Barbara Stanwyck’s 110th Birthday

“She wanted to be a dancer or a missionary, but eventually she decided to become an actress… She has intelligence, sincerity, and much charm. She is devoted to her husband and her home interests, and loves little children. Only recently she and her husband adopted a baby boy. She likes pretty clothes, too, and gypsy colors like this brown and bittersweet costume with its cute Ascot tie.” — Warner Brothers, scrapbook in Stanwyck collection number 3787, box 48

A dancer, an actress, a voice, intelligent, sincere, charming, diligent, devoted, loving, a mother, interested in fashion, in colour, and in living. That is how Barbara Stanwyck is remembered by her friends and fans. Barbara Stanwyck was born on July 16th, 1907 — just over 110 years ago. A prolific actress who starred in over 80 films, Stanwyck was known to be both versatile onstage and onscreen as her characters, with a chilling performance in the noir film, Double Indemnity, or a strong warmth in the television series, The Big Valley. Stanwyck, who might be mysterious and chilling on film, was known to be warm, kind, and hard-working off screen.


Portrait of Barbara Stanwyck from ‘Ten Cents a Dance’, 1931. ah000749

While her life has been amply recorded in the public eye and media, it has also been commemorated by family and friends. Here at the American Heritage Center, we hold a collection of materials and memorabilia relevant to the life and work of Barbara Stanwyck. 52 boxes, 22 cubic, feet of memories, photographs, videos, and texts written, touched, or worked with in her lifetime.

To commemorate the work of this influential and popular American actress, we have selected a few excerpts saved in scrapbooks by fans or friends, that were given to the American Heritage Center. These quotations, images, and scraps, evoke fond memories around Miss Stanwyck, around her life and impacts. Commemorating Barbara Stanwyck, and celebrating her life and achievements cannot be done without the memory and hands of others who knew her, loved her, remembered her, wrote about her, or spent hours of their time collecting newspaper and magazine clippings to save images, quotations, and ideas about who Miss Stanwyck was, how she ferociously chased her dreams, held firm opinions, or how dearly she loved horses and her son. Perhaps this is why, flipping through the scrapbooks and seeing the images cut up, pasted in, arranged, with quotations, is such a poetic part of making history, or memory.  Those people who helped build the Stanwyck collection, and those who now, get to search through her files and remember her as she was known, create and perpetuate memory.


Stanwyck posing for a photograph, undated. ah002640

Some of the most vivid memories of Miss Stanwyck are of her personality and worldview more than her acting presence: “There is in her an Irish defiance that laughs at despair… She came from the streets of Brooklyn, an orphans’ home– and all the other stay branches in the forests of humanity upon which a destitute child is forced to light. Compelled by the turn of circumstance to quit school at twelve, she has learned to use excellent English and to carry herself like a duchess.”  (Scrapbook in Stanwyck collection number 3787, box 48). This memory reveals how Barbara Stanwyck not only cultivated a public image that was beloved and familiar, but the ways her story and approach to life resonated with fans. Her success story mirrored the dream of many Americans, at the time, to rise out of unfortunate circumstances like poverty, and to become beautiful, bold, successful, or famous.

– Rebecca Goodson, archives intern

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