Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Myrna Loy: The People's Queen

Tenth in a series about strong women in film. Strong women are independent, beautiful, sexy, feminine and just want everything in life that a man wants and believe that they have every right to have it!

I admire Myrna Loy because she is strong, beautiful, delightful and the perfect everything, but I admire her most of all because she came up the hard way. No overnight stardom or fast track to the top for this gal. Myrna plugged along until, after years in film, she became a star. And not just any old star, but the Queen of Hollywood. By the time Myrna was crowned, she was a wise and down-to-earth ruler with no "star" pretensions. Myrna Loy was a monarch chosen by her subjects.

Myrna was born Myrna Adele Williams in Helena Montana in 1905. She was named after a train station whose name her father took a fancy to. After her father's death, Myrna and her mother moved west to Los Angeles, where she studied dance and participated in local theater productions.

Obviously, Myrna was a stunner in her student days. In 1921 she posed for the Harry Winebrenner statue called "Spiritual," which was displayed in the front of Venice High School. 
"Spiritual" - oh, Myrna!
The statue stood for many years, was featured in opening sequence of the 1978 movie, "Grease," and was vandalized before it was rebuilt using bronze (and can still be seen today).

Myrna left school at age 18 and began earning a living as a prologue dancer at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre. Rudolph Valentino noticed a portrait of her and thought she might be ideal for his film, "Cobra." She didn't get the part, but her entree to movies was assured when was hired as an extra in the 1925 film "Pretty Ladies" (which also featured another newcomer, Joan Crawford).

The Perfect Exotic
Prior to her part in "Pretty Ladies," Myrna had secured a role (thanks to Valentino's wife, Natacha Rambova) as a "vamp" in "What Price Beauty?" Although the film wasn't released for almost 3 years, publicity photos of an exotically made-up Myrna made the rounds, resulting in her securing a contract with Warner Brothers (and getting the new surname of Loy).

From 1925 to 1934, Myrna toiled in small and supporting parts as vamps, exotics and other various shady-lady types, often playing characters of Asian background. She successfully made the transition to talkies, but could not shake the vampy, non-American slot into which she had been pigeon-holed. Even when she did play an American, she was usually a bad girl, kept woman or worse. But, she worked steadily and made a lot of movies.
Myrna takes a dip in "The Barbarian"
1934 brought some notoriety to Myrna. Besides appearing practically naked in "The Barbarian," she also appeared (with Clark Gable and William Powell) in "Manhattan Melodrama." This was the film John Dillinger saw just before being gunned down in front of the Biograph Theater in Chicago. After his death, it was revealed that Myrna was Dillinger's favorite actress.

The Perfect Wife and Mother
Asta with his parents, Nick and Nora Charles
1934 was also an important year for Myrna because that is the year she was cast as Nora Charles, the better half of the sleuthing duo of "The Thin Man." After 80 films, Myrna's comedic skills and great chemistry and rapport with co-star William Powell earned her bona fide stardom. She referred to "The Thin Man" as the "film that finally made me."

From that moment on, Myrna became one of the busiest and most popular stars in Hollywood. Her long apprenticeship had finally paid off. Her comedic and dramatic talents were showcased in "The Thin Man" series, and films like "Libeled Lady," "The Great Ziegfeld," "Too Hot To Handle," Test Pilot," and "The Rains Came." Elegant and ladylike, but with a wicked sense of humor, Myrna could do it all. Referred to as "the perfect wife," she and fellow MGM star, Clark Gable, were named the King and Queen of Hollywood in a popularity poll conducted in the late 1930s.
Myrna and Frederic March in "The Best Years of Our Lives"
In the 1940s Myrna transitioned to both the perfect wife and perfect mother, notably in such films as "The Best Years of Our Lives" (which she considered her finest achievement), "Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House", and "Cheaper by the Dozen." 

Ironically, the perfect wife was married and divorced 4 times and the perfect mother had no children of her own.

Her career slowed down in the 1950s, but she made occasional appearances in films and on the stage. Myrna's last film appearance was in 1980's "Just Tell Me What You Want."

The Perfect Co-Star
One of the most wonderful things about Myrna was how she always seemed to be the perfect leading lady for her leading man. Although William Powell never had a better screen partner, her pairings with Clark Gable and Cary Grant were stellar. She even made Clifton Webb look good as a husband! Her reactions to their antics were priceless and her dry, elegant, sometimes silent commentary on the male species brought out the best in her men.

That Profile, That Woman
Aside from all of the above, Myrna had a  delightful profile. That nose! It was, in the 1930s, the most requested profile by women to their plastic surgeons.

When you work very hard to achieve your dream, you know its worth. Myrna Loy never took her profession for granted, nor did she place an inflated importance upon it. In addition to being a star and a beauty, Myrna was also a stand up gal. 

During World War II, Myrna worked closely with the Red Cross and was so fiercely outspoken against Hitler that she appeared on his "enemies List." Now, that's a compliment! She also helped run a Naval Auxiliary canteen and worked tirelessly to raise funds for the war effort. After the war, she became the co-Chairman on the Advisory Council of the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing, and in 1948 became a member of the U.S National Commission for The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Myrna Loy was never (!) nominated for an Academy Award, but was awarded a "special" Oscar for her life's work in 1991. Her acceptance, via film, was simple, graceful and royal, as befits a queen. It was her last public appearance before her death in 1993.

There is a new book about Myrna coming out entitled "Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood," by Emily W. Leider. The title refers to comment made by director John Ford while Myrna was still playing vamps and bad girls: "Wouldn't you know, the kid they pick to play tramps is the only good girl in Hollywood." 
Click HERE for more information about this book
Myrna Loy never made a "big deal" of herself. She let her talent do the talking.We are still listening and loving her.
The One and Only Myrna


The Lady Eve said...

Like every classic movie lover worth his/her salt on the planet, I love Myrna. Great tour of her life and career, FlickChick. I'm sure you've read her autobio, Being and Becoming. At my house it's on the shelf next to Irene Mayer Selznick's A Private View and Mary Astor's My Story. Three great autobios by three amazing women.

I wish Myrna had appeared more often with Cary Grant, love them together in "Blandings" and I wish TCM would air "The Rains Came" more often.

VP81955 said...

My second-favorite actress, trailing only Carole Lombard. I eagerly await this book on the magnificent Myrna.

FlickChick said...

@ Lady Eve: I haven't read May Astor's book and I know that's a great story, so I am off to order it! I love the autobiographies of these great ladies-such interesting lives!

FlickChick said...

@VP - I, too, am eagerly awaiting the new book. I have it on pre-order and check the kindle daily!

Diane said...

I did not know anything about Myrna and was surprised at all the information in this post. I love coming here to find all sorts of wonderful tidbits about some of my favorite stars! Thanks Flick Chick.

FlickChick said...

Thanks for taking the time to read and I'm glad you enjoy it.

ClassicBecky said...

FlickChick, you could not have described Myrna Loy more perfectly than you did: "Myrna Loy was a monarch chosen by her subjects." I love that woman! For a long time I never knew about her earlier exotic, vamp roles, and had to laugh when I see my fisrt one, where she played Karloff's daughter in the Fu Manchu movie. This was the ultimate wife and mother? Hilarious!

Your pictures of Myrna are just beautiful, and I enjoyed your bio of her very much.

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Becky. She really was a tremendous actress and woman who really paid her dues. A very admirable subject!

Anonymous said...

I don't usually say I want to be somebody when I grow up, but Loy seemed like such a great and down-to-earth person, that my response on a photo tribute of her still stands: I want to be her when I grow up. ;) You can view the tribute here: I hope she doesn't mind me sharing this with you. And I think you and the blogger who wrote this would like each other's blogs. :) I'd like to share this write-up of yours with her, if I may. :)

FlickChick said...

Stefi - thank you for the link! it's always great to share. And who wouldn't want to be Myna when we grow up? That's one of the differences about the stars then and now - they appeared as grown-ups. Today, they appear as kids who should grow up.

Jan Miner said...

This is a great article. You really humanize the stars about whom you write. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Ahahaha. I can agree about some of the stars today acting like they need to grow up. And I'm glad you liked the link. The gal who wrote it liked yours so much, that she added you to her blog role.

Anonymous said...

And make that blog roll, not role. Lol.

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Steffi!