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A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940 (A Life of Barbara Stanwyck #1)

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3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  255 ratings  ·  77 reviews
The first book in Victoria Wilson's two volumes of books on Barbara Stanwyck's life and career.

Frank Capra called her “The greatest emotional actress the screen has yet known.” She was one of its most natural, timeless, and underrated stars. Now, Victoria Wilson gives us the first full-scale life of Barbara Stanwyck, whose astonishing career in movies (eighty-eight in all)
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Hardcover, 1056 pages
Published November 12th 2013 by Simon & Schuster (first published September 17th 2013)
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Community Reviews

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Jane
Finally! Ugh, what a slog. I really, really wanted to like this book, since I love Barbara Stanwyck. But good lord, this book needs an editor. Or another editor. Or ten editors. It reads as though the author, literally, dug up every piece of minutiae ever published about Babs, her family, and anyone who ever associated with her peripherally or tertiarilly (fake word!) and then narrated it chronologically. Seriously, we don't need to know about movies she never made. We don't need the bio of a pl ...more
R.J.
I wish I could recommend this, I really do. Stanwyck fans have waited 15 years for this but for me it was monotonous and filled with non-essential information. Pages upon pages on scripts and plotlines of films Stanwyck never appeared in. Twice the plot & circumstances of the film Holiday were covered. Holiday which started Katharine Hepburn. Why? How could Stanwyck's life be so mundanely told ? For the Die-hard fan only who can sort thru 1,000 pages for the pearls.
Karen
I didn't finish. I was game to read it all, and only slightly daunted by the book's 1056-page length, because I think Barbara Stanwyck is an interesting figure and classic Hollywood is my jam. Perhaps the fact that I just finished reading the expertly written "The Entertainer" by Margaret Talbot made the wide gulf between this book and beautifully crafted prose all the more painful. This book needed a good edit -- a line-by-line edit, if you ask me.

Too often, sentences seem to be missing someth
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ClassicMaiden
4.5 stars: near-perfect.

It was exciting to finally read this book, because I've waited years for it and Barbara Stanwyck has been my favorite actress for many years.

I thought this first volume was authoritative in many ways and exhaustively detailed in its research. The narrative was clear and engaging; tells like a good story should.

Sometimes too much information was given that wasn't always necessary to tell Stanwyck's story, which might put some readers off. Personally, I didn't mind. I lik
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Jennifer Lafferty
This is a remarkably compelling, detailed and well-researched portrait of a Hollywood legend, filled with fascinating insider knowledge. Barbara Stanwyck was not a typical starlet, a fact that makes her story all the more intriguing. She came across as a strong, feisty, independent woman decades before it was fashionable for a female to display such qualities. Victoria Wilson delves into Stanwyck's background exploring her tragic childhood in which the future star learned to fight on the streets ...more
Rob
This book has a lot going for it. Stanwyck is a fascinating subject and it's about time she received the attention she deserves. There's a whole barrel full of information here to satisfy fans of classic Hollywood, and while lengthy, it's certainly quite readable.

That being said, Victoria Wilson, an editor at Alfred Knopf, has never written a book before, and whoever was in charge of this tome at Simon & Schuster seems to have assumed that she would have edited the book herself and that they
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Claire
I received A Life of Barbara Stanwyck as part of a Goodreads giveaway.

This first volume tells the tale of the first 33 years of Stanwyck's life. At nearly 900 pages, Wilson's research is broad and deep, and very impressive. The book begins with a brief family history, then moves into an account of her childhood--essentially an orphan, she was bounced between the homes of her older siblings and family friends. As a young teen, she got her start on the New York stage, gaining a reputation as a ski
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Oolookitty
About halfway through this one and it's getting to be a slog. There are seemingly endless digressions in which we learn things that have nothing to do with Stanwyck; I think I now know, for instance, what every single person in Hollywood was getting paid at any given time. There are diversions to everyone from Mae Clarke to John Ford, with endless details about what they were all up to, until we eventually swerve back to Stanwyck in what feels almost like an "oh, yeah, meanwhile back at the ranc ...more
Ellie
A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940 by Victoria Wilson is an amazing work. 1,000 pages-860 pages of narrative-and this is only part one. I have been a huge fan of Barbara Stanwyck since I was 16 and in a small way this is a dream come true for me. The book tracks Stanwyck's life from her sad childhood-her mother killed in a trolley accident when Ruby Stevens (Stanwyck's original name) was four years old and her father's subsequent desertion to the sea, young Ruby's many childhood ho ...more
Jnagle4
I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway.

In the 1930s, Hollywood was essentially the world's most glamorous factory town, Actors and actresses would be hired by the major studios (MGM, Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, ect) and make pictures. Barbara Stanwyck was one of those actors, and became revered for her emotional honesty and toughness. Stanwyck's toughness was not an act, she grew up in Brooklyn New York and was a chorus girl by the age of 15.

Victoria Wilson's book expertly explores the fir
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Nancy L.
Let my adoration for Stanwyck remain untested. I anticipated this biography, bought it the first day, delighted to begin reading. But the lengthy digressions that pad this biography assume that the reader knows nothing about Hollywood. Do we need a whole disquisition on Capra's career unrelated to Stanwyck? I think not.

I'm still going to slog through this, but only because of my allegiance to Stanwyck. The fact it's been on my "currently reading" list for 18 months is not a good sign.

As a classi
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Barbara
This ginormous book about Barbara Stanwyck ends abruptly with a speech delivered by Joel McCrae in the film Foreign Correspondent, a movie in which Barbara did not appear. It was typical of this book. The author did a tremendous amount of research, and just couldn't leave anything out. There's a lot of interesting material here, but it got buried in the lists of movies, plays, actors, etc. There were things that might have gotten more attention, such as just how she got into all thst trouble wit ...more
Christopher Beckett
Bailed around the 300 page mark. Impressive as research, astonishingly inept as a finished product. Jam-packed with irrelevant details about people and films and plays that don't actually figure into the narrative. Graceless writing abounds, with innumerable anecdotes that go nowhere. Stanwyck herself is a cipher as written here: you'll wind up very well informed about many things, but not necessarily who Stanwyck was. But at least you'll know where ex-roommate Mae Clarke ate her uneventful firs ...more
Elana
I've been fascinated by Barbara Stanwyck since the mid-'60s and saw her standing in a Detroit theatre lobby in a long gown, her hair prematurely gray. She was beautiful and elegant. I was captivated and began to watch as many of her films as possible.

This book was painstakingly documented. (I'd heard Wilson spent a lot of time with Stanwyck's estranged son before his death.) I appreciated the details about Stanwyck's young life and first marriage, as well as insights into her talent. Also, I was
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Etherealfire
Wow!!!! This is one of the most comprehensive biographies I think I've ever read - and this is only Volume One! Not only is this a compelling and thoroughly drawn portrait of the very private, inscrutable, often baffling but utterly fascinating Stanwyck, but it is also an in-depth look at the movie industry and the era that framed her early career. Sometimes the book goes a bit deep into the weeds and even gets a bit too dry and rote. (Spoilers below - so please do not read unless you don't mind ...more
Elizabeth Periale
http://xoxoxoe.blogspot.com/2014/01/b...

"Barbara Stanwyck and her career is certainly worthy of biography. One just wishes that she and her films could have been approached in a more critical and more concise manner."
Paul Pessolano
“A Life of Barbara Stanwyck” by Victoria Wilson, published by Simon & Schuster.

Category – Media Publication Date – November 12, 2013

If you are a movie fan you will be absolutely delighted with this book. It is about a complete biography of Barbara Stanwyck that can be written. Keep in mind, that this is the first of a two volume set; this covers her life from birth to 1940.

Barbara Stanwyck, born Ruby Stevens, began her life in show business as a dancer in vaudeville and moved from there to B
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Emily
This book should have been called “Barbara Stanwyck: Her Life and Times.” In addition to documenting Stanwyck’s rise from Brooklyn-born hoofer to Hollywood heavyweight, the author provides fascinating sidebars into the history of vaudeville and the early days of talking films; the conservative politics that shaped Stanwyck’s views and those of her inner circle; and even the fad amongst Hollywood’s elite for building stud farms that fueled the racetrack industry. Much as I like film history, a lo ...more
Bkwormmegs
If you read this book be prepared to skip - a lot. It's a long hard slog. There is a lot of material on Stanwyck's movies and contemporaries - even the ones that played no part in her life - and pretty much no examination of her personality or motivations. It is a film history centered around one person's accomplishments rather than a biography. All of which would be fine if it was advertised appropriately and if Wilson was a more fluid writer. Unfortunately her timelines are messy, she goes bac ...more
Morgan
Like several reviews I've seen here, I wish this book was better. It could have been two hundred pages shorter and it still would have been incredibly comprehensive. Victoria Wilson goes into great detail about the plots not only of Stanwyck's films, but those of Robert Taylor and others who have little to do with Stanwyck other than working at the same time that she did. The feeling the reader gets is that Wilson assumes that her readers are novices and unfamiliar with Stanwyck's body of work. ...more
Susan
Apr 07, 2014 Susan added it
I have spent the two two years discovering what a fantastic actress Barbra Stanwyck is, reveling in every film I find at my library that has her name in the cast, delighting in her voice and her aura, eager to see more of her. I really wanted to like this book, and I did like it, although I'm not quite sure why. It is consistently poorly written and often does not flow from paragraph to paragraph. It presents Miss Stanwyck's life in the context of her times---including Hollywood studio history a ...more
judy
Amazing book although I did my fair share of skipping. Definitive is too weak a term for what Wilson has done in this massive Vol.1 The book not only covers Stanwyck but the world she inhabited. It is best appreciated by film buffs who know the producers, writers and everything from Day 1. My interest was in her as an actress so the backgrounds of the other people whose lives touched hers was not something I really cared about. If film is your thing, you'll be in heaven. I actually read this boo ...more
Karen
HUGE tome of a book with an exhausting amount of extensive research on Barbara Stanwyck's life. I so looked forward to reading this book, but have to admit that it wasn't what I expected. This reads as if the author just copied her research notes, and I mean ALL of them, onto paper and published it as a biography. I did finish the book, mainly because I love film history and this is quite a compilation of the early days of film through the 1940's, as well as being a biography of Stanwyck.

I did n
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Donna
I love Stanwyck and wanted to love this book. I didn't. Stanwyck's life is drowned in the details that the author added for context. It would seem people who breathed in Stanwyck's vicinity get a paragraph or three. While it is quite obvious the book was a labor of love, it was a labor to read and really needed a machete to edit it down to the subject at hand.
Mike
I wanted to like this book, since Stanwyck is one of my favorite Hollywood actresses, if not my favorite.

However, this book really needed to be edited.

There are little errors of fact, such as saying Paramount produced "A Night at the Opera," which every Marx Brothers fan knows is just wrong. (It was their first movie for MGM.)

There were the redundancies, such as telling us in two different places what director William Wellman wanted in a woman.

But what killed me was the way the author took the l
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Sam
After 860 lovingly researched pages, I'm pretty sure I know more about Barbara Stanwyck's life than I do about my own. A wonderful, immersive look at both Broadway in the 20s and Hollywood in the 30s, packed with a delightfully absurd amount of detail. (For example, when Stanwyck is cast in Stella Dallas, we get pages of biographical information on everyone who was in the movie with her, everyone who was in the first silent version, the writer of the novel, and, my favorite, the crass old ham wh ...more
Robert Gable
This was a frustrating read. It is an exhaustively researched book covering the first half of Barbara Stanwyck's life. It made for a somewhat mundane story as the actress was not a glamorous Hollywood star, although an accomplished film actor. Still, her life and personality were well conveyed.

On the other hand, there was way too much detail about people on the periphery of her life. For example, is the following passage about Greer Garson really relevant to understanding Barbara Stanwyck?

"Garso
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Ronald Koltnow
My model of a great biography has always been Roger Kahn's A FLAME OF PURE FIRE, about Jack Dempsey. Until now. Victoria Wilson's mammoth and beguiling first volume of the life of Stanwyck is as entertaining as Kahn, has entertaining digressions like Kahn, and even includes Jack Dempsey (Kahn said that Dempsey and Stanwyck had an affair; Wilson doesn't mention it). From her childhood in poverty to her rise in the New York theatre and Hollywood, from her stormy marriage to Frank Fay to her loving ...more
Do
Can't wait for volume two... to finally read about the more recent roles that really enthralled us...
Interesting and thorough big first-part biography, very well documented. A keeper, to refer to when re-watching each of her movies.
A must-have for any TCM fan! ;)
Lengthy at times though (details of each and every story Barbara or her husband or even friends were filming)... Quite factual (not a bio that reads like an insightful novel). A lot of data; a detailed portrait of the period. Generous.
L
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Kirsti
It's interesting that this book's author is a book editor, because she apparently couldn't leave anything out. Steel-True is over a thousand pages long, and it's only Volume One. I'm glad this book exists for future historians, but I don't think Barbara Stanwyck's life was so fascinating that it merits so many pages.

Once I realized that I was going to read about not only Stanwyck's career but Frank Fay's and Robert Taylor's and Bette Davis's and Mae Clark's and many others' as well, I decided to
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Victoria Wilson is a vice president and senior editor at Alfred Knopf. She was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the US Commission on Civil Rights and has served on the boards of PEN American Center, the National Board Review of Motion Pictures, the Writing Program of the New School of Social Research, and Poets & Writers. She lives in New York City and upstate New York.
More about Victoria Wilson...

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A Life of Barbara Stanwyck (2 books)
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“Trusty, dusky, vivid, true,
With eyes of gold and bramble-dew,
Steel-true and blade-straight,
The great artificer
Made my mate." —Robert Taylor on Barbara Stanwyck, quoting Robert Louis Stevenson”
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“I only met her once. She was introduced to me by, of all people, Gertrude Lawrence . . . Stanwyck was gracious and laconic; very tiny; very chic; very controlled. But I met her! I saw the eyes, the lips. Contact was made." —Tennessee Williams” 2 likes
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