Judy Lewis, whose parentage was at the center of a decades-long Hollywood mystery, has passed away at the age of 76.
Lewis was the daughter of Loretta Young and Clark Gable, conceived while they were making CALL OF THE WILD (1935). Young was in the early stages of pregnancy when she filmed Cecil B. DeMille's THE CRUSADES (1935), reviewed here earlier this year. Gable was married, which put both actors in a very difficult position due to, among other things, morals clauses in their contracts. Unlike many actresses of the era, Young refused to have an abortion, so an elaborate story was concocted which hid the truth and allowed Young to "adopt" her own daughter -- which salvaged both actors' careers and provided Young with the means to support her child.
Although there were whispers for many years, Judy's true parentage wasn't publicly confirmed until the publication of two books, Judy's 1994 autobiography UNCOMMON KNOWLEDGE and Loretta's authorized biography FOREVER YOUNG. Loretta told FOREVER YOUNG author Joan Wester Anderson the entire story; it was published weeks after her passing in 2000.
In FOREVER YOUNG Loretta recounted "In those days, unmarried pregnant women were sometimes thrown out of their homes in disgrace. But Mama...comforted me and talked to Clark about it." Loretta was terrified of discovery and refused Gable's calls, but she was also definite about having her child: "Judy was my baby, I loved her, and I knew I'd have enough angels around me, my mother and sisters, so that we could take care of her properly and give her a good life."
Young, who was deeply religious, also committed herself to supporting St. Anne's, a home for unwed mothers, encouraging many Hollywood stars to do the same.
Gable and Young kept their distance from one another until reuniting for the film KEY TO THE CITY (1950), 15 years after Judy's birth. Around that time, Loretta invited Clark to her home to meet Judy. Judy, who was unaware he was her father, wrote of being stunned to find Gable standing in her front hallway.
She wrote, in part, "I could tell he really cared about what I was saying... We sat there...and talked for what seemed like a long time. I have no idea how long it was, but what mattered was that I was alone with Clark Gable and that he wanted to know everything about my life... He was warm and considerate and caring... I liked his interest in me; I didn't understand it, but I genuinely enjoyed it... As I sat there, it did occur to me that he had actually been waiting for me to walk in the front door and that he had known when I was due home." Then, when their long discussion was finished, he kissed her and said goodbye.
Lewis's career accomplishments included a long association with TV soap operas. She acted on GENERAL HOSPITAL and THE SECRET STORM, was on the writing staff of SEARCH FOR TOMORROW, and produced TEXAS. In later years she began a new career as a psychotherapist. Her obituary mentions that she counseled teenagers at St. Anne's -- which is the same maternity hospital supported by Judy's mother for so many years.
Judy's younger brothers, Christopher and Peter Lewis, posted a wonderful tribute video to Judy on YouTube a few weeks ago. "Judy Lewis - Pictures of the Past" includes some remarkable home movie footage. I discovered it via the official Loretta Young website.
A transcript of a Larry King interview with Judy and Peter Lewis is also available online. Among other things, they discuss the refusal of Judy's younger half brother, John Clark Gable, to acknowledge Judy as his sister.
Related Post: New Book: Hollywood Madonna: Loretta Young (October 26, 2011).
Update: Additional obituaries have been published by the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.