Myrna Loy 'a wonderful companion' for biographer Emily Leider
Author Emily W. Leider's new biography of screen star Myrna Loy reveals a private, principled woman. Leider appears at Seattle's Grand Illusion Cinema on Saturday, Aug. 11.
Seattle Times movie critic
The joy of Loy5 great performances to catch on DVD
'The Thin Man' (1934): If you haven't seen this classic screwball caper, what on earth are you waiting for? Sheer, martini-soaked pleasure, from start to finish. Five sequels follow it, none quite as good as the original (though "After the Thin Man," the second film, is pretty great, too).
'Manhattan Melodrama' (1934): History was made in this jaunty caper: William Powell and Loy met on screen for the first time, jumping into the back seat of the same car. (More history: "Most Wanted" gangster John Dillinger was shot by FBI agents while exiting a Chicago theater after seeing this movie; a fact MGM was happy to trumpet in its ads for the film.)
'Libeled Lady' (1936): Leider called this effervescent comedy her favorite of all Loy's movies; I love it, too. Also with Powell, Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy.
'Love Crazy' (1941): More screwball, with Powell in drag (he's pretending to be crazy) and Loy the picture of perfection, as usual.
'The Best Years of Our Lives' (1946): Not a comedy (and no Powell), but the performance of which Loy said she was most proud. She touchingly portrays a World War II wife, facing complicated emotions as her husband returns home.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
'Thoroughly Modern Myrna'A talk, accompanied by film clips and photos, about Myrna Loy. Presented by Emily W. Leider, author of the biography "Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood." Leider will sign copies of her book after the presentation. 7 p.m. Saturday at Grand Illusion Cinema, 1403 N.E. 50th St., Seattle; tickets are $8 ($6 seniors/students; $5 Grand Illusion members) and available through www.brownpapertickets.com.
The actress Myrna Loy, best known for her enchanting chemistry with William Powell in the "Thin Man" movies of the '30s and '40s, died in 1993 at the age of 88. Though her life was remarkable, both from her years in early Hollywood and her personal history of political activism, it took nearly 20 years after her death for a biography of her to be published — because, it seems, she didn't want one.
"She was such a private person," said Emily W. Leider, author of the biography "Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood" (University of California Press), in an interview last week. Though Loy left an archive of her papers at Boston University, she meticulously removed from it a number of personal letters, and left no diary.
"Anything truly intimate or revealing, she did not want the world to know," Leider said. Loy played the perfect wife on-screen, but her personal life was less sunny: four marriages, four divorces, and, to her great sadness, no children.
Leider will be in town Saturday for a presentation at the Grand Illusion titled "Thoroughly Modern Myrna," an examination of how Loy's look evolved from the silent films of the 1920s (where she was frequently cast as a mysterious exotic) to the '30s, in which she became the witty, all-American fantasy wife. Film clips and stills will accompany the talk, and Leider will sign copies of her book following it.
Loy, born Myrna Williams in Helena, Mont., in 1905, was a breath-of-fresh-air presence on screen: her face with its delicate, almost feline features always exquisite; her touch with comedy always perfectly light and utterly winning. Watch her Nora Charles in her first scene in "The Thin Man," as she enters a bar to meet her husband, Nick, but trips and falls while being dragged by their enthusiastic terrier, Asta. Apologizing for the commotion, Nick explains to a hotel employee that "it's my dog, and my wife." Nora, barely looking up from her makeup compact, observes pertly, "Well, you might have put me first on the billing"; her delivery breezy as a spring afternoon.
Loy never won or was nominated for an Academy Award (though she was given an honorary Oscar in 1991), a shocking oversight that may have its roots in the actress's liberal politics. (Some studio heads, Leider said, "had it in for her.") But her career encompassed nearly 60 years of filmmaking, from the silent era to the TV age; and her leading men included the likes of Powell, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Tyrone Power, Montgomery Clift, Henry Fonda and (playing her son) Paul Newman.
Leider, previously a biographer of Mae West and Rudolph Valentino, became drawn to Loy through her research into Valentino, who helped Loy (then a dancer at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood) get her first screen test in 1925. At first intrigued by the actress's on-screen charm, Leider gradually found herself drawn to Loy as a person.
After spending years researching, reading and interviewing the few people still living who knew Loy well (most notably her stepson), and watching films and clips, "she just got more and more admirable in my eyes," Leider said. "I think she had such solid values. She always saw beyond Hollywood, and that is rare among stars. It's maybe one reason that she didn't remain a big star." The screwball comedies in which Loy excelled eventually went out of fashion; the perfect wife on screen found fewer and fewer roles.
More important to Loy than Hollywood fame was the idea of making a difference: She worked on presidential campaigns, participated busily in war-relief campaigns during World War II, became an activist for the United Nations, and didn't hesitate to speak her mind — to the extent that her films were banned in Germany in 1939, as she was considered an enemy of Hitler. She didn't mind a bit. "Why should I be entertaining the Third Reich?" Loy later wrote in her autobiography, "Being and Becoming."
And Loy adored Eleanor Roosevelt, always keeping a photo of the former first lady in her apartment. "Eleanor was her ideal as a human being," said Leider.
Though Loy's careful privacy sometimes brought frustration to her biographer, Leider said that getting to know her through researching the book was a joy. "She was a wonderful companion," said Leider, of the six-year saga of writing the biography. "I really miss her."
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