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Barbara Stanwyck (1907-1990)

  1. Nancy Carroll, The Dance of Life, 1928.   As yet unknown to the movies, La Barb starred in Broadway’s Burlesquehit but Carroll was a safer bet for for the “all-talking, all-dancing, all-singing, all-star production of stagedom's hit of hits.” Another Carol (Lombard) headlined Paramount's next version,Swing High, Swing Low, 1937.  And, ten years later, Betty Grable headed the Fox take,When My Baby Smiles at Me. 
  2. Jean Harlow, Red-Headed Woman, 1931.  A major star is born…  The blonde Harlow beat off eager competition from Stanwyck, Clara Bow, Joan Crawford, Lilian Roth - even Greta Garbo! MGM's  Marie Dresslershot some gag pin-ups in a red wig.  King Geoprge V preferred his VIP copy of what Hollywood Reportert called “the sexiest performance since Clara Bow discovered 'It.”  HM has better luck than his subjects as the film was first banned in the UK.  Oh, it’s good to be a king. 
  3. Kay Francis, The Jewel Robbery, 1932.       Warners was sharing her contract with Columbia - a few years after Warners had turned her down and her husband, comic Frank Fey, had offered to secretly pay her salary (and her dresses) if Columbia czar Harry Cohn signed her.
  4. Jean Harlow, Red-Headed Woman, 1932.       Harlow was on the MGM books - and, therefore, cheaper. Not for much longer.
  5. Carole Lombard, Brief Moment, 1933.       Too busy trying to help out husband Frank Fay, now that his film career had hit the skids, by playing two weeks at the New York Palace with him. A Star Is Born, 1937, is said to be based on Stanwyck’s rise and Fay’s fall. Among other such up/down LA couples.
  6. Ruth Chattertton, Female, 1933.    La Barb was the inevitable choice for Alison Drake  but was on tour with her husband, Frank Fay. Enter: Chattertion Frank Fey.  Enter: Chatterton was the first woman to run a car favctory. Eighty yeara later, it happened for real when Mary Barra became chairwoman and ceo of General Motors.
  7. Kay Francis, Wonder Bar, 1933.      Another of the  Warner musicals that broke every rule in  the book -  before the book, the Will  Hays Productin Code, was writ.  From a Busby Berkeley S&M (and murder) dance routine to ‘Going To Heaven On A Mule’featuring Al Jolson, St Peter and all the heavenly angels in black-face. 
  8. Kay Francis, British Agent, 1934.    “I’d read the book twice... so absorbing. But it’s a man story. No reason why I should play second fiddle. I’ve worked too hard to get to the top to give up the top spot.” She felt Leslie Howard (unavailable for her Forbidden, 1932) was made to order for the lead; he later acted it out for real.   
  9. Luise Rainer, The Good Earth, 1936.      An early plan, in 1935, was Stanwyck and Nils Asther  for the Chinese couple,  O-Lan and Wang Lung.  Rainer was  the first (and only) consecutive Best Actress Oscar winner…  in the first MGM film to credit production chief Irving Thalberg - after his shock death at 36. His boss, LB Mayer, had told him: “The public won't buy pictures about American farmers, and you want to give them Chinese farmers?”  Thalberg, as usual, was right - three Oscars from six nominations! 
  10. Virginia Bruce, Wife, Doctor and Nurse, 1936.      La Barb was announced as Steve, the nurse in love with Loretta Young’s medico husband, Warner Baxter. Then, RKO changed its mind about loaning her to Fox. MGM was not so fussy… or not where Bruce was concerned.

  11. Claudette Colbert, Midnight, 1937.     In the mix with Colbert and Marlene Dietrich for the chorus girl trying to save millionaire Don Ameche’s marriage. (No, really!). (Well, it was a Billy Wilder script). Mitchell Leisen won the directing credits, although two crews were used, Hal Walker directing the second, to help free Ameche for The Story of Alexander Graham Bell. Fox didn’t want him phoning it in…
  12. Katharine Hepburn, Holiday, 1938.      And so Stanwyck never worked with Cary Grant.
  13. Bette Davis, Dark Victory, 1938.    Gloria Swanson found the story, The Second Mrs Draper, about a socialite going blind with a brain tumour. "Can't be any good if Selznick wants to sell it," said the Columbia czar Harry Cohn.  Swanson quit Tinseltown for New York.  Garbo was keen, sniffing Oscar on the horizon. Idem for Stanwyck and Merle Oberon. Warner Bros bought it for Miriam Hopkins or Kay Francis.  But Davis made sure it wqs her’s - it was her favourite role and third Oscar  nomination in five years.
  14. Virginia Grey, Thunder Afloat, 1939.    A-sub-hunting they will go…  Not every MGM production took off as planned. La Barb and Franchot Tone became Virginia and Chester Morris in the tale of rival New England tugboat skippers going to war.  With each other.  And  the WWI Germans.   One of the two scripters was credited in full as Commander Harvey Haislip.
  15. Laraine Day, Foreign Correspondent, 1940.     Alfred Hitchcock had great trouble in getting the stars he wanted for his second Hollywood movie - Gary Cooper opposite Stanwyck (or Joan Fontaine). Shooting ended on May 29, 1940. Hitchcock went home, returning to LA on July 3 with news that Germany was due to start bombing Britain. Ben Hecht wrote a new finale, filmed on July 5 – five days before actual bombs started hitting London. Probably why they didn’t have the right sounds for the London sirens… Hitch tried to get Stanwyck again in 1942...
  16. Ellen Drew, The Night of January 16, 1941.       Paramount’s whodunnit became who’lldoit as Stanwyck-Joel McCrea turned into Patricia Morrison-Ray Milland, ending more humbly with Ellen Drew-Robert Preston… after Ellen out-Drew Lucille Ball, Claudette Colbert and Paulette Goddard to the glory.
  17. Gene Tierney, Belle Starr, 1941.      Fox pursued her for Starr, nee Shirley, the wife of Randolph Scott.
  18. Veronica Lake, Sullivan’s Travels, 1941.   Jerry Seinfeld’s favourite film because of its content - the importance of fun and laughter." One story says after their Lady Eve, 1940, Barbara Stanwyck was Preston Sturges’ choice for The Girl.  Rubbish! He always had Ronni Lake in mind, since loving her in Wanted Wings, 1940. Paramount suits preferred Lucille Ball, Frances Farmer, Ruby Keeler, Ida Lupino in the classic inspired by John Garfield’s hobo days. Sturgess remained resolute… Even though she never gelled with Joel McCrea (he refused to join her in I Married A Witch)and that her (ssh!) pregnancy went from six to eight months. She had her daughter, Elaine Detlie, exactly one month after shooting wrapped. McCrea relented five years later and they made the 1946 Western, Ramrod- helmed by her then husband, the one ye-patched Hungarian director André De Toth.
  19. Priscilla Lane, Saboteur, 1941.      Alfred Hitchcock didn’t get his own way when loaned out by David Selznick. For his heroine, Hitch wanted Barbara Stanwyck and had to make do with borrowing Warner’s  Lane - not  very Hitchcockian. Apart from a few sections, notably  the Statue of Liberty climax,  the same could be said of the over-talky,  propaganda thriller. Robert Cummings (!) became the hero - La Barb would’ve eaten him  alive! 
  20. Rosalind Russell, Take A Letter, Darling, 1942.    Director Mitchell Leisen lost Claudette Colbert and then, Stanwyck - before winning “the funniest woman ever.”

  21. Priscilla Lane, Saboteur, 1942.     Alfred Hitchcock lost her again. And Gary Cooper as the hero. And Harry Carey as the villain. So he gave Lane a Stanwyckian coiffeure.
  22. Ingrid Bergman, For Whom The Bell Tolls, 1943.     All the A Train ladies were discussed. From Annabella to Vivien Leigh. Stanwyck merely went on to earn $400,000 in 1944, making her America’s highest paid woman.
  23. Joan Crawford, Mildred Pierce, 1944.       James M Cain’s Mildred was an archetypical Stanwyckian broad - climbing over (weak) husbands to the top. So Stanwyck  passed and Olivia de Havilland, Joan Fontaine, Myrna Loy, Rosalind Russell, Ann Sheridan were examined. Director Michael Curtiz didn’t want to be lumbered with an old  “has-been” like Joan Crawford (as difficult asher shoulder pads). She shook him by agreeing to test, winning him over and simply complying  with Mildred’s line: “I don’t know whether it’s right or whether it’s wrong, but that’s the way it’s gotta be.”  Oscar  voters agreed on on March 7, 1946.

  24. Patricia Neal, The Fountainhead, 1949.    
    “Bitterly disappointed,” Stanwyck quit Warners. “Missy” had convinced Jack Warner to buy her Ann Rynd’s best-seller: the first film role she had chased in years. She wanted Humphrey Bogart to co-star. Things didn’t gell, the project was shelved and when it passed to King Vidor,  “he just didn’t think that I was sexy enough - and he is certainly entitled to his opinion. You have to take it in stride, professionally, personally. Otherwise, we’d all cut our throats.” Vidor chose Cooper and Neal (soon to be lovers, like Cooper and Stanwyck in 1941). Author Ayn Rand had always wanted Garbo. Of course.

  25. Bette Davis, Deception, 1945.       The Louis Verneuil play - known variously as Monsieur Lamberthier, Jealous and Obsession - was bought as a tandem for Stanwyck and Paul Henreid. He was smitten. She wasn’t.
  26. Loretta Young, The Accused, 1949.      Rather obvious early choice for William Dieterle’s rather dour and dull psychological crime drama.
  27. Bette Davis, All About Eve, 1949.
  28. Lizabeth Scott, The Company She Keeps, 1950.   Producer Hal B Wallis bought the script for La Barb as an ex-con starting over. He  never made it and sold it to Howard Hughes, who was then (surprisingly) kind enough to borrow Scott from Wallis’ players. (Screen debut for a six-month-old Jeff Bridges!)
  29. Judy Holliday, Born Yesterday, 1950.     An inexplicably vindictive Harry Cohn refused any idea of “the fat Jewish broad” reprising her Broadway triumph on film. He even considered the veteran Stanwyck - 14 years older than Judy Katharine Hepburn campaigned to make Cohn change his mind and Judy won the Oscar away from, among others, Bette Davis in All About Eve and Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd.
  30. Shirley Booth, Come Back, Little Sheba, 1952.    Producer Hal Wallis snapped up for rights for his favourite actress.  However, after seeing the Broadway hit, Barbara told him to forget it - Shirley should repeat her stage role on-screen and would  win an Oscar.  Stanwyck was right (as usual).  On both counts.

  31. Gloria Grahame, Human Desire, 1953.     Everyone rejected it (Olivia De Havilland, Rita Hayworth, Stanwyck) until it fell to the second-string, floozie-style Missy.
  32. Dorothy McGuire, Three Coins in the  Fountain, 1953.     Director Jean Negulesco was so impressed by  Stanwyck-Clifton Webb in Titanic, he put them in his next project - alongside Jeanne Crain, Gene Tierney. Webb, alone, survived the changes into McGuire, Maggie McNamara, Jean Peters and CinemaScope.  
  33. Claire Trevor, The High and the Mighty, 1953.      All aboard the flying Grand Hotel - a DC-4 piloted by John Wayne and Robert Stack and stuffed to the flaps with the kind of mixed cliché bag of passengers that continued into the Airport films and wase torn to shreds by the Airplane comedies. Tasty or not, the roles were basically cameos. And, therefore, beneath the high and mighty Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Ida Lupino, Dorothy McGuire and Ginger Rogers. They all rejected the sassy old broad, described by New York Times critic Bosley Crowther as a gallant lady of much circulation. Trevor won an Oscar nod; La Barb would have won it.
  34. Gloria Grahame, Human Desire, 1953.      At first, for the re-make of  the 1937 Jean Renoir/Jean Gabin French classic, La bête humaine, director Fritz Lang didn’t look much further than his 1951 Clash By Night stars: Stanwyck, Paul Douglas, Robert Ryan.  Forgetting that the perfect Vickie was also in that movie. Marilyn Monroe. 
  35. Ida Lupino, The Big Knife, 1955.      An obvious first suggestion for the movie star’s wife as La Stanwyck starred in  two previous versions of  Clifford Odets plays: Golden Boy, 1939,  and Clash By Night, 1952.
  36. Arlene Dahl, Slightly Scarlet, 1956.     Announced for the bad sister, the  nymphomaniacal kleptomaniac (Rhonda Fleming was the goodie) when  the film kept the faith with novelist James M Cain’s title: Love’s Lovely Counterfeit.
  37. Bette Davis, Storm Centre, 1956.     Three stars, three titles. Mary Pickford planned The Library as a comeback. Producer Stanley Kramer announced Stanwyck for Circle of  Fire. When she dropped out, enter Davis in Storm Centre.
  38. Jo Van Fleet, Gunfight at the OK Corral, 1956.       In the previous year, when Paramount was  trying to land Humphrey Bogart as Doc Holliday, the LA Times insisted that the veteran Stanwyck was up for Doc’s lover, Kate Fisher. 
  39. Rita Hayworth, Pal Joey, 1957.     Friends from way back, Fred Astaire’s choreographer Hermes Pan lost the battle (for an earlier project)  for Stanwyck to be rich Vera - the sugar mommy of Pal Kirk Douglas.
  40. Anouk Aimée, La dolce vita, 1959.     Italian director genius Federico Fellini always wanted Barbara in the second of the three major masterpieces. While certain  rumours insist the proffered role was Dolores, a sad, old nympho (refused by Luise Rainer and later axed from the scenario), it is more likely that it was an earlier version of Maddalena, a cynical jet-setter living for the pleasures of the moment.

  41. Dorothy McGuire, This  Earth Is  Mine, 1959.     A somewhat typically Stanwyckian woman of driving ambition became an  odd departure for sweet McGuire.
  42. Mary Astor, Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, 1964.     Legend: director Robert Aldrich asked Stanwyck to replace the “ill” Joan Crawford opposite her nemesis Bette Davis in the quick follow-up to Whatever HappenedTo Baby Jane? “Misinterpretation,” she calls it. “He didn’t offer the role to me. I didn’t turn  it  down.” Aldrich had wanted her for “a little vignette...  about three of four days'’ work...  I read it and I didn’t care to play it - as simple as that.” But she added: “I’m a tough old broad from Brooklyn. I’ll go on until they shoot me." (It became Astor’s final role).
  43. Lila Kedrova, Zorba The Greek, 1965.
  44. Susan Hayward, Heat of Anger, TV, 1972.      Ill-health ruled out being the lawyer with a young associate in the pilot for a series with James Stacy  to be called Fitzgerald and Pride.
  45. Liv Ullmann, Lost Horizon, 1973.      Wisely refused the appalling conception (and execution) of musicalising the  1937 classic, as badly cast as any of the same producer Ross Hunter’s Airport series.
  46. Katharine Hepburn, On Golden Pond, 1980.      Rumour has it that Stanwyck - very keen on the script - was first reserve in case Hepburn suffered health problems at 73. Barbara was the same age, but  two months younger.
  47. Jane Wyman, Falcon Crest, TV, 1981-1990.       Passed on the soap opera lead of Angela Channing, not a patch of her typically ballsy matriarch of the Barkleys on TV western, The Big Valley, 1965-1969. Nor on her Conny Colby Patterson, when she joined the soaps for her 102nd and final screen role, in Dynasty and The Colbys, 1985-1986.
  48. Claudette Colbert, The Two Mrs Granvilles, TV, 1986.     La Barb  was most  keen to play Alice Granville but director John Erman preferred giving Colbert one last meaty role.








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