WEIRDLAND: Barbara Stanwyck (new biography by Victoria Wilson): Steel-True 1907-1940

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Barbara Stanwyck (new biography by Victoria Wilson): Steel-True 1907-1940

"My only problem is finding a way to play my fortieth fallen female in a different way from my thirty-ninth." -Barbara Stanwyck

Frank Capra claimed he would marry Barbara Stanwyck if she divorced Fay. “I fell in love with Stanwyck, and had I not been more in love with Lucille Reyburn I would have asked Barbara to marry me after she called it quits with Frank Fay,” Capra would write in 1971, when he and Lucille were about to celebrate their fortieth anniversary. When Barbara, Lucille, and the two Franks were all dead, biographer Joseph McBride would claim Capra and Stanwyck were lovers for nearly two years, that it was Barbara who in the end rejected the director. Without saying outright he was Barbara’s lover, Capra would admit he was very close to her, that their relationship was both important and rewarding: “I wish I could tell you more about it, but I can’t, I shouldn’t, and I won’t, but she was delightful.”

Barbara never admitted to any affair. Sentiments aside, a liaison stretching into the fall of 1931 seems unlikely. Frank Capra and Lucille were a sane presence, symbols of moderation and rationality for whom all-night drinking and gambling were unthinkable. Fay, Capra, Barbara, and Lu saw a good deal of each other and of Jack Gilbert. Barbara learned that if acting onstage is a matter of mannerism, screen acting is done with the eyes. “Mr. Capra taught me that. I mean, sure, it’s nice to say very nice dialogue, if you can get it. But great movie acting… Watch the eyes.” “She can give out that burst of emotion,” Capra would recall decades later. “She played parts that were a little tougher, yet at the same time you could sense that this girl could suffer from her toughness.” -"Stanwyck" (2001) by Axel Madsen

Rumors circulated for years and persist today about her marriage to Robert Taylor, and that it may have been manufactured as something as a “lavender marriage” by the studio system to quell talk about the sexualities of both Stanwyck and Taylor. Clearly, it would be very difficult to say for certain whether or not this was the case, especially as so many years have passed. In addition, Stanwyck seemed to be very much in love with Taylor, never remarried, and took his 1969 death extremely hard. In your research, was there anything you found that would lead you to believe that these persistent rumors about their marriage had any truth to them?

Stanwyck and Taylor came together at opposite points in their careers, which most people don’t know. She may have been successful and by that time been around Hollywood for six or so years, but her career was in trouble when she met Taylor. He was the big big star, just exploding into real fame and overwhelmed by it all. If anything, she needed him, for lots of reasons, which I write about in the book. And he needed her – just not as his beard.

The last thing Metro wanted was for Robert Taylor to be married, until they did, and it was not as a cover up for his sexuality. When people read the book they will see in detail how Stanwyck and Taylor came together, and what it did for both people; how it helped both and changed both. Volume Two portrays the shape of the marriage and how and why it ultimately fell apart, which, as in real life, happened over time and grew out of a set of subtle and complicated circumstances – and out of two people changing and changing out of different needs at different stages of their life, and their work.

On November 12, Simon & Schuster will publish A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True (1907-1940), volume 1 of the long-awaited first complete biography of Barbara Stanwyck. 15 years in the making and running a whopping 1,056 pages in length, author Victoria Wilson has created a colossal piece of literature covering the first 33 years of Barbara Stanwyck’s life. Source:

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