She is remembered as one of the great beauties of early Hollywood and as part of one of Hollywood's earliest scandals, as the mother of Clark Gable's illegitimate daughter.
BiographyLoretta Young was born Gretchen Young in Salt Lake City, Utah, on January 6, 1913. She had two elder sisters, Polly Ann Young and Elizabeth Jane Young (later to become better known as Sally Blane).
Early YearsWhen she was three her parents separated and Loretta and her two sisters were moved with their mother to Hollywood, where her mother ran a boarding house. All three girls helped their mother in the boarding house, and, with the assistance of an uncle who was a second director at one of the nearby studios, became successful child actors.
Loretta was screened as a baby in the film 'The Only Way' in 1914 and she appeared in small role, in 'The Primrose Ring' in 1917. She also had a brief scene in 'The Sheik' in 1921.
Loretta's mother got married again, when Loretta was ten, to one of her lodgers, George Belzer and their daughter, Georgiana, later to marry actor Ricardo Montalban, was born two years later.
The Young ActressAfter leaving Ramona Convent Secondary School at age 14, Gretchen got a small supporting role in in the silent movie 'Naughty But Nice', which led to a screen contract with First National Studios. On the advice of Colleen Moore, the star of 'Naughty But Nice', she changed her name from Gretchen to the more exotic sounding Loretta and she was billed as Loretta Young for the first time in 'The Whip Woman' in 1928. She continued working in Silent movies and appeared in supporting roles in 'The Magnificent Flirt' and 'The Head Man', both also in 1928. After having started her career as a blonde she reverted to her natural brunette and quickly moved from teenager to ingénue leading lady roles.
In 1929 she had a leading role in 'Laugh Clown Laugh' with Lon Chaney and in the same year she was made one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars, along with Jean Arthur, among others.
TalkiesLoretta had a pleasing and strong speaking voice and she easily made the transition to Talkies, having her first speaking role in 'The Squall' in 1929. She was extremely ambitious and a hard worker and she made between 6 and 9 films each year. In 1930 when she was 17 years old, she appeared in 'The Second Floor Mystery' with divorced actor Grant Withers, who was nine years older than her. They made headlines when they eloped and got married but after one year the marriage was annulled.
Hollywood StarLoretta's hard work paid off when Darryl Zanuck of Warner Brothers placed her under contract. When Zanuck left Warners for Twentieth Century Fox in 1934, Loretta followed him and continued to make many successful films for him. In total she made 88 movies during her 26 year film career and starred with most of the leading men of the day. Loretta started getting better roles and by the mid-1930's, she was an established Hollywood star, usually cast as a decorative addition in 'B' movies. In 1938, she had an outstanding success with 'Kentucky' in which her co-star Walter Brennan won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Loretta continued to work hard, making several movies a year, cementing her reputation as a reliable as well as a talented performer. In 1944, she appeared in 'Ladies Courageous', about a unit of female pilots flying bombers from the factories to the airfields during the War.
Loretta was approaching the peak of her career and she made a major impact in 1946, as the wife of a renegade Nazi in Orson Welles's 'The Stranger', and then in 1947 she won the Academy Best Actress Award with her first nomination in the comedy 'The Farmer's Daughter', the tale of a Swedish farm girl who works for a United States congressman, and is eventually able to become a congresswoman herself. The film was both a critical and a box-office success.
Also in 1947 she starred in 'The Bishop's Wife' with David Niven and Cary Grant, another great success, and one which is still a television favourite. Another well-received film was in 1949, 'Mother Is a Freshman' with Van Johnson and Rudy Vallee, and in the same year she received another Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her appearance in 'Come To The Stable'. Loretta's final movie role was in 1953 with 'It Happens Every Thursday'.
Television CareerLoretta was one of the first and certainly the most successful of the early movie stars to make the switch from moviemaking to television. From 1953-1961 she compered and appeared in her own TV show, originally called 'Letter to Loretta', and then renamed 'The Loretta Young Show'.
In each show Loretta made a spectacular entrance, in a haute couture gown and she became more famous through television than she had been as a movie star. The eight year run of her program made it the longest-running prime time network program ever hosted by a woman up to that time. She also won three Emmys, the first in 1955, as best dramatic actress in a continuing series.
PersonalLoretta retired from performing in the mid 1960's, and devoted herself to volunteer work for Catholic charities along with her friends, Jane Wyman and Maureen O'Hara. She briefly come out of retirement to appear in two television films, 'Christmas Eve' in 1986, for which she won a Golden Globe Award, and 'Lady in a Corner' 3 years later.
Loretta was a devout Catholic but 'fell from grace' on a number of occasions. After her elopement and short marriage to Grant Withers in 1931, in which she claimed to have been the sole breadwinner, she had affairs with first, Spencer Tracy, and then, in 1935, with Clark Gable with whom she starred in 'The Call of the Wild' in 1935.
She became pregnant by Gable and Loretta and her mother went 'on vacation' to Europe, where she had a baby girl. This was at a time when it would have been extremely damaging to both Loretta's career and Gable's (he was a married man) to admit the truth, so Loretta announced that she had adopted the baby.
In 1940 she married Tom Lewis, and thereafter her daughter was called Judy Lewis, although she was never legally adopted. Loretta had two sons with Tom Lewis, Christopher, who became a film director, and Peter Charles, who was a member of the San Francisco rock band Moby Grape. Loretta and Tom Lewis divorced in the early 1960's and he died in 1988.
Loretta wrote the autobiography 'The Things I Had to Learn' in 1961. In 1972 she successfully sued the NBC network for unlawfully broadcasting her TV shows abroad. She and won 600,000 dollars.
Loretta married for a third time in 1993, at the age of 80, to Jean Louis, a fashion designer, 5 years her senior. He died in 1997.
Loretta Young died on August 12, 2000 from ovarian cancer at Santa Monica, California. She was 87. Her ashes were buried in the grave of her mother, Gladys Belzer in the family plot in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.
Loretta Young Academy AwardsOne Win:
Best Actress ... The Farmer's Daughter (1947)
One Unsuccessful Nomination:
Best Actress ... Come to the Stable (1949)
Loretta Young Filmography
The Primrose Ring(uncredited)
Darlings of the Gods
The Only Way
White and Unmarried
The Sheik (uncredited)
Naughty But Nice
Her Wild Oat(uncredited)
The Whip Woman
Laugh, Clown, Laugh
The Magnificent Flirt
The Head Man
Seven Footprints to Satan (uncredited)
The Girl in the Glass Cage
The Careless Age
The Forward Pass
The Show of Shows
The Man from Blankley's
The Second Floor Mystery
Road to Paradise
War Nurse (uncredited)
The Truth About Youth
The Devil to Pay!
How I Play Golf, by Bobby Jones No. 8: 'The Brassie'(uncredited)
The Right of Way
Three Girls Lost
Too Young to Marry
Big Business Girl
I Like Your Nerve
The Ruling Voice
The Honourable Mr. Wong
The Dawn of Life
The Way of Life
Zoo in Budapest
The Kid's Last Fight
Heroes for Sale
She Had to Say Yes
The Devil's in Love
The House of Rothschild
Born to Be Bad
Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back
The White Parade
Clive of India
The Call of the Wild
The Unguarded Hour
Ladies in Love
Love Is News
Love Under Fire
Wife, Doctor and Nurse
Four Men and a Prayer
Three Blind Mice
Wife, Husband and Friend
The Modern Miracle