TCM Summer Under The Stars: Day One — Barbara Stanwyck

Every August, TCM presents “Summer Under the Stars,” where each day, the network shines the spotlight on a different classic movie actor or actress by showing their films around-the-clock. This special annual event is the primary reason why August is one of my favorite months of the year!

This year, I thought I’d try something new. Every day, I’ll post a little about the performer to be featured on the following day, and I’ll select a single film to recommend. I hope you’ll join me on this month-long adventure, and I look forward to learning what you’re watching as well!

Day One of Summer Under the Stars (SUTS) features one of my top three favorite actresses, Barbara Stanwyck, who heads up the cast in such priceless gems as Baby Face (1933), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), and Sorry, Wrong Number (1948). None of these are airing on Stanwyck Day, incidentally!

Baby Ruby. What a doll!

In the Beginning:

Barbara Stanwyck was born Ruby Stevens on July 16, 1907, in Brooklyn, New York, the youngest of five children (her siblings were Maude, Mable, Mildred, and Malcolm). In 1910, her mother, Catherine, pregnant with her sixth child, was knocked off of a trolley car and struck her head on a curb. She never recovered from her injuries. Two weeks after Catherine’s death, Ruby’s father signed up with a work crew with the Panama Canal and was never seen by his family again. “Let’s just say I had a terrible childhood,” the actress said years later. “Let’s say that ‘poor’ is something I understand.”

Ruby quit school at the age of 13 and just two years later, she got her first taste of show business when she borrowed her sister’s dress, made up her face, and landed a $40-a-week job in the chorus at the Strand Roof nightclub in Times Square. In 1926, she was introduced to producer-director-playwright-actor Willard Mack, who was casting for his new play, The Noose. Ruby was hired for a small role as a cabaret girl, and she never looked back. In addition to the role, Ruby was given the name that would make history on both the big screen and small; while leafing through old theater programs, Willard Mack found a title that caught his eye: “Jane Stanwyck in Barbara Frietchie.” By combining the two names, Barbara Stanwyck was born.

Barbara and her first love, Rex Cherryman.

Other Stuff:

  • While working as a dancer in New York, Stanwyck shared a room for a while with actress Mae Clarke.
  • Stanwyck fell in love with her co-star in The Noose, Rex Cherryman. Sadly, the actor died of septic poisoning while sailing to France on the S.S. DeGrasse.
  • After a whirlwind courtship, Stanwyck married her first husband, vaudeville comedian Frank Fay. While Stanwyck’s career blossomed, Fay’s declined; some say that the story of A Star is Born was based on their doomed relationship. They divorced after seven years.
  • According to Stanwyck, she “desperately” wanted the title role in the film Mildred Pierce, which was ultimately played (and Oscar-awarded) by Joan Crawford.
  • Although she was nominated for an Academy Award four times, Stanwyck never won a competitive Oscar. She was, however, given an honorary award for her body of work in 1982.

    See it.

My SUTS Pick:

Several of my best-loved films are airing on Stanwyck Day – Ball of Fire (1941), Meet John Doe (1941), and Clash By Night (1952) – but also in the line-up is Double Indemnity (1944). If you know anything about me at all, you’ll know that Double Indemnity is my favorite noir, and one of my all-time favorite films. I simply had to select it as my recommendation for the day – I think it’s a law or something.

For those of you who don’t know, Double Indemnity, in a nutshell, tells the story of a duplicitous housewife who teams up with a bored insurance salesman to design and carry out a flawless murder plot – the focus of which is the housewife’s hubby. Stanwyck is the wife, Fred MacMurray is the salesman, and Edward G. Robinson is the canny claims adjuster who refuses to accept the obvious explanation of the husband’s death. It’s a film brimming with outstanding performances, memorable dialogue, and an absolutely perfect, painterly use of lights and shadows. It’s a don’t-miss if you’ve never seen it, and a gotta-see-it-again if you have. Personally, I can never see it too many times. (Also, if you’re interested in a deep dive into the film, visit AllThatNoir.com and look under ‘Special Issues’ to order a copy of the special ‘GIANT’ Dark Pages film noir newsletter devoted to Double Indemnity.) (End of shameless plug.)

Tune in to TCM for Barbara Stanwyck Day on Summer Under the Stars, Day One. And I hope see you back here for my recommendation for Day Two!

~ by shadowsandsatin on July 31, 2020.

10 Responses to “TCM Summer Under The Stars: Day One — Barbara Stanwyck”

  1. Terrific post! I like the mini-bio on Stanwyck’s early years, and the interesting facts you shared. I never knew she wanted to play Mildred Pierce. She would have been great, although I love Joan Crawford in that role. I’m looking forward to her August 1 film festival! Currently, I’m reading Victoria Wilson’s 1000+ page biography on Stanwyck from 1907-1940, and recommend it. She’s been a long-time favorite of mine.
    My favorites that they’re showing on August 1 are: Double Indemnity, Mad Miss Manton, and Lady of Burlesque. My favorites that they’re not showing are: Bitter Tea of General Yen, The Miracle Woman, Night Nurse, Ladies of Leisure, & The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.

    • Thank you, Amy! I have Victoria Wilson’s book, but I haven’t tried to tackle it yet! Of the Stanwyck movies you mentioned, I still have not seen The Mad Manton or Lady of Burlesque, although I’ve had both in my (VHS) collection for years (and years). I must remedy that soon.

  2. I am amazed by how long her career lasted its extraordinary long from the ealy 1930s to the early 1960s playing lead roles.
    Then TV in the 60s and 70s how many others can you think of with such a long career only Katherine Hepburn probably about it.

    • She did have such a long and successful career — and if I’m not mistaken, she didn’t appear in any cheesy cheapo horror films like so many of her colleagues toward the end of their careers. (Not that I’m judging — it’s just interesting).

  3. Typo correction, early 1930s to early 1960s concerning Barbara Stanwick career.

  4. I’m always surprised to read about Barbara Stanwyck never winning an Oscar. So much talent!

    Double Indemnity is one of my fave films, too. I would call it a perfect movie.

  5. Just thinking what Mildred Pierce might have been with Ms Stanwyck. Nothing against Ms Crawford’s performance but there may have been additional pathos, complexity, determination or warmth from Ms Stanwyck. An interesting speculation… Hope all is well for you. Happy “would-have-been-Chicago-Noir-City-week.” 😢☹️ Deidra Egan

  6. […] Day 1: Barbara Stanwyck […]

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