Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ziegfeld Girl, Part 2

Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Gypsy Rose Lee, Ruby Keeler, Hedda Hopper and Lucille Ball. What do these women have in common? They were all REJECTED as Ziegfeld girls during their auditions. But, they all seemed to do pretty well for themselves without having to be part of the follies, so we won't worry about them...I just thought it was interesting.

Guess which famous actress WAS a Ziegfeld girl? Barbara Stanwyck. So, let's talk about her, shall we?

Stanwyck was born Ruby Catherine Stevens in Brooklyn in 1907. When she was 4 years old, her mother was killed when she was pushed out of a streetcar by a drunken stranger. WTF? Then, a few months later, her dad left to work on the Panama Canal and never returned. Ruby and her younger brother were left to be raised by their older sister, Mildred. Mildred got a job as a showgirl at a NYC theater and would often take Barbara backstage to watch. This undoubtedly sparked Ruby's interest in showbiz.

In 1922, Ruby auditioned for the Ziegfeld Follies and got a part in the chorus. She worked in the follies for two years, then moved on to other vaudeville/cabaret shows.

In 1926, she met Willard Mack who cast her in his play, The Noose. But, first he wanted her to change her name...hey, look who's talking Willard. Anyway, they decided on the name Barbara Stanwyck from the play Barbara Frietchie and the play's actress Joan Stanwyck....Creative.

Stanwyck's career started to take off after that. She easily made the transition from plays to films and soon caught the eye of director Frank Capra who cast her in his upcoming movie, Ladies of Leisure. Barbara was well liked by many. Of Stanwyck, Capra said she "was beloved by all directors, actors, crews, and extras. In a Hollywood popularity contest, she would win first prize hands down." Stanwyck went on to star steadily in films over the next decade of so, including Stella Dallas, Double Indemnity and Lady of Burlesque. In 1944, she was the highest paid woman in the United States. Not bad for a girl from the follies:)

Barbara's personal life did not fair so well. She married actor Frank Fay in 1928, but divorced him in 1935 due to his drunken temper. After that, she was rumored to have a few affairs with women, including Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, and Tallulah Bankhead. Eventually, she married actor Robert Taylor, who was trying to dispel some gay rumors of his own. Their marriage was arranged by MGM in 1939. I guess it was common practice for the studios to arrange marriages back then. But, by 1950 the couple filed for divorce. You know, if an alleged lesbian and rumored gay man, forced into a marriage by a studio, can't make it work; what hope is there for the rest of us?

After her 2nd divorce, Stanwyck went on to a relatively successful television career, working well into the 1980's. In 1981 she contracted bronchitis on the set of The Thorn Birds. The illness was compounded by her smoking habit, which she had started at the age of 9. Later that year, she was brutally beaten by two men who broke into her house and robbed her. How much of a loser do you have to be to beat up a 74 woman? Ugh!

Still, Stanwyck held on.  She in 1990 at the died at the age of 83 of congestive heart failure. And although, she never won an oscar, she is revered as one of the best actresses of all time. And she started out as a humble chorus girl in the Ziegfeld Follies!

Here's a great necklace featuring Barbara (before she was Barbara Stanwyck) during her time at the follies in 1922: http://www.etsy.com/listing/78143594/barbara-stanwyck-resin-retro-necklace


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