Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Christmas Album: Myrna

The Seventh Day of our Holiday tour finds us sharing a cup of seasonal cheer with Myrna Loy and the Navy during the Second World War, which began for America on another Sunday 67 years ago today, December 7th at Pearl Harbor. Giving up her acting career during the war to devote herself to Red Cross work, (except for The Thin Man Goes Home), Ms. Loy might prefer to be remembered for work such as this, her championing of civil rights, (asking impertinent questions on the MGM lot as to why no African-American ever appeared with a briefcase instead of a broom in any courthouse scenes), and later as a U.N. supporter, but we can also cherish her for her playfulness, humor and warmth, all on great display in The Thin Man movies. The original movie of the series features one of the great introduction scenes in movie history as Nora (Loy) literally falls from art deco grace thanks to that naughty Asta tugging at his leash, trying to get nearer to Nick and all that booze; causing Christmas presents, furs, gloves and dignity to splay across the ritzy barroom floor. No matter how beleaguered, Loy kept a firm grip on her aplomb.

The soubriquets as "the perfect wife", (after four failed tries in reality, she would wince at that, though she was an ideal screen partner), or the "Queen of Hollywood", which was a press agent's honorific given to her and the "King of Hollywood", Clark Gable. Mr. G., she reported in her discreet autobiography, Being and Becoming, landed in the bushes one night after she gave him a shove off her front porch, blocking a fumbled pass on his part, though they remained pals.

Above: Though the outfit makes it hard to tell, that's early, exotic Myrna swathed in the height of fashion in some neighborhoods in the '20s, a velvet coat trimmed in fur, and that swiss cheese headgear.
The reindeer looks suspiciously uninterested in that hamburger (or Christmas present?) that Ms. Loy is holding.

William Powell, whom many fans of their outings as Nick and Nora Charles, assumed was her husband, was simply her dear friend. Of her film roles, ranging from exotic Oriental babes to continental adventuresses to All-American women, some of my personal picks might be Countess Valentine in Love Me Tonight, Coco, the perfect mistress in Topaze, and as the abiding force behind Fredric March in The Best Years of Our Lives and Cary Grant in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, though, for all her early exotic forays on screen and her sophistication, her muted work portraying a ranch woman in The Red Pony may have been closest to her own Montana roots. Her often forgotten work in character parts vividly portraying troubled women such as the wife of Robert Ryan in Lonelyhearts and as Paul Newman's besotted mother in From the Terrace were exceptionally good, though utterly overlooked. Myrna could make even a lousy movie, such as Just Tell Me What You Want, worth watching, as she brought fifty years of acting skill to grace a small but finely crafted throwaway part.

Above: Myrna Loy as the playful Nora Charles, a memorable role from The Thin Man (1934) and other films in the series. 
One fellow that she carried on an epistolatory flirtation with before and during the war that divided her work life in two was FDR."We carried on a long-distance infatuation throughout World War II," she recalled. "He was always sending me telegrams, trying to get me to come to Washington. But I could never go when he was there. The times I did get there, he was gone. It's a very sad story." After thinking it over, she remarked with a small smile, "Probably very lucky."


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