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Steel-True Will Leave You Wanting More Barbara Stanwyck, Even After 1,000 pages

A thrilling look at one star's rise.

Contract disputes, on-set injuries (Stanwyck, it appears, often worked in, and through, pain), ups and downs with the fickle audiences of the '30s, who might be grabbing at your clothes one day and declaring indifference the next: Wilson covers it all, and if she can maintain the steadfast magic of this first volume (the whole project, thus far, has taken 15 years), by the time she has completed the second, all of those little dots will form as complete a picture of the headstrong, generous, mysterious Stanwyck as we're likely to get.

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A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907–1940

Victoria Wilson

Simon & Schuster, $40

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The final movie covered in Steel-True is Mitchell Leisen's lithe but piercing 1940 Remember the Night, written by Sturges and featuring Stanwyck as a shoplifter who, over the Christmas holidays, is entrusted to the assistant D.A. (Fred MacMurray) who's set to prosecute her. It's a picture about people coming to terms with the least-attractive parts of themselves, but also finding that their worst qualities also contain the seeds of their best. That's how it often goes with shoplifters, district attorneys, human beings and movie stars. You could write a whole book on the subject. You might even need two.

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