I’m writing an article on Barbara Stanwyck. Every source I see quotes her as saying she changed her name in 1926 when she got her first Broadway role, in The Noose—that she saw a poster or program advertising “Jane Stanwyck in Barbara Frietchie.”
All very well and good, but I take nothing at face value. And some Googling and theater-book-perusing show no evidence that an actress named Jane Stanwyck ever existed, let alone starred in Barbara Frietchie (the cast lists for the 1899 and 1901 versions of that show do not have any Janes or Stanwycks in them).
Any other researchers or theater historians here have access to any records that might prove or disprove the existence and credits of the Mysterious Jane Stanwyck?
Your spelling of Frietchie looked odd to me, so I tried googling Barbara Fritchie and movie and it turns out there was an actress by that name in the movies in the 1930’s. Maybe she was on the stage in the '20s.
Thanks, but nope—“Barbara Frietchie” was a character from an old poem about the Revolutionary war (I’m not sure if she really existed or not). There was a play about her, which supposedly starred one Jane Stanwyck, from whence Barbara Stanwyck get her name.
This 1930s “Barbara Fritchie” dame must have taken her stage name from the poem’s leading lady.
OK, I got home and looked through my theater history books, and I do not see any “Jane Stanwyck.” I have a feeling this is a story made up by some PR guy and Barbara Stanwyck, and she just repeated it over and over, and it’s been taken as gospel.
The Biography and Genealogy Master Index is supposed to be a worldwide index, and it does include reference books on the British and Canadian theaters.
The most recent English census to be published was the 1901 census. I just did an index search on Jane Stan—k, and found four instances of Jane Stanbrook, one of Jane Stanlick, and one of Jane Standerwick.
The FreeBMD database has about 80% of all births in England and Wales between 1870 and 1900; but not one Stanwyck or Standwyck. One Jane Stanwick, born in 1878.
No Jane Stanwyck, Jane Stanwick, or Jane Standwyck in the port of New York’s ship passenger lists, 1892—1924.
Hmmm, thanks, folks–Knew I could count on you! That site Julius Henry linked to just referred to her as “the English actress,” but doesn’t provide any kind of sources. I suspect the First Miss Stanwyck was a myth . . . We’re bustin’ this story wide open!
Not quite sure you’re finished just yet. Around the time of Barbara’s name change there was a musical on Broadway called My Maryland, which is based on…Barbara Frietchie. (The play actually opened on Broadway in Sept., 1927, but of course it would have likely been playing OffB before then, or OffOff, or previews, or whathaveyou.)
So perhaps it was “Jane Stanwyck as Barbara Frietchie” (rather than “in”); in any event, I would start hunting again…
Oh, and I wouldn’t be put off by the fact that Evelyn Herbert starred in the Broadway version. The trick of course will be to find any earlier productions, if they occured at all, and to see if this shadowy Jane woman exists. Though I have a feeling she may just be a figment of J. Edgar’s imagination…
Unfortunately, the phrase “My Maryland” is terribly google-unfriendly, unless you would like to know all about the Old Line State.
Well, here’s the story from Stanwyck (Barbara, not Jane) herself, speaking of events in 1926: “We were in Belasco’s office over the Belasco Theater . . . The two men were talking about my name, I heard Belasco say, ‘She can’t go on as Ruby Stevens, sounds like a burlesque queen’s name.’ As he talked he was leafing over some old theater programs. One of them, it was thirty years old, was the program of Jane Stanwyck in Barbara Frietchie . . . They both looked at the program again and as one man, said ‘Barbara Stanwyck!’ And it was done.”
Now, I don’t know why she would make this up, unless it was a cute PR story she just repeated over and over. But the only two B’way productions of Barbara Frietchie had no Jane Stanwyck in them, let alone starred her, and none of us can even find a Jane Stanwyck. The only thing I can think is she was a minor actress who starred in a touring company of the show, but we are really stretching it.
However, I would not be so quick to dismiss the notion that there were other productions that starred a “Jane Stanwyck”. Walloon has done some excellent research, but s/he discounts the possibility of missing records, a “Jane Doe” marrying a Mr. Stanwyck, etc.
Regardless, the idea that all the records of the many productions that took place around the turn of the century are easily accessible from the internet (or anywhere, for that matter) is rather unrealistic. Poking around a bit I’ve already found one production in Boston at the Castle Square Theatre in 1902 (not a rinky-dink place, by any measure), but no cast list. Doubtful it could be found anywhere on the net. And considering the multitude of actors and actresses that have plundered the stage over the years, it’s most likely that only a small percentage are accountable via the internet. (I know a few working today on stage who you couldn’t find without poking them with a big stick.)
I know this probably goes without saying, but Broadway isn’t the end-all-be-all of Theatre. There quite possibly could have been dozens of productions of Frietchie in New York, Boston, Philly, D.C., etc. in the few years following its debut, and perhaps several large enough and “important” enough to merit a playbill sitting in Belasco’s office.
Here’s another idea if you’re really serious about this – call Amherst College. Fitch is an Alum, and they have a large collection of his papers, first printings, etc. Someone there might be able to help you on your quest.
The Civil Wa-wa? Oops. haven’t read the poem since it was new.
I doubt we will ever really get to the bottom of this–especially as I have to get the article done next week–but what I will do is state that if there was a Jane Stanwyck, she seems to have been too obscure to be the source of the story, and that there is a good chance it is not true. Leave my readers to play Old Movie Woodward & Bernstein.