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Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman (Hollywood Legends Series) Hardcover – February 3, 2012

3 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"[Callahan's] critical analyses of her performances are not, thankfully, uncommitted, academic regurgitations of what others have written, but highly observant, passionately written considerations of her artistry… his biography proves once again that all great artists begin with life as it is lived, and it is to the author's credit as a biographer that we are made more aware of Barbara Stanwyck's ferocious determination to look at life honestly."

--Charles Bogle, wsws.org

"Callahan builds a compelling personal narrative out of her contradictions: her bootstrapping tough-broad self-sufficiency (this slum kid was a rabid Ayn Rand fan and loved her Westerns best of all), her self-effacing, almost masochistic love life, and her radical spontaneity on-screen."

--Mark Asch, The L Magazine

"Barbara Stanwyck was better than Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn. That's the bold contention of Dan Callahan's well-written Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman."

--Michael Musto, The Village Voice

"Callahan soars when he takes aim at Stanwyck's acting and films, so much so that The Miracle Woman's primary value may be as a friendly reference book to pull off the shelf every time you see a Stanwyck picture and wish to hear an erudite, witty voice offer much more than two cents… Callahan writes of her with the ever-present respect one shows a great artist, and The Miracle Woman is brimming with penetrating observations…[his] writing is often humorously piquant, hitting the reader like a lime spritz in a margarita."

--Matthew Kennedy, The Bay Area Reporter

"Anyone with a love for classic film history will find much to love and appreciate about this book."

--Wide Screen World

"Ideal for Stanwyck fans (so, everybody) and any cinephile who takes acting seriously."

--Self Styled Siren

"An impassioned biography. Film scholar Dan Callahan [focuses] on what really interests him about his subject: not Tinseltown gossip, but what Stanwyck accomplished on screen… Callahan's enthusiasm informs every page."

--Dennis Drabelle, The Washington Post

"If Mr. Callahan's book is not the last word on this great actress, it will certainly stand as an invaluable critical guide. It's a book that would have initially embarrassed its subject, if only because she would be uneasy about any book about herself. And then, as she thought about it, and maybe reread it, she would be just a little flattered, then, finally, pleased. And she would be right, as usual."

--Scott Eyman, The Wall Street Journal

"The arrival of this critical biography is an opportunity to marvel at the pure cumulative accomplishment of Barbara Stanwyck's career…Callahan epigrammatically notes the eternal human truths within Stanwyck's performances."

--Nick Pinkerton, Sight and Sound

"Callahan's valuable reclamation project is a beautiful tribute to an actress celebrated for her naturalism…his assessments, both positive and negative, are always sensitively rendered, and he's keenly alert to the nuances he so treasures in her work….Callahan not only gives Stanwyck her due, he may have you soon placing her above Kate or Bette as the foremost First Lady of the Screen."

--John Dileo, Screen Savers

"Mr. Callahan could be the best writer on film acting, certainly the best that I know of. As word gets around about his excellent new book, Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman I think most cinephiles will agree with me."


"Long overdue and full of insight, a thorough, heartfelt, and beautifully researched account of the neglected career of one of the greatest stars in movie history."

--James Harvey, author of Romantic Comedy in Hollywood and Movie Love in the Fifties

"From the sublime (The Lady Eve and Double Indemnity) to the outrageous (Forty Guns--'She's a high-ridin' woman with a whip!'), the workaday (The Woman in Red) to the why'd-she-make-it bizarre (Red Salute), Barbara Stanwyck possessed extraordinary range and a screen persona that was both tough and tender. Dan Callahan's marvelously detailed book brings this nimble, legendary star and her long, astonishingly varied career to radiant life."

--Ed Sikov, author of On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder; Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis; and others

From the Inside Flap

A biography of the savvy, sexy, and inspirationally hardworking actress

Product Details

  • Series: Hollywood Legends Series
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Mississippi (February 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1617031836
  • ISBN-13: 978-1617031830
  • Product Dimensions: 0.2 x 8.5 x 11 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,053,134 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is terrible book., it is not a biography. It is about a man named Dan Callahan and his opinions about a film actress named Barbara Stanwyck and some of her films. He viewed several of her films and now he is an expert on film making and Miss Stanwyck . He goes into interminable minutia describing some scenes and her line readings and his imagining what she was thinking as Barbara Stanwyck and also as the character. Boring, boring , boring. He writes a singer named Joni James (she sounds like her name) warbles an insipid theme song under the credits of The Maverick Queen (1956). Come on Dan if you have a computer Wikipedia Joni James and find out she was an international recording artist, influenced Streisand and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Just an example of the shoddy work and research of this hack. Although better than Charlatan Chandler's cut and paste book (but not by much). The definitive biography of Barbara Stanwyck has yet to be written and a nearly seventy year career can't be covered in 222 pages.
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As one may see from my choice of Amazon "pen name", Barbara Stanwyck is my favorite movie star, and so I have read everything I can find on her. No two biographies of her agree on very much of anything concerning her character- she's either portrayed as a misguided angel or a lesbian Darth Vader. I thought that this book might finally shed some light, and insight, into her life.


I have several problems with this book.

The first is that I thought the book would deal with her life- it really doesn't. Instead, the book reads like an extended movie review, and it treats her movies unequally. I always wondered why Barbara made "Lady of Burlesque," because it's a dismal movie that almost makes you want to take a bath to rinse it off after you see it. It's covered in less than a page and the author imparts nothing new about it. Yet he spends pages dissecting other movies that are hard to find or out of print.

Another problem is his blatant use of profanity throughout. I'm not a prude, but the "F" word is not appropriate for a biography, unless it is uttered by one of the subjects. There are other examples of his use of off-color language and similies that involve sexual acts. The author laments the fact that most people his age do not know of Barbara Stanwyck, but this is not a book I would use to introduce her to anyone.

The final problem I have with the book is that in many spots it's simply boring. I'm not going to go as far as some other reviewers and say that the author is full of himself and that his points are invalid. The problem is that he seems to read all kinds of import into simple gestures and facial expressions. You get to the point where you just want the book to end, and I'm afraid many people will never finish it.

I wish there was a "good" Barbara Stanwyck biography I could recommend, but sadly, we're still waiting.
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Format: Hardcover
Another reviewer compared this book to a biography of General Grant. The Grant biographer got out of the way and let the subject speak for himself. It was probably an old biography since current biographers seem to think that we care about their opinions about their subjects, generally voiced without any source material whatever. Sorry, Dan, I don't care about your politics or your jealousy. Callahan's treatment of the late actor Robert Taylor is especially vicious, opinionated, unsourced and in places just plain wrong. The book could use judicious editing and the elimination of overwritten, highly emotional passages. It's too bad because Mr. Callahan did a lot of work. Maybe he just needed a better editor.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is just a dreadful book, not a biography at all, but really a term paper or book report. The ENTIRE book is merely a description of Ms. Stanwyck's movies, with the author serving us his perception of Clive Barnes or Roger Ebert. He monotonously and cavalierly discusses the strengths and (more often) weaknesses of directors, cameramen, other actors, and assorted passersby. This is not merely a poorly written book, it is a "bait and switch" in that it's promoted as a star's biography but it's nothing more than an endless rant by the author about his take on her movies. His analysis is such that he must also be a mind reader. "This is the closest we come to see what Stanwyck would have been like in live theater, and she never reacted to an acting partner as well as this." There is no foundation, no explanation, just opinion, as if the professor is lecturing a group of slow students.

There is virtually nothing here about the woman's private life, her times, her loves, her personality. It is dreadfully written, horribly reported, poorly thought out, a boring trek through pieces of scenes to please the author's ego. Don't say I didn't warn you.
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I was really looking forward to this book and by the title I thought it might be about my beloved Barbara Stanwyck, however, this is really about the author and how incredibly clever and condescending he is. Tiresome and drawn out scene by scene recounting of her films does not lead to any special insight, sorry. The one exception is the part about her very sad relationship with her son. Otherwise I put this book down after reading not knowing anything different than when I started. Some of the passages are downright infuriating, especially the snarky and never-ending excoriation of Billy Wilder.

I recall a biography (is this supposed to be a biography??) I read several years ago about U.S. Grant. The author got out of the way and just told the story of Grant and by the end I felt like I had never known a thing about him. No tiresome judgement. No endless repetition of a tired idea. Just a well-written tour of a fascinating life.
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