Barbara Stanwyck was an American actress, a film and television star, known during her 60-year career as a consummate and versatile professional with a strong screen presence, and a favorite of directors including Cecil B. DeMille, Fritz Lang and Frank Capra. After a short stint as a stage actress, she made 85 films in 38 years in Hollywood, before turning to television.
Stanwyck was nominated for the Academy Award four times, and won three Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe. She was the recipient of honorary lifetime awards from the Motion Picture Academy, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Golden Globes, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and the Screen Actors Guild, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and is ranked as the eleventh greatest female star of all time by the American Film Institute.
Barbara Stanwyck was born Ruby Catherine Stevens in Brooklyn, New York on July 16, 1907. She was the fifth and last child of Byron and Catherine McGee Stevens; the couple were working-class natives of Chelsea, Massachusetts and were of English and Irish extraction, respectively. When Ruby was four, her mother was killed when a drunken stranger pushed her off a moving streetcar. Two weeks after the funeral, Byron Stevens joined a work crew digging the Panama canal; and was never seen again. Ruby and her brother Byron were raised by their sister Mildred, who was five years older than Ruby. When Mildred got a job as a John Cort showgirl, Ruby and Byron were placed in a series of foster homes, from which Ruby often ran away. Ruby attended various public schools in Brooklyn, where she received uniformly poor grades and routinely picked fights with the other students.
During the summers of 1916 and 1917, when Ruby was nine and ten years old, she toured with her sister Mildred, and practiced Mildred’s routines backstage. Another influence toward performing was watching the movies of Pearl White, whom Ruby idolized. At age 14, she dropped out of school to take a job wrapping packages at a Brooklyn department store. Soon after she took a job filing cards at the Brooklyn telephone office for a salary of $14 a week, a salary that allowed her to become financially independent. Ruby disliked both jobs; she was interested in show business, but her sister Mildred discouraged the idea, so Ruby next took a job cutting dress patterns for Vogue; customers complained of her poor work and Ruby was fired. Ruby’s next job was as a typist for the Jerome H. Remick Music Company, a job she enjoyed; her true interest, however, was still show business, and her sister gave up dissuading her. In 1923, a few months short of her 16th birthday, Ruby auditioned for a place in the chorus at the Strand Roof, a night club over the Strand Theatre in Times Square. A few months thereafter she obtained a job as a Ziegfeld girl in the 1922 and 1923 editions of the Ziegfeld Follies. For the next several years, Ruby worked as a chorus girl, performing from midnight to seven a.m. at nightclubs owned by Texas Guinan; she also occasionally served as a dance instructor at a speakeasy for gays and lesbians owned by Guinan.