The Cinema of Barbara Stanwyck

Twenty-Six Short Essays on a Working Star

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Pub Date 02 May 2023 | Archive Date Not set

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From The Lady Eve, to The Big Valley, Barbara Stanwyck played parts that showcased her multidimensional talents but also illustrated the limits imposed on women in film and television. Catherine Russell’s A to Z consideration of the iconic actress analyzes twenty-six facets of Stanwyck and the America of her times. Russell examines Stanwyck’s work onscreen against the backdrop of costuming and other aspects of filmmaking. But she also views the actress’s off-screen performance within the Hollywood networks that made her an industry favorite and longtime cornerstone of the entertainment community. Russell’s montage approach coalesces into an engrossing portrait of a singular artist whose intelligence and savvy placed her center-stage in the production of her films and in the debates around women, femininity, and motherhood that roiled mid-century America.

Original and rich, The Cinema of Barbara Stanwyck is an essential and entertaining reexamination of an enduring Hollywood star.

From The Lady Eve, to The Big Valley, Barbara Stanwyck played parts that showcased her multidimensional talents but also illustrated the limits imposed on women in film and television. Catherine...

Advance Praise

“Catherine Russell’s inventive study of Barbara Stanwyck’s long, fascinating career as a ‘working star’ offers a tantalizing model for other feminist histories of women’s work in the film industry. Achronological and essayistic, Russell’s approach weaves back and forth between Stanwyck’s onscreen roles, her star persona, and her working life to document what Russell calls ‘the structural misogyny of the industry.’”--Shelley Stamp, author of Lois Weber in Early Hollywood

“A deeply creative and insightful critical study of Barbara Stanwyck’s agency and labor as a performer, The Cinema of Barbara Stanwyck is a stunning blend of feminist historiography, archival research, star-studies biography, and film analysis--a rewarding and immensely pleasurable read.”--Julie Grossman, author of The Femme Fatale

“Catherine Russell’s inventive study of Barbara Stanwyck’s long, fascinating career as a ‘working star’ offers a tantalizing model for other feminist histories of women’s work in the film industry...

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Featured Reviews

I didn't know a lot about Barbara Stanwyck so these essays worked well overall. I enjoyed what I read and getting to read this entire book. Catherine Russell has a great writing style and it brought to life Barbara's life. I can't wait to read more from the author.

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A captivating look at one of the most accomplished actresses in Hollywood through her body of work and her long and successful professional career that lasted from 1927 to 1986.

This books meticulously explores Barbara Stanwyck's growth as a performer within the industry over the years and her professional legacy in Hollywood history through the many great movies she starred in. And what I really find extraordinary is that throughout her long and brilliant career she remained a multifaceted performer, taking on both comedic and dramatic roles.

Always the consummate, professional, she judiciously knew how to move over to television when realizing that her career on the big screen was waning thus kickstarting one of the most successful career transitions in Hollywood.

I really enjoyed this terrific book. It allowed me to spend a beautiful week with one of my favorite stars of the Hollywood Golden Age and to watch and rediscover many of her great movies throughout the week!

Many thanks to the University of Illinois Press and Netgalley for this fabulous ARC!

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What a fantastic treat for classic film lovers and Barbara Stanwyck fans. Catherine Russell eschews the typical biography for a specific look at the different Stanwycks we got through her career. She places Stanwyck's talent and biography in relation to her film and t.v. characters. Russell looks at the Stanwyck iconography and how it fits into her film choices, film roles, and how audiences responded to her movies and television shows.

As an example, she discusses the image of her as an "absentee mother" to her son Dion which contrasts with many of her film roles. Stanwyck is known for her long-suffering mother character in the 1937 film, Stella Dallas. Russell suggests we look at motherhood and mothers differently so we're not stuck to one idea of what it means to be a mother (or even a child).

Throughout the book, Russell forces us to look at how we idolize and dehumanize actresses because of our need to turn them into images to be consumed. We fit them into our idea of who and what they are. Russell wants to see Stanwyck as an artist and woman rather than merely an image. The book was a wonderful surprise.

As an aside, the cover is fantastic.

#TheCinemaofBarbaraStanwyck #NetGalley

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The Cinema of Barbara Stanwyck, by Catherine Russell, offers insight well beyond simply her body of work. What she reflected about the industry and society at the time, as well as how she influenced both as well.

While academic in aim, the writing is quite accessible for any film buff who wants more than simply a tribute to Stanwyck. I say that as someone who probably would have enjoyed just reading about her, I have been a big fan for decades. I was more than pleased with what I found here. I used film (among other popular culture texts) when I taught but never taught a course that used it exclusively. I think this would make a great centerpiece for a course about women in film from the 20s through the 70s. There is that much wonderful information showing the context within which Stanwyck constructed her career and persona.

Fans of hers will find a lot to enjoy even if you have less interest in what her career might say about society or the film industry. Along the way you might find yourself learning new ways to understand the things we tend to take in (too) passively. For anyone who enjoys the area where different disciplines intersect, this will be a special treat. Not only for what is presented here, but for how it is presented because it shows a way to approach integrating biography, film history, and film theory into whatever area studies you specialize in.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.

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I have been a fan of Barbara Stanwyck for a long time and have read many biographies. This book is not a biography.
What a pleasure to find a book that actually a critique of her films and TV work I can't say I understood or agreed with all of her critiques but I did enjoy reading her opinions.
This is a wonderful book to read and actually use this book to watch each of these movies and shows and see if you agree with Ms. Russell. I have seen many of her movies and was a big fan of The Big Valley.
I highly recommend this book for all fans of Barbara Stanwyck and even for movie buffs like myself.

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I am a film buff and really appreciated this book of 26 essays - using a style of A to Z (or abecedary which is a collection of short essays organized alphabetically and titled by a key word or words"). This enables the author to pick various themes and do a deep dive around the theme in each essay. This was a really effective way to bring a new perspective to the films of Barbara Stanwyck in a unique and different way. (for example "Crimes of Passion" or "Gambling Ladies"). The author does a fantastic job pulling in descriptions of the various films while setting them in the context of society at that time as well as what was going on in Stanwyck's personal life. This book could get academic at times but still was extremely accessible for all types of readers. These essays have a feminist perspective which I really value. I am motivated to watch more of her films!

Thank you to Netgalley and University of Illinois Press for an ARC and I left this review voluntarily.

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It's not a biography and it's not a critical survey of her work -- it's a rather arbitrary selection of 26 (one for each letter of the alphabet) essays about some aspect of Barbara Stanwyck's work. Her pre-Hays Code movies, her insistence of doing her own stunts, her TV career, and a host of other topics, big and small. Often in this sort of book, I end up reading about half the essays, but in this case, I read them all. Some essays lean toward gossipy, such as those about her marriages and her son, but mostly the essays are informative and thoughtful, bringing up aspects of Stanwyck's acting or choice of roles that I had never considered. Fascinating right up to the final essay, about Stanwyck's first agent, Zeppo Marx. (Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a digital review copy.)

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