She was born 107 years ago today, and from her first screen appearance in movies in 1927 to her last breath, actress Barbara Stanwyck was revered not only for her talent but for her unfailing professionalism. Her powerful performances appeared regularly throughout her long career beginning on stage as a dancer, then in her transition into movies where she was a versatile performer in all genres, and finally to becoming one of the great ladies of the small screen -- though it was never small when she was on it.
We are here to particularly remember her TV work, and there was a lot of it considering how big of a movie star she was. First it was just a sprinkling of guest roles as television established its foothold on American audiences, then a plunge into her own weekly series in a one-season run with The Barbara Stanwyck Show, a dramatic anthology program in which she played a different role almost every week. She won her first Emmy for her work here.
Then came The Big Valley. The series was Barbara Stanwyck's showcase as she played the widowed matriarch of a huge Western ranch, as at home right off the saddle clad in leather chaps as in her character Victoria Barkley's fancy ballgowns. Victoria Barkley was essentially the distaff version of Lorne Greene's Ben Cartwright on Bonanza. The Big Valley ran four seasons from 1965 - 1969, and of course we remember fondly the actors who portrayed her sons -- Peter Breck, Richard Long and Lee Majors -- and the lovely young actress Linda Evans who played her daughter Audra. Stanwyck won another Emmy for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series and was nominated two more times for her work in The Big Valley.
Barbara Stanwyck did several well-regarded TV Movies, including the spooky The House That Would Not Die in 1970 which you can watch in its entirely by clicking here. In 1980 she guest-starred on the episode of the hugely popular series Charlie's Angels entitled "Toni's Boys"; it was envisioned as a pilot for a spin-off series in which Stanwyck would play a female version of Charlie with three fetching young fellows out doing detective work at her behest. It didn't make it to the schedule, but a fan has made a version of what the opening credits for a Toni's Boys series might have looked like:
Though she had been nominated for the Academy Award four times during her motion picture career, Barbara Stanwyck was finally given an honorary Oscar in 1982:
Here is a longer clip which includes her appearance with William Holden and the film clip retrospective:
In 1983 Barbara Stanwyck co-starred in NBC's epic and critically acclaimed miniseries The Thorn Birds, playing the aging matriarch Mary Carson who still had carnal appetites and wasn't hesitant about making them apparent. Her most powerful scenes were opposite Richard Chamberlain.
Stanwyck won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or a Special for her work in The Thorn Birds, Part 1.
A series of guest roles as dowager Constance Colby on ABC's nighttime soap opera super-success Dynasty in 1985 led to Barbara heading the cast on the one-season spin-off The Colbys.
In 1987 Barbara Stanwyck received the AFI Life Achievement Award in a televised ceremony. Here is a clip of Linda Evans speaking about Miss Stanwyck:
And here is Barbara's Stanwyck's acceptance speech:
Barbara Stanwyck passed away on January 20, 1990 at the age of 82. Her performances in motion pictures and on television remain unique and completely relevant.
"Missy" is missed.