Recently I saw a description of The File on Thelma Jordan that called Barbara Stanwyck "the Queen of Noir." Her performance in Double Indemnity opposite Fred MacMurray alone would nominate her for that title.
A few days later, walking through the library, I saw this biography propped up, facing out. Unlike the many private eyes who say, "I don't believe in coincidence," I do. This book is proving to be a revelation.
As Wikipedia succinctly puts it, "Orphaned at the age of four, and partially raised in foster homes, by 1944 [at age 37], Stanwyck had become the highest-paid woman in the United States." She made eighty-four theatrically released films in thirty-eight years, playing the lead in all but three, and went on to a long and distinguished career in television.
According to Callahan, Stanwyck's acting was so expressive that in Ladies They Talk About (1933), her character was "a three-dimensional, finally unknowable person, even in the confines of a movie that can only claim to be a first-class, churn-them-out entertainment. Stanwyck dominates the whole film, and it's a classic case of the star as auteur (this picture had two credited directors and a lot of writers)."
And then there's this detail. Stanwyck made five films with director William Wellman, whose "best-known film is probably the first official version of A Star is Born (1937), a property that was based on the embattled marriage between Stanwyck and Frank Faye, a union that Wellman was able to witness firsthand during the filming of the first three movies he made with her." Thus, while making movies with Stanwyck, Wellman also made a movie about her, starring Janet Gaynor.
As the current version of A Star is Born, starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, wins awards, the press is full of comparisons with the previous three film versions. So far, I've seen only one other reference to the real-life story that probably started the phenomenon.