|

A Lady of Elegance….

Loretta Young

     January 6th, 1913 -
           August 12th, 2000

Loretta was blessed with her mother’s beauty…. large, luminous blue-gray eyes, a perfectly oval face and flawless complexion. She was educated in a convent school and wore her faith like a banner. But she was married and divorced before she was out of her teens, fell in love with a man who could not marry her and had a child out of wedlock she could never acknowledge. She constantly gave of her time and money to those in need and her friends lovingly called her “St. Loretta”. But her critics called her “Attila the Nun”. Who was the real Loretta Young?

She was born Gretchen Michaela Young in Salt Lake City, Utah, the third of three lovely sisters and 21 months before her only brother. When she was only 3, her father John Earle Young, left home and didn’t come back so Gladys Royal Young packed up her brood and headed for Los Angeles. A loan from the local Catholic bishop gave Mama Young the money to open a boarding house and the family moved in. Later, Uncle Ernest Traxler would send them prospective boarders from the Famous Lasky-Players film studio where he worked. He also got the girls jobs at the studio as “kid extras”. The “flickers” as they were called then, had become the fifth biggest industry in the U.S. Gretchen Michaela Young was in front of the cameras at the tender age of 4!

By 1926 things had changed a great deal at home. Gladys had divorced John, married boarder George Belzer and had another daughter. She also enrolled in art school and took up interior design. The older girls were out of school and had acting jobs. Betty Jane was now Sally Blane, a promising young starlet at Paramount. Polly Ann was working at First National (soon to be Warner Brothers) and Gretchen was just home from boarding school. One day, when a call came for Polly Ann from the studio, Gretchen was the only one home to answer it and decided to go herself. She was 14 years old! At the studio, Gretchen’s age was very apparent to director Mervyn LeRoy but he admired her pluck and gave her a younger bit part. Lead actress Colleen Moore also admired the child and set her up for a screen test after cajoling the studio honchos to get braces for her teeth and a new name. Gretchen became officially Loretta Young.

It was the twilight of the silent era and the dawning of sound. Loretta’s star was ascending. In silent films she photographed older and her young voice could not give her away. Padding supplied the curves nature had not yet delivered and she could wear clothes to perfection. But sound was rushing in and many silent stars fell beneath its pounding feet. Loretta took her sound test with trepidation but by then her voice had matured enough to give it the resonance required. She was on her way. “The Squall” was Loretta’s first “talking” picture and also the first of six pictures she would make in 1929.

She was still a naïve teenager of 16 when she was cast opposite Grant Withers in “The Second Floor Mystery”. Grant was a handsome devil-may-care charmer who had been married before he was 20, had a young son and was divorced at 25. Loretta, ready for her first crush, was a pushover. The love scenes in the film carried over off the set when the director yelled “Cut!”. Against the opposition of family, friends and parish priest, Loretta and Grant eloped to Yuma, Arizona ten days after her 17th birthday. The marriage lasted just over a year.

The divorce from Grant had one major effect….Loretta Young became a woman in the eyes of both fans and studio. On a loan out to Darryl Zanuck at Fox studio, Loretta was cast in the first “A” movie actually built around her character. It was “Zoo in Budapest” and her name appeared first above the title. Based on its projected success (it was a box office hit), Loretta set her sights on another Fox project, “Berkeley Square” but the part was given to British actress Heather Angel and Loretta was instead loaned out for an MGM film. She was hurt and bitter. It seemed that again she would be cast in endless programmers but her contract at Warner Brothers was coming to an end and she decided to cast her lot with Zanuck and the new merged 20th Century Fox. In the meantime, she was wanted for Columbia’s “A Man’s Castle” with Spencer Tracy. It would create a definite twist in Loretta’s ordered and proper life.

Spencer Tracy was a brilliant actor but recently separated from his wife and hitting the bottle regularly. Close friends say the romance began because Loretta felt Tracy needed her help. Whatever her reasons, it was evident on the set that the two stars were madly in love and the romance burned brightly for over a year. But Tracy, a Catholic, would not divorce his wife and the affair finally ended leaving both of them heartbroken. When Loretta went on location for “Call of the Wild” she was still distraught over the break-up.

Rumors became circulating almost immediately that even in the brutally cold temperatures, Gable and Young were steaming up the lodge at Mount Shukshan in Washington State. But when the film was in the can, the stars were off to other projects with no signs of torrid romance. Gable went on location to do “Mutiny on the Bounty” and Loretta was off to do DeMille’s epic “The Crusades” and the gossips began to look elsewhere. But this time Loretta got more than a broken heart. She was pregnant and the father-to-be was married and not looking for a long-term commitment. As a practicing Catholic, abortion was out of the question and exposure meant the end of her career.

When she finished both “The Crusades” and her next picture “Shanghai” (with Charles Boyer) Loretta was suddenly off on a European tour with her mother. But the press followed her. She returned in August, supposedly suffering from exhaustion and an undefined illness and wasn’t seen again in public for months. Three of her films were released that summer so the public wasn’t missing her too much. Then, on November 6th, 1935 Clark Gable received this cryptic telegram: “Beautiful blue-eyed blonde baby girl born 8:15 this morning”. He flushed it down the commode. On November 30th, Loretta again appeared on the Hollywood scene with news headlines reporting “Loretta Recovers!”.

Then, in June, 1937, Louella Parsons announced in her column that Loretta Young was adopting two little girls. Later, it was also announced one of the girls was given back to her mother leaving Loretta with only little Judy, aged twenty-three months. But Hollywood wasn’t a town that could be fooled for long. Eventually the only one who didn’t suspect the truth was Judy herself.

Loretta’s name was linked with one eligible bachelor after another. One serious romance was dashed when William Buckner was arrested for mail fraud just before their engagement was announced. On July 31st, 1940 Loretta married radio executive Tom Lewis in an elegant church ceremony after a six month courtship. They would have two sons of their own but contrary to publicity releases, Tom Lewis never really accepted or adopted little Judy.

In the spring of 1946 Loretta got word that Dore Scary and David O. Selznick wanted her for a little film called “Katie For Congress”. Loretta accepted the role, bleached her hair blonde (something she had never done before) and was tutored in a Swedish accent. That little movie, renamed “The Farmer’s Daughter”, won the Academy Award for Loretta against a formidable competition. She immediately called home and woke up her mother. “Mama, I won” she cried. “That’s nice, Gretchen” her mother answered. “What did you win, dear?

By late 1952, plans for Loretta’s trek into television began to jell. Tom and Loretta formed Lewislor , a corporation to produce the series. There would be 39 episodes per television season the equivalent of 13 full-length movies. Loretta was now forty years old and about to begin a whole new career. When she walked through that double doorway, stunning in designer gowns ( but always simple enough to be copied by creative housewives) Loretta walked into millions of homes. The series lasted for 8 years. Guest stars filled in during Loretta’s grave illness in 1955 (peritonitis from a tubular pregnancy) but no one ever walked through that door except Loretta herself.

In March, 1958 Tom Lewis shocked Hollywood by suing his wife and Lewislor for “dishonesty, mismanagement and unfairness”. The dream marriage had been coming apart for at least three years and now everyone knew it. But the divorce wouldn’t happen for another 11 years.

On June 24th, 1958 Judy Lewis married Joseph Tinney in the same church where her mother was married. A month before her wedding, her husband-to-be finally told Judy what everyone else in Hollywood knew…Clark Gable was her father. She had already surmised that Loretta was her real mother. On November 6th, 1960, Judy’s 26th birthday, Gable had a heart attack and died ten days later...still a stranger to his daughter.

In May of 1988, Tom Lewis died and the marriage, according to Loretta’s religious tenets, was now irrevocably over. It was the same year Judy started her book “Uncommon Knowledge” and an estrangement from her mother that lasted over 10 years.

Loretta was still working on television with guest appearances and made-for-tv movies. On August 10th, 1993, she married designer Jean Louis, the husband of her late friend, Maggie Louis. The bride was 80 and the groom 85. Jean died in April, 1997. Both sisters Polly and Sally died that year, followed shortly after by brother Jack leaving Georgiana the only family member of Loretta’s generation.

Loretta Young died on August 12th, 2000 at 87 of ovarian cancer. As usual, she did it her way refusing chemotherapy. She made her peace with Judy but gave Joan Wester Anderson the authority to tell her story the way she wanted it told. Anderson published her biography “Forever Young” after Loretta’s death.

Loretta Young’s faith shone brightly to the end. She gave bountifully of herself to those who needed her all of her life. While I am not sure there is a big double door in heaven, I imagine she swept elegantly through that Golden Gate.

For more on Loretta Young on screen and off see Arabella’s Notes. For a list of my sources please e-mail me at mamalion27@aol.com

 

Filmography

The Primrose Path (1917)
Sirens of the Sea (1917)
The Only Way (1919)
White and Unmarried (1921)
Naughty But Nice (1927)
Her Wild Oat (1927)
The Whip Woman (1928)
Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928)
The Magnificent Flirt (1928)
The Head Man (1928)
Scarlet Seas (1928)
Seven Footprints to Satan (1929)
The Squall (1929)
The Girl in the Glass Cage (1929)
Fast Life (1929)
The Careless Age (1929)
The Forward Pass (1929)
The Show of Shows (1929)
Loose Ankles (1930)
The Man from Blankley (1930)
The Second Floor Mystery (1930)
Road to Paradise (1930)
Kismet (1930)
The Truth about Youth (1930)
The Devil To Pay (1930)
Beau Ideal (1931)
The Right of Way (1931)
Three Girls Lost (1931)
Too Young to Marry (1931)
Big Business Girl (1931)
I Like Your Nerve (1931)

The Ruling Voice (1931)
Platinum Blonde (1931)
Taxi! (1932)
The Hatchet Man (1932)
Play-Girl (1932)
The Weekend Marriage (1932)
Life Begins (1932)
They Call It Sin (1932)
Employees Entrance (1933)
Grand Slam (1933)
Zoo in Budapest (1933)
The Life of Jimmy Dolan (1933)
Heroes for Sale (1933)
Midnight Mary (1933)
She Had To Say Yes (1933)
The Devil’s in Love (1933)
A Man’s Castle (1933)
The House of Rothschild (1934)
Born to Be Bad (1934)
Caravan (1934)
The White Parade (1934)
Clive of India (1935)
The Call of the Wild (1935)
The Crusades (1935)
Shanghai (1935)
The Unguarded Hour (1936)
Private Number (1936)
Ramona (1936)
Ladies in Love (1937)
Café Metropole (1937)
Love Under Fire (1937)
Wife, Doctor and Nurse (1937)
Second Honeymoon (1937)
Four Men and a Prayer (1938)
Three Blind Mice (1938)
Suez (1938)
Kentucky (1938)
Wife, Husband and Friend (1939)
The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939)
Eternally Yours (1939)
The Doctor Takes a Wife (1940)
He Stayed For Breakfast (1940)
The Lady from Cheyenne (1941)
The Men in Her Life (1941)
Bedtime Story (1941)
A Night To Remember (1943)
China (1943)
Ladies Courageous (1944)
And Now Tomorrow (1944)
Along Came Jones (1945)
The Stranger (1946)
The Perfect Marriage (1947)
The Farmer’s Daughter (1947)
The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
Rachel and the Stranger (1948)
The Accused (1949)
Mother Was a Freshman (1949)
Come to The Stable (1949)
Key to the City (1950)
Half Angel (1951)
Because of You (1952)
It Happens Every Thursday (1953)