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Film and Television Actress Barbara Stanwyck Dead at 82

January 21, 1990

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) _ Emmy-winning actress Barbara Stanwyck, the sultry villainess of the film classic ″Double Indemnity″ and stern matriarch of television’s ″The Big Valley,″ died Saturday. She was 82.

Miss Stanwyck, whose career spanned the chorus line, vaudeville, movies, television and won her three Emmys and an honorary Oscar, had been admitted to St. John’s Hospital and Health Center about a week ago.

″She died shortly before 5 p.m.″ said Larry Kleno, Miss Stanwyck’s longtime press agent. ″It was congestive heart failure.″

Nancy Sinatra Sr., and her daughter Nancy Sinatra, were with Miss Stanwyck when she died, along with Miss Stanwyck’s nephew and his family, Kleno said.

Miss Stanwyck had appeared in more than 80 movies since the 1920s, including four Academy Award-nominated roles: ″Stella Dallas″ in 1937, ″Ball of Fire″ in 1942 with Gary Cooper, ″Double Indemnity″ with Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson in 1944, and ″Sorry Wrong Number″ with Burt Lancaster in 1948.

Her only Oscar, however, was an honorary statuette presented in 1982 for the body of her work. It was a career that could not be overlooked.

″It’s the passing of a great lady of the screen,″ said actress Angela Lansbury, who learned of Miss Stanwyck’s death while attending the Golden Globe awards ceremony in Beverly Hills Saturday night. ″I was very sorry to hear it.″

″I do think that a monument has left this industry. She was so versatile ... and a lovely lady,″ said actress Audrey Hepburn, who was honored at the Golden Globes ceremony Saturday night with the Cecil B. DeMille award, the same one Miss Stanwyck collected four years ago.

Miss Stanwyck’s co-stars were top leading men: Henry Fonda in ″The Lady Eve,″ James Cagney in ″These Wilder Years,″ Clark Gable in ″To Please a Lady,″ Errol Flynn in ″Cry Wolf,″ and Humphrey Bogart in ″The Two Mrs. Carrolls.″

She kissed Ronald Reagan passionately in ″Cattle Queen of Montana″ and was teamed with Elvis Presley in ″Roustabout.″

Her television career was equally distinguished.

″The Barbara Stanwyck Show″ ran from September 1960 to September 1961. She hosted the program of half-hour plays and appeared in most episodes.

The 1870s Western ″The Big Valley″ ran from September 1965 to May 1969. Miss Stanwyck was Victoria Barkley, pillar of the Barkley ranch and strong- willed mother of Jarrod, Nick, Heath and Audra.

She also appeared on ″General Electric Theater″ during its eight-year run and was in ″The Colbys″ for one season in 1986.

Her first Emmy was awarded in 1961 for ″The Barbara Stanwyck Show.″ In 1966 her role in ″The Big Valley″ won her a second Emmy. The miniseries ″Thorn Birds″ brought her a third Emmy in 1983.

The American Film Institute gave her its most prestigious honor, the Life Achievement Award, in 1987.

The youngest of five children, Miss Stanwyck was born Ruby Stevens on July 16, 1907 in the New York borough of Brooklyn, and was orphaned at age 4.

An older sister, Millie, a chorus girl, was most responsible for raising her, but boarded her with Brooklyn families when she was on the road.

By the time she was 15 she was a floor show dancer in New York cabarets and with the Ziegfeld Follies. She was eventually introduced to playwright Willard Mack and was cast in the chorus of a play, ″The Noose.″ She was promoted to a leading role and it was at that point she got a new name.

Mack decided Ruby Stevens wasn’t a star’s name, glanced at a playbill for ″Jane Stanwyck in ’Barbara Fritchie‴ and dubbed her Barbara Stanwyck.

″The Noose″ lasted nine months on Broadway in 1926. She then appeared in the stage show ″Burlesque.″

She had a small part in a silent picture, ″The Locked Door,″ in 1929. After several screen tests she went to Hollywood and director Frank Capra sought her out for ″Ladies of Leisure.″

She married vaudeville comedian Frank Fay in 1928 and they adopted a son, Anthony Dion Fay. They divorced in 1935. She married Robert Taylor in 1939 and divorced him in 1951.

In 1966 she mused in a column written for The Associated Press about why Hollywood was no longer generating stars of legendary stature.

″I’m thinking especially of my favorite type of star - male. Look at the stars who came up during the ’30s and ’40s - Clark Gable, James Stewart, Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney - to name just a few.

″There was a power about them. When Gary Cooper stood off a roomful of heavies with just a long, cool look, or when Gable scorched a woman with a look of a different nature, something magical happened; man, woman or child, you were lifted out of yourself. A couple of generations of American males wanted to grow up to be just like ’ol Coop.

″... But who will take their place? To me, the horizon looks rather bleak, star-wise. Why?″

Miss Stanwyck was called Missy on movie sets but was known as a hard- working professional.

″I’m always at my best when I’m on a picture,″ she said on the set of ″A Walk on the Wild Side″ in 1961. ″I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I wasn’t working.″

She attributed that attitude to the influence of her early years in vaudeville and on the stage.

″When the curtain went up at 2:30 p.m. for a Wednesday matinee, that meant you hd to be there ready to perform at 2:30 - not 2:45 or 3 p.m.,″ she told an interviewer in 1957.

Even then she was worried about the acting tradition.

″Where can a kid learn timing nowadays? When I started, there were stock companies, vaudeville and burlesque. It was rough and tumble but it was a great school.″

Later in life there were personal trials. A ruptured kidney had to be removed in 1971. In 1981 a robber awoke her in the night, hit her on the head, shoved her in a closet and stole $5,000 worth of jewelry. A 1985 fire caused $1.5 million damage to her Beverly Hills home but most of her art objects and awards were saved.

Miss Stanwyck is survived by her nephew, Eugene Vaslett of San Rafael, Calif., three grand nieces and a grand nephew, Kleno said. There will be no funeral services, in accordance with her wishes, he said.

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