Friday, March 20, 2009

Myrna Loy (1905-1993)

Life, is not a having and a getting, but a being and a becoming.
-Myrna Loy

Myrna Loy was born Myrna Williams in Radersburg, Montana, 1905. Her first name was given to her by her father after a train station that he liked the name of. She was of Welsh and Scottish ancestry, and when she was seven years old she moved to Helena, Montana with her family. At the age of twelve she made her first stage appearance in a dance she had choreographed herself.

"I was a homely kid with freckles that came out every spring and stuck on me till Christmas."

Picture of Myrna Williams in 1918.

When she was thirteen (1918) her father died, and she moved to Los Angeles with her mother and younger brother. At that time motion pictures was still a new phenomenon, and she soon joined the enormous wave of actresses swarming the studios, all wanting to become the next Mary Pickford. She started it off by improving her dancing skills and performing at local stage productions.

As Roma in Across the Pacific (1926).

Myrna became a dance instructor in a building only 300 feet from the MGM studios, so she used to walk over to the gates and stand there, dreaming of becoming an actress. After six years of hard work as a dance instructor and theatre actress before someone in the film industry finally discovered the talanted red-haired beauty. In 1925 Myrna changed her surname from Williams to Loy and was cast i her first role for Warner Bros. Pictures, What Price Beauty? with silent film actress Nita Naldi, Myrna ironically credited as "Vamp", a role she for a time would be typecast as, along with other forms of exotic women and mistresses.

Myrna Loy in The Crimson City (1928).

In 1928 Myrna was given the leading part in The Crimson City, playing a Chinese woman named Isobel or State Street Sadie (reference to Sadie Thompson, perhaps?). Others in the cast include Conrad Nagel and Anna Mae Wong (whom Myrna was chosen for the part over!).
The same year she also had a part as "Girl in China" in the silent comedy A Girl in Every Port (also starring Louise Brooks as "Marie, girl in France"), which in 1952 was remade with Groucho Marx in the leading role.

When the talking pictures era began, Myrna's characters began to destinguish from one another. She appeared as a chorus girl in The Jazz Singer (1927), and in The Desert Song (1929) she improvised a foreign accent, sang and danced.
But her real breakthrough was when she got a part in a crime melodrama with MGM Studios, Manhattan Melodrama (1934), opposite Clark Gable and her future co-actor William Powell. The director was a man named W. S. Van Dyke, who saw the potential of Myrna Loy. It is said that he, to test her sense of humour, pushed her into a swimming pool at a Hollywood party once. She passed the test, and Van Dyke saw to it that she got the leading part in his next film, The Thin Man (1934).

"I never enjoyed my work more than when I worked with William Powell. He was a brilliant actor, a delightful companion, a great friend and above all, a true gentleman."

Nick and Nora Charles, and their devoted dog Asta.

It was as Nora Charles, the sophisticated and loyal wife to detective Nick Charles (played by earlier mentioned William Powell), that Myrna Loy made her big breakthrough. To be able to starr in it, she gave the crew a deadline on three weeks, since she had signed for another picture afterwards. The picture was filmed in two weeks, and was a huge success, mostly due to the perfect chemistry between the two main actors and the snappy dialogue.
The Thin Man got five sequels, all starring Myrna Loy and William Powell.

Myrna Loy and William Powell collection, containing: Manhattan Melodrama (1934), Evelyn Prentice (1934), Double Wedding (1937), I Love You Again (1940) and Love Crazy (1941). I want it!

Myrna Loy and William Powell became such a popular film couple that they not only made several Thin Man films together, but all in all they made 14 pictures together. During this period she was one of Hollywoods busiest and highest paid actors, and made films such as Wife vs. Secretary (1936) with Clark Gable and Jean Harlow, Petticoat Fever (1936) with Robert Montgomery and Libeled Lady (1936) with William Powell, Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy.
But when World War II broke out she abandoned her acting career to focus on the war effort, working closely with the Red Cross. She toured frequently to raise war fonds, and was so outspokenly against Adolf Hitler that her name appeared on his blacklist. She fought for Civil Rights and was active in UNESCO.

When the war ended Myrna returned to films, appearing as the wife of a returning serviceman (Frederic March) in the war drama The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), also starring Dana Andrews and Virginia Mayo. Later Myrna considered that part to have been her best acting performance.
She had other comedy successes with Cary Grant in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947) with a teenage Shirley Temple and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948) with Melvyn Douglas, and another comedy with Clifton Webb in Cheaper by the Dozen (1950).

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947).

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948).

Cheaper by the Dozen (1950).

Her movie career slowed down after that. She appeared as Aunt Bea in the Doris Day thriller Midnight Lace (1960), but after that she didn't act in a film until 1969 and The April Fools with Jack Lemmon and Catherine Deneuve. She returned to the stage, but wasn't over-the-top active their neither.

"I admire some of the people on the screen today, but most of them look like everybody else. In our days we had individuality. Pictures were more sophisticated. All this nudity is too excessive and it is getting very boring. It will be a shame if it upsets people so much that it brings on the need for censorship. I hate censorship. In the cinema there's no mystery. No privacy. And no sex either. Most of the sex I've seen on the screen looks like an expression of hostility towards sex."

In 1965 she received The Sarah Siddons Award (the award that borrowed the name from the made-up award in All About Eve, 1950) for her work in Chicago Theatre, and in 1988 she receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center.
She was never nominated for an Academy Award, but in 1991 she received an Academy Honorary Award for hr career achievement. She accepted it via camera with the short speech:

"You've made me very happy. Thank you very much".

That was her last public appearance.

With her third husband, producer and screenwriter Gene Markey, in 1948. They were married 1946-1950.

She was married four times but had no children in any marriage. Referring to her typecasting as the loving wife, Myrna said following:

"Some perfect wife I am. I've been married four times, divorced four times, have no children, and can't boil an egg."

She had twice in her life (1975 and 1979) having had to make a mastectomy. She died in 1993 during surgery.

Video Clips:

An interesting slide show with pictures from Myrna Loy's early film career.

TCM tribute to Myrna Loy by Julianne Moore.

Myrna Loy on the TV show What's My Line?

Angelica Huston presents Myrna Loy's Honorary Award in 1991.


Kate Gabrielle said...

Wonderful post, as usual. I love Myrna Loy-- I never would have guessed that she was born in Montana! I don't know why, but I always thought she was British. I love her quote about being the perfect wife!! Your posts are always so much fun to read-- Just when I think I know all these is to know about film, you always are teaching me something new!

didysis getsbis said...

how come your english is so good, L?

Lolita said...

Kate Gabrielle:
I think you're my most frequent reader! At least the most frequent when writing comments to my posts, and I like that! Makes the effort worth it! And I'm also glad that I can learn you something new, that's not easy in this classic film bloggosphere!

Great Gatsby:
Well, I dont know... I watch hideous amounts of old movies, perhaps that's why! I often don't use any text, neither. I've heard that my English sound old-fashioned too, so I'll hold to the watching-a-lot-of-old-movies theory!

Alexis said...

Mad <3's

Dan Cowan said...

Not only was Myrna from Montana, her neighbour was Gary Cooper. But they never worked together in Hollywood.