Oscars flashback: Barbara Stanwyck gets her golden boy

Three-time also-ran Angela Lansbury finally got her Oscar at Saturday’s Governors Awards. While she delivered an emotional acceptance speech that wowed the crowd, TV viewers won’t be seeing her on next February’s Oscarcast. 

And what a shame that is.

When the academy used to pay tribute to their honorees on the televised ceremony, it made for some magical moments, as in 1982 when Barbara Stanwyck finally got her golden boy. (Watch below

This husky-voiced dame had lost all four of her Oscar bids: in 1937 for the tearjerker “Stella Dallas” to Luise Rainer (“The Good Earth”); in 1941 for the screwball comedy classic “Ball of Fire” to Joan Fontaine (“Suspicion”); in 1944 for the ultimate film noir “Double Indemnity” to Ingrid Bergman (“Gaslight”); and in 1948 for the edge-of-your-seat thriller “Sorry, Wrong Number” to Jane Wyman (“Johnny Belinda”). 

When the Oscars finally got around to honoring her, she gave one of her finest performances at the podium. Five years earlier — on the golden anniversary Oscarcast in 1977 — she had teamed up with William Holden to present Best Sound. The Oscar champ (“Stalag 17”) interrupted their scripted patter to thank Stanwyck for fighting the studio execs on his behalf to keep him as her co-star in “Golden Boy” back in 1939. “Oh Bill!” she sighed, choking up with tears.

Prior to the presentation of her honorary award by John Travolta, highlights of her film career were replayed and when the large screen lifted, there was Stanwyck, standing center stage, looking stunning in a red sequin dress. She basked in the standing ovation and then made her way to the podium. There, she acknowledged the passing of Holden just four months earlier saying, “He always wished that I would get an Oscar and so, tonight, my golden boy, you got your wish!” Then she hoisted that 8-lb Oscar heavenward as if it weighed nothing.

While Stanwyck never won a competitive Oscar, she enjoyed great success on the small screen. Her self-titled first TV series was an anthology program that showcased her in a variety of roles. While it only ran one season, she won an Emmy in 1961. She had better luck with “The Big Valley,” a Western that began a four-year run in 1965. On this series, the first for both Lee Majors and Linda Evans, she was billed as “Miss Barbara Stanwyck” and starred as the no-nonsense matriarch of a ranching clan. She took home another Emmy for the first season of this oater.

After the show ended in 1969, she retired but was lured back into the limelight by her pal Aaron Spelling to make a backdoor pilot, “Toni’s Boys, which aired in the fourth season of “Charlie’s Angels” in 1980. While she turned down the lead in “Falcon Crest” (Wyman, her one-time Oscar rival got the part) she agreed to star in the highly anticipated mini-series “The Thorn Birds” in 1983.

Based on the smash bestseller by Colleen McCullough, this sweeping saga of love in the Australian Outback was a ratings bonanza and showcased Stanwyck as matriarch Mary Carson who lusted for the local priest, played by Richard Chamberlain. Who can forget her pawing at his rain soaked chest, begging him to ‘Kiss me like a woman.’ When she won her third Emmy for this scene stealing role, Stanwyck delivered another great acceptance speech, singling out the achievement of category rival Ann-Margret, who had made her TV movie debut that season as a dying mother in the tearjerker “Who Will Love My Children?”

Stanwyck also won the only Golden Globe of her career for this TV role and was honored again by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. with the Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement in 1986.

While she was the best thing about “The Colbys,” a spin-off of the prime-time soap “Dynasty” that ran for two seasons in the mid 80s, it is fitting that her final television appearance was as the guest of honor in a 1987 AFI tribute. She was only the third woman accorded this award, after Bette Davis and Lillian Gish.

Vote for who you think will win Best Actress at this year’s Oscars below after watching this video which combines these memorable moments from 1978 and 1982. 


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