cover image A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True (1907-1940)

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

Victoria Wilson. Simon & Schuster, $40 (1056p) ISBN 978-0-684-83168-8

In this well-researched tome, the first of two-volumes, Knopf vice president and senior editor Wilson offers an exhaustive account of the life of Ruby Stevens, better known as Barbara Stanwyck, the beloved actress from Hollywood's golden age. Beginning with a brief history of the Stevens family, dating back to 1740, and ending at the height of WWII with Stanwyck's work on Frank Capra's 1941 film Meet John Doe, the book offers a rich chronological look at the actress's rise from Vaudeville chorus girl to Hollywood star. We follow Ruby through the early 1920s on Broadway, her friendship with Mae West, her audition as a Ziegfeld girl, her turn from dancer to actress, and then Ruby to Barbara, her work with Frank Capra, and even her first mink coat. Her life in the studio system and her troubled marriage to the abusive Broadway legend Frank Fay are among the most interesting sections. The Hollywood players and the climate of fear around the Great Depression and WWII are also captured, as are numerous pictures of Stanwyck and the stars of the day. Wilson includes a wealth of intriguing material but her meticulous research weighs heavily on the narrative, making it hard to plow through. Nevertheless, history buffs and fans will be educated, if not always entertained. Agent: Helen Brann, Helen Brann Agency. (Nov.)