941); Meet John Doe (1941)
Honorable Mention: Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
Favorite Performance: Drama: Double Indemnity (1944); Comedy: Ball of Fire (1941)
Why I Like Her: Barbara Stanwyck is the Golden Age actress I was ever exposed to, via The Big Valley (1965-69), the Western TV show where Babs played Victoria, the matriarch of the Barkley family. She was billed as "Miss Barbara Stanwyck" and even to my child brain of thirty years ago, she made an impression. I knew that this woman was something special (even when I wasn't gawking at Stanwyck's ravishing co-star, Linda Evans). Stanwyck was the first movie star-turned-TV-star that I ever watched with regularity.
It wasn't until the mid-1990s that I would reconnect with Stanwyck and this time, it would be her her film career, which I had been vauguely aware of but hadn't seen. Discovering Barbara Stanwyck the film star was a constant, unfolding joy. In fact, it remains one of my favorite discoveries since my full-fledged obsession with classic film.
Stanwyck was brilliant at both comedy and drama, played cold-bloodedness and jubillance with equal expertise and I was stunned at how sensual and hypnotic she was as Phyllis Dietrichson, the black widow of Double Indemnity. It was a helluva introduction to this side of the actress! However, the "lighter side" of Stanwyck was what made me like her even more. Once again, a woman who can be funny is a guaranteed success in my book. My three favorite Barabara Stanwyck performances all come from her stellar year of 1941 where she appeared in Ball of Fire; Meet John Doe; and The Lady Eve. In the last film she tantalized and beguiled Henry Fonda and in the first two movies Stanwyck and Gary Cooper were simply wonderful together. Never in a million years would I think that that combination would work as well as it did.
Stanwyck will never be thought of as a great beauty but as Sugarpuss O'Shea in Ball of Fire, she has a sexy, playfullness about her that makes her wonderfully appealing. Proof once again (as if anyone needed it) that beauty is a way of being, not looking. Stanwyck has Cooper and company eating out of her hands in that film.
In an earlier, largely unread post I put forth the theory that Barbara Stanwyck's legacy has grown bigger in the years since her death in 1990. I confindently place her "up there" with three other major actresses of the 1930s-40s. Stanwyck was well-respected in her movie star prime, receiving four Oscar nominations but never winning. The Academy finally honored Stanwyck with an honorary Oscar. Better late than never. Go here for her emotional acceptance speech.
Given my long history and lifelong appreciation for Stanwyck, it wouldn't surprise me if she eventually rises to the top spot on this list. I still need to see her more obscure 1930s work. It'll no doubt be just as rewarding as first seeing her as the tremndous performer she revealed herself to be when I was just discovering her as a movie actress.