This salon will be held on Zoom. Watch Meet John Doe on Kanopy and then join us for the discussion!
January 21, Meet John Doe, 1941, 118 minutes, directed by Frank Capra, starring Barbara Stawyck and Gary Cooper
The plot is convoluted, but the emotions and morals of Frank Capra's Meet John Doe certainly aren't. Stanwyck plays a newspaper reporter caught between a fake news story, a retired baseball pitcher, a publisher, and her foolish heart. But Meet John Doe is no mere romantic trifle for Stanwyck and Gary Cooper. The film addresses serious themes of media, power, and the growing threat of American fascism. (Image used with permission of Kanopy Inc.)
CinemaLit / January 2022 – Barbara Stanwyck: Take Two
Back in March of 2020, we scheduled a month of Pre-Code Barbara Stanwyck films, celebrating the early career of this great actress. Then lockdown happened just one week into the tribute. Now, nearly two years later, we're delighted to announce Barbara Stanwyck: Take Two, our continuation of the series.
Throughout her more than 50-year career, Stanwyck cultivated an impeccable reputation as the ultimate professional: always on time, knew her lines, hit her mark, and was gracious and generous to directors, crews, and fellow actors. But she was much more than a reliable trouper. Highly versatile, Stanwyck could do sparkling comedy, melodrama, Noir, and Westerns with equal aplomb. She could be diamond hard or sweetly vulnerable, often playing hard luck women who scrape their way up the social ladder. Always riveting with her intense concentration and smoky voice, she offers a lesson in what star power mixed with exceptional talent looks like.
Stanwyck was born Ruby Stevens in Brooklyn in 1907. She had a Dickensian childhood. With the early death of her mother and the disappearance of her father, she was in and out of foster homes. Dropping out of school, she took odd jobs, always with the dream of going into show business. At age 16, she began as a chorus girl, appearing in the famed Ziegfeld Follies. She then acted the part of a chorus girl in The Noose on Broadway, and scored a huge success in her first starring role in Burlesque(1927).
Stanwyck moved to Hollywood and was a star with her big movie break in Ladies of Leisure(1930), directed by Frank Capra. "Stanwyck doesn't act a scene. She lives it," said Capra, who directed her five times. Her career overflows with strong performances, with highlights including The Miracle Woman, Baby Face, Annie Oakley, Stella Dallas, Ball of Fire, Union Pacific, The Lady Eve, Remember the Night, Meet John Doe, Double Indemnity, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, All I Desire, The Furies, Sorry, Wrong Number, Clash by Night, Titanic, Executive Suite, There's Always Tomorrow, Walk on the Wild Side, and on TV in The Barbara Stanwyck Show, The Big Valley, and The Thorn Birds
Stanwyck was somewhat taken for granted as an actress who could turn in a good to great performance every time. Toward the end of her life, Hollywood caught up with her and fully appreciated her brilliance. She was given an Honorary Academy Award, and Life Achievement Awards from the Screen Actors Guild and the American Film Institute prior to her death in 1990. She remains firmly in the pantheon of great stars of Hollywood's Golden Age.
The three films in our series collectively illustrate her great range
Matthew Kennedy, CinemaLit’s curator, has written biographies of Marie Dressler, Joan Blondell, and Edmund Goulding. His book Roadshow! The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s, was the basis of a film series on Turner Classic Movies.
“I don't have a favorite film,” Matthew says. "I find that my relationships to films, actors, genres, and directors change as I change over the years. Some don't hold up. Some look more profound, as though I've caught up with their artistry. I feel that way about Garbo, Cary Grant, director John Cassavetes, and others."
“Classic films have historical context, something only time can provide,” Matt observes. “They become these great cultural artifacts, so revealing of tastes, attitudes, and assumptions.”
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