Barbara Loden: American actress and director (1932 - 1980) | Biography, Facts, Information, Career, Wiki, Life
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Barbara Loden
American actress and director

Barbara Loden

Barbara Loden
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American actress and director
Was Film director Screenwriter Model Actor Stage actor Film actor
From United States of America
Field Fashion Film, TV, Stage & Radio
Gender female
Birth 8 July 1932, Asheville, USA
Death 5 September 1980, East Harlem, USA (aged 48 years)
Star sign Cancer
Spouse: Elia Kazan
Barbara Loden
The details (from wikipedia)


Barbara Ann Loden (July 8, 1932 – September 5, 1980) was an American actress and director of film and theater. Richard Brody of The New Yorker described Loden as the "female counterpart to John Cassavetes".

Born and raised in North Carolina, Loden began her career at an early age in New York City as a commercial model and chorus-line dancer. Loden became a regular sidekick on the irreverent Ernie Kovacs Television Show in the mid-1950s and was a lifetime member of the famed Actors Studio. She appeared in several projects directed by her second husband, Elia Kazan, including Splendor in the Grass (1961). Her subsequent performance in a 1964 Broadway production of After the Fall earned her a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress.

In 1970, Loden wrote, directed, and starred in Wanda, a groundbreaking independent film that won the International Critics Award at the 1970 Venice Film Festival. Throughout the 1970s, she continued to work directing Off-Broadway and regional theater productions, as well as direct two short films. In 1978, Loden was diagnosed with breast cancer, of which she died two years later, aged 48.

Life and career

1932–1954: Childhood and early years

Loden was born on July 8, 1932 in Asheville, North Carolina. Her father was a barber, and she described herself as a "hill-billy's daughter." Upon her parents' divorce in her early childhood, Loden was raised by her religious maternal grandparents in the Appalachian Mountains in rural Marion, North Carolina. She described her childhood as emotionally impoverished. Loden was described as a shy, humble, statuesque and soft-spoken loner. At age 16, she moved to New York City, where she began working as a model for detective and romance magazines. Loden found minor success as a pin-up girl, model, and dancer at the Copacabana nightclub before studying at the Actors Studio, intending to become an actress. At the time, she professed to hate film, saying, "People on the screen were perfect and they made me feel inferior."

1955–1959: Early theater and television work

Loden made her New York theater debut in 1957 in Compulsion and also appeared on stage in The Highest Tree with Robert Redford as well as Night Circus with Ben Gazzara. She joined the cast of The Ernie Kovacs Show as a "scantily clad" sidekick to Kovacs, a job that her first husband, television producer and film distributor Larry Joachim, helped her obtain. She said she owed a lot to Kovacs, as another producer on the show had initially vetoed Kovacs's decision to hire her. In interviews, Loden said, "Ernie felt sorry for me" and gave her another job as a stunt sidekick, rolling around in a rug or getting hit in the face with a pie.

1960–1966: Film; marriage to Elia Kazan

Loden in Splendor in the Grass (1961)

In 1960, Loden appeared in Elia Kazan's film Wild River as Montgomery Clift's secretary. She was perhaps better known for her role in Splendor in the Grass (1961), in which she played Warren Beatty's sister.

She famously portrayed Maggie, a fictionalized version of Marilyn Monroe, in Kazan's Lincoln Center Repertory Company stage production of After the Fall (1964), which was written by Monroe's former husband, playwright Arthur Miller. Loden received a Tony award for best actress for her performance in After the Fall as well as an annual award of the Outer Circle, an organization of writers who covered Broadway for national magazines. After the Fall reviews called Loden the "new Jean Harlow" and a "blonde bombshell."

Loden married her first husband, film and television producer and film distributor Larry Joachim, in the 1950s, and they had a son, Marco. After an affair while they were both married to other people, Loden married film director Elia Kazan, who was 23 years her senior, in 1966. She had another son, Leo, with Kazan, and though estranged and considering divorce, they were still married at the time of her death from breast cancer at the age of 48.

Kazan could be contemptuous when describing his relationship with Loden. In his autobiography, Elia Kazan: A Life, he revealed his desire and inability to control her. Kazan wrote about Loden "with a mix of affection and patronization, emphasizing her sexuality and her backcountry feistiness." In a "condescending" way, Kazan bemoaned that Loden had depended on her "sexual appeal" to get ahead and that he was afraid of "losing her." But Kazan was also, in his words, "protective" of Loden.

Her acting career on film had a troubled history. Her first major film role was to be in the Frank Perry-directed The Swimmer starring Burt Lancaster, but during post-production there was a dispute about the scene between producer Sam Spiegel and the film's writer-director team, the Perrys. According to notes by screenwriter Eleanor Perry, Spiegel began showing the troubled rough cut of the film around Hollywood, polling several of his famous film director friends about what he should do with it. Kazan was a major film director who had great influence. He had also secretly been shown a private screening of the film by his friend and producer Spiegel (producer of Kazan's On the Waterfront) and had reportedly interfered with the final cut. Perry was ultimately fired from the film. Several of the film's scenes were recast and reshot by Sydney Pollack, who was hired to replace Perry, with Lancaster reportedly paying for some of the reshoots himself. Among the scenes that were entirely recast and reshot was the notorious Loden scene, with Broadway stage actress Janice Rule replacing Loden. Neither Loden nor Pollack was credited on the film. All that remains of the lost scene are still photos taken on set, which appear in Chris Innis's 2014 documentary The Story of The Swimmer.

1967–1980: Film and theater directing

While on safari with Kazan in 1966, a mutual friend, Harry Schuster, offered Loden $100,000 to make her own movie. Encouraged, she wrote the screenplay for Wanda. The story, an existential rumination on a poverty-stricken woman adrift in Pennsylvania coal country, did not attract any potential directors, including Kazan, so Loden directed it herself, in collaboration with cinematographer and editor Nicholas T. Proferes, on a meager budget of $115,000.

Wanda is a semi-autobiographical portrait of a "passive, disconnected coal miner's wife who attaches herself to a petty crook." Innovative in its cinéma vérité and improvisational style, it was one of the few American films directed by a woman to be theatrically released at that time. Film critic David Thomson wrote, "Wanda is full of unexpected moments and raw atmosphere, never settling for cliché in situation or character." The film was the only American film accepted by the Venice Film Festival in 1970, where it won the International Critics' Prize, and the only American film presented at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival. In 2010, with support from Gucci, the film was restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and screened at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.

Although Wanda never received proper distribution, screening briefly in New York and at universities but never nationally on the theater circuit, it was noted for its groundbreaking anti-Hollywood view of a woman adrift in the American underworld. Loden said of her title character, "She's trying to get out of this very ugly type of existence, but she doesn't have the equipment"—an independent-minded idea for a cinematic heroine at the time, making Wanda an anti-heroine.


In 1978, Loden was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, she had completed several other screenplays with Proferes that Kazan described as "devoted to the neglected side of American life." She and Kazan were estranged at the time of her cancer diagnosis and planning to divorce, but her illness precluded their separation.

At the time of her diagnosis, Loden was prepared to direct a feature about Kate Chopin's The Awakening, but her cancer treatments prevented her from starting it. She died at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City from the disease on September 5, 1980.


Experimental filmmaker Marguerite Duras cited Wanda as an inspiration, particularly Loden's ability to inhabit her character onscreen, saying in an interview with Kazan, "I think that there is a miracle in Wanda. Usually there is a distance between the visual representation and the text, as well as the subject and the action. Here this distance is completely nullified; there is an instant and permanent continuity between Barbara Loden and Wanda." Duras described Loden's performance of Wanda's "demoralization" as "sacred, powerful, violent and profound."

Kazan compared Loden's acting technique to Marlon Brando: "There was always an element of improvisation, a surprise, in what she was doing. The only one, a far as I know, who was like that is Brando when he was young. He never knew exactly what he was going to say, therefore everything would come out of his mouth very alive."

Wanda never aspired to be a romanticized crime-spree vision, such as Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde. Loden purposefully favored a gritty documentary approach:

I really hate slick pictures... They're too perfect to be believable. I don't mean just in the look. I mean in the rhythm, in the cutting, the music—everything. The slicker the technique is the slicker the content becomes, until everything turns into Formica, including the people.

With its hand-held camera, anonymous locations, available lighting on 16mm (blown up to 35mm), and improvisation by a mostly amateur cast, critic Richard Brody considers Wanda to be not so much in the tone of the concurrent French New Wave, but more like the improvisational directorial work of John Cassavetes.

Although Loden was one of the very few women directors of the late '60s/early '70s, she didn't consider Wanda a feminist film at the time she was working on it, saying:

When I made Wanda, I didn't know anything about consciousness raising or women's liberation. That had just started when the film was finished. The picture was not about women's liberation. It was really about the oppression of women, of people... Being a woman is unexplored territory, and we're pioneers of a sort, discovering what it means to be a woman.

In 2012, Supplément à la vie de Barbara Loden by acclaimed French author Nathalie Léger was published. The book, taking Wanda and Loden's biography as its inspiration, combines fact and fiction to examine the nature of lived truth. It was translated into English and published as Suite for Barbara Loden in 2016.



Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1960 Wild River Betty Jackson
1961 Splendor in the Grass Ginny Stamper
1968 The Swimmer (scenes deleted)
1968 Fade In Jean TV movie
1970 Wanda Wanda Goronski Also writer and director
1975 The Frontier Experience Delilah Fowler Short; also director and producer
(final film role)
1975 The Boy Who Liked Deer Short; director and producer


Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1955–1957 The Ernie Kovacs Show Series regular
1962 Alcoa Premiere Betty Johnson Episode: "The Boy Who Wasn't Wanted"
1962 Naked City Penny Sonners Episode: "Torment Him Much and Hold Him Long"
1966 CBS Playhouse: The Glass Menagerie Her Daughter

Stage credits

Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1957 Compulsion Bit part Broadway
1958 Night Circus Co-starring with Ben Gazzara
1959 Look After Lulu! Gaby Broadway; directed by Noël Coward
1959 The Highest Tree Broadway; co-starring Robert Redford
1960 The Long Dream White Girl Broadway
1964–1965 After the Fall Maggie Broadway; Tony Award for Best Featured Actress
1964 But for Whom Charlie Sheila Maloney Broadway
1964 The Changeling Beatrice Broadway
1968 Winter Journey Broadway
1968 The Country Girl Broadway
1969 Home is the Hero N/A Off-Broadway; director
1975 The Love Death Plays of William Inge N/A Off-Broadway; director
1976 Berchtesgaden N/A Regional performances; director
1980 Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean Mona Off-Broadway

Awards and nominations

  • Tony Award – Best Featured Actress, 1964 (for After the Fall)
  • International Critics Award — Venice Film Festival, 1970 (for Wanda)

Works cited

  • Acker, Ally (1991). Reel Women - Pioneers of the Cinema, 1896 to the Present. New York: The Continuum Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-826-40499-2.
  • Commire, Anne; Klezmer, Deborah (1999). Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia. 9. Waterford, Connecticut: Yorkin. ISBN 978-0-787-64068-2.
  • Garfield, David (1980). A Player's Place: The Story of the Actors Studio. New York: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-025-42650-4.
  • Guernsey, Otis L.; et al. (1968). The Best Plays of 1967–1968. Burns Mantle Yearbook. 49. New York: Dodd, Mead. OCLC 990510372.
  • Hischak, Thomas (2012). Broadway Plays and Musicals: Descriptions and Essential Facts of More Than 14,000 Shows through 2007. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-786-45309-2.
  • Jewell, James C.; Howard, Thomas E. (1977). Broadway and the Tony Awards: The First Three Decades, 1947-1977. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America. ISBN 978-0-819-10339-0.
  • Kazan, Elia (1988). Elia Kazan: A Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-394-55953-7.
  • Kazan, Elia (2015). Devlin, Albert J.; Devlin, Marlene J. (eds.). The Selected Letters of Elia Kazan. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 978-1-101-91139-6.
  • Leeson, Richard M. (1994). William Inge: A Research and Production Sourcebook. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-27407-7.
  • Spada, James (1984). The Films of Robert Redford. London: Citadel Press. ISBN 978-0-806-50898-6.
  • Turner, Roland; Podell, Janet (1980). The Annual Obituary. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-333-32502-5.
  • Uglow, Jenny; Hendry, Maggy (2005). The Palgrave Macmillan Dictionary of Women's Biography (Fourth ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-50577-3.
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 07 Feb 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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