A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940

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“860 glittering pages” (Janet Maslin, The New York Times): The first volume of the full-scale astonishing life of one of our greatest screen actresses; her work, her world, her Hollywood through an American century.

Frank Capra called her, “The greatest emotional actress the screen has yet known.” Now Victoria Wilson gives us the first volume of the rich, complex life of Barbara Stanwyck, an actress whose career in pictures spanned four decades beginning with the coming of sound (eighty-eight motion pictures) and lasted in television from its infancy in the 1950s through the 1980s. Here is Stanwyck revealed as 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…the adoption of a son, embattled from the outset…her partnership with Zeppo Marx (the “unfunny Marx brother”) who altered the course of Stanwyck’s movie career and with her created 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 through 1940 with many of Hollywood's most important directors, among them Frank Capra, “Wild Bill” William Wellman, George Stevens, John Ford, King Vidor, Cecil B. Demille, Preston Sturges, 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 at the heart of the book, Stanwyck herself—her strengths, her fears, her frailties, losses, and desires—how she made use of the darkness in her soul, transforming herself from shunned outsider into one of Hollywood’s most revered screen actresses.

Fifteen years in the making—and written with full access to Stanwyck’s family, friends, colleagues and never-before-seen letters, journals, and photographs. Wilson’s one-of-a-kind biography—“large, thrilling, and sensitive” (Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Town & Country)—is an “epic Hollywood narrative” (USA TODAY), “so readable, and as direct as its subject” (The New York Times). With 274 photographs, many published for the first time.
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About the author

Victoria Wilson is a vice president and senior editor at Alfred Knopf. She grew up on Martha’s Vineyard and lives in New York City and upstate New York. She is at work on the concluding volume of A Life of Barbara Stanwyck, 1940–1990.

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Additional Information

Simon and Schuster
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Published on
Nov 12, 2013
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Biography & Autobiography / Entertainment & Performing Arts
Biography & Autobiography / General
Biography & Autobiography / Women
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Nominated for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work

Named a Best Book of the Year by The Root

Chosen by Emma Straub as a Best New Celebrity Memoir

“A book of essays as raw and honest as anyone has ever produced.” — Lena Dunham, Lenny Letter

In the spirit of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, and Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist, a powerful collection of essays about gender, sexuality, race, beauty, Hollywood, and what it means to be a modern woman.

One month before the release of the highly anticipated film The Birth of a Nation, actress Gabrielle Union shook the world with a vulnerable and impassioned editorial in which she urged our society to have compassion for victims of sexual violence. In the wake of rape allegations made against director and actor Nate Parker, Union—a forty-four-year-old actress who launched her career with roles in iconic ’90s movies—instantly became the insightful, outspoken actress that Hollywood has been desperately awaiting. With honesty and heartbreaking wisdom, she revealed her own trauma as a victim of sexual assault: "It is for you that I am speaking. This is real. We are real."

In this moving collection of thought provoking essays infused with her unique wisdom and deep humor, Union uses that same fearlessness to tell astonishingly personal and true stories about power, color, gender, feminism, and fame. Union tackles a range of experiences, including bullying, beauty standards, and competition between women in Hollywood, growing up in white California suburbia and then spending summers with her black relatives in Nebraska, coping with crushes, puberty, and the divorce of her parents. Genuine and perceptive, Union bravely lays herself bare, uncovering a complex and courageous life of self-doubt and self-discovery with incredible poise and brutal honesty. Throughout, she compels us to be ethical and empathetic, and reminds us of the importance of confidence, self-awareness, and the power of sharing truth, laughter, and support.

Barbara Stanwyck (1907-1990) rose from the ranks of chorus girl to become one of Hollywood's most talented leading women-and America's highest paid woman in the mid-1940s. Shuttled among foster homes as a child, she took a number of low-wage jobs while she determinedly made the connections that landed her in successful Broadway productions. Stanwyck then acted in a stream of high-quality films from the 1930s through the 1950s. Directors such as Cecil B. DeMille, Fritz Lang, and Frank Capra treasured her particular magic. A four-time Academy Award nominee, winner of three Emmys and a Golden Globe, she was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Academy.

Dan Callahan considers both Stanwyck's life and her art, exploring her seminal collaborations with Capra in such great films as Ladies of Leisure, The Miracle Woman, and The Bitter Tea of General Yen; her Pre-Code movies Night Nurse and Baby Face; and her classic roles in Stella Dallas, Remember the Night, The Lady Eve, and Double Indemnity. After making more than eighty films in Hollywood, she revived her career by turning to television, where her role in the 1960s series The Big Valley renewed her immense popularity.

Callahan examines Stanwyck's career in relation to the directors she worked with and the genres she worked in, leading up to her late-career triumphs in two films directed by Douglas Sirk, All I Desire and There's Always Tomorrow, and two outrageous westerns, The Furies and Forty Guns. The book positions Stanwyck where she belongs-at the very top of her profession-and offers a close, sympathetic reading of her performances in all their range and complexity.

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