Spotlight On: Myrna Loy
Having moved to Los Angeles in her early teens, Myrna Loy quickly caught the acting bug and as she got older, Loy tried to move into the burgeoning movie industry. For a long stretch in her early career Loy’s captivating screen presence and beauty saw her typecast as an exotic sexpot in movies like: Satan in Sables, Noah’s Ark, the Desert Song, and the Mask of Fu Manchu. But you can not keep talent down for long and the actress began to build herself up into bigger roles in important films. After a star making role in the Thin Man, Myrna Loy became a certified movie star who brought out audiences in droves while receiving critical praise. Rather than coast on her fame, Loy was one of the first celebrities to use their status to fight for social justice. She was the first Hollywood celebrity to work with UNESCO and served as chairwoman on the Advisory Council of the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing. The actress even confronted her bosses at MGM head-on by questioning why African American actors and actresses were kept in roles as servants and not being cast in prominent roles. In honor of one of the greatest actresses in cinema history we are focusing this edition of Spotlight on my personal favorite actress of all time: Myrna Loy.
Manhattan Melodrama (1934): Myrna Loy shared the screen with two of her frequent co-stars, Clark Gable and William Powell. As boys Jim Wade and “Blackie” Gallagher were orphaned at a young age, and forged a lifelong bond with each other as they grew up. Their friendship becomes complicated as adults when Wade becomes district attorney while Gallagher opts for a life of crime and works for the mob. Coming between the two men is Loy’s character Eleanor who captured both of their hearts. Eleanor is originally drawn to Gallagher’s bad boy lifestyle, but when it is clear he will not change his ways she moves to Wade and eventually marries him. When Jim has to prosecute and oversee the execution of his old friend, it is Eleanor who serves as his conscience of sorts reminding him of the bond he and Gallagher once shared. Manhattan Melodrama also shares the distinction of being the last film John Dillinger saw before being gunned down by the Feds. Given his vocal fandom of the young actress it is doubtful he regretted this particular trip to the theater too much.
The Thin Man (1934): This is the movie which turned Loy and frequent co-star William Powell into full-fledged movie stars. Having been largely typecast as a seductive femme fatale thus far in her career, she was far from the studio’s choice to take the lead as Nora Charles in the Thin Man. Luckily they relented and she and Powell made movie history together as Nick and Nora; two sharp-tongued, mystery-solving socialites rarely seen without drinks in hand. In New York for the holidays a young woman from Nick’s past beckons him to return to his old detective ways to find her missing father, though he is reluctant to do so he finds himself forced into the thick of things. Having never seen this side of her husband firsthand, Nora is absolutely excited about helping her husband solve the mystery of what happened to “the Thin Man”. While he tries to protect Nora, as the dutiful husband he is, Nick can not deny that solving a mystery with the woman he is madly in love with is absolutely thrilling. Loy and Powell shared an electric chemistry in this flick which proved so popular it spawned five sequels. (The full Retro Review can be read HERE)
Wife vs. Secretary (1936): This movie finds Myrna Loy playing Linda Stanhope, the wife of Clark Gable’s respected publishing tycoon Van Stanhope. At the office Van works closely with his sharp hardworking secretary Whitney in what is nothing short of a professional relationship. He is married to Linda and his secretary is engaged to a man named David. Unfortunately that is not how Van’s mother sees it and starts pushing the rumor that her son is having an affair. The thought of this grows in Linda’s mind as she sees them together and eventually she can no longer take it. After a misunderstanding resulting from Van’s business trip, Linda finally moves for a divorce. While Whitney can not deny she has a bit of an attraction to her boss, she knows the Stanhope’s belong together and works to set things right with the couple. This fun romantic comedy saw Loy share the screen with a host of talented performers, in addition to Gable, Wife vs Secretary also boasted: Jean Harlow, Jimmy Stewart, and Gloria Holden in it’s ensemble.
Love Crazy (1941): While celebrating their fourth anniversary a horrible misunderstanding and a meddling mother-in-law leads to Susan Ireland filing for divorce from her husband Steve. While she is ready to close the book on this heartbreaking chapter of her life and move on with her new love, Steve has an unconventional plan to keep them together. Pretending that he is insane, the court forces Susan to take custody of him as his legal guardian. Unexpectedly she one-ups her husband, and commits him to an asylum until he agrees to drop the act and grant her the divorce. Under it all the two of them are still crazy about each other and thanks to some wacky hijinks, and Steve hilariously dressing in drag pretending to be his own nonexistent sister, they are able to reconcile and give audiences the happy ending they want. Love Crazy was one of the great marriage/divorce screwball comedies which were popular during that era, a hilarious plot is made even better thanks to Myrna Loy and William Powell once again showing they were one of the greatest onscreen couples ever.
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946): Of all the movies she made in her long career Loy always ranked this one among her best. Rightly so as, the Best Years of our Lives is regarded as one of the great films in American cinema. The Second World War may have come to an end, but those who fought in it still had to adjust to a new reality once they returned home. This emotionally-charged movie takes a somber yet inspirational look at three men who have returned to the homefront each carrying with them emotional and physical scars from battle. Myrna Loy plays Milly Stephenson who’s husband Al has just returned home to find himself promoted to a cushy new job at the bank. But his experiences in combat have left him increasingly relying on alcohol to make it through his day-to-day life. Adding to the family struggles is their daughter, Peggy who has developed feelings for one of Al’s friends who is suffering his own hardships following the war. Milly is put into the role of peacemaker between her husband and daughter during their clashes, all the while she is tearing herself up over Al’s alcoholism. Naturally she has to do all this while portraying the image of your standard wholesome post-War housewife.
Cheaper by the Dozen (1950): Based on the true story of the Gilbreth family, Myrna Loy plays Lillian Gillbreth a psychologist and engineer who along with her efficiency expert husband, Frank is responsible for raising twelve kids in the 1920’s. Through trial and error the two parents figure out how best to manage their many children which inevitably leads to clashes with the youngsters. When Frank suddenly passes away, Lillian takes on the challenge of being a single parent to twelve kids head-on. By inspiring the kids to step up for the good of the entire family.
Midnight Lace (1960): In one of the great cinematic thrillers, Doris Day plays wealthy newlywed Kit Preston, who believes a mysterious stalker is trying to kill her. With her husband, Tony (Rex Harrison) dismissing her run of bad luck and creepy phone calls she receives, Kit turns to her Aunt Bea, played by Loy. As the unseen stalker amps up his attacks, Tony and Bea become further convinced that Kit is imagining it all. Though when it is revealed that Kit truly is in danger and that the threat is coming from much closer than she could have imagined, it is her aunt who is the closest thing she has to a source of comfort in the end. Midnight Lace once again saw Myrna Loy as a part of a star-studded ensemble, only now she was the veteran talent who’s presence alone lent a great deal of prestige to the film.