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Robert Osborne - December 2012
Remind Me

Robert Osborne on Barbara Stanwyck

There are at least 83 reasons those of us who love movies carry the torch for TCM's Star of the Month for December, the versatile, talented and endlessly enduring Barbara Stanwyck. The good news is that Turner Classic Movies will be showing 55 of those reasons this month--hooray!--a cornucopia of Stanwyck films among which are such Barbara S. "essentials" as The Lady Eve (1941), Meet John Doe (1941) and the four films which brought her Academy Award® nominations (1937's Stella Dallas, 1941's Ball of Fire, 1944's Double Indemnity and 1948's Sorry, Wrong Number), plus a large platter of those cheeky pre-Code films she made with titles like Illicit (1931), Forbidden (1932) and Shopworn (1932). And there's much more, including six Stanwyck rarities we've never shown on TCM before. If one loves the work of this Brooklyn-born dynamo, this is the place to hunker down every Wednesday night this month.

Above and beyond the pure joy of watching her in the movies she made between 1929-1964, and the TV work that extended to 1985, I have to admit I have some other personal reasons why she rates so highly with me. For starters, it was Stanwyck who gave me a short, sweet education in what the real Hollywood is all about. At one point in my life I moved there, a hick from the farmlands of Washington State, and had a chance to visit the old Desilu studio lot (formerly RKO Pictures, now part of Paramount Pictures). With some extra time to spare, I stopped in at the studio commissary for a soft drink. It was mid-afternoon and the place was virtually empty except for one single, solitary person, sitting in a corner and looking (zooks!) like something out of a Fellini movie: it was a nun in full regalia but with her legs stretched across a neighboring chair, puffing on a cigarette, drinking black coffee and reading the trade papers. Quite a mesmerizing sight it was, but once I got over it, I realized this was no ordinary nun. It was Stanwyck, taking a break from, I later found out, shooting an episode for a series she was doing at that time called The Barbara Stanwyck Show. But in that one transfixing moment, I was given a perfect illustration of the real Hollywood: a cockeyed, bizarre place where nothing is quite as it appears on the surface, and all of it absolutely fascinating. That put me in good stead for the next 30 years that I spent in California. That image was also a picture-perfect summation of Stanwyck herself: a hardworking actress grabbing a breather, enjoying some downtime in a busy workday, while keeping abreast of the latest inside Hollywood buzz.

In later days the gods were on my side and I got to know her and spend time in her home, and she only became more intriguing. She was as she appeared to be in films: a woman with no sham, no artifice, no desire to create illusions in real life, only on screen. ("It's what you learn when you grow up poor in Brooklyn," she said.) Try to pay her a compliment, she'd say "Oh, bull ----!," always letting you know she didn't trust compliments and didn't want adulation. "I'm just an actress," she'd say. "I don't walk on water."

She let her amazing work speak for itself. This month on TCM, we're doing the same because, with Stanwyck, no adjectives are ever needed.

by Robert Osborne