In 1923, Stevens was hired as a dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies. Three years later, she was cast in the play, The Noose as a chorus girl, it was suggested to Willard Mack that he cast a chorus girl as a chorus girl. It was around this time that she took the stage name, Barbara Stanwyck, combining her character's first name with the last name of a fellow cast member.
The rave reviews she received for her role in The Noose led Bob Kane to request her to do a screen test for the silent film, Broadway Nights, which he was producing. She did not get the lead role, allegedly due to her not being able to cry during the screen test.
The first "talkie" Stanwyck appeared in was The Locked Door, in 1929. She went on to make 85 films during her 38 year film career. Among her notable movies were Stella Dallas, in 1937, The Lady Eve, with Henry Fonda in 1941, and Double Indemnity, with Fred McMurray in 1944.
Subsequent to her film career, she switched to television, where she appeared on a short lived series, The Barbara Stanwyck Show, which was a ratings flop, but garnered her her first Emmy Award. She then appeared on the Western, The Big Valley, earning another Emmy. Later, in the 1980s, she earned a third Emmy, for the mini-series The Thorn Birds and made a few guest appearances on Dynasty, eventually appearing in an unsuccessful spin-off of the same show.
On January 20, 1990, Stanwyck died of congestive heart failure, and COPD.