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Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood

I have never heard anyone speak harshly of Myrna Loy. In fact, just the mere mention of her name elicits such a positive response it is hard not to crack a smile. My first encounter with Myrna’s films was her work with Cary Grant in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dreamhouse.

She is brilliant in both roles and is one of Grant’s greatest co-stars. When I eventually discovered her films from the 1930s, I finally understood why she is so highly regarded among classic film fans. Soon I began scrounging for every Loy performance I could find, including all the films she made with the charming William Powell, with whom she co-starred 14 times.

In the late eighties, Myrna Loy worked extensively and exclusively with James Kotsilibas-Davis to pen her autobiography Being and Becoming. This personal account has been the only significant information regarding Loy’s private life and career until now. Emily W. Leider, author of Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, utilizes Loy’s recollections from Being and Becoming, along with newly obtained material, in an attempt to piece together more of Loy’s life story.

Leider begins with a detailed account of Myrna Loy’s childhood leading up to being discovered in Hollywood. In her hometown of Helena, Montana, a young Loy took an interest in performing arts–especially dance. After the death of her father, Myrna, her mother, and other relatives moved to Southern California. She continued taking dance lessons and eventually sought work to provide for her family. More importantly, Myrna desperately wanted independence. In 1923 she was hired as a prologue dancer at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre. For frame of reference, these elaborate stage productions (which provided in-house entertainment for moviegoers), were akin to the prologues featured in Busby Berkeley’s Footlight Parade. Before long, Loy’s beauty and talent were noticed by Rudolph Valentino and his wife Natacha Rambova. Myrna quickly acquired her first uncredited role in the 1925 film What Price Beauty?

After several of these smaller roles, Loy was offered parts as exotics, often playing a temptress and homewrecker. She would be typecast in this kind of role until around 1934 when she gave breakout performances in Manhattan Melodrama and The Thin Man. Although she had shed one typecast, she gained another in being labeled “the perfect wife.”

Leider writes of Loy’s early years in Hollywood, including when she fell in love with a married man, producer Arthur Hornblow. Eventually they married, but Arthur’s infidelities and lack of commitment led to their divorce. Myrna had four husbands in all, yet never found the reciprocal love she so desperately sought. Since she could not find complete happiness in her romantic life, Myrna looked for other ways to gain fulfillment. She was a dedicated volunteer during WWII and raised millions of dollars in war bonds for the cause. She was also quite active in liberal politics and outspoken against the House Un-American Activities Committee. A staunch supporter of President Roosevelt, Loy soon became friends with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and the two worked closely on social and political causes. Myrna was also an unabashed supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, which was not a popular stance at the time. Later in her career and life, Loy retreated from Hollywood to New York where she remained until her death in 1993. In the final years of her life she was finally recognized by The Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences with a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award. Up to that moment, Loy had never even been nominated for an Oscar.

I have long awaited a biography on Myrna Loy. Her autobiography Being and Becoming is out of print, so finding an affordable copy has proven to be difficult. When I first heard of Emily W. Leider’s book, I was ecstatic. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I am slightly disappointed. Leider’s account of Myrna Loy’s early life is well written. I appreciate her attention to detail in retelling Loy’s story from a different perspective than what has already been written. What I noticed is Leider references Loy’s book numerous times (almost to the point of distraction), and it quickly becomes apparent that perhaps there really isn’t much information about Loy’s life outside of what has already been written. In other words, Loy wrote what she thought we should know about her and therefore disclosed a filtered, if incomplete version, which is fair. That said, there are a few new bits of information in The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, that according to Leider, Loy either briefly mentions in passing or ignores completely in her autobiography. For example, Leider discusses the reason behind Loy’s inability to bear children, something that Loy never divulged.

One of the trappings of the star biography is an author’s tendency to give synopses of movies in an actor’s filmography. In telling the story of Loy’s early fledgling career and rise to prominence in Hollywood, Leider often falls into the pattern of film synopsis and review. I understand that anecdotes from the filming of Loy’s movies is important to paint a complete picture of the surrounding events in her life. However, when plotlines are detailed from start to finish accompanied by critique and opinion (either Leider’s or that of a film critic), it is too much.

Overall, I have mixed feelings on Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood. I would like to revisit this book after reading Being and Becoming. Perhaps Leider’s book will be a nice companion piece to Loy’s, but in all honesty I was looking for something more.

Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood
ISBN: 9780520253209
University of California Press
October 2011
424 pages

Full Disclosure: I received a copy of Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood directly from the publisher, University of California Press. I would like to thank the publisher for the opportunity to review this book.

Favorite Things in Classic Films

Yesterday I was in the living room playing with my daughter. I turned on the television and an episode of The Flintstones was on. Fred was in the kitchen, apron on, washing the dishes–complaining all the while. He really had no reason to complain though. Poor Wilma couldn’t assume her typical household duties because she was too busy setting up the card table for Fred’s poker game.

That image of Fred in an apron got me thinking about a rare occurrence in classic films: when a man rolls up his sleeves, puts on an apron, and helps out in the kitchen. The thought of it brought a smile to my face. I decided to take that thought to the thriving classic film community on Twitter. Under the hashtag #favoritethingsinclassicfilm, the tweets started pouring in. My goal was to bring everyone together to talk about those little things that make classic films so magnificent. Some tweets consist of generally broad ideas and themes while others  highlight specific behaviors of a particular actor/actress/character. Mainstream or obscure, the references to films in all genres are abundant. Some tweets have spawned serious conversations about racial stereotypes, misogyny, and other moral/ethical issues. Many are sentimental, emotional, yet there are plenty of hilarious ones.

@biscuitkitten- Al and Milly embracing after 4 long years #favoritethingsinclassicfilm
@biscuitkitten- Al and Milly embracing after 4 long years #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

Some of my favorites:

@mritchie56- Glittering white art deco rooms in Astaire/Rogers musicals #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@tonyalit- How Gene Kelly makes the most of his Paris apartment. Looked perfect. #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@HollywoodComet- Silk stockings being a valued gift. I’d still take some. #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@willmckinley- Edward Everett Horton, Franklin Pangborn, Eric Blore, William Demarest, Eugene Pallette #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@OfficalBogart- We have many #favoritethingsinclassicfilm, but we must mention #TCM and its efforts to keep #classicfilm relevant and popular. Thanks @tcm! #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@interpretivbear- How a glass of whole milk calms the stomach. #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@LouLumenick- All of Busby Berkeley’s production numbers. #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@BobbyRiversTV- Fred Astaire dancing. On the ceiling, on roller skates, on ice skates, up a nightclub staircase… #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@expano_mapcase- Discovering a new actor/actress you love then trying to see everything they’re in #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@QuelleLove- #favoritethingsinclassicfilms Actors with barrel chests, no shirt, and some water splashed on them

@trueclassics- The deadliness of an anklet and a bad wig #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@CitizenScreen- The balcony kiss/scene between Grant and Bergman in #Notorious #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@ScribeHard- Thelma Ritter appearing in (Insert Title of
ANY Movie Thelma Ritter Has Appeared In) #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@missmccrocodile- Borscht with an egg in it #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@HaroldItz- #favoritethingsinclassicfilms Owl Jolson

@clydeumney- Following the letter of the Hays Code, but not the spirit. #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@classicmovieblg- Being a blubbering mess every time I hear “stand up, your father’s passing.” #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@cinemastyles- Walter Huston in anything, even Dragon Seed. #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

These tweets  are the tiniest sampling of all the wonderful contributions so far. I love the seemingly immediate bond between fellow classic film fans. And I love how we all come together in a very modern medium to discuss the past.

What are your favorite things in classic films? Feel free to comment below! Better yet, join in on the conversation on Twitter! You can find me @biscuitkitten. Follow the hashtag #favoritethingsinclassicfilm (with the variation: #favoritethingsinclassicfilms and for our British, Canadian, Australian friends- #favouritethingsinclassicfilm)  Also, hop over to KC’s blog Classic Movies to read her thoughts on the event!