Barbara Stanwyck : The Greatest Actress EVER

March 12, 2009

Barbara Stanwyck was the greatest actress ever. Seriously.

I can't think of anyone else who could master comedy, mystery, drama, melodrama, suspense, musical, pre-code, western-- every single genre was her forte. And she wasn't just "good" in all of these different genres, she was great. Superb. Excellent. Perfect.

The very first Barbara Stanwyck movie that I can remember seeing was Meet John Doe. My parents used to play old movies when I was little, but it was occasional, and the obsession wasn't really encouraged. I was always fascinated by the actors and actresses, but when I inquired as to who they were my parents would, without fail, always say "a famous old actor" or "a famous old actress" -- so although I was a fan of Barbara Stanwyck's when I was but a wee lass, I didn't actually know her name until I was about 14 years old.

Ever since I found out her name, I've made it my mission to seek out all of her movies and watch them. Not just because I am an insane collector of all things classic-film, but because I am certain before I even watch the movie or read a review that the film will be great. Simply seeing the Stanwyck name above the title is a sure sign that you're in for a treat. I can't think of one, not one single movie I've seen of hers that was bad. I can't even think of one that was mediocre. They've all been fantastic.

One of the things that really separates Barbara Stanwyck from her peers is the ease of her performance, and the way she really blends into her characters. She always seems as if she is living her part. When watching her films, I always forget that there was a screenwriter, or a director or a cinematographer... it always seems like her dialogue hasn't been written for her... that nobody told her where to walk or how to move. All of her lines and gestures seem so natural and unscripted.

Since I started blogging in January, I've always seemed to have a harder time doing justice to the talents that I admire the most. Somehow it is easier for me to write about people that I like in a casual sense, but when it comes to my absolute favorites like Barbara Stanwyck and Ronald Colman, my fingers experience the typing equivalent of being tongue tied. I just can't express with words how much these people mean to me, how impressed I am by their talent, and how very much I love their movies.

In this case, I am lucky-- somebody has put into words everything I wish I could say about Barbara Stanwyck. TCM has a series of spots which feature famous people voicing tributes to their own favorite filmmaker. Jennifer Jason Leigh recorded a tribute to Barbara Stanwyck a few years ago, and even though I have seen it on TCM about one thousand times since it first aired, I actually drop what I'm doing and watch it every time it's on. It's that good.

While I was on YouTube looking for the TCM tribute, I came across these other two videos as well, and had to include them. The first one is a scene from one of my all-time favorite Stany movies, Banjo on My Knee. It never airs on TCM and isn't available on DVD (I think) but I caught it on Fox Movie Channel once, and I'm so glad I did. It's a joy, and the musical numbers are fantastic! This clip has Barbara Stanwyck singing with Tony Martin (when he was still being billed as Anthony) and, yes, that is really her singing.

The second video is one that somebody on YouTube compiled, which includes Barbara Stanwyck and William Holden as presenters at the Academy Awards, and then Barbara Stanwyck winning the Lifetime Achievement Award a few years later, after Holden had passed away. They were great friends, and I actually had tears streaming down my face when she expressed how much she missed him. Ugh!! Youtube took this one down at the request of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. What the heck is wrong with them, it's not like it's a copyrighted movie just let us see it for crying out loud. (Can you tell this one annoyed me?)


Millie said...


Barbara is one of my very, very, very, very, very favorites! And one of of my first favorite actresses (When I was seven it was just her and Deanna Durbin...;-D)!

She is truly amazing!

And this was a great post.

Ginger Ingenue said...

Lovely, Kate! Your paintings of Stanwyck are terrific. :)

Plus, I got a kick out of seeing the title of this post show up in my sidebar: I too was gonna post about Stanwyck tonight! :)

I watched PICNIC earlier, and thinking of Holden led me to thinking of Stanwyck. I love that they were friends in real life...

"I've always seemed to have a harder time doing justice to the talents that I admire the most."

I'm the same way...maybe everyone is...though I do think you did her justice: if not just through your words, then definitely through your paintings! :)

"Jennifer Jason Leigh recorded a tribute to Barbara Stanwyck a few years ago"

That's one of the best! But I haven't seen it in forever...seems like every time one comes on, it's ol' Cary Grant...I think he has several!

I hope I get famous one day so TCM will let me do one for Dana. ;)


Again, great job! :)

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Stanwyck was certainly a remarkable talent. Amazing when you think she worked from the days of vaudeville to the days of television in one of longest, most productive careers ever enjoyed by an actor. She did enjoy her work, and perhaps that is the secret of her talent. Those are terrific prints, and together they capture was is probably foremost of Stanwyck's attributes: her ability to change, adapt, and be someone totally different.

Paul D Brazill said...

A wonderful post and, of course, fantastic paintings.

Keith said...

What a great post on her! She's an amazing and versatile actress. She could do it all. Have a wonderful weekend. Cheers!

Lolita of the Classics said...

Oh, now I have a lot of thoughts to put on print!

First of all: Lovely paintings! The middle one is my favourite. I am quite tempted to but that Louise Brooks/Lulu painting of yours...

And I think you did amazingly well putting your admiration of Stanwyck into words! Even though you say you can't ;)

The Jennifer Jason Leigh tribute was great, would like to see more of those TCM tributes (don't have that channel!)

The Mississippi-song was wonderful! How cute. It made me glad! And her voice is very cosy.

The Oscars clips were interesting too, and both of them very moving. How she almost breaks down in tears when she holds up the statue...

And last of all: Now I have seen, finally, your favourite Pickford film - Secrets. What a great film! I will do a post on it ;) Need I tell you that I cried? My boyfriend thought I was crazy. We sit next to each other with a computer each, so I watch my old movies with ear phones, completely isolated from the outside world!

Thank you, wonderful post!

Lolita of the Classics said...

My God! I just realized that I hadn't linked to your blog from mine! I've corrected the error ;)

Anonymous said...

Millie- obviously one of my very,very,very,very,very favorites too :) Glad you like her so much!

Ginger- long time no see!! I loved your post on Stany, too! You matched her photo perfectly. If I ever become famous and can record a TCM promo, I really don't know who I'd pick. Sometimes as a "fall asleep game" when I'm too awake I'll start trying to decide which 4 movies I'd pick if I were a guest programmer, and that's too hard as well! (ps... LOVE Picnic!)

Jaqueline- I should have just replaced my Barbara Stanwyck post with your comment! You articulated what I wish I could have said, perfectly.

Paul- Thanks :)

Keith- She really could do it all. Have a wonderful weekend too!

Lolita- 1) Thank you. 2) Thank you again. 3) I'll try to post more of the TCM tributes when they go with the person I'm painting/sketching for you to see... they are really fun 4) Isn't it cute? I love her singing voice, I wish she had done it more often. 5) Wasn't that heartbreaking?! 6) I'm so glad you like it! I like to watch movies with headphones on, too. It does help make the world disappear..

Lolita again- lol... thanks for the link!

Raquel Stecher said...

Quite beautiful Kate. This came out so well.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Raquelle :)

Meredith said...

Your artwork is so lovely! Over the past year I've become a huge fan of Barbara's and now list her as one of my favorite actresses of all time, though speaking purely in terms of acting talent I think she is absolutely top dog. I don't understand why she hasn't received the same level of praise as some of her contemporaries. She really could do anything. This is a wonderful post and I completely agree with all your sentiments. :) Yay babs!

Nicole Newcomb said...

I loved how you did Barbara through the 30's to the 50's, that was so creative. I think the first Barbara Stanwyck movie I saw was The Lady Eve and I automatically loved her attitude in that movie, that every time I see a movies of hers, I know I'm in for a treat.

Unknown said...

Your tribute to THE GREATEST ACTRESS.Miss Barbara Stanwyck could have come right out of my heart!
I wish we could collectively form a petition to send to AFI,The Academy Board and whomever else it takes to give this INCOMPARABLE artist the due that could NEVER be equalled,even by the great Meryl Streep..Ms.Streep inhabits,Miss Stanwyck LIVES each and every role!
Thank you again so much for your devotion to THE ONE AND ONLY Barbara Stanwyck!