For a time in the 1930s, Myrna Loy was the biggest star in cinema. Dubbed “The Queen of Hollywood,” she ruled the box office and the big screen with her dark charms. Yet when the cameras stopped rolling, Loy’s life was anything but a fairy tale. Here are 42 facts about the glamorous Myrna Loy.
Like so many Old Hollywood stars, the name “Myrna Loy” was actually a stage name; Loy’s real full name was Myrna Adele Williams. When she first started acting, her friends in Tinseltown thought her birth name was too plain for her striking face. They initially suggested the heavy-handed “Myrna Lisa” before wisely going with “Myrna Loy.”
One of Loy’s trademarks was her pert, upturned nose. Film critics called it “a wonder of nature” and “a plastic surgeon’s paragon.” In the 1930s, scores of young women begged their doctors to give them Loy’s profile.
Men went mad for Loy’s good looks and proper charms, and one of her many nicknames was “The Perfect Wife.” Old Hollywood superstar Jimmy Stewart even once said, “There ought to be a law against any man who doesn't marry Myrna Loy."
He wasn’t the only fan: The frenzied American public also formed Men-Must-Marry Myrna clubs.
The actress gained lasting fame for her role as the intrepid and hard-drinking heiress Nora Charles in The Thin Man and its many sequels. She and William Powell played a husband and wife detective duo in the film, and their natural, boozy chemistry made them frequent collaborators from then on.
In 1936, the public voted Myrna Loy “The Queen of the Movies” alongside Clark Gable’s “King of the Movies.” Loy’s victory came with a tin and velvet crown.
Myrna Loy was born on August 2nd, 1905 in Helena, Montana to Adelle Mae and David Franklin Williams. Even as a young girl, little Myrna loved dancing, and convinced her parents to enroll her in dancing classes. As Loy once said, “By the time I was 3 years old, I was dancing on my tippy-toes.” Unsurprisingly, she broke into Hollywood first as a dancer.
When Loy was barely in her teen years, a sculptor immortalized her form. In 1921, she posed for her high school teacher, the artist Harry Fielding Winebrenner, as the embodiment of “Inspiration” for his series of set pieces for the school’s front fountain. The resulting sculpture stood for years in front of the building.
Myrna Loy and Joan Crawford came up together in Hollywood, working together as extras before they both made it big. They would remain lifelong friends.
The set of The Thin Man was a very loose affair, with director W.S. Van Dyke often wrapping scenes up in one take and moving on to the next. That is, until the day it all unraveled. There was a complicated dinner scene requiring rare re-takes, so no one saw the problem with a plate of oysters that had to be brought out again and again under the hot lights.
But oh, there was a problem. As Loy recalled, "They began to putrefy. By the time we finished that scene, nobody ever wanted to see another oyster.”
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Loy had friends in high places—the highest places, actually. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was one of her closest confidantes.
Loy frequently collaborated with Clark Gable on films, and the macho actor shared a little-known vulnerable side with her. As she revealed in her memoirs, they would read Shakespeare and other poetry together late into the night after filming was done. According to Loy, “He loved poetry, and read beautifully, with great sensitivity, but he wouldn’t dare let anyone else know it.”
When Loy was just 12 years old, her whole world got turned upside down. In 1918, her father died from the flu pandemic that was sweeping the nation, leaving Loy, her mother, and her young brother all alone. Worst of all, Loy felt responsible for her family’s well-being; her father had asked her to take his place when he was gone.
Though she was known for playing “exotic” and dark roles, Myrna Loy was actually a natural redhead.
None other than infamous heartbreaker Rudolph Valentino helped Loy get her start in Hollywood. When she was still a chorus girl, she got several headshots that later fell into Valentino’s lap. The actor was mesmerized by the upstart, and he ended up casting her as an extra in the 1925 film Pretty Ladies.
Many of her closest friends called Loy “Minnie.”
Early on in her career, Loy struggled against stereotypes. Producers took one look at her dark features and cast her in racist roles playing villainous, femme fatale women of Asian descent. Possibly the most heinous example of this was her turn as a sadistic woman opposite Boris Karloff in The Mask of Fu Manchu.
Though Loy eventually had an amicable relationship with Clark Gable, they had an absolutely disastrous start. Loy always found him arrogant and narcissistic, but one day he really outdid himself. He stood at her door and made a move on her, all while his wife was waiting in the car. As Loy recalled, “I pushed him off the porch. Imagine, a grown man acting like that!”
Loy’s history of playing vamps and femme fatales in contrast to her professional demeanor led director John Ford to comment, “Wouldn’t you know, the kid they pick to play the tramps is the only good girl in Hollywood.'' This was apparently just Ford’s type: like so many others, the auteur nursed a crush on the actress for years.
By the time Loy found success in The Thin Man, she had been rising and grinding for quite some time. As she once put it, “That finally made me…after more than 80 films.”
In order for Loy to get her iconic part as Nora Charles in The Thin Man, director W.S. Van Dyke put her through a manipulative test. One day while they were both at a Hollywood party, he pushed her in the pool just to see her reaction. When she responded with aplomb, he knew he had found his fun-loving Nora at last.
Though Loy had many affairs with actors, she never married a thespian. As her biographer once quipped, ''You see, Myrna likes brains. That’s not a notable trait in actors.''
Though First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was a friend of Loy’s, the actress had another presidential connection. Eleanor’s husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, had a very public crush on Loy. She was hands-down his favorite actress, and he was deeply disappointed when she visited the White House one day and he couldn’t be there.
One of the first things he asked upon his return was “Well, what was she like?”
According to lore, Loy’s father named her “Myrna” after he traveled through a town of the same name, and found he liked the sound of it.
Loy was no studio puppet, and she frequently made her opinions known. When she started working for MGM, she had harsh words for their racist casting policies, 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?”
At the height of her fame, a producer told Loy she should visit a plastic surgeon to get her ears fixed. The insecure actress phoned up for a consult under a false name, but she ended up getting much more than she bargained for. When she showed up to the appointment, the surgeon bizarrely took a long series of photos of her from every angle, even on top of a chair.
Then he announced what he was really doing. “Well,” he said at last, “I’ve got your nose, Miss Loy.” He had immediately recognized the incognito star and used the opportunity to capture and study her perfect nose—one of the most asked-for body parts in plastic surgery at the time. Loy, meanwhile, never did go back to get her ears “fixed.” Wonder why…
Loy was married four times over her life, never for very long, with all of them ending in divorce.
When World War II broke out in Europe, Loy was one of the fiercest critics of the Germans. In fact, she was so loud about her moral objections that she even got blacklisted in Germany, with the government banning her films.
Despite her enormous success, Loy never got nominated for an Academy Award. Many critics consider it one of the great oversights of Hollywood history.
Myrna Loy was no fan of her exotic femme fatale character in The Mask of Fu Manchu, and she once expressed her opinion on set in an unforgettable way. The script called for her character to whip a man with glee, and she staunchly refused to do it, protesting, “I’ve done a lot of terrible things in films, but this girl’s a sadistic nymphomaniac.”
When the producer—who apparently hadn’t read his Freud—asked what the heck that meant, Loy only tossed out, “Well, you better find out, because that’s what she is.”
Loy had a longstanding feud with notorious studio head Louis B. Mayer. For one, Mayer didn’t believe Loy could play Nora Charles in The Thin Man, and almost didn’t put her in the movie. Then when she started feeling restricted by the studio system and asked Mayer for a contract release, his response was truly ruthless.
Mayer told her, ''You’re very ungrateful after all I’ve done for you,” and “I couldn’t care more about you if you were my own horse.'' Then he let her go.
According to Loy, the only two actors who never tried to sleep with her were Cary Grant and William Powell.
Just five days after her divorce from Hornblow, Loy married advertising executive John D. Hertz, Jr. the very rich founder of Hertz Rent-a-Car. Sadly, it was doomed to a heartbreaking end. Hertz was mentally and physically abusive to her, and one day he hit her so hard he gave her a black eye. Within two years, their marriage was over.
In her later years, Loy kept a dark secret. In 1975, she got diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo two mastectomies to combat the illness. She kept it hush-hush from the public and only revealed the extent of her battle in her 1987 autobiography.
Loy might not have had much success with her real-life marriages, but she frequently played happy wives on screen. She and William Powell played husband and wife no less than 13 times, leading him to quip, “Even my best friends never fail to tell me that the smartest thing I ever did was to marry Myrna Loy on the screen.”
In the 1930s, Loy found out she was pregnant and resolved to have an abortion. It was a heart-wrenching choice—but it was about to get even worse. Sadly, the doctors botched the procedure and rendered her infertile. She never had any children.
Though Myrna Loy never got nominated for a bona fide Academy Award for acting, she did receive an honorary award for “career achievement” in 1991, when she was well into her 80s. The elderly Loy accepted the award through a pre-taped spot in her New York home. "You've made me very happy,” she said. “Thank you very much."
Even more touching? It was her last public appearance ever.
In 1934, notorious gangster John Dillinger was literally Public Enemy No. 1. He also happened to be a huge Myrna Loy fan—and it actually brought about his downfall. On July 22, 1934, police caught wind of the fact that Dillinger had dipped in to see Manhattan Melodrama, Loy’s most recent flick with Clark Gable and William Powell.
Cops surrounded the theatre and ended up killing the American legend in an infamous shoot-out. All because Dillinger just had to see the Queen of the Movies.
She may have been “The Only Good Girl in Hollywood,” but this good girl had a dark side. In 1932, Loy started dating producer Arthur Hornblow Jr.—regardless of the disturbing fact that he was a married man.
Despite her professionalism on set, Loy was never one to follow rules. She ended up marrying her illicit lover Arthur Hornblow, Jr. but reportedly still had frequent affairs with her co-stars. According to the rumor mill, the actress kept going back to Spencer Tracy’s bed whenever they did a picture together.
In June of 1942, the cracks in Loy’s relationship with Hornblow came to a bitter end. She divorced him, citing “mental cruelty” as the grounds for the split. She later confessed that Hornblow was one of the loves of her life, but also added, “Of course, he just about wrecked my life, too.''
Sadly, President Franklin Roosevelt and Myrna Loy never met. Fellow actress Lauren Bacall even once commented that Roosevelt was "tempted to call off the Yalta Conference" just to finally meet her, but it never worked out. Instead, the pair wrote letters to each other, indulging in a long-distance “infatuation.”
Loy lived to the ripe old age of 88, dying on December 14, 1993, after a long but undisclosed illness. Her ashes are now buried in her hometown of Helena, Montana.
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