Today, July 16, marks the 100th anniversary of Barbara Stanwyck's birth. There was a time when the former Ruby Stevens of Brooklyn was familiar mostly as a white-haired matriarch on television series like The Big Valley, The Colbys or The Thorn Birds. Thank god those days seem to be fading, and now Stanwyck's movie career is deservedly at the forefront. There are many cinephiles who will happily name her as their favorite actress. Well, why should they be any different from Stanwyck's Hollywood peers? Here is just a small sample of what the Siren turned up in her search for what other professionals thought of "Missy," as her friends called her:
Beloved by all directors, actors, crews, and extras.--Frank Capra
She's one of the greatest women and the one of the greatest actresses I ever worked with.
The best actress I ever worked with.
Stanwyck, of course, was a brilliant actress. She could do anything.
Working with Barbara Stanwyck was one of the greatest pleasures of my career.
[Howard Hawks] always ranked her among the best actresses with whom he ever worked.
--Hawks biographer Todd McCarthy
Barbara Stanwyck is a fantastic actress. When she makes a gesture as she speaks a line, she has a way of suspending that motion in mid-air for a split second on a certain word which gives an imperceptible emphasis to that word.
A professional's professional, a superb technician with a voice quality that immediately hooked you with its humanness.
Barbara Stanwyck had an instinct so sure she almost needed no direction.
When [in 1932 Picturegoer] listed the top six female stars (Garbo, Constance Bennett, Dietrich, Chatterton, Shearer and Crawford), [Adolphe] Menjou himself told the editor that in Hollywood Stanwyck was rated above the last two.
How's that for unanimity? The Siren agrees with Adolphe Menjou, and would in fact rank Stanwyck's abilities above that entire Picturegoer list, even above Garbo, who was an instinctual actress and not the superb technician that Stanwyck was. So on this fine Monday, let us take some time to talk about Barbara Stanwyck. Here, the Siren lists her favorites. She loves the actress in all of these movies, and the titles are ranked solely to indicate how much pleasure the Siren gets out of each performance:
1. The Lady Eve
2. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
3. Double Indemnity
4. Remember the Night
5. Stella Dallas
6. Ball of Fire
7. The Mad Miss Manton
8. Lady of Burlesque (Stanwyck, as Joel McCrea noted, was in burlesque herself and "came up the hard way.")
9. Clash by Night
Over to you. Name your favorite Stanwyck roles. Did she ever give a bad performance? (Not many actresses who spark that as a genuine query!) Where should she rank in the pantheon of Hollywood actresses?
(Cross-posted at Newcritics. Also, check out Peter Nelhaus's take on Roustabout here.)