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July 16, 2023

Amazing Vintage Photos of a Very Young and Hot Barbara Stanwyck From the 1920s

Barbara Stanwyck was born Ruby Stevens on July 16, 1907 in Brooklyn, New York. You probably know she became an orphan at age 4. What you probably don’t know is that she was the youngest of 5 siblings. None of her older siblings could give her a home, so her childhood came straight out of a Dickens novel; filled with poverty, abandonment, and foster homes. Her youth was not much better. Young Ruby became a chorus girl at Texas Guinan’s speakeasy at the tender age of 15—a powerful beginning for a powerful life!

One of her directors, Jacques Tourneur, said of her, “She only lives for two things, and both of them are work.” She made her debut on stage in the chorus as a Ziegfeld girl in 1923 at age 16, and within a few years was acting in plays. Her first lead role, which was in the hit Burlesque (1927), established her as a Broadway star.

Leading up to the play’s Broadway debut, Ruby Stevens changed her name to the more glamorous Barbara Stanwyck. Famous playwright Willard Mack would give Stanwyck one play each day to practice before rehearsals. Mack’s intensive tutelage paid off and Stanwyck’s single scene in The Noose caused a sensation among audiences and critics. Naturally, Barbara remained forever thankful to Willard Mack and credited him with starting her acting career.

Later in Hollywood, Stanwyck would find equally important Pygmalion figures in Frank Capra, who taught her how to act for movies; Preston Sturges, who taught her how to be funny on camera; and Billy Wilder, who, in Stanwyck’s words, “Taught me how to kill -on screen- and Thank God for that!” She also became the highest paid woman in America in 1944—not bad for an orphan from Brooklyn!

Barbara Stanwyck died on January 20, 1990 of congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. She died aged 82 despite and due to smoking heavily all her life. She did not want a funeral. Her ashes were scattered in Lone Pine, California, where she had loved shooting exteriors for her westerns.

Barbara Stanwyck made 84 films and featured in more than 200 TV episodes. She appeared in 79 radio shows and had a total of 597 stage-acting performances—that is a whopping 1,600+ hours of direct “screen/stage time”. Stanwyck LOVED to work, some say work was her life. What is clear is that her legacy speaks volumes of that life... what a life!


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