Featured Star: Barbara Stanwyck
As Jean Harrington in The Lady Eve (1941)

Easily the toughest cookie of 'em all, this Brooklyn-born former cabaret dancer forged her durable film career on a series of hardboiled heroines and predatory femme fatales marked with her inimitable brand of indomitability. Life would vest the woman born Ruby Catherine Stevens with her reserves of flintiness early on; she was two when her mother died in a streetcar accident, and her laborer father would abandon his five children shortly thereafter. Her early childhood was spent in a succession of foster homes, and her formal education ended at age thirteen when she dropped out to support herself. The lithe youngster put aside what she could for dance lessons, and within two years got her first break as a Broadway chorus girl. She found steady work through the mid-20s hoofing in numerous revues; breakout recognition came with Willard Mack's 1926 Broadway play "The Noose." During the play's road tryouts, Mack spied an old poster promoting actress Jane Stanwyck starring in "Barbara Frietchie," and Ruby gained her marquee name. She got her first film opportunity soon thereafter with a supporting turn in the 1927 silent "Broadway Nights."

After another NYC stage success with "Burlesque," Barbara married the older vaudevillian Frank Fay, and the couple went to Hollywood in search of opportunities. She made her talkie debut in 1929's "The Locked Door," but real traction would keep until the next year's "Ladies of Leisure," which kicked off her long and fruitful association with Frank Capra. The pre-Code period found her splitting her time between Warner and Columbia, and swiftly endearing herself to Depression-era audiences as a wholly relatable working-class heroine. She'd notably reunite with Capra on "The Miracle Woman," "Forbidden," and "The Bitter Tea of General Yen"; other high points include "Illicit," "Ten Cents a Dance," "Night Nurse," "Shopworn," "The Purchase Price," "Ladies They Talk About," "Baby Face," "The Secret Bride" and "The Woman in Red." By 1935, she was sufficiently established so that she could freelance for the rest of her career, and her union with the fading Fay (said to have inspired "A Star is Born") was over. Over the balance of the decade, her repute continued to rise, with her title turn as the sacrificing mother in "Stella Dallas" bringing her first Best Actress Oscar nomination. Other worthy credits of the era included "Annie Oakley," "Lady of Burlesque," "The Plough and the Stars," "Internes Can't Take Money," "The Mad Miss Manton," "Union Pacific" and "Golden Boy."

"Missy" would be at the crest of her power over the WWII years, as evidenced by her turns as the shoplifter put in prosecutor Fred MacMurray's holiday-season care in "Remember the Night"; the reporter promoting put-up populist Gary Cooper in Capra's "Meet John Doe"; the cardshark targeting rich patsy Henry Fonda in Preston Sturges' "The Lady Eve"; and two more AMPAS-nominated efforts, as the stripper who turns stodgy academic Cooper's life around in Howard Hawks' "Ball Of Fire"; and the calculating wife who lures insurance salesman MacMurray into a murderous scam in Billy Wilder's "Double Indemnity." The post-war period found her to continue to click with audiences, although the critical response would be uneven; her final Academy Award nomination came for her turn as the invalid housewife who believes she has eavesdropped on a plan to kill her in "Sorry, Wrong Number." Other key performances of the time include "Christmas in Connecticut," "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers," "The Two Mrs. Carrolls," "Cry Wolf," and "East Side, West Side."

By the early '50s, Stanwyck's twelve-year marriage to Robert Taylor had ended; the still-trim and attractive actress has no shortage of projects through the Eisenhower era, as best evidenced by "The File on Thelma Jordon," "The Furies," "Clash By Night," "Jeopardy," "Titanic," "Executive Suite," "The Violent Men," "Crime of Passion," "Trooper Hook" and "Forty Guns." As with many in her peer group, the inevitable transition to TV work came; her eponymous omnibus drama series that ran a season on NBC over 1960-1961 garnered Stanwyck an Emmy. The next several years brought more episodic TV work and the occasional big-screen project ("Walk on the Wild Side," "Roustabout," "The Night Walker") until her 1965-1969 stint as ranchland matriarch Victoria Barkley in the popular ABC western "The Big Valley," which would result in another Emmy and two more nominations. The early '70s saw a few telefilm efforts before she entered a decade away from performing. Not being beholden to any one studio in her heyday gave Stanwyck autonomy, but the lack of one's backing probably cost her a competitive Oscar; the AMPAS made good with an honorary achievement award in 1982. Back in the spotlight, she returned to TV for the mini-series "The Thorn Birds" (resulting in her final Emmy) and a season stint on the "Dynasty" spin-off "The Colbys." She packed it in after that, passing away at 82 in 1990.

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