Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940” as Want to Read:
A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940

(A Life of Barbara Stanwyck #1)

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  487 ratings  ·  120 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)
Hardcover, 1044 pages
Published November 12th 2013 by Simon Schuster (first published September 17th 2013)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.70  · 
Rating details
 ·  487 ratings  ·  120 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940
Nov 13, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Nov 11, 2013 rated it it was ok
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. The fact that the author is a ...more
Feb 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 18, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: gave-up
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
Nancy Loe
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
Dec 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Dec 30, 2013 rated it liked it
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 did
Aug 21, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Sep 11, 2014 rated it it was ok
This book is so over-inflated. I should've taken heed from the other reviews about it. And since this book is only the first section of a multi-volume bio, it did not even cover my favorite Stanwyck movies. Oh, gawd!

It is so problematic to write a bio on a celebrity; it's even more challenging to write something on a celebrity who guarded her privacy with an iron grip.

But here we have this book's author, VP and Sr. Ed at Knopf, and she is publishing through Simon and Schuster. What's going on t
Jennifer Lafferty
Mar 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 19, 2014 rated it it was ok
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. ...more
Elizabeth Periale
Nov 28, 2013 rated it it was ok

"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."
Dec 30, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
Let me start by saying I ADORE Barbara Stanwyck and am currently on a mission to read every biography and book written about her. I'm slowly making my way through watching all of her movies -- she has a lot, so it'll probably take some time -- and I simply want to know more about one of my new favorite Old Hollywood actresses.

I've read a lot of history and biography books in my past. I'm not scared to read a thick book, even if it does have a lot of background information that doesn't necessaril
Kate Loveton
Mar 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5 out of 5

I greatly enjoyed this book! I read it three days straight, totally immersed in the early life of one of my favorite actresses. The author does a fine job of providing insights into the character of Barbara, and also a masterful job describing the early days of cinema. I found myself going to Google constantly to learn more about some of these now forgotten movers and shakers of movie history.

I did not give the book 5 stars because:

1. Some of the detail was excessive and unnecessary
Oct 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 06, 2014 rated it did not like it
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 were a more fluid writer. Unfortunately her timelines are messy, she goes ba ...more
Feb 21, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Feb 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This thing. Well done. Combination Stanwyck bio, history of an industry, history of an era. Stanwyck is used almost as a case study instead of just another bio subject. So good at making a life happen in context instead of in a pile of interviews/letters/diner receipts. Assumes you'd like information without assuming you're either ignorant or already well-versed - a difficult tightrope for a biographer. That's the reason it's 860 pages long, but that's also the reason they're 860 pages without a ...more
Dec 30, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: old-movies
What's odd is a senior editor at Knopf (and Vice President) would have such uneven editing. I get it the book is huge and took 15 years (makes you rather wonder how much longer it will be until the second volume comes out) but something like this, which is a Proustian labor of love, needs to have careful readings. Careful readings preferably by someone who is familiar with old movies.

This book is on Barbara Stanwyck, but might be more honest to be titled The World of Barbara Stanwyck, since the
Paul Pessolano
Nov 08, 2013 rated it liked it
“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 Broad
Dec 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
May 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, cinema
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
Nov 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
This doorstop of a book (1000+ pages) is really a history of theater and Hollywood in this era. I read it all. The author reads cultural and theatrical history through Stanwyck. I did learn a ton about her that I didn't know. Double Indemnity, one of my favorite movies, is not covered in this volume, sadly. Guess I'll have to wait for vol. 2. A great read for Oscar season, and a great era to explore. ...more
Sammy Calhoun
Dec 25, 2013 rated it it was ok
Very detailed... And not in a good way
John Griffiths
May 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Just wow. This 'part one' not only brings Stanwyck's early days to exceptional, vivid life, the writer Victoria Wilson places the unsinkable star's almost heroic life in the context of the crazy and dark and sad and exciting times around her. I'm a little mad, frankly, that I let myself be daunted by the book's literal weight—and the complaints here that it's no more than a clunkily-written doorstop. I actually USED the book as a doorstop in my bedroom for a few years, walking by it and afr ...more
Mark Mellon
Apr 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
While I’ve always been a big Old Hollywood fan from my youth, it’s only comparatively recently that I’ve come to appreciate some of the real greats of the Silver Age. Two male actors who serve as good examples of that are Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy. I was simply too fascinated by Bogart as a kid to really pay any attention to them.

The best female example of this is Barbara Stanwyck. While she was an enduring presence in the pop culture world, probably most familiar to me from the long-running
Aug 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
So I’ve got a bit of a love-hate relationship with this one. Frist, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you you’re a huge Barbara Stanwyck fan and old-time move buff. It’s a huge investment of time and I’m not sure the payoff is that great. Second, there’s just tons of filler. Had the author stuck to the subject, it would have been a shorter and more succinct work. Possibly even more accurate. As it is, stories of old Hollywood, the history of movie-making, the Hollywood Production Code, the Great De ...more
Jun 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
I thought this text was going to be a slog but for some reason I did not find this biography to be overbearing. Wilson does a fair job in recording Stanwyck's productive stage and film career, fully fleshing out the actress, her intimate friends, and family members throughout the volume.

However, I found that more than a quarter of this biography focused on events and characters rather than Stanwyck. I should have done my research on Victoria Wilson and her interests before I cracked open this vo
Magnus Stanke
Feb 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: film
Hm, so this book, part 1 of Stanwyck's life, came out nearly 10 years ago and still there's no second part. Hm.
Anyway. Other people have said this before me and and I agree to a degree: the book is too long. While Stanwyck plays the lead role (as she should, this being her biography), it might as well be called '6 degrees of separation of Stanwyck'. The author isn't content to describe the actress' 30 odd films from the years to 1940, she also goes into storylines (analysis not so much) of lots
« previous 1 3 4 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Fifty Years of 60 Minutes: The Inside Story of Television's Most Influential News Broadcast
  • Leaping: Revelations & Epiphanies
  • How The Light Gets In: And Other Headlong Epiphanies
  • Pandemic 1918: The Story of the Deadliest Influenza in History
  • Piranesi
  • The Purple Diaries: Mary Astor and the Most Sensational Hollywood Scandal of the 1930s
  • Recipe for a Perfect Wife
  • The Little Virtues
  • The Country Life
  • The Only Woman in the Room
  • Conjure Wife
  • The House of Kennedy
  • The Silence
  • After Sundown
  • The Mythic Dream
  • Beauty Queens
  • Bedlam: London's Hospital for the Mad
  • Slay
See similar books…
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.

Other books in the series

A Life of Barbara Stanwyck (2 books)
  • Untitled second book in series

News & Interviews

Twists, turns, red herrings, the usual suspects: These books have it all...and more. If you love mysteries and thrillers, get ready for dozens...
142 likes · 33 comments
“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”
“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
More quotes…