Like: Barbara Stanwyck (1944)

“It’s Not Just Who But When…”

This statement was made by an acquaintance of mine some years ago when the question was prompted, “Who would you like to meet more than anyone else?” And from that very moment I fully and completely realized how important timing is when it comes to the reality of a person. Often the ideal timing is that ideal cusp where the fame is new and surprising to the person themselves. Where they are overcome with both the humility of that responsibility and possibly even embarrassed by it. It is certainly when they are most thankful. And certainly ever since that initial conversation I’ve always reiterated when it comes to any such list, “It’s not just who but when…”

Now as a wrinkle, this ongoing series of portraits will only specifically deal with the women of the last 75 years of so who I consider to be the Most Beautiful and Alluring in the world. I’m well aware that the internet can quickly descend into  a game OMG SHE’S HOT, LET’S OGLE HER! (though ogle is probably not used that often) and we find ourselves skirting into objectifying and ultimately even exploitative territory. Please know that that is anything but the goal here. The goal is reflect on moments in time, go over some film and television history, talk about the nature of image, and engage the subject of sexuality in media forms. And yes, most of it will be in adoring circumstances so don’t expect much of sterile criticism, but that is definitely the world of thought it will be coming from.

This ongoing series will attempt to go chronologically.

Oh Barbara, you incorrigible such and such.

What can I say? Actually, scratch that, what can’t I say? Barbara Stanwyck could be anything you wanted to be. So far we’ve had a transcendent dancing beauty, a British thespian who made a mark on legendary character, a bawdy and witty comic, a hardworking dame who worked her ass off to make a classic, and star with a legendary look.

So now with Barbara we got an honest to goodness actress.

Okay that’s both harsh toward the other ladies I’ve profiled and not giving nearly enough credit to Barbara; her personality and performances were practically bursting at the seems. But what made that exuberant and forthright personality so memorable was that she featured a ton of dexterity. Her femme fatales  were the most joyfully bent and glaring. Her reluctant ladies in love were the most incorrigible and yet doomed to succumb. Her screwball antics were the most off-kilter and vibrant.  Some look back on those extreme traits and see, well, an actress hamming it up. But that’s not really an accurate appraisal. She’s simply taking the popular classical acting style to its logical conclusion by  fully committing to embodying that often absurd personality, while still respecting the character’s reality (basically, she plays the antics straight). Which, in that consideration, actually transcends classical acting. When you consider her dexterity and character self-allegiance, you could argue  she’s really a forerunner to Meryl Streep; she simply went more comedic because the industry’s focus dictated it (though Streep’s been going noticeably light in recent years to resounding success).

I like to make a different argument however… she was actually the forerunner of Brando. GUH??? Yup. Stanwyck was a modernist. Her devotion to the moment, the character, the tone of the scene are all implicit aspects of modern acting and she was light-years ahead of her counterparts. Think of the famous accolades of Brando when he first busted on the scene where his intensity and hysterics were lauded as stunningly-real. All the same compliments could be given to her. Even if it comes off a bit extreme today (while Brando’s work remains remarkably fresh) she still fits the modernist definition perfectly: she doesn’t present her character, she is her character.

Part of what aided Stanwyck’s dexterity was an actual physical gift:  mainly that she looked different all the time. It was really uncanny. I remember first seeing some of her movies when I was younger and I had no idea they were the same person. Sure we remember that weird flopped blonde thing with the hyper-curved bangs she had going on in DOUBLE INDEMNITY(1944), but she also had that weird, brown, puffy-cloud mullet in THE LADY EVE(1941). She even still rocked that awesome flapper wavy hair + headband thing early in her career like in Capra’s LADIES OF LEISURE (1930). Eventually she kind of settled into that thing where her eyebrows were way too over-manicured, but what are you doing to do. And do notice that all the movies I’m mentioning with these crazy looks are utter classics.

And they are largely classics because of her.

Here’s my girlfriend’s take on why should like Barbara Stanwyck:

“Whether you love Babs, film noir, look like her, mix her up with George Washington, lust after her anklet, or want to speed in her district then cry on her shoulder, this is the dame for you. Lets face it; you’re a little bit cheap, a little bit slutty, a little bit mad with power. You are not afraid to admit that you are in it for the money, the thrill of murder, the hardboiled private dicks, and the classy venetian blinds.”

So here’s to you Barbara, you incorrigible such and such!

(And Yes, these are all pictures of the same person).

I seriously couldn’t decide which one of these is my favorite… the boxing gloves or the gun?


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