Barbara Stanwyck is almost unrecognizable in these rare photos from her earliest films

She made her screen debut all the way back in the 1920s!

The Everett Collection

After losing both her parents before the age of five, Ruby Stevens and her siblings had to fend for themselves in early 1900s Brooklyn. She worked a series of odd jobs as a teenager but always had dreams of entering showbusiness.

At 19, Ruby won a small part in the Broadway show The Noose, which premiered in 1926. A year later she earned her first lead role in the play Burlesque and ditched her boring given name, changing it to something more sophisticated and glamorous — Barbara Stanwyck.

It was an appropriate change for an actor who was about to become one of the most famous faces of Hollywood’s noir era. Of course, Stanwyck’s career didn’t end after the 1940s. She became a favorite TV guest star before landing her iconic role as matriarch and ranch owner Victoria Barkley on The Big Valley. She also almost had her own version of Charlie’s Angels called Toni’s Boys.

While classic TV fans know her later work and cinema buffs recognize Stanwyck from her noir roles of the 1940s, the very beginnings of her career are rarely seen. She looks quite different in her earliest roles from the 1920s.

We’ve dug up publicity photos from her very first gigs on stage and on-set shots from her early films. Though not quite the scheming femme fatale she would later become famous for, it’s easy to see in these photos that stardom is not far away.

Everett Collection Stanwyck in her first role onstage in 1926.

Everett CollectionStanwyck around the time she won a lead role on Broadway in 1927
Everett CollectionStanwyck in her first credited film role in the 1929 movie 'The Locked Door.'
Everett CollectionStanwyck and William Janney in her second movie from 1929, 'Mexicali Rose.'

Everett Collection Stanwyck in the 1931 film 'Illicit.'
Everett Collection Stanwyck in the 1933 crime drama 'Ladies They Talk About.'
Everett Collection Another shot of Stanwyck in 'Ladies They Talk About.'
Everett CollectionStanwyck in another 1933 film 'Baby Face.'

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Pete53 7 months ago
The Big Valley was my favorite mid-1960s Western. Barbara Stanwyck was great as the matriarch of the Barkleys. She really looked hot in the Movie Ball of Fire with Gary Cooper and drummer Gene Kupra performing the song Drum Boogie.
PulsarStargrave 18 months ago
I always thought her beauty and class were under appreciated!
RichLorn 21 months ago
I have only one word to add to these Stanwyck fan posts......
TheDavBow3 21 months ago
Stunning pictures! To me, all the pics are VERY Barbara Stanwyck.
MarshaStapleton 21 months ago
Who could ever forget Ms, Stanwyk as the most self-sacrificing mother in cinematic history: "Stella Dallas."
Mac2Nite 21 months ago
Beautiful photos... but I have to disagree... Ms Stanwick is TOTALLY recognizable in every one of those shots. 😉
GWeldon1776 21 months ago
One of my favorite actresses! Loved her in The Bitter Tea of General Yen, The Lady Eve, Ball of Fire, Meet John Doe, and of course my favorite Christmas in Connecticut!
I guess I mostly like her roles in BABY FACE, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, BIG VALLEY and (gasp) THE THORN BIRDS!
327053 21 months ago
She was a tough mama on Big Valley
Zip 327053 21 months ago
Like, fer sure!

Oh, sorry. Wrong valley.
327053 Zip 21 months ago
Andybandit 21 months ago
Wow, she was a pretty lady. I remember her on TBV and The Colby's.
MrsPhilHarris 21 months ago
Love her in the noir of all noirs, Double Indemnity. Also one of my favourite Christmas movies I watch annually, Christmas In Connecticut. Never miss it.
Mac2Nite MrsPhilHarris 21 months ago
Agree... on both counts!
BuckeyeBeth 21 months ago
I’m a Big Valley fan from early on. I remember it being played in the early weekday mornings and I could catch the first 5 minute opening and theme music before I had to go out the door to walk to school for kindergarten. I had a massive crush on Heath at the ripe old age of 5. I also remember being totally confused as to why Heath didn’t want to wear his fathers boots and his brothers seem to be uneasy with him for a lot of episodes. It took several years for me to realize what was going on😆.

Because of the show I also became a Barbara Stanwyck fan. Luckily the Internet makes it easier to hunt down and watch your films now. I have seen photos of her from early in her career but not all of these posted here. Thank you for that and this article MeTV staff! And I always love it when she shows up on MeTV in different things. I will say it completely blows my mind that some of these photos in a few years will be 100 years old. 100 years seems forever ago and not too awful long ago all at the same time.
Pacificsun BuckeyeBeth 21 months ago
Your comments are enjoyable. The writing expresses your passion for the subject!
ericdumptee89 21 months ago
its also rumored that she was one of Texas Guinan's gals,serving drinks at her speakeasy..
Runeshaper 21 months ago
She was so talented and a true beauty!
Michael 21 months ago
I see her face in those early photos.

She may have got an early start, but she was 38 in Christmas in Connecticut. Not "old" but not young either. She was 58 when Big Valley started, oddly she doesn't look any older.
Joanaisabel003 Michael 13 months ago
She didn't age at all lmfao
BrittReid 21 months ago
Beautiful in every photo and unrecognizable to me as Barbara.
LoveMETV22 21 months ago
Excellent story MeTV writers. Thank you for the historical information provided, but also the publicity photos. A beautiful actress her entire career.
Pacificsun LoveMETV22 21 months ago
Yes, enjoyable to read about these old time truly classic performers, though most know her from the Big Valley. These well trained actors seemed to put so much depth into their roles!!
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