The gay classic Hollywood columnist blogosphere told me it's Stanwyck's birthday today.
She is my favorite female actor of all time. She is always interesting, always impressive, always good. In her early movies, she stands out like a beacon amid a bunch of cardboardy jokers. I had to buy the second TCM collection of pre-code movies because Baby Face was on it. Baby Face was one of her earlier films about a young girl who learns to use her charm and sexuality to get what she wants in 1930s corporate America. The decision to do so arose from coachings by a grouchy old man who reads lines to her from Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil. Amusing.
With John Wayne in Baby Face. In 1930, he was just another nobody dude in eyeshadow.
She's unique for this era with her strange little lisp and the believable street savvy that bleeds into every role. Usually for this time, girls from the other side of the tracks get some attention, but they never win. And even when Stanwyck doesn't win, she's still somehow the authority. When she makes some sarcastic crack, you know she has somehow lived that moment before. And she probably did. Orphaned at a young age, Barbara, or Ruby as she was called then, was a Brooklyn street urchin who worked her way from shitty menial jobs into a graveyard shift as a chorus girl. At this point, she believed she had arrived. All she wanted, she said, was to be able to eat and wear a nice coat.
Shortly thereafter, she caught the eye of some casting agents in the late 1920s, and acted in a bunch of slightly crappy/slightly awesome pre-code movies like Baby Face before killing it in Stella Dallas. She acted for decades afterward, well into her middle age, which few of her contemporaries managed or were willing to do. Tabloid notes: she hooked up with Robert Wagner when he was 22 and she was 45. bang! She was also a particular fan of Ayn Rand, which I assume is partly resultant of her hardscrabble early life and successful end. People who have that experience so often come to think that life is a one way rodent maze, and they figured it out. Formulaic, as though it's foolproof to simply "work hard," and those who have not made it have simply not tried. Foolish, but we let it slide. For her. No one else.
I like that her self-confidence is palpable and natural. It's there in every character. She always seems to be in her own environment. This is somewhat uncommon, but the common characteristic of this quality is that it draws attention like a magnet.