Actress Loretta Young was no shrinking violet — a fact that often didn’t sit well with her producers and studio bosses.
“She was beautiful, ethereally beautiful, and there was a delicacy to her,” said her daughter-in-law Linda Lewis. “But she was stubborn when it came to what she thought was right for her. She actually mentions in one of her interviews that after a while you get tired being reviewed for your cheekbones.”
“She didn’t really listen to her bosses much,” noted her son Chris Lewis. “When she got a part, she would go to the costume department and have a hand in how the costumes were made. She took a hand in her makeup and her hair.... She really knew what was right for her until the end.”
And sticking to her guns paid off handsomely for Young.
Young, who began her career as a child extra in such films as Rudolph Valentino’s “The Sheik,” was a popular film star and the epitome of glamour for nearly three decades. She was playing romantic leads at 14, sexy working-class heroines in pre-code early 1930s dramas such as “Midnight Mary” and “A Man’s Castle.” She headlined several historical films such as “Suez” in the late 1930s and segued into more mature, challenging parts in the 1940s, including Orson Welles’ “The Stranger.”
After more than 20 years in the business, she finally won the lead actress Oscar for her comedic role in the 1947 hit “The Farmer’s Daughter.”
When Young left movies for TV at the of 40, she gained even more fans for her long-running anthology series, in which she made a grand entrance in the opening moments each week wearing a fabulous designer gown. Young was just as glamorous when she returned to TV in the 1980s after nearly 20 years in retirement to make two TV movies.
This year her son and daughter-in-law are spearheading a centennial celebration for Young, who died in 2000 at age 87. “We are so proud of mom,” said Chris Lewis. “She is part of Hollywood history.”
TCM has made Young its star of the month and is showing 38 of her films. Next month, the Shout! Factory is releasing a compilation of favorite episodes of her “The Loretta Young Show.” And the series, which aired from 1953-61, will join the lineup of the nostalgia cable station Me-TV.
But perhaps the most extensive tribute is the Hollywood Museum exhibition “Loretta Young: Hollywood Legend,” which celebrates her legacy as a movie star and fashion icon. The exhibition opens Wednesday and continues through April 29. Highlights of the exhibition, which was culled from several collections, includes costumes from such films as “The Crusades” and “Rachel and the Stranger,” a personal collection of her gowns, shoes and jewelry, as well as décor from her homes in Beverly Hills and Palm Springs.
There’s a treasure trove of family photos, movie posters, glamour portraits, a look at her humanitarian work and a tribute to her three husbands — Grant Withers, Tom Lewis and costume designer Jean Louis, who had created many of her fashions for the movies.
Because the museum is located in the old Max Factor and Young was the first Max Factor Girl, there will be a star-dressing table with her photos and the makeup line he designed for her. There’s even a replica of her sewing table.
“I learned from Max Factor’s relatives that they thought Loretta Young had something inside her that glowed,” said Hollywood Museum founder Donelle Dadigan. “They always thought her true beauty came from the fact that she knew who she was.”
Young, who was a devout Catholic, was “so open and honest as a friend,” said film critic Rex Reed. “She had this built-in sense of warmth that would have thawed a snowstorm.”
Even long after she retired and was living in Palm Springs, said Reed, “people just stopped” when they saw her in public. “Their mouths opened. She is one of the most recognizable faces. Right up until the end, she was beautiful, youthful and vibrant. She was socially conscious. She was very tuned in to things. She was not one of those people who live in a dark room watching her old movies.”
Linda Lewis noted that Young’s reputation took a hit when her oldest daughter, the late Judy Lewis, published a book in 1994 in which she disclosed she was not the actress’ adopted daughter as the general public believed, but Young’s biological child with the then-married Clark Gable. She had costarred with Gable in 1935’s “Call of the Wild.” Lewis was an adult when Young finally told her the truth.
“This one piece of mom’s life has made people think of her in a way that’s not fair,” said Lewis, adding there is more to the story they hope to reveal in either a biography or biopic.
“We have held this secret for all of these years,” said Lewis. The full story, she says, speaks to Young’s “courage and her bravery.”
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