Nationality: American. Born: Myrna Williams in Raidersburg (or Helena), Montana, 2 August 1905. Education: Attended Westlake School, Los Angeles, 1918–20; Venice High School, graduated 1923. Family: Married 1) the producer Arthur Hornblow Jr., 1936 (divorced 1942); 2) John Hertz, Jr. (divorced); 3) Gene Markey, 1946 (divorced 1950); 4) Howland Sargeant, 1951 (divorced 1960). Career: 1920—taught in private dance academy while in high school; 1923—chorus girl at Grauman's Chinese Theatre; also worked in Warners cutting department; 1925—film debut in Pretty Ladies; 1926—5-year contract with Warners; 1931—contract with MGM; 1942—devoted time to Red Cross Work; 1945—attended United Nations sessions in San Francisco, subsequently U.S. representative to UNESCO for over 3 years; 1950s and 1960s—active in electoral campaigns of liberal Democrats including Adlai Stevenson and Eugene McCarthy; 1985—Motion Picture Academy sponsored tribute to Loy at Carnegie Hall, New York. Awards: Honorary Oscar, 1991. Died: In New York City, 14 December 1993.
Films as Actress:
The Ten Commandments (Cecil B. DeMille) (uncredited)
Pretty Ladies (Bell) (bit role)
Ben-Hur (Niblo) (bit role); Cave Man (Milestone) (as chorus girl); Across the Pacific (Del Ruth); Why Girls Go Back Home (Flood); The Gilded Highway (Blackton); Don Juan (Crosland); The Exquisite Sinner (von Sternberg and Rosen); So This Is Paris (Lubitsch); Finger Prints (Bacon)
Ham and Eggs at the Front (Ham and Eggs) (Del Ruth); Bitter Apples (Hoyt); Heart of Maryland (Bacon) (bit role); The Jazz Singer (Crosland) (as chorus girl); If I Were Single (Del Ruth); The Girl from Chicago (Enright); The Climbers (Stein); Simple Sis (Raymaker); A Sailor's Sweetheart (Bacon)
What Price Beauty (Buckingham); Beware of Married Men (Mayo); Turn Back the Hours (Bretherton); Crimson City (Mayo); Pay as You Enter (Bacon); State Street Sadie (TheGirl from State Street) (Mayo) (as "Slinky"); Midnight Taxi (Adolfi) (as Mrs. Joe Brant); Noah's Ark (Curtiz) (as dancer/slave girl)
Fancy Baggage (Adolfi) (as Myrna); The Desert Song (Del Ruth) (as Azuri); Black Watch (King of the Khyber Rifles) (Ford) (as Yasmini); The Squall (Korda) (as Nubi); Hardboiled Rose (Weight) (as Rose Duhamel); Evidence (Adolfi) (as native girl); Show of Shows (Adolfi)
The Great Divide (Barker) (as Manuella); Cameo Kirby (Cummings) (as Lea); Isle of Escape (Bretherton) (as Moira); Under a Texas Moon (Curtiz) (as Lolita Romero); Cock o' the Walk (Lane and Neill) (as Narita); Bride of the Regiment (Dillon) (as Sophie); Last of the Duanes (Werker) (as Lola); The Truth about Youth (Seiter) (as Kara the Firefly); Renegades (Fleming) (as Eleanore); Rogue of the Rio Grande (Bennet) (as Carmita); The Devil to Pay (Fitzmaurice) (as Mary Carlyle); Jazz Cinderella (Love Is Like That) (Pembroke) (as Mildred Vane)
Naught Flirt (Cline) (as Linda Gregory); Body and Soul (Santell) (as Alice Lester); A Connecticut Yankee (The Yankee at King Arthur's Court) (Butler) (as Morgan Le Fay); Hush Money (Lanfield) (as Flo Curtis); Transatlantic (William K. Howard) (as Kay Graham); Rebound (Edward H. Griffith) (as Evie Lawrence); Skyline (Taylor) (as Paula Lambert); Consolation Marriage (Sloane) (as Elaine); Arrowsmith (Ford) (as Joyce Lanyon)
Emma (Brown); The Wet Parade (Fleming); Vanity Fair (Franklin) (as Becky Sharp); The Woman in Room Thirteen (Henry King) (as Sari Loder); New Morals for Old (Brabin) (as Myra); Love Me Tonight (Mamoulian) (as Countess Valentine); Thirteen Women (Archainbaud) (as Ursula Georgi); The Mask of Fu Manchu (Brabin) (as Fah Lo See); The Animal Kingdom (The Woman in His House) (Edward H. Griffith) (as Cecilia Henry)
Topaze (D'Arrast) (as Coco); The Barbarian (A Night in Cairo) (Wood) (as Diana); The Prizefighter and the Lady (Van Dyke) (as Belle Morgan); When Ladies Meet (Beaumont) (as Mary Howard); Penthouse (Crooks in Clover) (Van Dyke) (as Gertie Waxted); Night Flight (Brown) (as Brazilian pilot's wife); Scarlet River (Selznick) (as herself)
Men in White (Boleslawsky) (as Laura); Manhattan Melodrama (Van Dyke) (as Eleanor); The Thin Man (Van Dyke) (as Nora Charles); Stamboul Quest (Wood) (as "Fraulein Doktor"); Evelyn Prentice (William K. Howard) (title role); Broadway Bill (Strictly Confidential) (Capra) (as Alice)
Wings in the Dark (Flood) (as Sheila Mason); Whipsaw (Wood) (as Vivian Palmer)
Wife versus Secretary (Brown) (as Linda Stanhope); Petticoat Fever (Fitzmaurice) (as Irene Campion); The Great Ziegfeld (Leonard) (as Billie Burke); To Mary—with Love (Cromwell) (as Mary Wallace); Libeled Lady (Conway) (as Connie Allenbury); After the Thin Man (Van Dyke) (as Nora Charles)
Parnell (Stahl) (as Katie O'Shea); Double Wedding (Thorpe) (as Margit Agnew)
Man-Proof (Thorpe) (as Mimi Swift); Test Pilot (Fleming) (as Ann Barton); Too Hot to Handle (Conway) (as Alma Harding)
Lucky Night (Taurog) (as Cora Jordan); The Rains Came (Brown) (as Lady Edwina Esketh); Another Thin Man (Van Dyke) (as Nora Charles)
I Love You Again (Van Dyke) (as Kay Wilson); Third Finger, Left Hand (Leonard) (as Margot Sherwood)
Love Crazy (Conway) (as Susan Ireland); Shadow of the Thin Man (Van Dyke) (as Nora Charles)
Show Business at War (short)
The Thin Man Goes Home (Thorpe) (as Nora Charles)
So Goes My Love (A Genius in the Family) (Ryan) (as Jane); The Best Years of Our Lives (Wyler) (as Milly)
The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer (Bachelor Knight) (Reis) (as Margaret); Song of the Thin Man (Buzzell) (as Nora Charles); The Senator Was Indiscreet (Mr. Ashton Was Indiscreet) (Kaufman) (bit role as Mrs. Ashton)
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (Potter) (as Muriel Blandings)
The Red Pony (Milestone) (as Alice Tiflin)
Cheaper by the Dozen (Walter Lang) (as Mrs. Lillian Gilbreth); That Dangerous Age (If This Be Sin) (Ratoff) (as Lady Cathy Brooke)
Belles on Their Toes (Levin) (as Mrs. Gilbreth)
The Ambassador's Daughter (Krasna) (as Mrs. Cartwright)
Lonelyhearts (Donahue) (as Florence Shrike)
From the Terrace (Robson) (as Martha Eaton); Midnight Lace (Miller) (as Aunt Bea)
The April Fools (Rosenberg)
Death Takes a Holiday (Butler—for TV); Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate (Post—for TV)
The Couple Takes a Wife (Paris—for TV)
Indict and Convict (Sagal—for TV); Airport 1975 (Smight) (as Mrs. Devaney)
The Elevator (Jameson—for TV)
It Happened at Lakewood Manor (Panic at Lakewood Manor; Ants!) (Sheerer—for TV) (as Ethel Adams)
The End (Burt Reynolds) (as Maureen Lawson)
Just Tell Me What You Want (Lumet) (as Stella Liberti)
Summer Solstice (Rosenblum—for TV)
By LOY: book—
Myrna Loy: On Being and Becoming, with James Kotsilibas-Davis, London, 1987.
By LOY: articles—
"Myrna Loy on Comedy," interview with Eric Braun in Films and Filming (London), March 1968.
"Nora on Nick," interview with J. Hurley, in Films in Review (New York), October 1982.
Interview with James Kotsilibas-Davis, in American Film (New York), vol. 13, no. 2, 1987.
On LOY: books—
Kay, Karyn, Myrna Loy, New York, 1977.
Quirk, Lawrence J., The Films of Myrna Loy, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1980.
Baxt, George, The William Powell and Myrna Loy Murder Case (fiction), New York, 1996.
On LOY: articles—
Current Biography 1950, New York, 1950.
Ringgold, Gene, "Myrna Loy," in Films in Review (New York), February 1963.
Bowers, Ron, "Legendary Ladies of the Movies," in Films in Review (New York), June-July 1973.
Braun, Eric, "The Dream Machine," in Films and Filming (London), March 1975.
Classic Images (Indiana, Pennsylvania), April 1982.
Films in Review (New York), October 1982.
Buckley, Michael, "A Tribute to Myrna Loy," in Films in Review (New York), May 1985.
Denby, David, "The Aristocrat Next Door," in Premiere (New York), November 1993.
Obituary, in New York Times, 15 December 1993.
Natale, Richard, obituary in Variety (New York), 27 December 1993.
Roth-Bettoni, Didier, "Myrna Loy (1905–1993)," in Mensuel du Cinéma (Paris), February 1994.
Tyrnauer, M., "Myrna Loy," in Vanity Fair (New York), March 1994.
* * *
Perhaps no other actress of her refinement has been so encumbered by the star epithets meant to promote her than Myrna Loy. Touted as the perfect wife and crowned Queen to Clark Gable's virile King, she managed to retain her popular appeal while transcending the stereotypes affixed, but never adhering to her ebullient personality. A laugh always seems fermenting deep within her, the happy product of some distillation of good and high spirits.
Loy began her career as a dancer and bit player (one early "part" cast her as the leg of a human chandelier!) but soon found her singular beauty appropriated to play dark-skinned sirens and Oriental wantons. She exhibited a fiendish glee in such lurid roles as the vindictive half-caste with hypnotic powers out to revenge herself against her white sorority sisters in Thirteen Women and the "sadistic nymphomaniac" (as Loy described her) in The Mask of Fu Manchu. A supporting role in Love Me Tonight released the levity in her nature. Her drowsy Valentine, whose narcolepsy results not from lack of sleep, but want of men, immediately revives whenever an eligible male wanders in her vicinity. When asked whether she could go for a doctor, this sleeping beauty responds with an enthusiastic, grateful "Yes!" Loy had a way of reading of her lines, even the monosyllabic ones, that uncovered unexpected reserves of energy and irony ready for use.
Loy's Valentine, enchanting as she was, could have lived at any time since the sixteenth century—providing she was lodged in a chateau. It was her early films with Woody Van Dyke, such as Penthouse and Manhattan Melodrama which teamed her with William Powell and Clark Gable, that naturalized Loy as a sophisticated woman very much of her own times. Powell won out over the rough, but generous Gable in the latter film, forming an enduring screen partnership that would have fun making fun of the modern sex relation. In 1934's The Thin Man Loy literally hurled the modern wife at the feet of an unsuspecting public by executing a three-point landing on a barroom floor. She rose, dignity intact, to assume her place in the popular imagination as the perfect wife who was in every way an equal to her mate—drink for drink, repartee for repartee, but mostly wink for wink. Though never canonized as the perfect husband, Powell knew how to cherish Loy as the most companionable of modern women—witty, unaffectedly but unmistakably intelligent, and remarkably good-natured.
Her rapport with Powell, while unique, nevertheless revealed her untroubled instinct for what her screen mates needed and saw in her. She is not as droll with Gable, who liked his women sassy but not ironic. Her staunch but giving heart so impresses him that he is ready to compromise his macho code and become gentler than he generally feels he can afford to be, a transformation she works on him in the Test Pilot and Too Hot to Handle. Opposite Cary Grant in The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House she maintains an imperturbable calm in the face of his frenzied attempts to create order out of chaos, calmly proceeding with her business whatever he thinks his—or hers—might be.
Loy persisted in the national psyche as the womanly ideal after the war. In Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives she suggested how the generosity that in her comic roles manifested itself in good-spirited camaraderie also subsisted in the forbearing wife patiently assisting her husband's readjustment to civilian life. But Loy was no stranger to the dark side of the happy marriages she continued humanizing in films such as Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes. Her wrenching portrait as the alcoholic mother in From the Terrace and the sardonic wife in Lonelyhearts offer a bleak counterface to the festive mien she generally presented to the camera. Her last roles played on the knowledge that the qualities she embodied were fast becoming legendary, so that there is to her performances in April Fools and Just Tell Me What You Want the melancholy suggestion that her wit, womanly tact, and ironic intelligence had indeed transported her to some unreachable, yet still visible realm of perfection.