A Life of Barbara Stanwyck by Victoria Wilson
Steel-True 1907-1941

70%

6 Critic Reviews

Despite its overreach, this is an ambitious portrait of a young actress whose best films are still ahead of her—a first volume that should whet readers’ appetite for the second, provided they have the stamina to stay with it.
-Kirkus

Synopsis

“860 glittering pages” (Janet Maslin, The New York Times): The first volume of the full-scale astonishing life of one of our greatest screen actresses; her work, her world, her Hollywood through an American century.

Frank Capra called her, “The greatest emotional actress the screen has yet known.” Now Victoria Wilson gives us the first volume of the rich, complex life of Barbara Stanwyck, an actress whose career in pictures spanned four decades beginning with the coming of sound (eighty-eight motion pictures) and lasted in television from its infancy in the 1950s through the 1980s. Here is Stanwyck revealed as the quintessential Brooklyn girl whose family was in fact of old New England stock…her years in New York as a dancer and Broadway star…her fraught marriage to Frank Fay, Broadway genius…the adoption of a son, embattled from the outset…her partnership with Zeppo Marx (the “unfunny Marx brother”) who altered the course of Stanwyck’s movie career and with her created one of the finest horse breeding farms in the west…her fairytale romance and marriage to the younger Robert Taylor, America’s most sought-after male star… Here is the shaping of her career through 1940 with many of Hollywood's most important directors, among them Frank Capra, “Wild Bill” William Wellman, George Stevens, John Ford, King Vidor, Cecil B. Demille, Preston Sturges, set against the times—the Depression, the New Deal, the rise of the unions, the advent of World War II and a fast-changing, coming-of-age motion picture industry.

And at the heart of the book, Stanwyck herself—her strengths, her fears, her frailties, losses, and desires—how she made use of the darkness in her soul, transforming herself from shunned outsider into one of Hollywood’s most revered screen actresses.

Fifteen years in the making—and written with full access to Stanwyck’s family, friends, colleagues and never-before-seen letters, journals, and photographs. Wilson’s one-of-a-kind biography—“large, thrilling, and sensitive” (Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Town & Country)—is an “epic Hollywood narrative” (USA TODAY), “so readable, and as direct as its subject” (The New York Times). With 274 photographs, many published for the first time.
 

About Victoria Wilson

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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.
 
Published November 12, 2013 by Simon & Schuster. 1057 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Humor & Entertainment, Arts & Photography. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for A Life of Barbara Stanwyck
All: 6 | Positive: 4 | Negative: 2

Kirkus

Above average
on Oct 20 2013

Despite its overreach, this is an ambitious portrait of a young actress whose best films are still ahead of her—a first volume that should whet readers’ appetite for the second, provided they have the stamina to stay with it.

Read Full Review of A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: S... | See more reviews from Kirkus

NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Molly Haskell on Jan 02 2014

Hers is not a mystery capable of being unraveled and Wilson wisely doesn’t try. What she gives us is a brilliant enigma, firmly grounded only in her artistry and sense of craft.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Janet Maslin on Nov 13 2013

Ms. Wilson provides plot summaries of every Stanwyck film through 1940, and those films varied greatly in quality. But the synopses are highly revealing of their eras’ sexual and racial attitudes, which carry much more shock value than they did originally.

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Blog Critics

Below average
Reviewed by xoxoxoe on Jan 27 2014

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.

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NY Journal of Books

Above average
Reviewed by Vinton Rafe McCabe on Nov 23 2013

As heavyweight a book as it is Steel-True is a wonky wonder, more firmly freighted to her film work than her personal world. Film students will find a wealth of information here, not just about Stanwyck, the actress, but about the world in which she thrived.

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WSJ online

Above average
Reviewed by Emily W. Leider on Nov 22 2013

Ms. Wilson's epic biography of the actress—of which the 1,000-page "Steel-True" (the title alludes to a Robert Louis Stevenson poem) is only the first volume...The goal is to place the actress's life and work in context. But we often lose sight of Stanwyck in the thickets of information.

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