Barbara Stanwyck: Wife, Actress, Canteen Hostess

When she wasn’t bamboozling beaus in The Lady Eve, enlightening scholars in Ball of Fire, or murdering husbands in Double Indemnity, Barbara Stanwyck paid her civic duty by volunteering at the Hollywood Canteen. The Canteen was a real-life establishment in the early 1940s as a club offering food and entertainment for service men & women; many stars, notably Bette Davis, volunteered their efforts in this admirable cause.

Ms. Stanwyck was among these volunteers, and her charity is immortalized in film within the same era as many of her most classic roles. Here is her brief, yet memorable, scene within Hollywood Canteen, a 1944 film inspired by the real-life Canteen:

The soldier is Slim Green, who during his leave in Los Angeles, wins a date with actress Joan Leslie. When he visits the Canteen, he is starstruck by everyone around him (and, to be fair, who wouldn’t be!). Jane Wyman (!) introduces him to Barbara, who is managing the food counter. She instantly has him wrapped around her finger:

“You’re Barbara Stanwyck!”

“How can you tell?”

“Because you look like you look, only more so than I thought.”

She plays up her charm and puts him on the defensive:

“Well, I’m sorry I’m such a disappointment.”

“Disappointment?! My gosh, I was more crazy about you than just about anybody until…”

“What came between us?”

“Joan Leslie.”

“Aw, darn!”

After this light teasing, she shows her genuine warmth and tenderness. He asks:

“How did you know my name was Slim?”

“We got word from the South Pacific that Slim was coming and to treat him right.”

In her comic roles, Ms. Stanwyck typically plays a similar function: initial assertions of power, ignited by sharp humor, before moving into softer affection and care. Her scene in Hollywood Canteen may be brief, but is a perfect snapshot as Ms. Stanwyck’s power as a comedienne, entertainer, and citizen.

This post is part of the Remembering Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Be sure to check out the other entries!

Ball of Fire (1941)



You hear the rhythm rompin’.


You see the drummer stompin’.

Drumboogie, drumboogie.


It really is a killer.

Drumboogie, drumboogie.

The drum boogie woogie.

So begins the siren song by “Sugarpuss” O’Shea (played to perfection by the one and only Barbara Stanwyck) to her soon-to-be-smitten beau, Professor Potts. Sugarpuss, a nightclub singer mixed up with the wrong crowd, is not only the titular “Ball of Fire” but also the “drumboogie” itself – a “rhythm rompin'” force to be reckoned with.

Like the best comedies, Ball of Fire is more than a witty script, but features a genuinely funny story. Potts is one of eight scholars (all older, stuffy men) who have been living in virtual exile for years compiling a new encyclopedia. Working A to Z, alphabetically, they’ve come to “S” and Potts (the youngest of the bunch, a roughly 40-year-old Gary Cooper) realizes he is out of touch with Slang. He hits the streets, train cars, and a nightclub (where Sugarpuss is performing) to study the contemporary jargon of the day.

After the memorable number “Drumboogie” (performed by Gene Krupa & orchestra), rich with language Potts doesn’t comprehend, he visits Sugarpuss in her dressing room, requesting her help in his studies. She’s in a jam herself, a witness and possible accomplice to criminal Joe Lilac and his gang. She agrees, as a means to keep herself off the radar of the police.

As the professors, especially Potts, fall more in love with her, she grows increasingly weary of her plot with Joe Lilac to jump ship and abandon the old men. Her true alliance is the heart of the drama and leads to a warm and truly satisfying ending.

Beyond its two terrific leads (Stanwyck a well-rounded leading lady and the well-meaning buffoon Cooper) Ball of Fire also features a strong supporting cast of characters, including the charming seven professors (many of whom you may recognize) plus Dana Andrews playing “tough guy” Joe Lilac. These “types” all culminate in a manic finale sequence that would make Preston Sturges and his notable ensembles proud.

While Ball of Fire loses some steam by the end, its clever premise and genuine characters strike a chord through all the narrative chaos. This is a screwball comedy with real heart, further cementing Stanwyck as a true Ball of Fire in classic Hollywood.


Check out The Remembering Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon – signups are still being accepted!

In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood.


Barbara Stanwyck is the most versatile actress to ever grace the silver screen. During the annals of her career, Barbara showcased her indelible talents in a pantheon of films of every genre imaginable, and succeeded on all levels.


Sadly Barbara Stanwyck passed away on January 20th, 1990, at age 82. For many fans worldwide this is a day of mourning, but for a legion of others, it’s a time when we reminisce about how phenomenal Barbara Stanwyck was and pay tribute to Barbara and the myriad of achievements she made.

Barbara Stanwyck is my favorite actress of all time, and January 20th marks the 26th anniversary of her passing, so as a special remembrance to my favorite actress, I’ve decided to celebrate her legacy by hosting a blogathon in her honor.

What better way is there to pay tribute to Barbara Stanwyck than hosting a blogathon to commemorate this sad day, so let’s all coalesce…

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