Thursday, July 16, 2015

Mystery History - Barbara Stanwyck Born Today

It's the birthday of Barbara Stanwyck, born July 16, 1907 in Brooklyn. Her career in entertainment began when she was hired as a chorus girl at the age of 17, for $40 dollars a week, a lot of money at the time. She made it to Hollywood just as talkies began to replace silent films.

No genre was beyond her skill as an actress, whether it was melodrama, comedy or westerns. But she may be best remembered for her work in thrillers, such as Sorry Wrong Number, Crime of PassionWitness To Murder, and Double Indemnity

This last movie is considered one of the best noir films ever made. The screenplay was based on the novel by James Cain. Stanwyck played the part of Phyllis Dietrichson, an unhappy wife who conspires to murder her husband for the insurance money. It wasn't the first time she had played a scheming, amoral character who uses her charms to get what she wants; she played a woman who sleeps her way to the top of the business world in Baby Face. A pre-code 1930s film about sexual exploitation, some say it's release helped cause the creation of a censorship code led by the Hays Office.

As a femme fatale she had no equal and proved it in Double Indemnity. But she almost didn't take the role.

Barbara loved the script when she read it, but was fearful of playing such an evil character at this stage in her career. She was a bonafide Hollywood star and the highest paid actress in America...indeed the highest paid woman in any job. But the director Billy Wilder, who wanted Stanwyck for the part, asked her if she was an actress or a mouse. That put an end to any doubts she had about making the film.

After it was released, critics raved about the movie, and about Stanwyck's performance.  The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Barbara Stanwyck for Best Actress.

Phyllis Dietrichson: I think you're rotten. 
Walter Neff: I think you're swell - so long as I'm not your husband. 

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