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Happy Birthday Barbara and Ginger!

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Two Classic Hollywood actresses share birthdays today: Barbara Stanwyck and Ginger Rogers.

As best I can recall, Barbara Stanwyck is the first Golden Age actress I was ever exposed to, via The Thorn Birds (1983) in which she has perhaps the most memorable scene.

It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that I would reconnect with Stanwyck and this time, it would be her film career, which I had been vaguely aware of but hadn’t seen.  The first of these films that I was exposed to was Double Indemnity (1944).  While her 1940’s movies are the best known of her career, viewing her 1930’s work has been a constant, unfolding joy.  Stanwyck was brilliant at both comedy and drama.  She was taking roles that most other established actresses would not accept due to their “risk factor” such as Baby Face (1933) where she works her way up the corporate ladder and even upstages John Wayne.  While she may be best known for her dramatic roles, the “lighter side” of Stanwyck was what made me like her even more.

Stanwyck will never be thought of as a classic beauty, but as Sugarpuss O’Shea in Ball of Fire (1941), she has a sexy, playfullness about her that makes her wonderfully appealing.  Then again, beauty is a way of being, not merely looking.

Barbara Stanwyck’s legacy has grown bigger in the years since her death in 1990.  I confindently place her “up there” with other major actresses of the 1930s-40s.  Stanwyck was well-respected in her movie star prime, receiving four Oscar nominations but never winning.  The Academy finally honored Stanwyck with an honorary Oscar in 1982.

If I had the benefit of working in the movies at that time as I so often dream, “Missy” is one of the actresses I would want to work with the most and I even imagine going out to dinner with.

Ginger’s comedic ability is second to none as she had great timing and a snappy, breezy way of speaking that made her a great choice for what were referred to as “working gal” roles.   She could get into a catfight, moon over a dashing man, and of course hold her own with Fred Astaire.  She’s also the only actress of her era who could sing a Gershwin tune, dance while conveying a variety of feelings, and excel at drama and comedy.  I’m amazed at all the things that she could do well and she’s alone at the top in that respect.  The unfortunate aspect of Ginger’s career is that she turned her back on musicals and dancing which she should’ve kept at and could’ve continued doing, especially after her Oscar win in Kitty Foyle (1940), which put her on the top of the heap.

My interest in Ginger Rogers roles wanes considerably after 1945.  Less interesting roles and films did nothing for her career as well as some inconsistent performances that were strangely out of character.  However, from about 1932 to 1945 she was as good as anyone ever was or will be.

I wonder if her career decline may also have been in part to musicals just going out of style by the 1950’s.  Whatever the reason, she will always be associated with having one of the greatest on-screen tandems in movie history.

In her later years, she was mostly active in Medford, Oregon.  I could certainly see myself having conversations with her about movie production or politics.  I’m sure I would have even given dancing with her a try.

Written by chrisforliberty

July 16, 2010 at 11:30 am

Posted in Movies

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