January 6, 1913 – Loretta Young:
“There is no personal achievement in being born beautiful.”
I just watched The Bishop’s Wife (1947) two weeks ago. Loretta Young sure was terrific in that one. Yet, production of the film was not without troubles. Producer Samuel Goldwyn replaced the original director William A. Seiter with Henry Koster to create a completely new film. In early previews, audiences disliked the film, so the great Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett made uncredited rewrites. Even so, and even though the premiere of The Bishop’s Wife was accompanied by critical success, the film didn’t do very well at the box-office. Many film fans avoided it because they thought it was religious. So, Goldwyn decided to re-title it Cary And The Bishop’s Wife for some markets, while adding a black text box with the question “Have you heard about CARY AND THE BISHOP’S WIFE?” on posters in markets where the film kept the original title. By adding Cary Grant‘s first name to the title the film’s revenue went up 25%. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Scoring and it won for Best Sound.
Young’s screen image is a combination of virtuous poise, sensuality and vulnerability. She admitted to having had “crushes” on all of her leading men and to being “susceptible” to men in general. I have that same condition.
A good Catholic girl who attended convent school, Young eloped at 17 years old with Grant Withers, her co-star in the film The Second-Story Murder (1930). The marriage was annulled the following year. She had a year-long very public affair with the married Catholic Spencer Tracy, her co-star in Man’s Castle (1933). In 1940, she married Thomas H. A. Lewis, an ad exec who later became a producer of her television series. They divorced bitterly in 1969. Lewis died in 1988. Young married the fashion designer Jean Louis in 1993. He died in 1997.
Strong-willed, independent and rebellious, Young was among the first female stars to command a six-figure salary. In 1939, when she rejected a five-year, two-million-dollar contract with 20th Century Fox, she was blackballed by the studios. She made only one film, Eternally Yours, during the next two years.
Young won an Oscar for The Farmer’s Daughter (1947). She then turned to the new medium of television as the glowing star who twirled onto the stage in a designer gown each week to introduce her uplifting dramas on The Loretta Young Show (1953-1961), then she retired and never returned to films. The Loretta Young Show was a popular half-hour anthology series, where Young played characters from Queen Nefertiti to a boozy nightclub singer. But the trademark of the show, and the first thing I think of when I hear her name, was that glamorous entrance.
“I did that to mollify the show’s designer, Marusha. I initially just walked through the doors, and Marusha was upset because no one would see the wonderful back of the dress.”
Young, who had studied ballet growing up, asked for a retake in which she entered the set and pirouetted before walking toward the camera. Little gay boys just loved it; trust me on this one.
At the time, movie stars did not do television. Young was advised that if she appeared on television regularly, she would never get another job in films. But she saw television as the way of the future. Young appeared in 165 episodes of the show, ending each installment by delivering a little Catholic homily to the audience. In her memoir The Things I had To Learn (1961), she wrote:
“… show extolled respect for law and order and for disciplined deportment and character-building standards. Above all, we want to prove the strength, the good, really, of people.”
Young and Clark Gable played opposite each other in The Call Of The Wild (1935). She was 22 years old, while Gable was 34 and married. During the filming, Young became pregnant by Gable.
For the next 80 years, it had been assumed that the pregnancy was result of an affair between Young and Gable. But, Linda Lewis, Young’s daughter-in-law, stated in 1998, that Young told her that Gable had raped her and that there had been no affair. Young had never told anyone this before. Young told Lewis that only after having learned of the concept of “date rape”. Young had believed that it was a woman’s job to fend off men’s advances and that Gable’s forcing himself on her was a moral failing on her part. Such a good Catholic girl.
Young didn’t want to damage her career and she knew that, if the studios found out about the pregnancy, they would try to pressure her to have an abortion, which Young considered a mortal sin. Shortly before giving birth, she gave an interview from her bed, covered in blankets, stating that her long absence from work was due to a medical condition she had had since childhood.
In November 1936, Young gave birth to a baby she named Judith, in a house that she owned in Venice Beach. Young named the baby Judith after St. Jude, the patron saint of Difficult Situations.
Three weeks later, Young returned to work. Baby Judith went to live at St. Elizabeth’s Orphanage in San Francisco. When Judith was 19-months-old, Young announced to columnist Louella Parsons that she had adopted an infant.
Nobody in showbiz was fooled. Young refused to confirm or comment on the rumors until 1999, when she told an interviewer that Judy Lewis was her biological child and the product of a “brief affair” with Gable. The last name was Young’s second husband’s last name. Talk about virgin birth; she adopted her own daughter!
Lewis wrote in her memoir, Uncommon Knowledge (1994), that the only time she remembered Gable was just a single moment as a teenager where he said a few words to her and kissed her on her forehead. She wrote that she had no idea he was her biological father. They never had a relationship, and she never saw him again.
After becoming a mother herself, Lewis finally confronted her mother, who admitted the truth, but stated that Judy was “a walking mortal sin”. Gable had died five years earlier.
Young went to be with Jesus in 2000, taken by cancer at 87. She started smoking when she was eight years old and quit in the mid-1980s. You can now find her now at Holy Cross Cemetery, the Catholic Diocese spot for eternal rest in lovely Culver City, with of view of the MGM lot. Lewis was taken by cancer in 2011.
Young was a life-long Republican. In 1952, she appeared in radio, print, and magazine ads in support of Dwight D. Eisenhower in his campaign for president. She attended his inauguration in 1953 along with all the good Hollywood Republicans Anita Louise, Louella Parsons, Jane Russell, Dick Powell, June Allyson, and Lou Costello. She was a supporter of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan in 1968 and 1980, respectively. Young was also an active member of the Hollywood Republican Committee, with her friends Irene Dunne, Ginger Rogers, William Holden, George Murphy, Fred Astaire, and, of course, John Wayne.
I have two Loretta Young anecdotes:
In 1974, on my way to an audition in a tall building in Studio City, I got on an elevator and just as the door was to close, in slipped a beautiful older woman. Alone with her in the elevator, I screamed: “OH MY GOD! IT’S LORETTA YOUNG!!!”. She hugged the wall of the lift until she got off on the 11th floor where she was greeted by a large sign that said “Right To Life Meeting in Conference Room B”.
Celeste Holm told me this story: she had been nominated for an Academy Award for a film she made with Young, Come Back To The Stable (1949), in which they both played nuns! When filming began, Young announced to the cast and crew that there would no swearing or strong language on the set. Young had set up a penalty box; if someone should slip up and use a “goddamn”, “fuck” or “shit”, they would need to put a nickel in the box, with the proceeds going to a Vatican charity at the end of the shoot. Holm’s good friend Ethel Merman stopped by the set to visit. Merman took a 10-dollar bill out of her purse and slipped it into the Curse Box, loudly proclaiming: “There you go Loretta. Now you can go fuck yourself!”. I told this story to a group of young people in Portland. Not even one knew anything of Celeste Holm, Loretta Young or Ethel Merman, even the gay ones. I hate getting old.
Her first film was in 1917 and her final one was in 1955. My favorite Young performances: Along Came Jones (1945), a comic Western with Gary Cooper; Eternally Yours (1939) with David Niven; and The Stranger (1946), a spine-chilling film noir directed by and co-starring Orson Welles.