It's a Barbara Stanwyck moment, with a new book just out and a retrospective of her films beginning tomorrow. As WNYC’s Sara Fishko tells us in this Fishko Files, Stanwyck was part of a generation of women who really knew how to deliver a line.
A conversation with Victoria Wilson, author of the recent book "A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel True, 1907-1940."
“I wasn’t interested in writing a movie star book. I was interested in the time, the time in which she lived, how it impacted her, and how her life was part of it. “
Victoria Wilson became fascinated by Stanwyck because of her long career (from the 1920s through the 1980s) and the way it reflected the changes in entertainment, as well as the world at large. It is a 20th century story, she says.
“It was a fabulous century. And I think the reason it so galvanized me was it was my parents’ century. And they were activists and they were very much a part of it. “
When Wilson began researching her 860 page book, which covers Stanwyck’s birth and her career through 1940, she found very little published information about Stanwyck’s origins.
“In one biography it said she came from a small town in Massachusetts. And that was it…So I found out that her family came from Lanesville which is right next to Gloucester. So I went to Lanesville and I saw every place where that family lived. Then they went to the larger little town, Chelsea. And then the father found work in Brooklyn.”
Wilson found that both Stanwyck’s parents left the family when Barbara was young, shortly after the family moved to Brooklyn. The mother died, and the father moved from the city to find work elsewhere.
“And there’s this family, it’s completely shot. There are these two little children, one four and the other six, and there are these three older girls. And they’re on their way making families on their own, while here are these two children who were bereft. That family fell apart – like millions of other families, because they left the small towns and they went to the big cities.”
As Wilson says, Stanwyck’s individual history tells the story of a generation in industrialized cities in the early 20th century. While Wilson unearths Stanwyck’s detailed biography in her book, she also showcases the actress’s unique performances, many of which are on view at Film Forum’s upcoming Stanwyck retrospective. Wilson zeroes in on a particular film.
“I end the book with ‘Remember the Night.’ You can just start with the courtroom scene. It’s a very sexy scene when she’s brought to Fred MacMurray’s apartment. “
“Once you start watching the picture you won’t be able to stop.”
“'Remembe'r the Night is an interesting movie because it shows what Stanwyck can do. The movie starts out as a screwball and it’s very light and funny and adorable. And then it gets darker and darker and darker, and then really dark. It’s a very surprising movie but you can see what she does in it. And it will tell you everything about her.”
Wilson is getting to work on Volume Two, which picks up where Volume One left off. The second volume will cover Stanwyck’s life from the beginning of World War II to her death in 1990
- Victoria Wilson’s book is “A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True, 1907-1940”
- Wilson will appear in person on the first night of Film Forum’s Barbara Stanwyck retrospective, which begins on December 6th. The festival runs through December 31st. Visit their website for more details.