Hollywood legend Barbara Stanwyck hid the shocking heartaches she endured in real life while reigning as Queen of Tinseltown. In a biography, “A Life of Barbara Stanwyck Steel-True, 1907-1940”, author Victoria Wilson reveals the horrors the “Stella Dallas” star endured but kept from her fans.
She was a victim of teen rape, a botched abortion, beatings and financial ruin.
“My father loved my mother madly and when she died, he went gypsy,” said the actress, who was born Ruby Stevens in Flatbush, Brooklyn, N.Y.
“I was raised by strangers, farmed out. So I really didn’t have any family.”
At age 14, she was raped by the son of a couple who were being paid $5 a week to give her room and board.
Badly shaken, she determined to make her own way in the world. Eventually, she landed a job as a nightclub dancer, working her way up to the famed Ziegfeld Follies.
But she already held a dark secret. A few years earlier, she got knocked up. She had, writes Wilson, “a bad abortion with complications, and she would never be able to get pregnant again.”
By 1926, she’d changed her name to Barbara Stanwyck and became a star on the Great White Way.
That’s where the 21-year-old starlet met vaudevillian Frank Fay, 37, in 1928. “I’m in love. I can’t do anything without him,” she said. She knew all about his drinking, brawls, bankruptcy, previous marriages and jail time for nonpayment of alimony. But she didn’t care.
They moved to Hollywood, where Stanwyck scored her first film contract in 1930. By 1944, she was the highest paid woman in America!
When Fay’s career paled in comparison, he turned to alcohol, becoming increasingly violent.
He hit her, smashed windows and dropped a cigarette on the rug in the nursery of their adopted son Dion, almost burning down the house.
Finally, the beatings forced Stanwyck to admit she had to get away. “She was lucky to be alive,” writes Wilson.
Later, she learned Fay had also blown all her money, bankrupting her. But other disasters lurked.
She had more than one life threatening fall from a horse while shooting movie scenes. The first time, in the early ’30s, the animal spooked at the lights and reared up and fell back on top of her. She suffered two sprained ankles and a dislocated coccyx.
The second accident happened years later when she was riding with actor Robert Taylor. Her horse stepped into a gopher hole and stumbled, falling across her body.
At least her relationship with Taylor was a bright spot. She married him in 1939. But by 1950, Taylor asked for – and was granted – a divorce.
After starring in classics like “Double Indemnity”, Stanwyck’s career got a second wind on TV, first with the 1960s western “The Big Valley”, and later with nighttime soaps “Dynasty” and “The Colbys”.
However, she never married again.
Rumors abounded that Stanwyck aka “Missy” swung both ways.
In 1981, she was robbed and assaulted inside her Beverly Hills home.
On Jan. 20, 1990, at age 82, Stanwyck passed away from congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
But she was a tough cookie to the end.
Despite all the curve balls tossed at her, Stanwyck once defiantly declared, “I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid of anything life can do to me.”