Myrna Loy (1905-1993)

myrna loy
Myrna Loy
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Myrna Loy was an American actress whose prolific movie career started in Silent movies and who rose to fame and Hollywood stardom through her appearances in the popular 'Thin Man' series of the early 1930's, with William Powell. During this time she appeared in 129 films and completely changed her image from seductive 'femme fatale' to witty, urbane, wholesome woman next door, the perfect wife and companion. By the mid 1930's she was so popular with the moviegoing public that she had become the highest paid actress in Hollywood and in a popular newspaper had been voted 'Queen' of Hollywood to Clark Gable's 'King'.

Myrna was ladylike and appeared demure but had a wicked sense of humor. She has been called the 'best actress never to have been nominated for any Oscars' but she was one of Hollywood's most popular leading ladies through the 1940s, and in 1990 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented her with an honorary award for career achievement.


She was born Myrna Adele Williams in Radersburg, Montana, on August 2, 1905 into a comfortably off middle class family. Her father gave her her unusual name after the name of a railroad water stop that he noticed during his wife's pregnancy. He was a politician and banker, and also in real estate, and Myrna spent her early years on a ranch near the town of Helena, Montana. Her father died in the influenza epidemic of 1918, when she was 13 and she moved with her family to Los Angeles, where she attended the Westlake School for Girls.

Early artistic expression

Myrna's mother had studied music at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago and she began to hold musical soirees at the family's new home in Culver City. Myrna had inherited her mother's artistic leaning and she and her friends staged dance recitals on the front lawn as part of the soirees. As well as normal schooling, Myrna also received additional music and ballet lessons and she began to nurture an ambition to become an actress after an evening at the theater to see Maeterlinck's 'The Blue Bird'.

She left school at 18 and began working as a dancer at the nearby Grauman's Egyptian Movie House as one of a troupe who acted as scene-setters for the main movie itself. She gained valuable stage experience during her dancing career and her movie break came when publicity photos for the Movie House, featuring Myrna, were seen by Rudolph Valentino. His wife, Winifred Shaunessy, whose stage name was Natacha Rambova, arranged for screen tests for Myrna and she eventually got a part as an extra in MGM's silent version of Ben Hur in 1925. In the same year Warner Brothers signed her up to a 7 year contract and also changed her name to the poetic sounding Myrna Loy.

The Young Actress

For several years she was given bit parts in movies, being typecast as an exotic and mysterious Asiatic beauty, partly because of her almond-shaped eyes, in films such as 'Exquisite Sinner' and 'Don Juan' in 1926, 'The Squall' in 1929 and 'Consolation Marriage' in 1931. With the early Talkies she continued in the same vein in movies such as 'The Black Watch in 1929, 'A Connecticut Yankee' in 1931, 'Thirteen Women' in 1932, and 'The Mask of Fu Manchu' in 1932.

Just as it seemed she was going to be typecast for ever in the vamp role, she was able to break out with several excellent performances in different genres, and in 1932, after signing with a new studio, MGM, she played her first comedy role - Valentine in Rouben Mamoulian's musical masterpiece 'Love Me Tonight' with Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier.

She continued to show the new side to her acting talents in 'The Animal Kingdom' in 1932 and 'When Ladies Meet' the following year and brought her trademark genteel but very real sexiness opposite John Barrymore in 'Topaze' in 1933. Another excellent performance in 'Penthouse' in 1933 persuaded MGM to give her a starring role in 1934 as Nora Charles in the first of the 'Thin Man' series with William Powell, who was at the time, one of the biggest male stars in Hollywood.

The Thin Man 1934

'The Thin Man' became one of the biggest hits of 1934, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Film. Myrna's reviews were excellent and she was acclaimed for her newly discovered comedic skills. From the start she and William Powell liked each other and acted well together and they became one of the most popular screen couples of the time. Their partnership was to be one of Hollywood's most prolific on-screen pairings, and they appeared in 14 films together, 6 of them in the 'Thin Man' series.

Hollywood Star

'The Thin Man' and subsequent films made Myrna into a fully fledged Hollywood star and established her new image as a smart, capable, and sexy modern wife. Her sultry vamp image was gone for ever and she was afterwards cast in bigger roles in more important movies.

Between 1934 and 1939 she made 21 movies, including outstanding successes like 'Manhattan Melodrama' in 1934, the film immortalised by John Dillinger, who watched it before being gunned down, 'The Great Ziegfeld', 'Libeled Lady', 'Wife vs. Secretary' all in 1936, and 'Test Pilot' and 'Too Hot to Handle' in 1938. In 1937, Myrna and Clark Gable were voted "King and Queen of Hollywood" in a nationwide poll of newspapers. During this time she was one of the highest paid stars in Hollywood and her celebrity status was such that 'Men-Must-Marry-Myrna' Clubs were formed. James Stewart, then an up-and-coming young star declared that he would "only marry Myrna Loy".

Myrna was active during WWII in money raising activities for War Relief and she took an active interest in Red Cross work and selling war bonds. Immediately after the war she left MGM after 15 years and was free and able to choose her own movies. She renewed her successful career with a much-praised, sympathetic performance opposite Fredric March in William Wyler's Oscar-winning masterpiece, 'The Best Years of Our Lives' in 1946, which many consider to be her best ever movie.

Her popularity had not diminished and in swift succession she made 'Song of the Thin Man', the last of the series, in 1947, then, with Cary Grant, 'The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer' in the same year, and 'Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House' in 1948. She continued with 'The Red Pony' in 1949, 'Cheaper by the Dozen' with Clifton Webb in 1950, and its sequel 'Belles on Their Toes' in 1952. All were big box-office successes.

Later Career

After 1952 the roles became fewer and fewer as producers and directors inevitably began to look for younger talent. In 1960 she appeared in 'Midnight Lace' and then, in 1963, after much persuasion from friends and colleagues, she went into stage acting, in 'Marriage-go-Round'. It was a new outlet for Myrna's talents and she began to appear often in theatrical productions.

In 1965 she won the Sarah Siddons Award for her work in Chicago theatre. She made her Broadway debut in 1973 in a revival of 'The Women' and she became a founder member of the American Place Theatre, a non-profit theatre set up to help the development of new plays and playwrights. Going back to the big screen, Myrna was cast by Burt Reynolds as his mother in 'The End' in 1978 and her last motion picture was Sidney Lumet's 'Just Tell Me What You Want' in 1980.

Political Life

In the latter part of her life Myrna was politically very active. She was a founding member of The Committee for the First Amendment, an action group formed in September 1947 by actors in support of the Hollywood Ten during the hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee and she proved to be a formidable and influential opponent of Hollywood 'witch-hunt' blacklisting. She also carved out a role as a highly respected spokesperson for international social issues. A supporter of the UN and a prominent figure in UNESCO, she also served on the Civil Rights Commission.


Myrna's domestic life was more turbulent than her 'perfect wife' image might suggest. She married four times in all, firstly in 1936, to producer Arthur Hornblow, Jr., whom she divorced in 1942. Within 6 days of her divorce she married John Hertz Jr. of the Hertz Rent A Car family but he proved to be possessive and abusive, and they divorced after two years. Her third husband from 1946 to 1950 was Gene Markey, a producer, screenwriter and much decorated naval officer, who had previously been married to Joan Bennett and Hedy Lamarr, and finally for 9 years from 1951 she was married to Howland H. Sargeant, a UNESCO delegate.

During the 1970's Myrna survived breast cancer and had two masectomies. In 1987 she published her autobiography, 'Being and Becoming', reflecting on her life and career.

Myrna Loy died, aged 88, on December 14, 1993, at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan during surgery, following several years of failing health. She was cremated in New York and her ashes interred at Forestvale Cemetery in her native Helena, Montana. Also in Helena, The Myrna Loy Center, named in her honor, hosts movies, educational programs, and live performances. Myrna never won an Oscar for her achievements but she is still regarded as one of the brightest stars from Hollywood's Golden Age.

Myrna Loy Academy Awards

No Nominations:
Honorary Award:
"In recognition of her extraordinary qualities both on screen and off, with appreciation for a lifetime's worth of indelible performances." (1991)


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Myrna Loy Filmography

What Price Beauty?
The Wanderer (uncredited)
Pretty Ladies (uncredited)
Sporting Life (uncredited)
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (uncredited)
The Caveman
The Love Toy (uncredited)
Why Girls Go Back Home
The Gilded Highway
Exquisite Sinner
So This Is Paris
Don Juan
Across the Pacific
The Third Degree (uncredited)
Finger Prints
His Lady (uncredited)
Bitter Apples
The Climbers
Simple Sis
The Heart of Maryland
A Sailor's Sweetheart
The Jazz Singer(uncredited)
The Girl from Chicago
If I Were Single
Ham and Eggs at the Front
Beware of Married Men
A Girl in Every Port(uncredited)
Turn Back the Hours
The Crimson City
Pay as You Enter
The Girl from State Street
The Midnight Taxi
Noah's Ark
Fancy Baggage
Hardboiled Rose
The Desert Song
King of the Khyber Rifles
The Squall
The Great Divide
The Show of Shows
Cameo Kirby
Isle of Escape
Under a Texas Moon
Cock o' the Walk
Lady of the Rose
The Last of the Duanes
Love Is Like That
The Bad Man
The Truth About Youth
Rogue of the Rio Grande
The Devil to Pay!
The Naughty Flirt
Body and Soul
The Yankee at King Arthur's Court
Hush Money
Consolation Marriage
Vanity Fair
The Wet Parade
The Woman in Room 13
New Morals for Old
Love Me Tonight
Thirteen Women
The Mask of Fu Manchu
The Woman in His House
Scarlet River(uncredited)
A Night in Cairo
When Ladies Meet
Crooks in Clover
Night Flight
The Prizefighter and the Lady
Men in White
Manhattan Melodrama
The Thin Man
Stamboul Quest
Evelyn Prentice
Strictly Confidential
Wings in the Dark
Wife vs Secretary
Petticoat Fever
The Great Ziegfeld
To Mary - with Love
Libeled Lady
After the Thin Man
Double Wedding
Another Romance of Celluloid (uncredited)
Test Pilot
Too Hot to Handle
Verdensberømtheder i København
Lucky Night
The Rains Came
Another Thin Man
Northward, Ho! (uncredited)
I Love You Again
Third Finger, Left Hand
Love Crazy
Shadow of the Thin Man
Show-Business at War (uncredited)
The Thin Man Goes Home
A Genius in the Family
The Best Years of Our Lives
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer
Song of the Thin Man
Mr. Ashton Was Indiscreet
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House
The Red Pony
That Dangerous Age