“I don´t know any other actress who has the wit that Myrna Loy has. The kind of wit that amuses me – underplayed, suggested, very, very subtle. The whole look of her is witty and wise, but beneath all this there´s a kind of humanity and tenderness. She has something about her that touches your heart.”
Today August 2, 2011 marks Myrna Loy’s 106th birthday.
Loy was born Myrna Adele Williams in Helena, Montana in 1905 to a family of Welsh, Scottish, and English decent. Her father named her after seeing it as the name of a railway station. He was a very political from an early age becoming the youngest person ever to be elected to the Montana state legislature. The whole Willams family was political instilling in their daughter to have a great care for her country (this is surely where Loy got her very passionate political nature from). Loy grew up in Montana until her father died when she was thirteen when her mother moved her and her younger brother to California.
Once out in California Loy caught the acting bug. She used to perform little plays in her basement and take them very seriously. At fifteen she began to act and dance in local theater. Many of the stage plays were performed at Grauman’s Egyptian Theater in Hollywood where she met Lucille Le Suer aka Joan Crawford and would remain close friend with her for many years. At one show the great lover of the screen Rudolph Valentino was in the audience with his wife Natacha Rambova. He had seen one of Loy’s headshots and really liked her for a film he was about to do. But her test did not go so well, she was not yet ready to be a leading lady. Rambova liked her enough to cast Loy to be in a film she was making. Loy was dressed exotically by Adrian and so began her many years as the exotic vamp. Through the mid 1920s to the early 1930s, Loy played all the exotic and unmoral vamps. She had parts in two of the first synchronized sound films Don Juan and The Jazz Singer when she was signed with Warner Bros.
By the early 1930s Loy had enough of playing the vamps. When her contract with Warner Bros had expired she finally got to head over to MGM. At MGM her reputation for the perfect wife and a witty independent woman would be made. In 1934 Loy made Manhattan Melodrama where she was paired with the man who would play her husband in thirteen films, William Powell.
“My first scene with Bill, a night shot on the back lot, happened before we’d even met. Woody [WS Van Dyke, the director] was apparently too busy for introductions. My instructions were to run out of a building, through a crowd, and into a strange car. When Woody called “Action,” I opened the car door, jumped in, and landed smack on William Powell’s lap. He looked up nonchalantly: “Miss Loy, I presume?” I said, “Mr. Powell?” And that’s how I met the man who would be my partner in fourteen films.”
Throughout the ‘30s Loy would also be paired with Clark Gable who was also in Manhattan Melodrama. In 1936 Loy and Gable would be crowned King and Queen of Hollywood as voted on by readers in a nationwide poll. Loy once and for all shed her exotic image and became the perfect wife (or as Loy once said in an interview she never saw Nora as the perfect wife she saw her character as “the perfect companion”) when she played Nora Charles the wife of detective Nick Charles in The Thin Man. Powell and Loy would play Mr. and Mrs. Charles in six Thin Man films. The pair’s other films in the 30s and into the 40s includes the amazing Evelyn Prentice, Love Crazy, Double Wedding, Libeled Lady, and The Great Ziegfeld.
When World War II began Loy made very few films during that time instead she focused her energy on the war effort and campaigning for Roosevelt. Through her campaigning she became good friends with the first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
One of Loy’s first films after the War was The Best Years of Our Lives with Frederic March, Dana Andrews, and Teresa Wright, where she played the wife of a returning soldier. She received top billing and much acclaim and praise by the critics.
As she became older Loy focused more on political causes and working for UNESCO and equal housing in New York where she settled. Loy said in an interview in the 70s “As I get older I get more radical.” She did not forget her roots as a performer and made her Broadway debut in the 1970s revival of The Women as well as playing in small theater companies. Loy continued to make films until 1981 with her last film also being the last for Henry Fonda.
Myrna Loy lived out the rest of her life in New York City where she died on December 18, 1993 at 88.
With the way I write about Myrna Loy on my blog you would think I have been a fan of hers for years which it certainly feels like but in reality I have been a fan of this wonderful lady for only six months. For the longest time whenever I trolled some DVD stores I would always see The Complete Thin Man Collection in the boxsets section. I always thought the drawn picture of the main actors was awful and I could not imagine that the films were any good. I remember the day like it was yesterday I was walking through the DVDs at Barnes and Noble and I came across TCM’s pack of Myrna Loy and William Powell films. I love photography and I was so struck with the picture of the two actors on the cover that I wrote down the films hoping to find them online. Right next to this pack was The Complete Thin Man Collection so now I had to give in and see what they were about. When I went home one weekend I asked my grandma about The Thin Man films and she said they were really funny. I downloaded them around Christmas time and all throughout my Winter Break I was addicted to watching The Thin Man films.
I cannot exactly pinpoint the moment when I fell in love with Nick and Nora Charles/William Powell and Myrna Loy but I can tell you which scenes did: Nora asking if “you’ve got types” and Nick replying “Only you darling. Lanky brunettes with wicked jaws”; Nora gets a little plastered after too many drinks and as she goes to get off the bed she falls over a little but tells Nick to stop pushing her when he never did; the two of them flicking and hitting each other teasingly when someone was talking on the phone; Nick telling an intruder that his wife doesn’t mind the gun but he is a timid fellow and Nora telling him he’s an idiot; and the part that will forever be one of my all time favorites “Says you were shot five times in the tabloids” “That’s not true. He came nowhere near my tabloids.” What makes The Thin Man so amazing is Powell and Loy’s chemistry and how Nora was not a wife who was always brushed to the side she was right along with Nick solving the case and he never treated her like she was less than what she was. After seeing so many classic films where it was all about boy chases girl and at the end they get married or if they were married they were not happy it was amazing to see a loving husband and wife who adored each other.
“The Thin Man would never have been the success it was without her. When the bed rolled beneath her in the hangover scene and she looked up at me with the ice bag on her head and said “You pushed me,” she became every man´s dream of what a wife should be: beautiful and glamorous with a sense of humor, provocative and feminine without being saccharine or sharp, a perfect gal who never lost her temper, jumped at conclusions, or nagged a guy. Men-Must-Marry-Myrna Clubs were formed. Hearty Nigel Bruce broke down and wrote his first fan letter. Jimmy Stewart said, “I shall only marry Myrna Loy,” while women wept.”- William Powell
After watching the entire Thin Man series then watching all of Myrna Loy’s other films with William Powell I became a great admirer of hers. What I admire most about Myrna Loy is that she was very witty and funny but at the same time she was always so classy and sophisticated. I also greatly admire the fact that she never over acted. Time and again whenever I watch a classic film the actresses are always way too over dramatic and annoying. The moment I started to admire Loy for her acting was in the courtroom scene for Evelyn Prentice where her character begins to cry and become upset. She did not over act that scene at all she was perfect and in every other film I have seen her in where she has to be sad she never over did the tears or the sadness. In her incredibly amazing autobiography Being and Becoming (which I highly recommend reading if you can find it it is such a fantastic book) Loy addresses the fact that many critics said she tended to underact her parts. She said that she did not underact she played the parts as they were meant to be played. Loy studied theater and actors in plays, she saw that they did not over act so she did the same thing in her films. I feel you can learn so much about film acting by watching Myrna Loy’s films because she was so good at doing it and she embodies all the things that make classic Hollywood so amazing.
All the costars she ever worked with had nothing but really nice things to say about her. Cary Grant probably summed up working with her the best:
“Have you ever been married? If you haven´t been married, then you can´t understand what it meant to have Myrna play your wife. Even when she fed me lines off camera, I´d look over and she´d be pulling down her hem or straightening a stocking in a subconscious wifely gesture, instinctively doing the things that married women do. Acting is like playing ball. You toss the ball and some people don´t toss it back; some people don´t even catch it. When you get somebody who catches it and tosses it back, that´s really what acting is all about. Myrna kept that spontaneity in her acting, a supreme naturalness that had the effect of distilled dynamite. She really became the perfect wife. Melvyn Douglas and I used to talk about it on Blandings. All the leading men agreed - Myrna was the wife everybody wanted. The only problem we had was her photographic memory. She seemed to look at a page and know her lines and mine. It was harder for me. “Careful,” I told her, “You´ll make me look bad on the set.”
“Myrna is just exactly the type of actress Willy loved. He never liked things that seemed too theatrical, overstated. She exudes powerful yet quiet femininity. It´s so inner. The subtlety of what goes on within her amazes me. You feel her sensual quality, her deep womanliness, while underneath there is always this little laugh lurking. She would look at Fred [March], and the distance caused by months and months of separation just vanished. It was a lovely thing to watch in rehearsal and in the actual scenes. You seldom realize during shooting when a scene is very, very special, but I always was aware of it in their scenes.”- Teresa Wright
Never have I gotten so into an actress as I have with Myrna Loy. She is the only actresses from yesterday or today that when I sit through one of her films I know I will never be disappointed in her performance. Since first watching The Thin Man I have watched twenty- six of her film with many more yet to be seen as more of her films become widely available on DVD and on the internet. Myrna Loy is an actress I am proud to enjoy and look up to.