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MYRNA LOY

By Susan M. Kelly

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Myrna Loy 8x10 Still Photo from "Wings in the Dark"1935 Myrna Loy Dixie Premium PhotoWith auburn hair and striking blue eyes, Myrna Loy looked the part of the delicate, exquisite beauty, but there was much more to this extraordinary actress than meets the eye.  Overcoming everything from tremendous typecasting to a difficult transition into the talkies, Myrna Loy was able to forge one of the longest and most prolific careers in the annals of Hollywood.  Despite her looks, many a producer and director would come to learn that this was not a woman to be taken lightly!

Born in Radersburg, Montana on August 2, 1905 to an influential cattle baron, Myrna Williams learned to overcome hardship at an early age.  Her father died when she just was just 12 years old and Myrna and her family moved to Los Angeles.  It was here, at the Westlake School for Girls, where young Myrna would first be bitten by the acting bug, appearing in local stage productions from the age of 15, usually dancing in the chorus line.   During one such production, at the famous Grauman’s Theater, Myrna was spotted by the wife of Hollywood legend Rudolph Valentino.  Mrs. Valentino was struck by the young girl’s beauty and talent and managed to pull some strings to get her into motion pictures.

Now calling herself Myrna Loy, she made her film debut in 1925’s “What Price Beauty?”  Her dark good looks led producers to cast her most frequently as foreign femme fatales.  She worked steadily throughout the rest of the silent era, with performances in such films as “Ben-Hur” (1926), “The Girl From Chicago” (1927), “A Girl in Every Port” (1928) and “Noah’s Ark” (1929) among others.  She had a brief, non-speaking, part in the breakthrough film “The Jazz Singer” (1927), but her transition to talkies was not easy.  Her thin, reedy voice hindered her progress until, with extraordinary determination, she taught herself how to project for movie microphones.  Soon, she was carving out her niche in the world of talking films.

She continued to find herself cast in many Oriental and Mexican vamp roles in such films as “The Black Watch” (1929) and “The Mask of Fu Manchu” (1932), but she also began to break out into “occidental” roles, although still often cast as a vamp.  She worked tirelessly, making several films each year and soon her resume included such titles as “A Connecticut Yankee” (1931), “Love Me Tonight” and “Vanity Fair” (1932), and “The Prizefighter and the Lady” (1933).

Later in 1933, Loy appeared in the stylish mystery melodrama “Penthouse”.  Her performance convinced the brass at MGM to cast her in their latest venture, as cultured socialite turned detective Nora Charles opposite William Powell in “The Thin Man” (1934).  She and Powell had an immediate and impeccable chemistry, bringing a marvelous spin to Dashiell Hammett’s characters Nick and Nora Charles.  The film was a hit and marked Myrna Loy’s ascension to full blown stardom.

She continued to work almost without stopping, appearing in a succession of box-office hits including “Manhattan Melodrama” (1934), “The Great Ziegfeld” (1936), “Double Wedding” (1937), “Too Hot to Handle” (1938) and “I Love You Again” (1940).  She would also appear in five separate sequels to “The Thin Man”, including “Another Thin Man” (1939) and “Shadow of the Thin Man” (1941).

With America’s entrance into World War II, Loy finally called a halt to her busy career, removing herself from film work and devoting herself to Red Cross activities and war bond fundraising.  She returned to the screen just once during the war years, in 1944’s “The Thin Man Goes Home”, but she resumed acting full time in 1946 and found her popularity undimmed.  By the 1950’s she found herself more interested in politics than acting and she worked more sporadically, though she never fully removed herself from the Hollywood spotlight.

Her post WWII performances include a brilliant turn in William Wyler’s moving “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946).  The film documented the return of three American servicemen after the war and their struggles to resume the lives they left behind.  Loy was magnificent as the loving wife helping to ease her husband back into civilian Myrna Loy and Clark Gable on the cover of Movie Story Magazine, 1938life.  She appeared in the last of the Thin Man series, 1936 Carreras Myrna Loy Tobacco Card“Song of the Thin Man”, in 1947 and in 1948 gave one of her greatest comedic performances as the faithful, yet somewhat bemused wife in “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House”.  She displayed a wonderful chemistry with co-star Cary Grant and very nearly stole the film with the classic scene where she chooses paint colors for her new home.

She continued to work fairly steadily through the 50’s in such films as “Cheaper By The Dozen” (1950), “Belles On Their Toes” (1952) and “Lonelyhearts” (1958).  The parts became fewer and farther between in the 60’s and the 70’s found her branching out to TV movies and the theater, where she made her Broadway debut in a revival of “The Women” in 1973.  She appeared in a few more films, including 1978’s “The End” as Burt Reynolds’ mother and 1980’s “Just Tell Me What You Want” as Alan King’s long suffering secretary.  Her final screen appearance came in the TV movie “Summer Solstice” (1981), at the tender age of 75.

Having worked tirelessly for over six decades, Myrna Loy had more than earned a little rest and relaxation.  She published her autobiography “Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming” in 1987 and lived out the rest of her days in peaceful retirement.  In 1991, she received an honorary Academy Award for “a lifetime’s worth of indelible performances”.  A lifetime indeed - by the time she died, on December 14, 1993, at age 88, she had appeared in a staggering 129 motion pictures.  While fame may not have come easily for this cattleman’s daughter, once she got a hold of it there was no letting go.  No doubt, her legions of adoring fans are grateful for her remarkable talent - and tenacity!
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Susan M. Kelly is a freelance writer who lives and works in Dunellen, New Jersey. Watch for her profiles in The Movie Profiles & Premiums Newsletter.

Other Myrna Loy Pages:

A Tribute to Myrna Loy -- From Brad Lang's Classic Movies site
Denny Jackson's Myrna Loy Page -- The Actress that MADE the Thin Man!
Myrna Loy -- A very extensive and well-written biography of Miss Loy punctuated throughout with photos.
Wife vs Secretary -- A mini-review of the 1936 film right here on this site as part of Cliff's DVD Collection.