(Haven’t done a Movie Hero of the Week in over a year. But I love doing them. Decided to jump back in. Although “of the week” is decidedly a misnomer.)
But Myrna. Myrna Have I Loved.
She was the ultimate co-star. ” Never a stand alone pillar of female power onscreen, she excelled at sharing the frame and reacting, what Cary grant called tossing back the ball. Here she differed from her dynamo friend Joan Crawford and from such dominating female screen icons of her generation…most at home in comedy, she achieved her best effects by underplaying, by suggesting meaning rather than hammering it home….Extremely modern in her minimalist technique, she remains our contemporary in her ability to grow, to stay in the game and continue evolving.” (Quoted from Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood)
She had a grasp of comedy and rhythm that was so subtle and filmic, and yet she could her hold her own with even the slap stickiest of Cary Grants. She was smart and ferociously opinionated, often challenging the studio system, which was a dangerous thing to do.
What I admire about her most is her on screen partnership with William Powell, but I will get to that in a bit.
IMDB credits her with 138 movie and television titles. She was around during the silent era and successfully transitioned to sound. Not bad for a girl straight out of Montana. It’s funny. Her life had a span similar to my grandfather’s. She was born in 1905 and died in 1993. He was born in 1906 and died in 1995. To look at her movies is to see the twentieth century, nearly in it’s entirety. I feel like through her I am able to see the world he saw, in a way.
For a Chicago connection, she “was supposedly the favorite star of famed outlaw John Dillinger. He came out of hiding to see Manhattan Melodrama (1934), in which she starred, and was gunned down by police upon leaving the theater.” (source: IMDB)
In the summer of 2008 (I think) I trudged through the few remaining titles I had left to see on the AFI 100 list. (I know there is a separate dimension in which I am still watching Shane.) One of the joys of that project (the most dubious of New Year’s Resolutions) was The Best Years of Our Lives. It is simply stunning. Her performance of the supportive, understanding and solid-rock-strong Milly Stephenson left her with the nickname “The Perfect Wife.” Veterans pined for Loy’s presence in their post-traumatic lives. She said, “Some perfect wife I am. I’ve been married four times, divorced four times, have no children, and can’t boil an egg.”
She was principled and fought for what she believed in. She was even blacklisted by Hitler himself. She fought against discrimination in public housing and Hollywood alike, pressing studio execs to portray African American actors as briefcase holding executives not servants. According to the book Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, “Along the way, in her eighty-eight years, she found the time to…fight the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, become a UNESCO delegate, campaign for various Democratic Party Candidates, serve John F. Kennedy on the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing, help found the American Place Theatre, and rack up credits in radio, television, and stage.”
Myrna and I share a belief about film and acting in general. “I admire some of the people on the screen today, but most of them look like everybody else. In our day we had individuality…Most of the sex I’ve seen on the screen looks like an expression of hostility towards sex.”
One of my all time favorite movies is Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House starring one of Loy’s frequent co stars, Cary Grant. It’s a hilarious comedy about how absolutely insane and yet alluring building your own home can be.
In this clip, Mrs. Blandings chooses her paint colors. I don’t know that I’ve ever had a conversation with my Mom that didn’t allude to this clip:
But hold on, because I saved the best for last.
The Thin Man
One of the great joys of my movie loving life has been The Thin Man movies (I own the whole set), which Loy is most famous for. The plots are kind of hard to follow but it simply doesn’t matter. The point is Nick and Nora. William Powell is Nick. Myrna Loy is Nora. They are one of the grandest pairs that ever was. Rhett and Scarlet, MacB and Lady MacB, George and Martha, Beatrice and Benedict, and Nick and Nora. I would…hell, I don’t know what I WOULDN’T do to be able to take on any of those pairs.
This clip is Nick and Nora at their best. Seriously. Seriously. Somebody let me take a crack a this.:
Including the Thin Man movies, Loy and Powell made 14 films together. They were artistic partners and friends. Powell was a practical joker and sent Loy a funeral wreath for her 35th birthday with a note that said, “Be brave, dear.” Of Powell, Loy said, “I never enjoyed my work more than when I worked with William Powell. He was a brilliant actor, a delightful companion, a great friend and, above all, a true gentleman.”
If you’ve never come across a Myrna Loy film, give one a try. She had many nicknames, but the most famous was The Queen of Hollywood. Her star may have faded a bit since the golden age of movies, but her performances never will.
And also, I’m serious about doing a stage version of The Thin Man.
*What is a movie hero? An un or under-sung member of the film making community who deserves more of the spotlight. And yet lack of such a spotlight often adds to their charm.