Great Oscar Injustices: Barbara Stanwyck (Part II)

February 28, 2019     Updated March 19, 2022

barbara stanwyck

Barbara Stanwyck is Oscar Nominated, Marries Robert Taylor, Builds Her Dream Home, and Makes Classic After Classic.

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Welcome back to week four of my Great Oscar Injustice Series.

We’re on my second week of tribute to the Oscar-overlooked Barbara Stanwyck.  Let’s jump right in.

Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor

We pick up with Barbara in 1936, the year she met the beautifully handsome Robert Taylor.  After her abusive marriage to the domineering and alcoholic Frank Fay, Taylor indeed was a breath of fresh air for Barbara.

Born Spangler Arlington Brugh (no wonder he changed his name) on August 5, 1911, Robert Taylor was a farm boy from Filley, Nebraska, six years Barbara’s junior.  He came to California to study the cello at Pomona College, and was spotted by a MGM talent scout in 1932.  By 1935, Taylor was starring opposite the likes of such screen greats as Greta Garbo.

Young Robert Taylor had a natural sweetness and kindness that was still very much a part of him on and off the screen at the time he and Barbara met, just what she needed after her marriage to Frank Fay.  Taylor was kind to Barbara, something she hadn’t really experienced in her romantic life. 

Taylor and Barbara dated for three years, mostly because Barbara, who only planned to marry once, was wary of marriage after her failed attempt with Fay. 

But Taylor and Barbara finally wed on May 14, 1939.  In addition to loving Barbara, Robert Taylor also had a genuine affection for her adopted son, Dion.  And the feeling was mutual.

Stella Dallas

Barbara’s personal life was looking up, as was her career.  In 1937 she made Stella Dallas, a tear-jerker that garnered Barbara her first Academy Award nomination.

Barbara as self-sacrificing mother Stella Dallas, watching her daughter’s high society wedding from afar

Barbara was only thirty when the Stella Dallas was released, but in the film she ages from a young, flirty girl to a woman with a daughter old enough to get married.  It was a daring role for Barbara to accept, and most young actresses would never have dreamed of playing a character that ages so drastically and unflatteringly on screen.  But Barbara didn’t care—it was a good role and she knew it.

Barbara didn’t mind dropping the glamour to play the frumpy Stella Dallas.

Marwyck

1937 also saw the completion of Barbara’s dream house in Northridge, CA.  Built by Paul Williams, the architect to the stars, “Marwyck” truly embodied Barbara’s personality.   

The 120 acre estate incorporated all the things that Ruby Stevens never had growing up on the streets of Brooklyn.  It even had a beautiful marble bathtub, which Barbara always joked would be a sign of her success:

“When I can have a marble bathtub, I will know I’ve made it.”

Barbara relaxing at Marwyck, her dream house that she helped design

Fans can visit and tour Marwyck today.  Now known as Oakridge—named after Jack Oakie, to whom Barbara later sold the ranch, you can schedule a tour of Marwyck here.)

Marwyck today.

Indeed, 1937, was a good year for Barbara Stanwyck.

As Barbara finished out the 1930s strong, the next decade of her career would prove even more remarkable.

Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda
With Henry Fonda in The Mad Miss Manton (1938)

Barbara Stanwyck in the 1940s

Between 1940-1949, Barbara Stanwyck’s career was on fire.  To name just a few of the classics she made throughout the decade:

1. Remember the Night (1940)

A Christmas classic with the loveable Fred MacMurray.

2. The Lady Eve (1941)

Henry Fonda said a few times through the years that he had a big crush on Barbara during filming, and if she were not happily married to Robert Taylor at the time, he would have made a move.

3. Meet John Doe (1941)

Coop and Barbara Stanwyck in Meet John Doe ((1941).

Barbara starred with the dashing Gary Cooper in this Frank Capra classic.

4. Ball of Fire (1941)

Another Stanwyck/Gary Cooper pairing, directed by the great Howard Hawks, and Barbara’s second Academy Award nomination.

5. Double Indemnity (1944)

A classic that brought Barbara her third Oscar nomination.  Directed by Billy Wilder and co-starring Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson, read my article, or listen to my podcast episode, on Double Indemnity here.

6. Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

Another Christmas classic co-staring nice guy Dennis Morgan.

Barbara’s definitive biographer, Victoria Wilson, has shared that, through her thorough research of Barbara’s life, her character in this film, Elizabeth Lane, seems to be the closest to what the real-life Barbara Stanwyck was like.

7. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

An interesting film that also showcases the consistently amazing Van Heflin, a very young Kirk Douglas, and Lizabeth Scott.

8. The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947)

An underrated Hitchcockian-style thriller co-starring Humphrey Bogart.

9. Cry Wolf (1947)

Another Hitchcock-style thriller that paired Barbara with Errol Flynn. 

10. Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)

Amazing performance by Barbara (what else do we expect?), and her final Academy Award nomination. 

barbara stanwyck

More Barbara Stanwyck Next Week!

That’s it for today.  Join me next week as I wrap up my Great Oscar Injustice Series on Barbara Stanwyck.

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