Barbara Stanwyck tells Lee Majors: “Act your age!”

By Fred Dix / PhotoTVLand / April 1967


The latest bit of news that has come out of The Big Valley concerns the star of the series, Barbara Stanwyck.  Or should we say – the star of the series, Lee Majors?  Well, there you have it.  How else can we explain the current problems at the studio?

Sure, all you have to do to settle this argument is to watch the next episode and take a good look at the billing given to each member of the cast.  You’ll notice that the show stars Miss Barbara Stanwyck.  You’ll all notice that Lee Majors’ name doesn’t appear in the credits until after the names of Richard Long and Peter Breck.  So that settles it.  Doesn’t it?

Not by a long shot!  According to inside sources, the billing we just described is just a “technicality” between the producers and agents.  It’s also caused a running battle between Miss Stanwyck and Lee Majors.

For those who hold to the facts, it is true that Barbara won an Emmy for her portrayal of Victoria Barkley.  On the other side, however, it can’t be denied that one reason for the continued popularity of the series is due to the phenomenal success of Lee Majors – one of the most popular new stars to come along in television in years.

But that’s only scratching the surface.  The feud between Barbara and Lee runs deeper than that. I talked with Barbara on the set of The Big Valley and uncovered some of the real friction that goes on behind the scenes.

I couldn’t believe that billing alone could disturb her – she’s too much of a pro to allow herself to become involved in such pettiness.

“How could I possibly be disturbed about my billing?” she said.  “I have the kind of billing agreed on in my contract. I’m completely satisfied.  There may be others in the series who feel they should be given top billing, but that isn’t my concern.

“I’ve been around for a long time and I’ve seen too many conflicts arise over who’s the star of a show – that’s why there are contractual agreements.  At least that’s one of the reasons we have contracts.

“I’m also not one to demand star treatment – I simply want people to be polite. I expect to be treated in the same manner in which I treat others.  I don’t think that is much to ask.  After all, when you’re doing a TV series or a film, like it or not, cast and crew are one big family. Unless you can all work together smoothly and without petty grievances, there is bound to be trouble.  It’s a shame when that happens, it causes a lot of unnecessary tension and it can easily be evidenced in the finished product.  Certainly it takes a little effort to be polite – perhaps some people aren’t capable of making that effort.

“I don’t go for star trimmings. I’ve been fortunate with my career and I’m thankful for all the marvellous things that have happened to me.  But I don’t like people to make a fuss over me simply because of my career.  When I come into the studio, I come prepared to work.  I’m an actress and I like to think that I do my work well.

“You may think I’m getting off the subject but really I’m not.  I don’t honestly feel that Lee and I have had any personal feud here on the set.  At least I certainly don’t have any personal dislike or grudge against Lee.

“I think that he is a talented young man and that he has a very bright future ahead of him.  But I also feel that Lee has been making some serious mistakes and I’ve been trying to help him.  I think many people have mistaken my intentions and have blown the whole thing up and out of proportion. They’ve made it sound as though we have a running battle going – but in truth that’s not the case at all.

“Of course, if anyone ever heard some of our discussions, I could understand why they would think that Lee and I are the worst of enemies.  Let me give you an example.

“A few weeks ago we were doing a scene together.  It wasn’t just the two of us, there were four other actors involved in the scene.  But basically most of the lines were between Lee and myself.  We had rehearsed the scene several times over the day before and most of us used our scripts to refer to our lines.  That isn’t unusual for a rehearsal.  But when the scene is scheduled for shooting in front of the camera, it is the actor’s responsibility to have his lines completely memorized.

“Well, we ran through once before putting the scene on film.  Lee stumbled for his lines three times.  We stopped for about half an hour so that he could brush up the scene.  This held up the production staff and, in my opinion is extremely discourteous to the other performers.  He even flubbed on his lines during the filming.  As a result, it took almost all morning to shoot this once scene.

“This is pure irresponsibility – and I told Lee about it. If the rest of us can learn our lines the night before, there is no excuse for everyone to go through an ordeal like that because of the actor.  I learn my lines at home and I leave the script at home.  That’s part of being a performer – it goes with the job.

“Lee told me that he had gone out the night before and that when he got home he fell asleep with the script.  He knew he had to give himself a few hours to learn those lines, but he went out on the town instead.

“I don’t feel that Lee is in any position to take that kind of attitude with his career.  This is his first professional acting assignment and it could be an important step for him.  But if he wants it to be important, he’s got to develop the proper attitude now or he’s going to find himself and his career in trouble.

“If I seem a little hard with him once in a while, I’m doing it only for his own benefit.  You can’t expect to become a good performer if you don’t devote yourself to your work. You can’t be a part-time actor.  All that business of developing your personality status isn’t at important and Lee has to learn that too.

“It makes no difference in the long run if he’s one of the most popular or most eligible bachelors – or if he swings in the nightlife circles. That doesn’t make you a good performer.  If you let that part of your life interfere with your work, you’re headed for trouble.

“You’ve got to gain the respect of the people you work with – that too is important.  You don’t gain that respect by coming to the studio unprepared for work – or coming in late.  You can’t expect a studio full of people to cater to your desires – and they won’t.

“You also can’t get carried away by sudden success – that is the most common pitfall of today’s young stars.  Lee has a tendency to do this and there’s no reason for him to behave that way.  He’s a grown man. He’s got potential.  He could become a fine actor – but only if he makes a concerted effort to fulfil the responsibilities that come with the acting profession.

“I have a special concern for his welfare as I do for the other members of our show. I’ve been in this business for more years that I’d like to admit.  I think Lee can benefit from my own experiences. I’d like to help him – but first he has to make an effort to help himself!”