STAR OF THE WEEK: Myrna Loy

I’m going to need to work out my blog posting schedule in the wake of my new job, because I’m exhausted after work and feel like I haven’t posted in forever, which makes me feel really inadequate. In truth, it’s only been 2 days, but I still feel like I should be posting more. For my first star of the week for…quite some time, I took suggestions from my facebook and twitter followers, who have come back with some awesome suggestions for future posts, including a suggestion for Myrna Loy as the Star of the Week, which is something I got very excited about.

Myrna Loy is a very unique star. In real life a staunch liberal and dedicated feminist, she balked at the typical portrayal of the “woman who belonged in the home” and instead embraced such roles as Nora Charles, the independent wife, sidekick, and occasional sparring partner of detective Nick Charles in the Thin Man series–probably her most famous role and one of the best female parts of the 1930’s. The series was the first to show a married couple who could be friends, throwing friendly jabs and teases at each other while maintaining their loving relationship, and it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Myrna Loy in the role. She has a very modern air to her that allows her to play roles that may have bombed in the hands of another actress.

She was born Myrna Adele Williams in Helena, Montana on August 2, 1905, to a prominent political father and a mother who had studied at the American Conservatory of Music. Following the death of her father when Myrna was 12, the family moved to La Jolla, California, where she attended Venice High School and left at 18 to help her mother with her financial obligations, landing a job at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre and posing for portraits that were eventually discovered by Rudolph Valentino, thus beginning her film career in silents. Her first appearance was as an extra in a film called Pretty Ladies, followed by a more lucrative role in What Price Beauty? which led audiences to notice this mysterious beauty. It followed that Loy’s silent screen roles were predominantly of ethnic femmes fatales, drawing upon her strangely exotic eyes (though her heritage was Welsh and Scottish) and dark features.

Her big break came in Manhattan Melodrama in 1934, which was followed shortly thereafter by the first Thin Man movie, securing Loy’s place as a feature player and a box office success. The second Thin Man film, After the Thin Man, came in 1936. Her stardom was quickly rising, and by 1938 she was one of the most popular and highest paid actresses in Hollywood. Another Thin Man, the third film in the series, came out in 1939, followed by Shadow of the Thin Man in 1941.

Some witty lines from The Thin Man movies.

This burst in popularity did not, however, cause Loy to abandon her principles–when the U.S. began its involvement in World War II, she left films altogether to focus on the war effort. Volunteering with the Red Cross and vehemently denouncing the policies of Hitler, she toured army bases with the group of Hollywood celebrities banding together to bring morale to the troops stationed around the country.

She returned to films in 1945 with the conclusion of the Thin Man series, The Thin Man Goes Home, followed by what she considered to be her best role, that of wife to an injured World War II veteran played by Dana Andrews in The Best Years of Our Lives in 1946. The film is a masterpiece and won countless awards, including Best Picture at the 1947 Oscars, and a place on the American Film Institute’s list of the best movies of all time (rating at #37).

Loy’s film career was then peppered with a number of mediocre films, with the exception of the delightful comedy Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948) which gave her career a slight boost. She was, surprisingly, never nominated for an Academy Award, though she did receive an honorary Oscar at the 1991 Academy Awards, shortly before her death in 1993 at the age of 88.

Myrna Loy was well-known in Hollywood and beyond for her tireless efforts toward liberal and egalitarian causes. She was a loyal and committed Democrat, and served as co-chairman of the Advisory Council of the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing. She was also the first Hollywood celebrity to become a member of the National Commission for UNESCO, promoting equality and peace throughout the world through art. She was outspoken for the dignified treatment of black actors on film, and was quoted as saying “Why does every black person in the movies have to play a servant? How about a black person walking up the steps of a courthouse carrying a briefcase?”

As an actress and a person, Myrna Loy is deserving of a very high place in Hollywood history, and it truly is a shame that many of her movies have been forgotten or neglected. Thanks for the recommendation to have Myrna Loy as the Star of the Week!

Recommended by Jane (LouisaJanexxx) on Backlots’ twitter account.

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