Sunday, July 13, 2014

Stars on their Days Off

On a fine summer afternoon, here we see Spangler Brugh, Ruby Stevens, and William Gable, taking a break from their golf game in a snapshot by Jane Peters.

Oh, I suppose it means just that little bit more if we know that it's Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, and Clark Gable, shot by Carole Lombard; as much as I adore Meryl Streep, a part of me does miss the days when stars had starry names.

When you look at a picture like this - three of the most beautiful people in the world, captured by a fourth - and add in the fact that it was taken in the fraught summer of 1940, well, it all almost seems too much.  Taylor had finished filmingWaterloo Bridge with Vivien Leigh; Stanwyck was finally finding her groove as an independent woman, the rare star of the time with no home studio to protect (and limit) her; Gable was still basking in the splendor of Gone With the Wind;  and Lombard was, as Mrs. Gable, the first lady of Hollywood and seemed likelier than many of her contemporaries to weather the shifting winds that had already derailed the career of Kay Francis and sent many of her '30s screwball contemporaries packing.

I just finished reading, at last, the new Stanwyck biography - an intimidating tome on paper at more than 1,000 pages and not all that much less so digitally.  Its full title - A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940 gives a hint of its direction and of author Victoria Wilson's ambition, not least that it takes the actress only to the edge of her greatest successes.  While it's at times an infuriating read - discursive, awkwardly written in more than a few places, and concerned as much or more about the times and places through which the woman moved as with its nominal subject - it does accomplish one remarkable thing:  it allows one to admire Stanwyck the actress and star even as it never flinches from presenting her flaws and idiosyncrasies, which were many.  She was resolute in looking only forward, never back, dropping friends and acquaintances without a look back as she headed toward the top.  She was almost bizarrely devoted to her disastrous first marriage, to a falling Broadway comedian whose dipsomaniac decline provided fodder for the earliest incarnation of A Star is Born.  As a mother, she makes one long for the maternal warmth of the onetime Miss Lucille LeSueur.  

In short, she seems to have been an admirable star and an ordinary woman.  But on this summer day, in between Spangler and ol' Bill there - isn't she lovely?


  1. Have you ever read Fireball? It's not only a Lombard bio, but an account of the crash and the other passengers. It's devastating.

    1. It sounds terribly sad. I have to say that of all the classic Big Ladies, Lombard is probably the one about whom I know least. She seems to have been genuinely much loved by her contemporaries and a real loss when she died so young.