#ClassicFilmReading: A Life of Barbara Stanwyck, Steel-True (Vol. 1) by Victoria Wilson

How gorgeous is that book cover? (I'm going to see how many times I can fit in this point in this review. You've been warned. It's stunning.)

This is my final book for 2020's Classic Film Reading Challenge! I saved it for last because I figured it'd take the longest to read, but in reality, it only took me a week. 

If you want a physical description of this book, I offer two points: 
  • I bought this book on a whim because I loved the cover. It looks gorgeous on my side table. 
  • You could probably knock someone out with it. It's 860 pages of biography with an additional 184 pages listing all of Barbara's film appearances, television appearances, source notes, acknowledgements, and an index. 
I'll also add as a caveat that... I'm not much of a Barbara Stanwyck fan. I loved her in Double Indemnity and Stella Dallas, Ball of Fire and The Lady Eve, and Christmas in Connecticut, but I've never made it a point to source out more of her movies, if I happen upon one, I'll watch if it sounds interesting. 

So why choose this book, let alone buy it? One, the cover. Two, from my constant lurking into Old Hollywood blogs and Twitter, Barbara Stanwyck is almost universally adored. And I didn't know much about her, so I figured...why not read it and find out if my opinion was swayed. 

Not only did I love this book, but I'm eagerly waiting for Volume Two (which I assume will span 1941-1990?), which is listed on the author's Goodreads profile as being published in 2035 (a ball park figure, as the description there says, but I hope it's much sooner!). I can only hope the cover is as gorgeous as the first volume. 

More than just a biography of Barbara Stanwyck, this is a portrait of a time period and how Barbara fits into the New York nightclub scene and the Broadway scenes of the late '20s; and how she fits into a Hollywood that has only just transitioned to sound film, throughout the '30s. 

Victoria Wilson also traces the political vein of the United States at the time (and explores Barbara's political beliefs); she tells us what's happening in Europe (with the rise of Hitler); we learn about the creation of the Screen Actors Guild (and how Barbara was opposed); the rise of movie studios and executives; the history of silent films and how sound ruined the careers of some silent stars (there's an extended section on John Gilbert, who was ruined after movie-goers heard his voice for the first time); how the Academy Awards work; the careers of Irving Thalberg (including an extended section on his funeral), Jean Harlow, Frank Capra, and others; and that's not even the tip of the iceberg. 

I felt that I was really living alongside Barbara, that's how thorough Victoria Wilson's biography is. She nails all the tiny details you want to know, had access to extensive papers and sources, and put together a great work (with a great cover).

I may not walk away reading this tome a true fan of Barbara Stanwyck (not yet, anyways), but I did enjoy this book (and its cover). I'd definitely recommend it to her fans, to those who want to know what the cultural landscapes of New York and Hollywood were at the time, and more about the history of early Hollywood. 

"I Love This Book Cover" References: 7

Read my other #ClassicFilmReading reviews: 


  1. I'm so impressed that you tackled this 1,000 page book even though you're not a Barbara Stanwyck fan. That's totally something I would have done! I used to not be much of a fan of hers but warmed up as I explored more of her filmography. I like what you said about this being a biography of Stanwyck but also of the time period! Congrats on the reading challenge and thank you for participating this year!


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