After studying acting in New York in the early 1950s, Barbara Loden began appearing on Broadway toward the end of the decade. She was soon discovered by director Elia Kazan at an audition for his 1960 feature Wild River and made her debut in the film with a bit part as Montgomery Clift’s secretary. Kazan then featured her as Warren Beatty’s wild, wayward sister in Splendor in the Grass (1961). She would go on to receive a Tony award in 1964 for her performance on stage in a production of Arthur Miller’s After the Fall.
In 1970 Loden wrote, directed, edited and starred in the independent film Wanda, becoming one of the few theatrically released features directed by a woman since Ida Lupino. Based on an actual newspaper account and shot in 16mm, Wanda won critical praise for its gritty, un-romanticized portrait of a listless working-class woman who drifts into becoming the accomplice to a bank robber. The only American feature entered in the 1971 Venice Festival, Wanda won the International Critics Prize. At the time of her death in 1980, Loden had been planning to film an adaptation of Kate Chopin’s classic novel The Awakening.