Going On and On and On About Barbara Stanwyck
How long should a biography be? Most modern readers seem to agree that the story of anyone other than a major world-historical figure or an artist of the highest significance can be adequately told in a single volume of roughly 400 pages. This is especially true of artists whose work is more interesting than their lives or personalities, as is typically the case with film actors. It is rare to encounter a movie star who, like James Stewart, also led a consequential life off-screen (he commanded a bomber squadron during World War II). Far more common are performers such as Fred Astaire or Humphrey Bogart whose “real” lives are to be found in their films and whose private lives, though not without interest, do not lend themselves to memorable extended discussion.
About the Author
Terry Teachout, Commentary’s critic-at-large and the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal, is the author of Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington. His first play, Satchmo at the Waldorf, will be produced off-Broadway next month.