If anyone ever asked me who my favorite actress was [which is rare because I tend to make asking rather unnecessary] there would be no hesitation in my answer. No, well I like so many. No, I think these two are tied for first. It's Barbara Stanwyck with no doubt, no competition for the title, practically no runners up. I could really do without a favorite actress list because I don't care for anyone half as much as Missy, and the reason for my extreme affection is quite simple: she is simply the best, in my humble, but very biased opinion.
If she didn't know how to act, no one did. Yet, most of it seems, and probably was, instinctual. Frank Capra (who she claims taught her film) said of her: She knew nothing about camera tricks. She just turned it on — and everything else on the stage stopped. That's one of my favorite things about the Miss, she's completely natural. Not a hint of phony there. Nothing lackluster, nothing done half-way because she was a pro.
When people talk about Stanwyck, professional is always an adjective that's brought up. Whether it's Peter Breck, who played her son on The Big Valley, or King Vidor, who directed her in Stella Dallas - they all seem to agree on that at least. She was never late; she knew her part inside out, backwards, and upside down before she ever started filming; and she didn't complain about little things. She was a dedicated worker - you could always count on Missy to do what she needed to, to get the job done. If I remember correctly, on the set of Remember the Night she sat around in costume [corset and all], to be sure she would be ready to go if called for, even after the director (Mitchell Leisen) told her she wasn't needed at the time.
On screen, Barbara Stanwyck is a great drawing force, extremely charismatic. I'll watch anything with the Queen in it because I know I'll never come out feeling let down by one of her performances - she'll find a way to make that 40th fallen female different from the 39th! Her acting style is stunning - it's brilliantly honest and honestly brilliant. You can't take your eyes off her, and you wouldn't want to because the best part about watching Barbara Stanwyck act is noticing the little things. It's seeing the way her eyes light up during Meet John Doe when she hears John give her father's speech; it's seeing her smile at Joel McCrea in Union Pacific (and Internes Can't Take Money and The Great Man's Lady and Trooper Hook); it's hearing her voice crack as if she's about to cry when she's reading that letter in My Reputation; and, it's the way she turns her head up at the race track in The Lady Eve when someone mentions Hopsie. It's knowing that whether she's playing a sacrificial mother or a killer, cold-as-the-North-Atlantic, you'll still be rooting for her when the movie's over. It's remembering that little girl in Brooklyn, our title's Ruby Catherine Stevens, who fought her way to the top. It's knowing that behind her character's rock-hard armor lies, off screen [and sometimes on screen], one of the most beautiful hearts in the world. Pure Gold.
Real-life Barbara Stanwyck is my role-model and my hero and I confess it with little-to-no reservation. She was generous, kind, frank, modest, sincere, compassionate, independent, self-reliant, fun-loving, determined, hard-working, unpretentious, and a million other things I wish I could claim personally.
"Beloved by all directors, actors, crews, and extras" said Mr. Capra. And why not? She didn't just look out for herself and the big shots, she loved and was loved by the crews as well. I saw a picture once of Barbara holding a gift from the crew that worked with her on The Great Man's Lady, it was a statuette with the words "The Crew's Great Lady" on it - something like that. She knew the crews by name and threatened to leave in the middle of shooting California if director John Farrow didn't stand up in front of the whole company and apologize to a crew member he had been bullying. What's not to love?
And unostentatious. I think that's the word I've been trying to remember; it has something to do with not doing things in order to attract attention to yourself. What I'm trying to get to is, Edith Head told Barbara to put her hand on her hip while she was testing a costume, but Missy wouldn't because according to her, she wasn't a model, so why should she act like one? And, another time, when Missy put on a hat then walked on set without looking in a mirror and Mitchell Leisen shrieked "My God, Barbara! Aren't you going to look at yourself in a mirror?", Missy replied "What for? The front's in front and the back's in back. What more can you manage to do with a hat?" It's this total unaffectedness that I find so admirable and endearing, probably more than anything.
I read somewhere, I don’t recall now, that Barbara Stanwyck’s fans would always be more of respecters of a great talent rather than lovers of a great lady. These obviously aren’t the exact words, but it’s the same idea as far as I can remember. It said something about how her characters were too cold to ever be endearing and that her performances, while decent, were never personal enough for us to love her. Crazy? Yeah, just slightly more than absolutely idiotic and unbelievable. Not only are some of her characters the dearest people ever dreamed up for the silver screen, but her performances are all so sincere. As far as this matter of her being a great lady goes, I honestly believe she was one of the finest.
For nearly 50 years she belonged to the movie industry, yet she said, "Career is too pompous a word. It was a job and I have always felt privileged to be paid for what I loved doing." She was one of Hollywood’s finest, one of the brightest stars in the Hollywood sky. She loved her profession and we love that she loved it and we love her. I love her.
When you finish, you walk off the set and a little part of yourself stays there. It's gone and done and you did it and you feel a little bit of emptiness after it's over. You thought it had left you, but it hadn't. It's that damn Irish in me. You say to yourself, 'I hope she lives.'
Happy Birthday, Baby.
Until Later On~