“I want to go on until they have to shoot me.” –Barbara Stanwyck
Barbara Stanwyck is among some of the most revered stars of classic Hollywood. An actress, model, dancer, who made appearances on the stage, in films, on television, and on the radio, was a very gifted talent with a strong on-screen presence.
Born Ruby Catherine Stevens on July 16, 1907, in Brooklyn, New York, she was the youngest of five children born to Catherine and Byron Stevens. Tragically, her mother died when Ruby was four, developing complications from a miscarriage after being pushed off a moving street car. Just two weeks after the funeral, Ruby’s father joined a work crew digging the Panama Canal and abandoned his family. Essentially orphaned, Ruby and her older brother, Malcolm, were raised by their oldest sister, Laura. To make ends meet, Mildred found work as a showgirl, but Ruby and Byron lived in various foster homes, running away frequently.
Ruby toured with her sister during the summers, mirroring her sister’s dance routines. This exposure to theater as well as viewing Pearl White films caused Ruby to develop an interest in performance. She dropped out of high school by age 14 and worked various odd jobs, including wrapping packages for a Brooklyn department store, filing at a telephone office, cutting patterns for Vogue, and typing for the Jerome H. Remick Music company. Eventually, she became financially independent and decided to pursue her goal of finding a career in entertainment.
At the age of 15, Ruby auditioned for a chorus role at the the Strand Roof nightclub in Times Square, leading her to pursue more ambitions roles with the Ziegfeld Follies. She performed with the Follies for two season, later going on to find additional chorus roles at nightclubs owned by Texas Guinan, developing a friendship with pianist Oscar Levant.
After performing in different nightclubs, Ruby secured a role in the play The Noose, later taking on the stage name of Barbara Stanwyck. The name combined her character’s first name from The Noose with the last name of a fellow actress who was also in the show–Jane Stanwyck. She soon received her first lead role in Burlesque from 1927, receiving much critical praise.
Stanwyck’s film debut came in the silent film Broadway Nights (1928). While she did not receive the lead role because of her inability to cry during the screen test, she appeared in a minor role as a fan dancer.
Stanwyk married Frank Fay in 1928, adopting a son named Dion in 1932. Unfortunately, the marriage was troubled and Fay was abusive, leading to a divorce in 1935. While Stanwyck won custody of Dion, they became estranged as the years went on.
In the following year, Stanwyck appeared in her first sound film, The Locked Door (1929). After securing gradually more prominent roles, she appeared in memorable roles in Baby Face (1933), Stella Dallas (1937), Meet John Doe (1939), The Lady Eve (1941), and Ball of Fire (1941). The role that would cement her as a notorious on-screen femme fatale would come in Double Indemnity (1944). Following this dark portrayal, Stanwyck would eventually appear in the lighter holiday classic, Christmas in Connecticut (1945).
In 1936, Stanwyck was working on His Brother’s Wife (1936) with Robert Taylor, with Stanwyck mentoring Taylor. They married in 1939 and lived on a ranch in Los Angeles, California, each maintaining a successful film career. Eventually, Taylor expressed an interest in leaving the industry, while Stanwyck did not. Though they would divorce in 1950, Stanwyck and Taylor remained friends. They would also act together in what would be Stanwyck’s las feature film, The Night Walker (1964). Stanwyck never remarried.
Stanwyck possessed a confident on-screen personal, excelling in bringing strong female characters to life. She held her own in comedies and dramas while also developing a reputation for being especially kind to the crew of any set.
By the 1950s, Stanwyck transitioned her focus to television, making guest appearances on a variety of television programs in addition to her own show, The Barbara Stanwyck Show. In particular, she would frequently appear in Western programs, gaining popularity in The Big Valley. She would win Emmy awards for The Barbara Stanwyck Show, The Big Valley, and The Thorn Birds.
Upon retirement, Stanwyck remained active and involved in various charity organizations. She passed away on January 20, 1990, at the age of 82. According to her wishes, she did not have a funeral service and her ashes were scattered from a helicopter the Lone Pine, California, landscape that she loved.
Today, there are various locations of relevance to Stanwyck’s life.
In 1910, Stanwyck and her family lived at 312 Classon Ave. in Brooklyn, New York. The home no longer stands.
In 1920, Stanwyck resided at 3588 Bedford Ave. in Brooklyn. This is the property today:
In 1940, she and Robert Taylor resided at 707 N. Arden Ave. in Los Angeles, which still remains today. There, they lived with Dion as well as the butler, maid, and cook.
Later, Stanwyck lived at the Merwyck Ranch. Today, this is the Oakridge Estate at 18650 Devonshire St. in Los Angeles, California.
In the 1952, Stanwyck was living at 273 S. Beverly Glen in Los Angeles, which remains:
In 1962, Stanwyck was living at 1017 Beverly Dr. in Los Angeles, which also remains:
In the 1970s Stanwyck relocated once again. By 1972, she was living at 1055 Loma Vista Dr. This is what it looks like today:
Later, she had a property at 718 N. Hillcrest Rd. in Beverly Hills, which no longer stands.
In 1973, Stanwyck was added to the Hall of Great Western Performers at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The Double Indemnity (1944) house stands at 6301 Quebec Drive in Los Angeles, California.
In Hollywood, she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1751 Vine Street.
In Lone Pine, California, fans from The Incomparable Barbara Stanwyck Facebook page gathered to honor Stanwyck with a memorial stone as a tribute to her, as Stanwyck’s ashes were scattered in the area. These photos of the stone come from Barbara Doss during her March 2018 trip.
Stanwyck is well remembered by classic film and Western fans all over the world.