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The Religious Affiliation of Actress
Barbara Stanwyck


From: Axel Madsen,
Stanwyck, HarperCollins: New York, NY (1994), page 8:
She [Barbara Stanwyck] was born Ruby Stevens. Her place of birth was 246 Classon Avenue, Brooklyn, the date July 16, 1907. She was the fifth, and last, child of Byron and Catherine McGee Stevens, both working-class natives of Chelsea, Massachusetts. Catherine was the daughter of Irish emigrants, Byron of English parents. As an adult Stanwyck played up the Irish heritage.
Madsen, page 11:
Left with a family in the Flatbush section, Ruby [Barbara Stanwyck] flirted with religion as a calling. The inspiration was the Reverend William Carter, pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church on the corner of Flatbush and Church avenues, who inscribed a page of a book to "Rubie [sic] Katharine Stevens: In all the ways acknowledge Him. Prov. 3:6," and dated it January 5, 1919. "No one in my family was Dutch Reformed, but he was very kind and their church was the prettiest I had ever seen. I heard tales about the gallant women who were making enormous sacrifices for the heathen. That, I decided, was for me."

Religion was to remain peripheral to her life, however. Twelve years later, she played an evangelist and a missionary in a pair of Frank Capra movies and came to hate the hypocrisy of a churchgoing husband [Frank Fay, a Catholic and a bisexual]. During the McCarthy era, she talked up the wholesomeness of godly beliefs, but she never became a practicing Christian herself.

Stanwyck's first husband Frank Fay was Catholic. They were married from 1928 to 1936. From Madsen, pages 34-35:
"Bring Stanwyck," said Frank Fay. "I'll leave two seats at the door." Oscar Levant grinned. The two of them might be friends of sorts, but Oscar knew Fay as a tightwad. Fay was Irish Catholic. He ritualistically crossed himself whenever he spent any money or passed a church. Levant was Jewish and irreverent to the point of saying Judaism had its lamentable sides. Fay disliked Jewish comedians.

...[Levant wrote:] "Frank was so strictured, both in his devotion to Catholicism and right-wing political beliefs..."

Madsen, page 51:
Fay [Barbara Stanwyck's husband Frank Fay] went to church Sunday mornings, but insisted on having open house in the afternoon. Anybody and everybody dropped in, the women in fluttering beach pajamas, the men in white duck trousers and striped shirts. Frank drank too much.
Madsen, page 133:
When the case resumed after New Year's, Barbara demanded a psychiatric evaluation of Frank Fay. Charging her former husband with being of "unsound mind" and submitting ten affidavits to support her allegation, she said Frank was someone who mingled prayers and profanities: "When he passed a church, Frank would remove his hands from the wheel of a car and pray, endangering the lives of others . . . He's an unfit guardian for the child. He drinks too much..."
Madsen, page 246:
Together with Ward Bond, Bob [Robert Taylor, Barbara's husband] denounced suspect communists and fellow travelers... Christian values were now seen as a cornerstone in America's ramparts against heathen Marxism. Ruby Stevens [Barbara Stanwyck as a teenager] dreamed of being a missionary; Barbara Stanwyck never went to church. In her prewar custody battles with Frank Fay, she condemned her former husband's Catholic showboating, but at a Helen Ferguson party attended by Adela, Bob and Barbara, Dorothy Manners, and celebrity photographer Paul Hess, Barbara spoke passionately about the need for a vital, living Christianity and accused politicians of failing to guide people toward Christian enlightenment.

The Alliance [Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, the conservative, anti-Communist organization in which Stanwyck was a leader] met once a month at the American Legion auditorium on Highland Avenue, where its members listened to inspirational speeches from anticommunist crusades like Louis Budenz, the former managing editor of the Daily Worker who had found God and sought to expiate his former sins.

Madsen, page 322:
She [Barbara Stanwyck] could be gracious and say she was going with the new trends or, as the divisive decade [1960s] wore on with its political assassinations, Vietnam, Woodstock, and burning cities, lash out against "the great unwashed," as she called longhairs, hippies, draft dodgers, and young women in miniskirts. She loathed the drift in society, its permissiveness, lack of purpose, people's attitudes toward sex, women, business. The lodestar of her existence had been self-discipline. She saw the young taking privileges and opportunities as their birthrights.
Madsen, pages 83-85:
Catholicism and Judaism--the predominant faiths of show-biz people--are explicitly antagonistic to same-sex love. Although Hollywood was more tolerant of drinking, drugs, cohabitation, and avant-garde politics than the rest of the country, homosexuality was a deadly proclivity that, if found out, usually meant instant ruin. Since it was hardly in any studio's interest if word got out that its leading man was faking it when he kissed the leading lady, homosexuals lived behind the wall of silence. Arm-twisted by the studios that had them under contract, suspected lesbian actresses routinely married, many of them husbands who were homosexuals.

[Barbara Stanwyck's somewhat ambiguous sexual preferences are discussed. She married men and had mostly male lovers, but was open to relationships with females, and became something of an icon for lesbians, due more to her starkly independent on-screen persona than to any of her actual off-screen activities.]

[Page 84-85] The "gay lib" of the 1970s and '80s made Stanwyck uncomfortable. When a gay activist asked about her sexual preference, he was nearly thrown out of her house. Her marginal childhood made her want to conform. Anything borderline was risky. Her politics were right of center, not so much because of [her husband Frank's] conservatism but because of her deep-seated need to be in control. Others might liberate themselves, in Virginia Wolfe's phrase, from "unreal loyalties," including loyalties to accepted sexual norms. But Barbara never considered her relationships with Helen Ferguson, [Joan] Crawford, and others as having anything to do with attachments between "real lesbians."

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Webpage created 23 June 2005. Last modified 23 June 2005.
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