Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Television: The Barbara Stanwyck Show

The 2019 Remembering Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon is exactly what it says on the tin, hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Maddy Loves Her Classic Films. For a complete list of participating blogs, visit the link at the host site.

When television took off in popularity in the 50s, the Hollywood studios saw it as a threat, but many actors looked on it as an opportunity, especially those who were judged by the bean-counters as past their prime.

Barbara Stanwyck is one example. She spent the 50s doing mostly noir films like Clash by Night and Crime of Passion, or Westerns, a great love of hers, like Blowing Wild and Cattle Queen of Montana

TV, however, gave her the ability to sustain her career (she turned fifty in 1957), doing more of the kinds of stories she wanted. At first, during the latter half of the decade, she treaded in the shallow end, appearing in guest spots on anthology series here and there. 

Then, in 1960, she followed in the footsteps of contemporaries Loretta Young and Robert Montgomery by hosting an anthology series of her own.

The Barbara Stanwyck Show (AKA Barbara Stanwyck Theatre) only lasted one season on NBC, 36 episodes — but it did well enough for Stany to win the first of her three Emmy awards.

It was a half-hour showcase for her, in a wide variety of roles, mostly dramatic. Jacques Tourneur, of Out of the Past and Cat People fame, directed most of the episodes (eleven), and Louis F. Edelman was the executive producer. It was shot at Desilu.

It's available on DVD, so Stany fans can enjoy it now. I saw three episodes that exemplify what to expect:

- "Ironbark's Bride." In the old West, Stany, teenage son in tow, gets into an arranged marriage with old rancher Charles Bickford, but her past threatens to disrupt her new life. This is a more demure role for her than in other Westerns she did, like Forty Guns, but she brings a tenderness to her character that's pleasant to watch, especially in her scenes with Bickford.

- "The Sisters." Ellen Drew had a baby by ex-husband Michael Rennie, but he never knew. Now that kid needs medical care, and Stany, her sister, concocts an elaborate ruse to bring him back into her life for the kid's sake. I kinda thought her deception was more complicated than it needed to be (it begins with her pretending to rob his jewelry store), but this was okay.

- "The Frightened Doll." This was my favorite of the three. Stany goes full noir here, playing a dame who gets caught in an apartment with the dead body of a mobster, a briefcase full of dough and only bartender Wallace Ford to help her. The jet black wig she wears isn't terribly flattering, but I dug her character, who just wanted to escape the crummy life she made for herself and go back home to her small town.

Stany would do the intro and outro for each episode, all dolled up in a fancy dress. Among her guest stars included Joseph Cotten, Joan Blondell, Josephine Hutchinson, Julie London, Dan Duryea, Edgar Buchanan, Dana Andrews, and future stars like Yvonne Craig, Lee Marvin, Dennis Hopper, and even Jack Nicholson!

Like all anthologies, The Barbara Stanwyck Show is a mixed bag — and I would've liked to have seen her experiment a little (a Twilight Zone-type SF story, for instance). Still, it's noteworthy as a preview of the latter half of Stany's career, in which she'd make a successful transition from the big screen to the small one.

All my Stany posts (so far!)
Baby Face
Night Nurse/Ladies They Talk About
Golden Boy
Sorry, Wrong Number
The Big Valley
Stella Dallas
The Lady Eve/Forty Guns
Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman (book review)
Banjo on My Knee/Remember the Night
Double Indemnity
Dynasty/The Colbys
My Reputation
The Furies
So Big!
The File on Thelma Jordon
The House That Would Not Die


  1. Who knows where the series would have gone had it been renewed? Perhaps into that experimental territory you would have liked. I enjoy the creativity in the anthology series and we're so lucky many can be found on YouTube to enjoy.

  2. Modern anthology series like AMERICAN HORROR STORY favor the story arc, but there's much to be said for the "done in one" format . In this case, it gave us a sense of Stany's range as an actress as well as the kinds of stories she liked to tell. It's a shame it didn't last longer.

  3. Thanks for participating in the blogathon Rich with your excellent article. The Barbara Stanwyck Show is one of my favorite television series. It's a shame it only lasted for two seasons.

    I've also announced another blogathon and you are cordially invited to join in. Here is the link.



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