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The Big Valley and Beyond: The Life & Career of Barbara Stanwyck

The Big Valley: SATURDAYS 12PM & 1PM ET

On screen and off, Barbara Stanwyck was a force to be reckoned with! A gifted actress and powerful personality, she captivated fans during her 60-year Hollywood career. Take a look at some of the highlights of the great lady’s life, before, during and after she rode into The Big Valley.


  • She was born on July 16, 1907 in Brooklyn, New York. Her birth name was Ruby Catherine Stevens.
  • She was orphaned at the age of 4 after her mother died suddenly and her father abandoned her.
  • She attended Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, New York but dropped out at age 14 to work.
  • Other Erasmus alumni include, Barbra Streisand, Mae West, Beverly Sills, Neil Diamond, Bobby Fischer and Mickey Spillane.
  • She got her first show business job at age 17. She was a chorus girl and made $40 a week in the Ziegfeld Follies.
  • She worked briefly as a fashion model in the late 1920’s.
  • Barbara Stanwyck’s stage name was inspired by a theatrical poster that read, “Jane Stanwyck in Barbara Frietchie”.
  • Referring to the beginning of her career, “I just wanted to survive and eat and have a nice coat.”
  • She became a Broadway star soon after she was cast in her first leading role in Burlesque in 1927.
  • Her first film was the 1927 silent film Broadway Nights. She lost the lead role since she couldn’t cry in the screen test.
  • The Locked Door in 1929 was her second film appearance, her first starring role and her first “sound” film.
  • She was considered for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind.
  • Referring to her role in the movie, The Great Man’s Lady, “There’s a woman like me in every great man’s life.”
  • She was listed #11 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years of The Greatest Screen Legends”.
  • She married twice- first to actor Frank Fay and then to actor Robert Taylor. Both marriages ended in divorce.
  • Unable to have children, Barbara and first husband Frank Fay adopted a son, Dion Anthony “Tony” Fay, in 1
  • Regarding the 4-year age difference of her second husband, “The boy’s got a lot to learn and I’ve got a lot to teach.”
  • She was voted the 40th “Greatest Movie Star of All Time” by Entertainment Weekly.
  • For the premiere of her movie Union Pacific, President Roosevelt remotely opened the auditorium doors from the White House.
  • In 1944, when she earned $400,000 the government listed her as the nation’s highest paid woman.
  • She was considered the thorn in producers’ sides while she was the joy of their hearts.
  • Double Indemnity was the most important film of her career setting the standard for all film noir pictures.
  • She is often called “the best actress who never won an Oscar”.
  • In 1982, she won an Academy Honorary Award for superlative creativity and unique contribution to the art of screen acting.
  • On acting, “My only problem is finding a way to play my 40th fallen female in a different way from my 39th.”
  • In 1954, she starred with Ronald Reagan in the western film Cattle Queen of Montana.
  • “Career is too pompous a word. It was a job, and I have always felt privileged to be paid for what I love doing.”
  • She was a recipient of the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award.
  • During her career she acted in 85 films within a span of 38 years, then she turned to television.
  • In 1957, she moved from film to television. She won an Emmy for The Barbara Stanwyck Show,which aired from 1961-1962.
  • Referring to The Barbara Stanwyck Show, “That wasn’t me for a second. I was so happy when it was canceled.”
  • The Big Valley on ABC made her one of the most popular actresses on television winning her an Emmy.
  • Her refusal to portray Victoria Barkley as fragile was controversial at the time.
  • On The Big Valley, “I try to make Victoria Barkley as human as possible… She’s an old broad who combines elegance and guts.”
  • She appeared in 103 of the 112 episodes of The Big Valley, more than any other actor in the series.
  • She was an actress in 2 series with Linda Evans: The Big Valley and Dynasty.
  • She was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1973.
  • She secretly dated actor Robert Wagner for 3 years. He was 23 years her junior.
  • Robert and Barbara remained life-long friends. She was wearing a necklace he had given her when she passed away.
  • She won her third Emmy for her work on the television mini-series The Thorn Birds.
  • Earl Hamner, Jr. wanted Barbara as the lead role on Falcon Crest. She turned it down. It went to Jane Wyman.
  • Her acting career in both movies and television spanned 60 years, including roles in The Furies, Wagon Train, The Maverick Queen, The Big Valley, California, and more.
  • She died at age 82. Her ashes were scattered over Lone Pine, California where she made some of her western films.