Tuesday, August 2, 2011
BORN ON THIS DAY: MYRNA LOY
Loy was born Myrna Adele Williams in Helena, Montanam, to Adelle Mae (née Johnson) and rancher David Franklin Williams, in near by Radersburg. Her paternal grandparents were natives of Wales, and her maternal grandparents were Swedish and Scottish. Her first name came from a train station whose name her father liked. Her father was also a banker and real estate developer and the youngest man ever elected to the Montana state legislature. Her mother studied music at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago.
During the winter of 1912, Loy's mother nearly died from pneumonia, and her father sent his wife and daughter to La Jolla, California. Loy's mother saw great potential in Southern California, and during one of his visits she encouraged her husband to purchase real estate there. Among the properties he bought was land he later sold at a considerable profit to Charlie Chaplin so the filmmaker could construct his studio there. Although Loy's mother tried to persuade her husband to move to California permanently, he preferred ranch life and the three eventually returned to Montana. Soon afterward, Loy's mother needed a hysterectomy and insisted Los Angeles was a safer place to have it done, so she, Loy, and Loy's brother David moved to Ocean Park, where Loy began to take dancing lessons. They continued after she returned to Montana, and at the age of 12, Myrna Williams made her stage debut performing a dance she choreographed based on The Blue Bird from the Rose Dream Operetta
at Helena's Marlow Theater.
Loy's father died on November 7, 1918 of Spanish influenza, and Loy's mother was finally able to realize her dream to permanently relocate her family to California, where they settled in Culver City. Loy attended the exclusive Westlake School for Girls in Holmby Hills and continued to study dance in Downtown Los Angeles. When her teachers objected to her participating in theatrical arts, her mother enrolled her in Venice High School, and at 15, she began appearing in local stage productions.
In 1921, Loy posed for Harry Winebrenner's statue titled "Spiritual," which remained in front of Venice High School throughout the 20th century and can be seen in the opening scenes of the 1978 film Grease. The statue was vandalized several times, and at one point was removed from display. However it has been rebuilt using bronze, and is on display again, surrounded by some thorny rosebushes to protect it.
Loy's silent film roles were mainly those of vamps and femme fatales, and she frequently portrayed characters of Asian or Eurasian background in films such as Across the Pacific, A Girl in Every Port, The Crimson City, The Black Watch, and The Desert Song, which she later recalled "...kind of solidified my exotic non-American image." It took years for her to overcome this stereotype, and as late as 1932 she was cast as a villainous Eurasian half-breed in Thirteen Women. She also played a sadistic Chinese princess in The Mask of Fu Manchu, opposite Boris Karloff. Prior to that, she appeared in small roles in The Jazz Singer and a number of early lavish Technicolor musicals, including The Show of Shows, The Bride of the Regiment, and Under A Texas Moon. As a result, she became associated with musical roles, and when they began to lose favor with the public, her career went into a slump.
In 1934, Loy appeared in Manhattan Melodrama with Clark Gable and William Powell. When gangster John Dillinger was shot to death after leaving a screening of the film at the Biograph Theater in Chicago, the film received widespread publicity, with some newspapers reporting that Loy had been Dillinger's favorite actress. From that point on Myrna Loy never looked back, and the rest is history...