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A Life of Barbara Stanwyck
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Frank Capra called her, "The greatest emotional actress the screen has yet known." Yet she was one of its most natural, timeless, and underrated stars. Now Victoria Wilson, gives us the most complete portrait we have yet had, or will have, of this magnificent actresses, seen as the quintessential Brooklyn girl whose family was in fact of old New England stock...her years in New York as dancer and Broadway star...her fraught marriage to Frank Fay, Broadway genius, who influenced a generation of actors and comedians (among them, Jack Benny and Stanwyck herself)...the adoption of a son, embattled from the outset; her partnership with the "unfunny" Marx brother, Zeppo, together creating 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 working with many of Hollywood's most important directors: among them, Capra, King Vidor, Cecil B. Demille, Preston Sturges, all set against the times-the Depression, the rise of the unions, the coming of World War II and a fast-evolving coming-of-age motion picture industry. At the heart of the book, Stanwyck herself-her strengths, her fears, her desires-how she made use of the darkness in her soul, keeping it at bay in her private life, transforming herself from shunned outsider into one of Hollywood's-and America's-most revered screen actresses. Written with full access to Stanwyck's family, friends, colleagues, and never-before-seen letters, journals and photographs.
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About the Author

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.

Reviews

"An ambitious portrait of a young actress...Wilson provides a very real sense of Hollywood from the inside. She deeply scrutinizes every Stanwyck performance up to 1940, letting us see the actress work and, in some key roles, sweat...A first volume that should whet readers' appetite for the second." -- Kirkus "What you have done is extraordinary. It is an amazing book, brilliantly written, enhancing the whole life, Barbara's life, happenings around her-people of the industry, people in the theater and in politics. The way you have shown her life to include other situations, all that you interject . . . it makes her life, to me, more historically important. My father fell in love with Barbara after he saw her in Ladies of Leisure. He loved to go to the opera and to the movies and the only star he talked about was Barbara Stanwyck. He used to say she was an incredible actress. And she was. She really was. You have brought her wonderful career magnificently to life, and as her friend, I thank you." -- Nancy Sinatra, Sr. * Barbara Stanwyck's closest friend * "Wilson's book is indeed a monument of research. . . . A Life of Barbara Stanwyck will unquestionably remain the biography of record; beyond Wilson's excavation of so much that would otherwise have been lost, her book has a deep sensitivity to the seriousness and subtlety of Stanwyck's craft. This is the biography not of a Hollywood phenomenon but of a serious artist." -- Geoffrey O'Brien * BookForum * "Steel-True courts the definitive...The voice of Steel-True is passive, reportorial, almost choral. Applied to Wilson's landmark recovery and synthesis of 1920s and '30s Broadway and Hollywood history, it works beautifully...Wilson is a bold and determined architect, and ultimately succeeds in tracing, via some of Hollywood's most brilliant minds and celebrated careers, the evolution of both an industry and an art form during one of its most hallowed and productive periods." -- Michelle Orange * Slate Magazine * "Monumental in every sense. . .sweeping and Authoritative . . .written with verve and with great empathy and relish for her subject. The author loves Barbara Stanwyck, but she is also shrewd about the actress's complexity and human limitations. Wilson knows all the facts, but she is never overwhelmed by them, and, throughout, she is smart about the films and about the history and business of Hollywood in the Golden Age. Not the least of her achievement is leaving the reader eager to read volume two." -- Foster Hirsch * author of The Dark Side of the Cinema; A Method to Their Madness * "Your book is wonderful! The no-nonsense, hard working woman that was Missy, is so well described. The Hollywood history and the stories behind Missy's individual movies were so interesting and informative. I can't wait to start watching them again and will do so with your book on my lap. From cover to cover the book was entertaining, informative and just good reading...This will be a treasure for our family and the many generations to come." -- Christine Presley * Barbara Stanwyck's great-niece * "Richly researched, this biography offers insights into the strengths and insecurities of a woman famous for her trademark toughness and vulnerability. Photographs enhance this fabulous and expansive examination of the life of an iconic American actress." * Booklist starred review * "The quintessential Hollywood story about a girl from nowhere who became a legendary film star through talent, hard work and determination to stay at the top. It is also a fascinating, three-dimensional portrait of theatre and film in the extravagant l930s, written with thoroughness and insights: a stunning achievement." -- Meryle Secrest "One hopes that the wait for Ms. Wilson's second volume won't be as long as World War II, since `Steel-True' is so readable, and as direct as its subject. I couldn't put it down. . ." -- Cathy Horyn * The New York Times * "You've really done it. It's one of the handful of truly definitive works about a great American actor. As such, it will doubtlessly come to be considered a classic. It's everything I expected it to be - immensely detailed, authoritative, and compulsively readable. Stanwyck chose not to write her own book, but you've done it for her. She would have every reason to be grateful, as do your readers." -- James Curtis * author of Spencer Tracy * "I am loving your Barbara Stanwyck--you bring that whole period of time so brilliantly to life. I am already in love with her and so so angry at Frank Fay! Thank you for this wonderful, delicious book!" -- Susan Cheever "Altogether magnificent and, one might argue, different in kind from everything available about others in her sisterhood. And that's true even though it stops in 1940 before so many of Stanwyck's greatest achievements in "The Lady Eve," "Meet John Doe" and "Double Indemnity." -- Jeff Simon * The Buffalo News * "I was blown away, absorbed, riveted. What great smooth style, what brilliance, what depth. I collect celebrity biographies and this one is transcendent. This is huge and wonderful and rich. What an achievement!" -- Anne Rice "Wilson gives us an appropriately large, thrilling, and sensitive biography to go with this staggering career. . . . What she discovered-and shares in this indelible, revelatory book-is an artist's extraordinary transformation from homeless child to one of the most magnetic stars in the history of Hollywood." -- Michael Lindsay-Hogg * Town & Country * I had a great time reading about Miss Stanwyck. . .what a fabulous endeavor. I marveled at the work involved. You gave me a terrific read, and I thank you sincerely. -- Art Garfunkel "This biography, when completed, will be the last word on Stanwyck." -- Leonard Maltin * Indiewire * "If ever there was an actress who was ready for prime time, it is Stanwyck, and this enormously informative tribute -- juicy, yet dignified, admiring yet detached - is the book to bring her to center stage." -- Molly Haskell * New York Times Book Review * "Victoria Wilson's monumental Life of Barbara Stanwyck is not only an extraordinarily well researched and documented biography of a great star actress from the Golden Age of Hollywood, it is also a vivid portrait of the entire era in which she flourished. Her films and her private life are both chronicled in great detail in this excellently written work, the first of a two-volume labor of love that will surely stand as definitive on an important subject, Stanwyck being perhaps the most modern of all female screen stars." -- Peter Bogdanovich "In `A Life of Barbara Stanwyck,' the accretion of detail, told simply and unemotionally, builds a living thing. A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel - True 1907-1940' does detail her life...But the book is also a life of Hollywood during the 1930s and America during the Depression and the way the dream factory and reality interact." -- Aljean Harmetz * Indiewire * "An epic Hollywood narrative about the craft, politics and business of the industry, with Stanwyck at its center. A compelling, complicated, read... worth the journey." -- Bill Desowitz * USA Today * "Barbara Stanwyck was one of the very great loves of my life and Victoria Wilson's book told me so much more than Barbara herself could tell anybody. She has captured her loyalty--her professionalism--her anger and her undeniable will to stay in the game of life and, perhaps most importantly--her loneliness. Victoria has been `steel true' to her." -- Robert Wagner "I finished your book last night with a SIGH. I wanted Volume Two immediately. What a wonderful book. I didn't really know much about Barbara Stanwyck and now I can't wait to see all her movies, having only seen a very few. Many congratulations on writing such a good, good book." -- Andre Bishop * Artistic Director of Lincoln Center Theatre * "860 glittering pages... it ends with a cliffhanger, creating eager anticipation for Ms. Wilson's concluding volume... `A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True, 1907-1940' is not about the actress alone. It's bigger and splashier. Stanwyck knew the most notable directors, writers, actors, studio chiefs and Broadway impresarios of her day, and Ms. Wilson is interested in all of them. A remarkable array of still photographs present supporting characters like Florenz Ziegfeld, Annie Oakley, Clark Gable and Zeppo Marx, all of whom have their places in this account. An even more startling collection of movie ads and posters tells a riveting tale of sexism (about `Baby Face': `You've never seen anything like this frank, man-to-man story of a man-to-man girl!'), even as they chronicle Stanwyck's career... The book describes how she evolved from an emotion-wringing actress into a sullen, bad-girl bombshell into Stella Dallas, arguably the most soapily self-sacrificing mother ever seen on camera... Regarding Ms. Wilson's follow-up, no studio's publicity department could offer a better set of coming attractions." -- Janet Maslin * New York Times *

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