Stella Dallas (1937 film)

Stella Dallas is a 1937 American drama film based on the Olive Higgins Prouty novel of the same name. It was directed by King Vidor, and stars Barbara Stanwyck, John Boles, and Anne Shirley. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Actress in a Leading Role and Best Actress in a Supporting Role.[1]

Stella Dallas
Original theatrical poster
Directed byKing Vidor
Produced bySamuel Goldwyn
Written byHarry Wagstaff Gribble
Gertrude Purcell
Sarah Y. Mason
Victor Heerman
Joe Bigelow (uncredited)
Based onStella Dallas
1923 novel
by Olive Higgins Prouty
StarringBarbara Stanwyck
John Boles
Anne Shirley
Music byAlfred Newman
CinematographyRudolph Maté
Edited bySherman Todd
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • August 6, 1937 (1937-08-06)
Running time
106 minutes
CountryUnited States

This was the second feature film adaptation of the 1923 novel. The first was the 1925 silent film version titled Stella Dallas, while it was also remade in 1990 as Stella.


Stella Martin, the daughter of a mill worker, Charlie, in a post-World War I Massachusetts factory town, is determined to better herself. She sets her sights on mill executive Stephen Dallas and catches him at an emotionally vulnerable time. Stephen's father killed himself after losing his fortune. Penniless, Stephen disappeared from high society, intending to marry his fiancée, Helen Morrison, once he was financially able to support her. However, just as he reaches his goal, he reads in the newspaper the announcement of her wedding. So he marries Stella.

A year later, their daughter, Laurel, is born. To Stella's great surprise, she discovers she has a strong maternal instinct. Even when she is out dancing and partying, she cannot help but think about her child. As Laurel grows up, Stella's ambition and scheming to rise socially is redirected to her daughter.

Stephen dotes on Laurel as well, but she is the only bond between husband and wife. He tries to help Stella become more refined, but without success. He also strongly disapproves of her continuing friendship with the vulgar Ed Munn. Finally, when Stephen receives a promotion that requires him to move to New York, Stella tells him he can go without her or Laurel; they separate, but remain married. Laurel stays with her mother, but visits her father periodically.

Years later, Stephen runs into Helen, now a wealthy widow with three sons. They renew their acquaintance. Laurel is invited to stay at Helen's mansion; she gets along very well with Helen and her sons. Stephen asks Stella for a divorce, but she turns him down.

Stella takes Laurel to a fancy resort, where Laurel meets Richard Grosvenor III, and they fall in love. However, when Stella makes her first appearance after recovering from an illness, she becomes the target of derision for her vulgarity, though she herself is unaware of it. Embarrassed for her mother, Laurel insists they leave at once without telling her why. On the train back, Stella overhears the truth.

Stella goes to talk with Helen. After learning that Helen and Stephen would marry if they could, she agrees to a divorce and asks that Laurel go live with them. Helen realizes the reason for the request and agrees.

When Laurel learns of the arrangement, she refuses to put up with it and returns home. However, Stella has been notified by a telegram and is ready for her. Stella pretends that she wants Laurel off her hands so she can marry Ed Munn and travel to South America. Laurel runs crying back to her father.

Later, Laurel and Richard get married. Stella watches them exchange their wedding vows from the city street through a window. Her presence goes unnoticed in the darkness and among the other curious bystanders. She then slips away in the rain, alone but triumphant in having arranged her daughter's happiness.



Tim Holt, the son of Jack Holt, had his first proper part in a film with Stella Dallas. He played the same role that was performed by another film star's son, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., in the 1925 version.[2]


At the 1938 Academy Awards, Barbara Stanwyck was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role and Anne Shirley was nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

The film was recognized by the American Film Institute in 2003 on the list of AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains:

  • Stella Martin Dallas – Nominated Hero[3]


  1. "The 10th Academy Awards (1938) Nominees and Winners". Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved August 9, 2011.
  2. ROMANCE OF SONJA HENIE AND POWER TO CONTINUE IN "THIN ICE" FILM: Louis Borell Will Portray Grand Duke Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] March 26, 1937: 15.
  3. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 6, 2016.

Further reading

  • Williams, Linda. "'Something Else besides a Mother': 'Stella Dallas' and the Maternal Melodrama," Cinema Journal Vol. 24, No. 1 (Autumn, 1984), pp. 2–27 in JSTOR
  • Stevenson, Diane. "Three Versions of Stella Dallas" for Jeffrey Crouse (editor), Film International, Issue 54, Volume, 9. Number 6 (2011), pp. 30–40.
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