Meet John Doe
Soon to released reporter Ann Mitchell ( Barbara Stanwyck) prints a fake letter from unemployed “John Doe,” who threatens suicide in protest of social ills. The paper is forced to rehire Ann and hires unemployed down on his luck John Willoughby (Gary Cooper) to impersonate “Doe.” Ann and her bosses cynically milk the story for all it’s worth, until the made-up “John Doe” philosophy starts a whole political movement. At last everyone, even Ann, takes her creation seriously.
Barbara Stanwyck (July 16, 1907 – January 20, 1990) was an American actress. She was a film and television star, known during her 60-year career as a consummate and versatile professional with a strong, realistic screen presence, and a favorite of directors including Cecil B. DeMille, Fritz Lang and Frank Capra. After a short but notable career as a stage actress in the late 1920s, she made 85 films in 38 years in Hollywood, before turning to television.
Orphaned at the age of four and partially raised in foster homes, by 1944, Stanwyck was the highest paid woman in the United States. She was nominated for the Academy Award four times, and won three Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe. She was the recipient of honorary lifetime awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1981, the American Film Institute in 1987, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Golden Globes, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and the Screen Actors Guild. Stanwyck has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and is ranked as the 11th greatest female star of all time by the American Film Institute.
Ziegfeld girl and Broadway success
In 1923, a few months before her 16th birthday, Ruby auditioned for a place in the chorus at the Strand Roof, a night club over the Strand Theatre in Times Square. A few months later, she obtained a job as a dancer in the 1922 and 1923 seasons of the Ziegfeld Follies, dancing at the New Amsterdam Theater. “I just wanted to survive and eat and have a nice coat”, Stanwyck said. For the next several years, she worked as a chorus girl, performing from midnight to seven a.m. at nightclubs owned by Texas Guinan. She also occasionally served as a dance instructor at a speakeasy for gays and lesbians owned by Guinan. One of her good friends during those years was pianist Oscar Levant, who described her as being “wary of sophisticates and phonies.”
In 1926, Ruby was introduced to Willard Mack by Billy LaHiff who owned a popular pub frequented by showpeople. Mack was casting his play The Noose and LaHiff suggested that the part of the chorus girl be played by a real chorus girl. Mack agreed and gave the part to Ruby after a successful audition. She co-starred with actors Rex Cherryman and Wilfred Lucas. The play was not a success. In an effort to improve it, Mack decided to expand Ruby’s part to include more pathos. The Noose re-opened on October 20, 1926 and became one of the most successful plays of the season, running on Broadway for nine months and 197 performances. At the suggestion of either Mack or David Belasco, Ruby changed her name to Barbara Stanwyck by combining her character’s first name, Barbara Frietchie, and Stanwyck, after the name of another actress in the play, Jane Stanwyck.
Stanwyck became a Broadway star soon after when she was cast in her first leading role in the production of Burlesque (1927). She got rave reviews and it was a huge hit. As film actor, Pat O’Brien, would later say on a talk show in the 1960s: “The greatest Broadway show I ever saw was a play in the 1920s called ‘Burlesque’.” In Arthur Hopkins‘ autobiography, To a Lonely Boy, he speaks of how he came about casting her: “After some search for the girl, I interviewed a night-club dancer who had just scored in a small emotional part in a play that did not run (The Noose). She seemed to have the quality I wanted, a sort of rough poignancy. She at once displayed more sensitive, easily expressed emotion than I had encountered since Pauline Lord. She and (Hal) Skelly were the perfect team, and they made the play a great success. I had great plans for her, but the Hollywood offers kept coming. There was no competing with them. She became a picture star. She is Barbara Stanwyck.” He also describes Stanwyck, in the book, as “the greatest natural actress of our time” and noting with sadness that “One of the theater’s great potential actresses was embalmed in celluloid.”
Around this time, Stanwyck was summoned by film producer Bob Kane to make a screen test for his upcoming 1927 silent film Broadway Nights. She lost the lead role because she could not cry in the screen test but got a minor part as a fan dancer. This was Stanwyck’s first film appearance.
While playing in Burlesque, Stanwyck had been introduced to her future husband, actor Frank Fay, by Oscar Levant. Stanwyck’s and Fay’s relationship developed into a romance and they married on August 26, 1928. They soon moved to Hollywood.
in The Gay Sisters (1942)
Stanwyck’s first sound film was The Locked Door (1929), followed by Mexicali Rosereleased in the same year. Neither film was successful; nonetheless, Frank Capra chose Stanwyck for his Ladies of Leisure (1930). Numerous prominent roles followed, among them the children’s nurse who saves two little girls from being gradually starved to death by a vicious Clark Gable in Night Nurse (1931); Shopworn 1932; “the ambitious woman from ‘the wrong side of the tracks’ in Baby Face (1933); the self-sacrificing title character in Stella Dallas (1937); Molly Monahan in Union Pacific (1939) with Joel McCrea; the con artist who falls for her would-be victim (played by Henry Fonda) in The Lady Eve (1941); a nightclub performer who gives a professor (played by Gary Cooper) understanding of “modern English” in the comedy Ball of Fire (1941); the woman who talks an infatuated insurance salesman (Fred McMurray) into killing her husband in Double Indemnity (1944); the columnist caught up in white lies and Christmas romance in Christmas in Connecticut(1945); and the doomed wife in Sorry, Wrong Number (1948). Stanwyck was reportedly one of the many actresses considered for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind (1939), although she did not receive a screen test. In 1944, Stanwyck was the highest-paid woman in the United States.
Many of her roles involved strong characters, and in Double Indemnity, Stanwyck brought out the cruel nature of the “grim, unflinching murderess”, marking her as the “most notorious femme” in the film noir genre. Yet Stanwyck was known for her accessibility and kindness to the backstage crew on any film set. She knew the names of their wives and children, and asked after them by name. Frank Capra said she was “destined to be beloved by all directors, actors, crews and extras. In a Hollywood popularity contest she would win first prize hands down.” Pauline Kael described Stanwyck’s acting, “[she] seems to have an intuitive understanding of the fluid physical movements that work best on camera” and in reference to her early 1930s film work, “early talkies sentimentality … only emphasizes Stanwyck’s remarkable modernism.”
William Holden and Stanwyck were friends of long standing. When Stanwyck and Holden were presenting the Best Sound Oscar, Holden paused to pay a special tribute to her for saving his career when Holden was cast in the lead for Golden Boy (1939). After a series of unsteady daily performances, he was about to be fired, but Stanwyck staunchly defended him, successfully standing up to the film producers. Shortly after Holden’s death, Stanwyck recalled the moment when receiving her honorary Oscar: “A few years ago I stood on this stage with William Holden as a presenter. I loved him very much, and I miss him. He always wished that I would get an Oscar. And so tonight, my golden boy, you got your wish.”
When Stanwyck’s film career declined in 1957, she moved to television. Her 1961–1962 series The Barbara Stanwyck Show was not a ratings success but earned her an Emmy Award. The 1965–1969 Western series The Big Valley on ABC made her one of the most popular actresses on television, winning her another Emmy. She was billed as “Miss Barbara Stanwyck”, and her role as frontier family matron Victoria Barkley was likened to that of Ben Cartwright, played by Lorne Greene in the series Bonanza. Stanwyck’s costars included Richard Long as Jarrod Thomas Barkley, (who had been in the film All I Desire (1953) with Stanwyck), Peter Breck as the hot-headed Nick Barkley, Linda Evans as Audra Barkley, and Lee Majors as Heath Barkley, the son fathered out of wedlock by the Stanwyck character’s husband with another woman.
Years later, Stanwyck earned her third Emmy for The Thorn Birds. In 1985, she made three guest appearances in the primetime soap opera Dynasty prior to the launch of its short-lived spin-off series, The Colbys in which she starred alongside Charlton Heston,Stephanie Beacham and Katharine Ross. Unhappy with the experience, Stanwyck remained with the series for only one season (it lasted for two), and her role as Constance Colby Patterson would prove to be her last. Earl Hamner Jr. (producer of The Waltons) had initially wanted Stanwyck for the lead role of Angela Channing on the successful 1980s soap opera Falcon Crest, but she turned it down and the role went to her best friend, Jane Wyman.
Personal life – Marriages and relationships
With Robert Taylor in 1941
While playing in The Noose, Stanwyck fell in love with her married co-star, Rex Cherryman, who became her fiancée in 1928. Cherryman had become ill early in 1928 and his doctor advised him to take a sea voyage to Paris where he and Stanwyck had arranged to meet. While still at sea, he died of septic poisoning, at the age of 31.
On August 26, 1928, Stanwyck married her Burlesque co-star, Frank Fay. She and Fay later claimed that they disliked each other at first, but became close after the sudden death of Cherryman. After moving to Hollywood, they adopted a son, Dion Anthony “Tony” Fay, on December 5, 1932. The marriage was a troubled one. Fay’s successful career on Broadway did not translate to the big screen, whereas Stanwyck achieved Hollywood stardom. Fay engaged in physical confrontations with his young wife, especially when he was inebriated. Some claim that this union was the basis for A Star is Born. The couple divorced on December 30, 1935. Stanwyck won custody of their troubled adoptive son.
In 1936, while making the film His Brother’s Wife (1936), Stanwyck was paired with her co-star, Robert Taylor, who were also brought together off-screen through mutual friends. Following a whirlwind romance, the couple began living together. Stanwyck was hesitant to remarry after the failure of her first marriage. However, their 1939 marriage was rumored to have been arranged with the help of Taylor’s studio MGM, a common practice in Hollywood’s golden age. She and Taylor enjoyed time together outdoors during the early years of their marriage, and were the owners of acres of prime West Los Angeles property. Their large ranch and home in the Mandeville Canyon section of Brentwood, Los Angeles is still referred to by the locals as the old “Robert Taylor ranch.”
In 1950, Stanwyck and Robert Taylor mutually decided to divorce and she proceeded with the official filing of divorce. There have been many rumors of the cause of their divorce, but according to several of their friends, they grew apart after World War II. Taylor had romantic affairs and Stanwyck was also rumored to have had some affairs, but nothing has been confirmed. After the divorce, they acted together in Stanwyck’s last feature film, The Night Walker (1964). Stanwyck never remarried and cited him as the love of her life, according to her friend and costar, Linda Evans. She took his death in 1969 very hard and began a long break from film and television work.
Stanwyck was one of the most well-liked actors in Hollywood and was friends with many of her co-stars and fellow actors (and crew members working on her films and TV series), including: Joel McCrea and his wife Frances Dee, George Brent, Robert Preston,Henry Fonda (who had a lifelong crush on her and a rumored affair), James Stewart, Linda Evans, Joan Crawford, Jack Benny and his wife Mary Livingstone, William Holden, Gary Cooper, Fred McMurray, and many others.
Stanwyck had a romantic affair with actor Robert Wagner, whom she met on the set of Titanic (1953). Wagner, who was 22, and Stanwyck, who was 45 at the beginning of the relationship, had a four-year romance, which is described in Wagner’s 2008 memoir,Pieces of My Heart. Stanwyck ended the relationship. In the 1950s, Stanwyck also, reportedly, had a one-night-stand with the much younger Farley Granger, which he writes about in his memoir, Include Me Out: My Life from Goldwyn to Broadway.
Stanwyck was also rumored to have been bisexual, but, as of yet, no solid proof has come to light; unsubstantiated rumors also swirled about a lesbian relationship with her publicist, Helen Ferguson.
Stanwyck was a conservative-minded Republican along with such contemporaries as William Holden, Ginger Rogers, Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Bob Hope, and her Double Indemnity co-star, Fred McMurray. She was a fan of Ayn Rand, having persuaded Warner Bros. to buy the rights to The Fountainhead before it was a best seller and writing to the author of her admiration of Atlas Shrugged.
Later years and death
Stanwyck’s retirement years were active, with charity work outside the limelight. She was robbed and assaulted inside her Beverly Hills home in 1981. The following year, while filming The Thorn Birds, the inhalation of special-effects smoke on the set may have caused her to contract bronchitis. The illness was compounded by her cigarette habit; she had been a smoker from age nine until four years before her death.
Stanwyck died on January 20, 1990 of congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at age 82 at Saint John’s Health Center. She had indicated that that she wished no funeral service. In accordance with her wishes, her remains were cremated and the ashes scattered from a helicopter over Lone Pine, California, where she had made some of her western films.