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Being and Becoming Myrna Loy

by Legacy Staff

Here are some popular and lesser-known facts worth noting about actress Myrna Loy on the 20th anniversary of her death…

Here’s what you might know and remember about the glamorous actress Myrna Loy.

• She appeared in more than three dozen films in the 1920s alone –– most of them silent movies.
• Her break came as the rich and witty Nora Charles starring with William Powell in The Thin Man (1934) and five sequels. She and  Powell made 14 movies together in all.

• During the 1930s and early ’40s she starred opposite Clark Gable , Robert Montgomery, Spencer Tracy, Jimmy Stewart , Tyrone Power , Cary Grant , Frederic March and Melvyn Douglas.
• She was rumored to have affairs with some of her leading men.
• She wrote an autobiography, Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming, published in 1987.
• Although she never won an Oscar for her acting she did receive an honorary Academy Award for career achievement in 1991, when she made her last public appearance by satellite from New York. She was named a Kennedy Center honoree in 1988.
• She made her Broadway debut in a 1973 revival of The Women.

Here are some lesser-known facts worth noting on the 20th anniversary of her death on Dec. 14, 1993 at age 88.

• She was born Myrna Adele Williams in Montana and grew up on a ranch. Her banker/broker father named her after a train station stop, Myrna, that he passed through while traveling in Nebraska. Her mother was a singer. When her father died in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, the family relocated to California, where she studied dance and appeared in local stage productions.
• During World War II, Loy went to work for the Red Cross. She was outspoken about Adolf Hitler and was on his blacklist.
• A statue in front of Venice High School that she posed for in 1921 appears in the opening scenes of Grease (1978).
• She was married and divorced four times but had no children of her own. Her last husband, Howland H. Sargeant, was a delegate to UNESCO, part of the United Nations, to which Loy also devoted much of her time and energy.
• She was diagnosed with breast cancer twice and had two mastectomies.
• Her hobbies were sculpting and dancing.
• One of her first film roles was as an extra in the silent picture Pretty Ladies. Loy and Joan Crawford , in one of her first movies, played chorus girls who, at one point in the film, dangle from a chandelier.

But Myrna Loy was not just a pretty face and she was realistic about the difference between real life and the roles she played. Because of her role in The Thin Man and subsequent parts as a doting mother in The Best Years of Our Lives and Cheaper by the Dozen, she was termed “the perfect wife,” to which she said, “Some perfect wife I am. I’ve been married four times, divorced four times, have no children and can’t boil an egg.”


What she could do, however, was make an impact, following in her father’s footsteps of civic engagement. Her father had been the youngest man elected to the Montana state legislature. Loy, a Democrat and a feminist, joined Bundles for Bluejackets during World War II –– even putting on a uniform to help raise money. Later she spoke out against the House Committee on Un-American Activities. She fought against prejudice and served as an advisor on the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing. President Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were fans and friends.

In 1985, Loy was honored at a gala at Carnegie Hall where she was celebrated by 2,800 attendees, many of them Hollywood royalty. According to her obituary in The New York Times, Lauren Bacall said she admired Loy “as a person, an actress and a face, but also as a woman aware of what went on in the country and the world. . . . She’s not a frivolous human being. And she’s a great wit.”

Loy, who had been frail and in poor health, died during surgery in New York. Her body was cremated and her ashes buried at Forestvale Cemetery in Montana.

Susan Soper is the author of ObitKit®, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she has written for Newsday and CNN, and was Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called “Living with Grief.” Find her on Google+.

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