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Barbara Stanwyck (born Ruby Catherine Stevens; July 16, 1907 – January 20, 1990) was an American actress, model, and dancer. She was a film and television star, known during her 60-year career as a consummate and versatile professional with a strong, realistic screen presence, and a favorite of directors including Cecil B. DeMille, Fritz Lang, and Frank Capra. After a short but notable career as a stage actress in the late 1920s, she made 85 films in 38 years in Hollywood, before turning to television.
Orphaned at the age of four and partially raised in foster homes, by 1944 Stanwyck had become the highest-paid woman in the United States. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress four times, for Stella Dallas (1937), Ball of Fire (1941), Double Indemnity (1944) and Sorry, Wrong Number (1948). For her television work, she won three Emmy Awards, for The Barbara Stanwyck Show (1961), The Big Valley (1966) and The Thorn Birds (1983). Her performance in The Thorn Birds also won her a Golden Globe.
She received an Honorary Oscar at the 1982 Academy Award ceremony and the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award in 1986. She was also the recipient of honorary lifetime awards from the American Film Institute (1987), the Film Society of Lincoln Center (1986), the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (1981) and the Screen Actors Guild (1967). Stanwyck received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, and was ranked as the 11th greatest female star of classic American cinema by the American Film Institute.
While playing in The Noose, Stanwyck reportedly fell in love with her married co-star, Rex Cherryman. Cherryman had become ill early in 1928 and his doctor advised him to take a sea voyage to Paris where he and Stanwyck had arranged to meet. While still at sea, he died of septic poisoning at the age of 31.
On August 26, 1928, Stanwyck married her Burlesque co-star, Frank Fay. She and Fay later claimed they disliked each other at first, but became close after Cherryman's death. A botched abortion at the age of 15 had resulted in complications which left Stanwyck unable to have children, according to her biographer. After moving to Hollywood, the couple adopted a ten-month-old son on December 5, 1932. They named him Dion, later amending the name to Anthony Dion, nicknamed "Tony". The marriage was a troubled one. Fay's successful career on Broadway did not translate to the big screen, whereas Stanwyck achieved Hollywood stardom. Fay was reportedly physically abusive to his young wife, especially when he was inebriated. Some claim that this union was the basis for A Star Is Born. The couple divorced on December 30, 1935. Stanwyck won custody of their son, whom she had raised with a strict authoritarian hand and demanding expectations. Stanwyck and her son were estranged after his childhood, meeting only a few times after he became an adult. The child whom she had adopted in infancy "resembled her in just one respect: both were, effectively, orphans."
In 1936, while making the film His Brother's Wife (1936), Stanwyck became involved with her co-star, Robert Taylor. Rather than a torrid romance, their relationship was more one of mentor and pupil. Stanwyck served as support and adviser to the younger Taylor, who had come from a small Nebraska town; she guided his career, and acclimatised him to the sophisticated Hollywood culture. The couple began living together, sparking newspaper reports about the two. Stanwyck was hesitant to remarry after the failure of her first marriage. However, their 1939 marriage was arranged with the help of Taylor's studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a common practice in Hollywood's golden age. Louis B. Mayer had insisted on the two stars marrying and went as far as presiding over arrangements at the wedding. She and Taylor enjoyed time together outdoors during the early years of their marriage, and owned acres of prime West Los Angeles property. Their large ranch and home in the Mandeville Canyon section of Brentwood, Los Angeles, is still referred to by the locals as the old "Robert Taylor ranch."
Stanwyck and Taylor mutually decided in 1950 to divorce, and after his insistence, she proceeded with the official filing of the papers. There have been many rumors regarding the cause of their divorce, but after World War II, Taylor had attempted to create a life away from Hollywood, and Stanwyck did not share that goal. Taylor had romantic affairs, and there were unsubstantiated rumors about Stanwyck having had affairs as well. After the divorce, they acted together in Stanwyck's last feature film, The Night Walker (1964). She never remarried and cited Taylor as the love of her life, according to her friend and Big Valley co-star Linda Evans. She took his death in 1969 very hard, and took a long break from film and television work.
Stanwyck was one of the best-liked actresses in Hollywood and was friends with many of her fellow actors (as well as crew members of her films and TV shows), including Joel McCrea and his wife Frances Dee, George Brent, Robert Preston, Henry Fonda (who had a lifelong crush on her), James Stewart, Linda Evans, Joan Crawford, Jack Benny and his wife Mary Livingstone, William Holden, Gary Cooper, Fred MacMurray, and many others.
Stanwyck had a romantic affair with actor Robert Wagner, whom she met on the set of Titanic (1953). Wagner, who was 22, and Stanwyck, who was 45 at the beginning of the relationship, had a four-year romance, which is described in Wagner's memoir Pieces of My Heart (2008). Stanwyck ended the relationship. In the 1950s, Stanwyck reportedly also had a one-night stand with the much younger Farley Granger, which he wrote about in his autobiography Include Me Out: My Life from Goldwyn to Broadway (2007).