"Myrna Loy, Luminous Activist"
February 3, 2006 12:37 PM   Subscribe

“Wouldn’t you know, the kid they pick to play tramps is the only good girl in Hollywood.”
Before Myrna Loy rose to stardom with Manhattan Melodrama and The Thin Man (both 1934), she was often relegated to playing vamps, mistresses, and other assorted flavors of wicked women. Then, after 80 movies playing mostly bad girls, Montana native Loy became “the perfect wife.” “Men Must Marry Myrna Loy” clubs were formed around the country. She and Clark Gable, in a poll conducted by Ed Sullivan, were voted by 20 million of the nation’s moviegoers as The King and Queen of Hollywood. She was FDR's favorite actress, and John Dillinger died just to see her new movie. A staunch anti-Nazi since the mid-Thirties (to MGM's dismay, Hitler promptly banned her films from the lucrative German market), wondered aloud in the press why blacks were always given servants' roles, and was the first major star to buck the studios in a contract dispute (the issue: equal pay for equal work. She was making half what William Powell was, didn't like it and quit work for nearly a year until MGM capitulated). When WWII broke out she quit Hollywood and worked full time for the Red Cross, and helped run a Naval Auxilary Canteen. More inside.
posted by matteo (27 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
... After the war, she fought the McCarthy witch-hunt, became the first actress deeply involved in UNESCO, gave speeches for world peace. A breast cancer survivor, in her later years she did battle with then-California-governor Ronald Reagan over open-housing legislation. She belongs to the long list of the "gloriously talented people who did great work but never received a single Oscar nomination in their entire careers".

Venice High and the Myrna Loy statue.


Massive photo gallery (scroll way down)


Myrna Loy finally received and honorary Oscar in 1991, in recognition of her "extraordinary qualities, both onscreen and off, with appreciation for a lifetime's worth of indelible performances". Frail, she appeared at the ceremony from her apartment in New York City, smiled and simply said: "You've made me very happy, thank you very much". The Hollywood audience, probably tired from applauding Kevin Costner's triumph, denied her a standing ovation.
posted by matteo at 12:37 PM on February 3, 2006

Related to her early-career "yellowface" roles:

"A certain slant".

Previous MeFi post.


Asians on White Screens


Fu Manchu and the Yellow Peril


Breaking the celluloid ceiling

posted by matteo at 12:41 PM on February 3, 2006

Wow, this is fantastic. I've always loved the Thin Man movies and never realized what an interesting and involved person Ms. Loy was.

Thanks for this, I'm going to spend hours with it all.
posted by padraigin at 12:48 PM on February 3, 2006

Fu Manchu and the Yellow Peril:
In 1790, the Naturalization Act explicitly stated Naturalization as a citizen was only possible for "free white persons" only. This did not necessarily exclude Asians, as many people considered the Asiatic races to fall into the 'white' category (at least, George Washington did). In 1870, the abolition of slavery prompted a change in the wording, and it was amended to include persons of African descent. It was also amended to specifically exclude persons from China. In 1882 the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, banning not only Naturalization of peoples from China, but immigration as well. It allowed for some loopholes, which were quickly closed up with an 1884 amendment. Ironically, just a couple years later, the Statue of Liberty is unveiled in New York City.

Freakin' great post. I knew Loy as "Nora," not as an activist. A lot of great reading here. Thanks!
posted by brundlefly at 12:52 PM on February 3, 2006

Myrna Loy was hot, smart, kind, and had great politics.

She's hilarious in the Thin Man, and wonderful in The Best Years of our Lives.

She was a good egg.
posted by stenseng at 12:52 PM on February 3, 2006

I love Myrna Loy. Apart from the Thin Man, my favourite Myrna Loy performance was in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.
posted by Robot Johnny at 12:52 PM on February 3, 2006

Wow. Great post
posted by Smedleyman at 12:56 PM on February 3, 2006

Another wow -- always adored her in The Thin Man but didn't know a fraction of all this about her! Myrna Loy is my new girl-crush.
posted by scody at 12:59 PM on February 3, 2006

Nora was is and always will be the yardstick by which I measure the women I encounter. fantastic post. flagged as such.
posted by shmegegge at 1:00 PM on February 3, 2006

Very nice, well reaserched post.
posted by Suparnova at 1:04 PM on February 3, 2006

Noice. She's always been one of my favorites; thanks for the links and information.
posted by mimi at 1:13 PM on February 3, 2006

Beautiful post. I think I've run across all of these sites in my wandering but now I need only bookmark this thread.

She holds the #2 spot on my list of five even though it's an honorary thing. That I'm willing to give up a perfectly good spot on my list is how much I lust after Nora.
posted by Fezboy! at 1:15 PM on February 3, 2006

What a great post! I re-watched The Thin Man a few weeks ago, and have Mr. Blandings waiting at home for me to watch this weekend, so this post comes at a great time. Thanks, matteo!
posted by OmieWise at 1:16 PM on February 3, 2006

Thanks, matteo! I just finished sharing the Thin Man movies with my S.O. I'd forgotten about Mr. Blandings' Dream House, I'll put that on the list.
Like I always say, there's nothin' hotter than a dame with a nice set of politics.
posted by Floydd at 1:42 PM on February 3, 2006

The book is great too, but then no Myrna Loi. She was a hottie.
posted by caddis at 2:03 PM on February 3, 2006

posted by caddis at 2:03 PM on February 3, 2006

I'll drink to that. Who can resist her?
posted by mwhybark at 2:47 PM on February 3, 2006

fantastic post!
posted by jann at 3:54 PM on February 3, 2006

Yay! Thanks. :)
posted by dejah420 at 6:06 PM on February 3, 2006

Well, then, I do believe it's time for cocktails. Martini?
posted by Samizdata at 6:10 PM on February 3, 2006

Don't mind if I do!

Now, where did I put that other drink?
posted by mwhybark at 8:19 PM on February 3, 2006

An awesome woman, and an awesome post!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:42 PM on February 3, 2006

I just attended the funeral of a woman who broke the "dress code" at her office around the end of World War II. She wore slacks and refused to be intimidated by the company brass.
Interestingly, she was born in Montana too,
posted by Cranberry at 11:17 PM on February 3, 2006

Wonderful reading for the weekend. I had no idea she had so many facets! Thanks Matteo
posted by Wilder at 5:20 AM on February 4, 2006

A remarkable life.
I know the name, I recall the face, but I can't reallllly remember any of the films - I'll have to keep a lookout. Great research/linkset thanks matteo.
posted by peacay at 5:46 AM on February 4, 2006

awesome post, matteo - thank you!
posted by madamjujujive at 9:09 AM on February 4, 2006

Great post, cheers!
posted by Rothko at 9:21 AM on February 4, 2006

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