Sunday, November 28, 2010

Myrna Loy (1905-1993)

The American born beauty started her career as a trained dancer but quickly transitioned into a cting during the end of the Silent film era.  She was type cast in her early roles as an exotic which left her playing characters like a vamp to an Indian princess to woman of Asian decent.  It would be her lucky break playing the lovable Nora in the Thin Man series which would propel her to fame in in just a few years.

with Ian Keith in "The Great Divide"

Myrna who had relocated to Culver City with her mother during her late teens had professional portraits taken by the famed photographer and sculpture Henry Waxman during the time she was appearing on stage in local theater. Fortunately for her Rudolph Valentino came into Waxman's studio and noticed Myrna's photos prompting him to consider her for his next silent screen project "Cobra".  The first film was being producing with his wife Natasha Rambova.  Unfortunately the role went to Gertrude Olmstead but Myrna was given extra work in which she first appeared in "Pretty Ladies" 1925 with fellow newcomer Joan Crawford.  Myrna and Joan we're among a bevy of chorus girls who dangled from a large chandelier in the romantic drama.

made up to appear Asian in "The Crimson City"

Rambova had taken exotic stills of Myrna for an unreleased movie "What Price Beauty?" that made the rounds to fan magazines and interest from Warner Brothers who signed her for a contract in the mid 1920's.  Some of her first films playing a femme fatale we're in "A Girl in Every Port" 1928 starring Louise Brooks and Victor McLaglen. By 1929 she had co-star billing opposite Victor McLaglen again in the war adventure "The Black Watch". The film was directed by John Ford and Myrna was made up to play a native princess who wins the heart of the British soldier.  Her third role as the non American beauty who captures a mans heart came in "The Perfect Song" 1929 starring John Boles.

with Agnes Franey

with Ramon Novarro in "The Barbarian" 1933

Donning yellow based makeup once again in 1932 Myrna starred in "Thirteen Women" as an Eurasian half breed opposite Irene Dunne and Ricardo Cortez.  She was type cast again as an Asian princess in "The Mask of Fu Manchu" opposite Boris Karloff the same year.  Myrna also had a roles in Al Jolson's "The Jazz Singer" and "The Show of Shows" during the late 1920's.  Unfortunately after the two successful musicals Myrna fell into a two year slump with her career idling until the beginning of the 1930's.

With Robert Taylor in "Lucky Night" 1939

The early 1930's brought great success to Myrna after appearing in "The Barbarian" 1933 opposite Ramon Novarro and Reginald Denny then Myrna was cast as the lovable character Nora Charles in the first Thin Man movie opposite William Powell in 1934.  The director W.S Van Dyke felt Myrna's wit made her perfect for the role of Nora and he stood firm in casting her after Louis B. Mayor resisted citing Myrna as a serious, dramatic actress.  Lucky for all of us who fell in love with her character and the comedic timing that her and William Powell shared in the entire Thin Man series that followed.  I think I've seen each one at least 5 times.  They continue to be in my top three of early comedic duos with Cary Grant and Kate Hepburn as #1 and William Powell and Carole Lombard as #2 respectfully.

with her co-stars William Powell and Asta in "The Thin Man" 

With Clark Gable considered The King of Hollywood in the 1930's, Myrna Loy was considered the Queen of Hollywood and roles we're offered to her at a fast pace while under contract at MGM Studios during this time.  (She left Warner Brothers in the early 1930's when her contract ran out).  After the success of "The Thin Man" Myrna starred opposite Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in "Secretary" 1936 then in "Petticoat Fever" opposite Robert Montgomery that same year.  Myrna appeared in fourteen films all together with William Powell some of which were "Libeled Lady" 1936 also starring Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow then in the biopic "The Great Ziegfeld" that same year.

with Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable in "Test Pilot"

autograph from my collection, click to enlarge

in "Evelyn Prentice"

"After The Thin Man" came out in 1937 then Myrna appeared in "Double Wedding" with William Powell before starring in "Test Pilot" opposite Clark Gable and "Too Hot to Handle" 1938. Unfortunately neither film was very well received at the box office but did not affect their star status or top studio earnings .  The two films we're two of several films they would star in together during their very successful careers.  Myrna married Hollywood producer Arthur Hornblow Jr. in 1936 and they remained married until their divorce in 1942.  His second marriage and Myrna's first.

By the end of the 1930's Myrna was tiring of comedic roles and wanted to branch out into dramatic leads when she appeared in "The Rains Came" 1939 with Tyrone Power then a couple more dramatic roles before reuniting with William Powell for "Love Crazy" 1941 and "Shadow of the Thin Man" that same year.  After the outbreak of  WWII Myrna all but abandoned her film career to focus on war efforts, volunteering her time with the Red Cross as well as assisting with the running a Naval Auxillary Canteen and fund raising.  She was so fiercely outspoken against Adolph Hitler that her name appeared on his blacklist.  She remarried in 1942 to John Hertz Jr. of the Hertz Rent a car family.  They divorced in 1944 and Myrna married for a third time in 1946 to  producer/screenwriter Gene Markey.

with Clark Gable in "Manhattan Melodrama" 1934

Myrna returned to films in 1946 starring in "The Best Years of Our Lives" opposite Fredric March then in "The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer" with Cary Grant and Shirley Temple in 1947.  Following it's success she filmed "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" with Cary Grant in 1949.  (This really does stand out as one of Ms Loy's fun roles and her chemistry with Cary Grant as they play off of one another's comedic timing is worth watching if you've somehow missed this one).  Myrna appeared in "Cheaper By The Dozen" with Clifton Webb in 1950 before her acting career slowed down once again.

with Cary Grant in "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" 1949

Divorced from Gene Markey in 1950, Myrna married for the fourth time in 1951 to Howland Sargeant, a UNESCO delegate.  This started a new life path for Myrna as she assumed an influential role as the Co-Chairman of the Advisory Counsel of the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing. In 1948 she  became a member for the U.S. National Commision for UNESCO, the first Hollywood celebrity to do so.

with Robert Montgomery in "When Ladies Meet" 1933

After undergoing two mastectomies from cancer in 1975 Myrna's cancer went into remission until 1993. She died during surgery that same year.  Ms Loy was cremated and her ashes were interred at Forestvalle cemetery in Helena Montana.  Her grave site can be viewed HERE.  She appeared in over 120 films spanning over four decades.  For a look at Myrna's Hollywood home click HERE.

Myrna Loy Facts:

Her father was the youngest person elected to the Montana State Legislature. He was also a rancher and quite the real estate investor. He sold land near Culver City at a profit to Charlie Chaplin who built his movie studio on it.

At the age of 13 she moved with her mother and brother David to Culver City California  from Helena Montana when her father died of influenza.

To help her family financially she worked at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre at the age of 18 in their elaborate musical sequences that prologued their feature films of the day.

Throughout her career she championed the rights of black actors and characters to be depicted with dignity on film.

She received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center in 1988.

A building at Sony Pictures, formerly MGM studios is named in her honor.

She made her Broadway debut in 1973 in the revival "The Women".

She was one of many great Hollywood actors who was never nominated for an Academy Award but she was given an Honorary Oscar in 1991. This would be her last public appearance.

Her last film was also the last film for Henry Fonda.

In 1937 she had a harrowing experience during the making of "The Rains Came" with Tyrone Power when the horse she was riding bolted. almost killing her.

She was named Myrna after a small train station that her father traveled through during 1905.

In her earlier films with Clark Gable they did not get on very well. But in later years they developed a mutual respect for one another and became good friends.

She moved to Manhattan at the age of 60 and resided there until her death in 1993.

Her profile was the most requested during the 1930's by women to their plastic surgeons.

William Powell's nickname for her was Minnie.

She turned down the role of Ellie Andrews in "It Happened One Night" that went to Claudette Colbert who went on to win the Best Actress Oscar for the role.

She campaigned for John F. Kennedy in 1960.

Thank you for being patient with me over this holiday week and the delay in getting another blog posted. This post is dedicated to Clara who has a wonderful blog on Classic Hollywood that can be viewed HERE.

Which Myrna Loy movie is your favorite? Please share in the comments section.



  1. OMG, thanks for this post!! Great info, great pictures, great videos. I admire her not only because her acting skills, but because she fought for human rights, in a period that you risked your life by doing so. You're so lucky to have her signature! I love the pic in which she's wearing a bandana, looks so modern. Uhm, about my favorite movies from her, I love all the movies she did with William Powell, so much fun! "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" is hilarious; she was great in "The Best Years of Our Lives" and "Wife vs secretary". The only movie I didn't like very much was "Love me tonight", but it wasn't her fault :) Thanks again!

  2. I'm glad you liked it Clara. I don't know who I will blog about tomorrow. I will most likely pull an autograph out of a box and start writing. I enjoyed your posts on the Tarzan movies and that gorgeous Johnny Weissmuller. Keep up the good work.

  3. Nice site! Myrna is my second favorite actress of all time (trailing only Carole Lombard -- it's unfortunate they never made a movie together, as their styles would have complemented each other). Myrna was a generous, intelligent person who really cared about people and in many ways was ahead of her time (e.g., seeking to get black actors into less stereotyped roles during the 1930s). A great lady.

    I cordially invite you to visit my site, "Carole & Co.":

  4. Loved reading this, some really interesting info and gorgeous photos, thank you!

  5. I was introduced to Myrna in the Thin Man movies.She was so delightful and charming. The chemistry between her and William Powell was magic. They are some of the most entertaining and natural movies from the 1930's.
    The next to last photo posted is one I have never seen. It has to be one if not her best picture. I really appreciate her stand on behalf of Blacks at a time in this country when blatant racism was rampant and Hollywood bowed to the racial sensitivities of the south.

  6. According to her memoirs, Gable propositioned Myrna at her front door with his wife waiting in the car, she pushed him off her porch. The relationship recovered sufficiently that they would mark the end of a picture together splitting a bottle of champagne while he read her sonnets. In 1938 they were voted King and Queen of Hollywood - quite the recovery!

  7. Great post, Myrna Loy is one of my favorites too, I love the Thin Man Movies and really liked her in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. I love your posts!