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Barbara Stanwyck Bio by Victoria Wilson


lydecker
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Skip it and stick to her films and television work. A performance always reveals more about a star than some person trying to write about them after they're dead.

 

I only read autobiographies (and I am aware that some are ghost-written but usually they are still closer to the source and written during the performer's lifetime, which is what I prefer).

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I, too was considering reading this book and after reading some of the reviews on my Goodreads social networking site that I belong to, I think I'll consider getting it at the library instead of investing any money in it.  The book also looks very dense and it was only the first half of her life.  I don't know if the author intends on writing a sequel about the last half of Stanwyck's life.   If this is the case, I hope it is better than the Orson Welles' biography I attempted to read that was written in this format.  I could only make it through about the first fifty pages as the author focused so much on the minutiae of Welles' life that I found it insanely boring and just bagged it and returned it to the library.  I noticed that many of the reviews of the Stanwyck book had the same complaint-- that the book was filled with every single trivial detail of Stanwyck's life that it ended up making the book a monotonous read.

 

Like TopBilled, I prefer reading autobiographies if at all possible.  Some actors didn't write autobiographies however, so if you want to read about them, it's best to find a well written one with good sources.  This may sound silly, but I also prefer reading autobiographies, because if I'm reading about someone I absolutely love it's nice when they don't die at the end of the book.  Of course, going into the book, I'm aware whether or not that person is deceased; but it's nice to feel like they're still with us in the end. 

 

I'll also do some research on potential biographies and 1) see how it was reviewed.  If an overwhelming number of people have the same complaint, it's probably legit.  2) I also try to determine the author's intent behind the book.  If the author's writing the book as a means to expose nefarious/scandalous details of a subject's life, I'm usually less apt to read the book.  I am not a fan of books whose main intent is to drag the subject's reputation through the mud.

 

Hands down, my favorite autobiographies are Errol Flynn's My Wicked, Wicked Ways and Desi Arnaz' A Book

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I have received a few biographies of Hollywood stars that were just horrible, simply capitalizing on the "name" for sales. The recent William Powell and Busby Berkeley book (bought from TCM.com) come to mind.

 

They load the book up with photos, synopsis of the films, info taken from the internet that amounts to rumor, that sort of thing. Many are terribly written too - rife with grammatical errors- apparently with NO editor or even proofreader on staff.

 

I'm with speedracer. The library is an excellent source to see if the book is worth owning. Many star/charactor actor biographies come from small independent publishers and aren't available elsewhere. While sometimes interesting, I find these too are often poorly written (by fans with little writing credentials?) and generally not worth the high purchase price.

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I bought the Wilson book when it came out and have read the first half dozen or so chapters.   My only reservation would be its length, but if you're willing to take the time it's definitely worth the price.  Stanwyck is far and away my favorite actress, but my problem is that  I have too damn many interests and there's always a newer book to entrap me.  Books along with blank DVD disks and jewel cases probably account for 75% of my discretionary spending. :P

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I'm with speedracer. The library is an excellent source to see if the book is worth owning. Many star/charactor actor biographies come from small independent publishers and aren't available elsewhere. While sometimes interesting, I find these too are often poorly written (by fans with little writing credentials?) and generally not worth the high purchase price.

 

One bio put out by McFarland is an exception to that general rule:  Franklin Jarlett's Robert Ryan: A Biography and Critical Filmography.  Unfortunately, McFarland is one of those publishers that almost never overprints or remainders its books, so you're generally stuck with paying nearly the full list price, but I read this book straight through from cover to cover and couldn't put it down.  The only problem for me is that it's only available in paperback, a format that I usually avoid like the plague, but in this case I had to make an exception.  You'll note that all seven reviewers gave it the full five star rating.

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Like TopBilled, I prefer reading autobiographies if at all possible.  Some actors didn't write autobiographies however, so if you want to read about them, it's best to find a well written one with good sources.  This may sound silly, but I also prefer reading autobiographies, because if I'm reading about someone I absolutely love it's nice when they don't die at the end of the book.  Of course, going into the book, I'm aware whether or not that person is deceased; but it's nice to feel like they're still with us in the end. 

 

Of course, we know some stars embellish tales and even an autobiography can contain elements of fiction. But I think most stars stick to the truth (or at least their version of it) as close as possible, in order to prevent lawsuits by the people they mention. 

 

I also like Desi's autobiography though I felt there was more that the publisher left off at the end, fearing people would not be interested in his days post-Lucy. He went on to produce shows independently once Desilu was sold and he still made many memorable guest appearances in later years. But in the book, after his divorce from Ball, the subsequent years of his life are quickly glossed over and the book just ends. It almost implies that his life was not worth living after Lucy, or at least not worth remembering. Since Desi was a real character, I am sure his life after Lucy was just as colorful, and I wanted to know more.

 

Another one I like is Marion Davies' autobiography. In the preface, we are told that the text is basically lifted from transcripts of interviews she did near the end of her life that were tape recorded. I am sure there was some editing, but it really feels like the whole book is in her voice and that she is telling her story with Hearst. She is very candid and it's a highly enjoyable read. Much more authentic than CITIZEN KANE could ever be.

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Looking for some reviews by TCM'ers on this book.  Tempted to buy it but online reviews have been very mixed.  Who has read this and what do you think?

 

Lydecker

 

I got about half way through. Eugenia read it but isnt on the boards much. We both gave it mixed reviews (think it was discussed on the old George Brent thread (which got poofed) Although the book is well researched, it could've used a good editor (oddly enough Wilson is one) way too long. She goes into the background of anyone who crosses Barbara's path (sometimes for pages) That's why the book ends in 1941. If you have the patience, it is well researched. I wound up skipping over a lot of stuff. Way too much detail. I'll probably pick it up again this winter.

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I read it and highly enjoyed it and highly recommend it. You learn a lot about the stories behind the scenes of her most iconic movies and the famous people with whom she interacted. I feel like I have a much greater understanding of her life and early career now. There was so much I didn't know - anything about her turbulent upbringing and pre-career life, her tempestuous first marriage, her relationship with Robert Taylor, Frank Capra's obsession with her, her lifelong ardent Republicanism, etc., etc. My understanding is there will be a second volume to pick up from 1941 on, but it will probably be several years before it's finished.

 

TopBilled, I couldn't possibly disagree more with your casual dismissal of celebrity biographies. You certainly have to be selective, but many of the recent ones about classic era movie stars have, in my opinion, been highly insightful and of high quality. I'm not going to remember the titles or the authors, but I read excellent ones about Henry Fonda, Spencer Tracy, Joan Crawford and Lew Ayres in recent years, and I'm currently about halfway into the new John Wayne bio, which is outstanding. I passionately disagree that the person's work reveals more than reportage on said person. I don't know how many performers have ever written great autobiographies. It's true nobody knows more about a source than the source itself, but that person is usually going to have an agenda to put themselves in the best light possible.

 

If you want to shut yourself off from knowing anything about a performer than the artifice they create in a performance, that's your prerogative, but for you to encourage others to be equally close-minded (is that too accusatory of a word? Shall we say "equally selective"), I find ... disturbing.

I too like reading biographies, and try to be selective when considering one. If the recent Fonda biography you mention is the same one I read, I have to say I was a little disappointed. I did not like that the writer kept quoting online reviews of Fond's films, rather than an established critic or writer you can cite in your bibilography. I hope this does not become a trend.
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Thanks for all the comments regarding the Barbara Stanwyck bio.  I find so many of these actor/actress/director bios to be such dreck  --  generally a regurgitation of film credits and synopses of same  --  with little or no new insights.  Worst of all, the writing is almost always dreadful and the content is rife with inaccuracies.  But, every once in a while, you do run across a good one.  Judging from the size of the Stanwyck bio, I assumed there was a great deal of unnecessary detail but it sounds as though it is worth a look.

 

Lydecker

 

 

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Thanks for all the comments regarding the Barbara Stanwyck bio.  I find so many of these actor/actress/director bios to be such dreck  --  generally a regurgitation of film credits and synopses of same  --  with little or no new insights.  Worst of all, the writing is almost always dreadful and the content is rife with inaccuracies.  But, every once in a while, you do run across a good one.  Judging from the size of the Stanwyck bio, I assumed there was a great deal of unnecessary detail but it sounds as though it is worth a look.

 

Lydecker

 

 

 

You may find yourself skipping over stuff after awhile, like I did. She did a tremendous amount of research, but offers little insight into Barbara. The reader is left to make their own conclusions........

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At the request of someone who took personal offense to my comments, I have voluntarily deleted my original post. All I will reiterate is I enjoyed the Stanwyck bio and highly recommend it to anyone who would like to learn more about her.

 

Well since someone else used the 'quote' feature we can all see what you posted.  Frankly I don't see why anyone would take offense to what you posted but at the same time I'm not surprised either.

 

What I disagree with is that one cannot learn about an actor,  especially a studio era actor (since they had little say in what parts they played),   by just watching their films.  Actors are,,,uh,  acting!     NOW,  if the point was that one may not wish to know the actual person I get that.   For example,  when I read that Olivia DeHavilland was sometimes difficult I didn't like knowing that  (unlike Stanwyck,  who,  based on everthing I read,  was a director's dream actress) .   What I had read about Olivia didn't match the feeling I had based on the characters she played in movies.   I wanted Olivia to always be Marian in Robin Hood!   Don't mess with my fantasy.

 

Of course that is silly but it is a reason why one may not wish to learn more about an actor they are fond of.

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Of course, we know some stars embellish tales and even an autobiography can contain elements of fiction. But I think most stars stick to the truth (or at least their version of it) as close as possible, in order to prevent lawsuits by the people they mention. 

 

I also like Desi's autobiography though I felt there was more that the publisher left off at the end, fearing people would not be interested in his days post-Lucy. He went on to produce shows independently once Desilu was sold and he still made many memorable guest appearances in later years. But in the book, after his divorce from Ball, the subsequent years of his life are quickly glossed over and the book just ends. It almost implies that his life was not worth living after Lucy, or at least not worth remembering. Since Desi was a real character, I am sure his life after Lucy was just as colorful, and I wanted to know more.

TopBilled, I read somewhere (sorry I can't remember where) that Desi actually planned to write a sequel to A Book, entitled Another Book, that was supposed to pick up where he left off.  He was apparently in the early stages of outlining what he wanted to write in the book and unfortunately became ill with the lung cancer that eventually killed him and never got past the outline stage. 

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I got this book for less than 20.00 . I enjoyed the book very much I learned a lot about Barbara that I didn't know . To me the book is a great read for any Stanwyck fan. So far Victoria is one third  of the way into the next half of Stanwyck's life story.

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TopBilled, I read somewhere (sorry I can't remember where) that Desi actually planned to write a sequel to A Book, entitled Another Book, that was supposed to pick up where he left off.  He was apparently in the early stages of outlining what he wanted to write in the book and unfortunately became ill with the lung cancer that eventually killed him and never got past the outline stage. 

Interesting. Well I think it was published in the mid-70s and he did not pass away until late 1986. It's a shame he did not continue his saga on the written page. His children should write about him. I am sure there are plenty of untold stories.

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Interesting. Well I think it was published in the mid-70s and he did not pass away until late 1986. It's a shame he did not continue his saga on the written page. His children should write about him. I am sure there are plenty of untold stories.

 

A Book was published 10 years before Desi's death, in 1976.  I'm not sure whether Desi intended from the get-go to write two books or whether he decided to write a sequel after the success of his first book.  I believe that his book was a bestseller when it came out.  I'm also not sure how much time passed between the release of A Book and when he decided to start working on the second book.  I agree, it'd be nice if Lucie and Desi Jr. wrote a book about him or perhaps a biography of Lucy and Desi's lives together.  Desi Arnaz was truly underrated in his time.  I believe that within the last 10-15 years or so, his individual (outside of Lucille Ball) contributions to the television industry are finally being recognized.  I'm glad he's getting the recognition he so richly deserves.  It's just too bad it didn't happen in his lifetime.

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A Book was published 10 years before Desi's death, in 1976.  I'm not sure whether Desi intended from the get-go to write two books or whether he decided to write a sequel after the success of his first book.  I believe that his book was a bestseller when it came out.  I'm also not sure how much time passed between the release of A Book and when he decided to start working on the second book.  I agree, it'd be nice if Lucie and Desi Jr. wrote a book about him or perhaps a biography of Lucy and Desi's lives together.  Desi Arnaz was truly underrated in his time.  I believe that within the last 10-15 years or so, his individual (outside of Lucille Ball) contributions to the television industry are finally being recognized.  I'm glad he's getting the recognition he so richly deserves.  It's just too bad it didn't happen in his lifetime.

Completely agree. He is the reason a lot of Desilu's shows were a success. He is the one who hit on the winning formulas. Personally, my favorite production of his, besides The Untouchables, is The Mothers-in-Law, with Eve Arden and Kaye Ballard. 

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Completely agree. He is the reason a lot of Desilu's shows were a success. He is the one who hit on the winning formulas. Personally, my favorite production of his, besides The Untouchables, is The Mothers-in-Law, with Eve Arden and Kaye Ballard. 

I've seen a few episodes of The Mothers-in-Law.  I really enjoyed it. I believe it's on ME-TV or Antenna TV.  I can't remember which.  He also produced the first season of Lucille Ball's second sitcom The Lucy Show

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