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Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman (Hollywood Legends Series) Hardcover – February 3, 2012
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"[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
From the Inside Flap
A biography of the savvy, sexy, and inspirationally hardworking actress
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My first impression is TERRIFIC. Far and above any biography of the actress, and there have been a couple that I can immediately think of, this book only lightly touches on the actress' personal life. Personal observations by the author about the private Stanwyck are far and few between, but manage to provide some insight that is consistent regarding what most people think or have observed about the lady and provides food for thought in regard to how Stanwyck approached her art as essentially a tough broad in real life and in the movies.
Stanwyk was a tough cookie in her real life because she had to be in order to survive. Curiously, for a largely untrained actress she translated what she knew and observed about life and carried her toughness to her roles when either playing the psychopath Phyllis Diedrich or the misdirected mother Stella Dallas or showgirl Sugarpuss O'Shea or the conniving manipulator Lily Powers.
Dan Callahan has far surpassed the 'Films of' series of the '70's and '80's by digging deep and pulling up observations from Stanwyck's directors such as Frank Capra and Billy Wilder and her contemporaries as they pertain to her complete film catalogue as well as infusing his own observations and insights to get his reader to really think about Stanwyck's performances and the subtle nuances used to make the parts work.
From my perspective I've always been drawn to Stanwyck because she had a remarkable ability to own her characters; she wasn't playing a part because she became her character. Her transformations were subtle yet filled with life. She had an intelligent and thoughtful face and managed to make an impression without hogging a scene. She used her body as an instrument. As Callahan notes, Sugarpuss O'Shea's walk was modeled on a panther's movements.
The greatest testament to Stanwyck's talent is the fact that 20 years after her death Stanwyck still has the power to fascinate and inspires a talented critic/writer such as Callahan to look into her long and accomplished career.
This book is pure Barbara Stanwyck and will be an enjoyable addition to any Stanwyck fans library because it is comprehensive and thoughtful.
Born Ruby Stevens in a lower class Brooklyn tenement, Stanwyck suffered deeply from abandonment issues stemming from early death and an unsettled extended family. It takes a village to raise a child, Hillary Clinton used to say, but in Stanwyck's case it`s clear she came through the process scarred and essentially unraised. Something was missing and, hints Callahan, something unnatural happened as well, and the father seems especially shady. The subsequent screen image, the brassy, vibrant tough girl who could take good care of herself, was molded in this molten crucible and proved durable, one might say immutable, in any genre, comedy, melodrama, Western, thriller, musical (Stanwyck started as a showgirl and married up; she was always wonderful dancing and moving across the floor, though her singing wasn't all that.)
Somehow--well, through her first husband, the domestic tyrant Frank Fay--she arrived at Columbia Studio, not quite a poverty row film factory but not quite a major either--at exactly the right time, the frenzied days of the early talkies, the moment when the old stars died and new ones were born every day, many of them from the New York stage. Frank Capra offered her new roles, new expressions of vitality, new personae, and these stuck to her, she could work with them. Callahan has drawn some fire for sticking so adhesively to the auteur theory, and skips all over chronology telling you all about Stanwyck and Wilder, Stanwyck and Sirk, etc, but for me, I saw nothing to fault, and the approach makes it easier for the patterns to register in what otherwise looks, to the eye untrained, like a messy career. It was the age of the studio system and yet, once done with Columbia and Harry Cohn, Stanwyck refused to sign with another studio; she would not be an indentured servant. The upside of this policy is that she got to work opposite every major male star, but the downside of this independence was that the studios had little investment in helping her maintain a long-term career. She made crews love her with her salty populism, so she nearly always looked good, but sometimes it was touch and go, and as she got older she became more stolid and robust. When I was a boy and she was still making pictures she always looked angry, like the mean old lady you didn't want to ring the bell of at Halloween.
Her private life remains a mystery, despite years of Sapphic rumors and a (beard?) marriage to screen idol Robert Taylor. Callahan encourages us to believe the tales told by Robert Wagner, of a May-December romance fostered by Fox. She adopted a son in a shabby episode that made her look nasty, for though no star treats his or her children well, no one has ever had a youth as neglected and desolee as Dion Fay. The cycle of abuse! Callahan takes the long view. He's no idolator, and indeed is sometimes brutal, often about Stanwyck's work in what I consider some of her very best pictures, but he doesn't. (Like The Night Walker.) (Neither does he care for The Colbys.) But he is such a compelling writer I rush from sentence to sentence, drinking it all in, thirsty for more wisdom and love.
I even grew fond of his King Charles' head, his bit about Stanwyck's tiny eyes, which occurs roughly once every six pages. At first this slur had me jumping up and running to a mirror to check to see if I have tiny eyes myself. How would a person know? I never noticed anything small about Stanwyck's eyes, did you? And yet it is one of the two central facts of Callahan's book, that and the notion that she, Barbara Stanwyck, is the single greatest actor in American movies. Hear, hear!
Most recent customer reviews
Bad enough the author's treatment of Barbara Stanwyck, truly horrible how this 'man' treats Robert Taylor and Robert...Read more