“Career is too pompous a word. It was a job, and I have always felt privileged to be paid for what I love doing.” – Barbara Stanwyck
In the 1940s, film noir was at its peak, and Hollywood was churning out dark, mysterious, exotic and erotic classics like The Big Sleep and To Have and Have Not, which helped turn some of the industry’s sultry actresses into superstars. In 1944, the premiere femme fatale was Barbara Stanwyck, who was the highest paid woman in America that year, thanks to roles in films like Double Indemnity (1944), in which she uses her persuasive powers to convince a man to commit murder. That film would earn Stanwyck the first of her four Academy Award nominations. After a nearly 60-year career in acting, the American Film Institute would recognize her as the 11th greatest female screen legend of the 20th century.
If anything, Stanwyck’s reputation for being a femme fatale obscured the fact that she played strong women that made her seem modern instead of traditional, and not just in noir films. Her versatility also led to roles in all kinds of genres, including Westerns and traditional dramas, but that should come as no surprise, because she was legendary around Hollywood for being a consummate professional that everyone on set loved to work with. Frank Capra noted, “She was destined to be beloved by all directors, actors, crews and extras. In a Hollywood popularity contest she would win first prize hands down.”