Wednesday, October 26, 2011

New Book: Hollywood Madonna: Loretta Young

I just became aware of a new biography of one of my favorite actresses: HOLLYWOOD MADONNA: LORETTA YOUNG, by Bernard F. Dick.

It was published a few weeks ago by the University of Mississippi Press.

Dick has previously published biographies of Claudette Colbert and Rosalind Russell. I'm unfamiliar with his work and would appreciate feedback from anyone who has read his books. So far I've found one brief review, at a blog called Novel Chatter.

I own two good previous books on Young: FOREVER YOUNG, an authorized biography by Joan Wester Anderson, which was written with Young's cooperation, and UNCOMMON KNOWLEDGE by Young's daughter, Judy Lewis. I highly recommend reading these books in conjunction with one another for a more complete story of Loretta's life, particularly the decision she made as a young unmarried woman to secretly give birth to the child she raised as her "adopted" daughter. One can certainly question Loretta's decades-long deception, and yet I find her rather brave in refusing to have an abortion, then finding a way to continue her career and provide for her daughter.

As a side note, Loretta's lifelong charity work included supporting St. Anne's, a hospital for unwed mothers. Take a look at this great photo of several famous ladies at a fundraiser sponsored by Loretta. (Update: I'd love to know where some of the items donated by Hollywood stars to this auction to benefit St. Anne's ended up!)

I'd be very interested in reading more on Young so I have hopes that HOLLYWOOD MADONNA will prove to be worthwhile!


Blogger The Siren said...

This does look interesting. I don't share Young's strong Catholic beliefs, but I always gave her props for her decision to have Judy, too. It was easy enough for a wealthy and well-connected Hollywood star to have an abortion in those days, but she walked the walk. Keeping the lie alive was the price she had to pay, and I don't blame her for that. I don't think she fooled that many people in the know, however. There is an obvious allusion to the story in one of Anita Loos' books and William Wellman, for whom she was making Call of the Wild when she had the affair with Gable, used to blatantly imply she was fibbing, too.

As an actress, taking a closer look at her early work has given me a much better opinion of her, too. It's funny that this famously upright and moral star did her best work in "immoral" Pre-Codes like Man's Castle. Although I think I haven't been entirely fair to her later career, either. Like her very much in The Stranger and Cause for Alarm. And you know what, if I have to watch a nun movie, Come to the Stable is actually pretty good, with some amusing moments.

And man, she knew how to wear clothes.

7:00 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Siren, I appreciate your note and your thoughts! I agree, Loretta really "walked the walk" and did what she had to do to make it work in that era.

I'm so glad to know that you've enjoyed checking out her earliest films! If you haven't yet seen it, my favorite Young pre-Code is Wellman's MIDNIGHT MARY, where she plays a bad girl who wants to be good, yet is forced to kill in order to save the man she loves. She's quite remarkable in a role in which she plays herself as a child in the opening scenes, and she's also stunningly beautiful.

I really enjoy her sweet, somewhat dingy sense of humor in THE LADY FROM CHEYENNE and ALONG CAME JONES. And she positively glows in THE BISHOP'S WIFE. :)

Thanks for stopping by!

Best wishes,

10:25 AM  
Blogger VP81955 said...

Perhaps only Norma Shearer has benefited more from the pre-Code revival than Loretta Young...and unlike Shearer, who died in the early '80s, Young (who lived until 2000) was able to witness the rehabilitation of her cinematic reputation, thanks to the early days of TNT and later the first few years of Turner Classic Movies. (Thank you, Ted Turner.) Not only was the pre-Code Loretta breathtakingly beautiful, but her work on screen was splendid, showing an intelligence and toughness rarely seen in Young's later work (though much of that probably deserves reconsideration, too). I certainly don't think of her as merely a mannered clotheshorse anymore.

And I'll give Young the benefit of the doubt regarding her pregnancy by Gable. To her credit, she wanted the baby, but any unmarried woman having a child in 1935, much less a public figure like Loretta, was verboten. It was a charade, to be sure, but what was her alternative? And while Clark has been criticized for not helping to support the child, he certainly couldn't do it publicly and Young was more than able to financially take care of her daughter.

1:36 PM  
Blogger AK said...

I've read (more like devoured) Forever Young and Uncommon Knowledge, so this one really sounds interesting. I've always thought it hypocritical that she was mocked for keeping her baby, as if giving her up or "getting rid" of her would have been preferable!
And if she was referred to as the "steel butterfly", well why not? She obviously knew how to take care of herself!

2:03 PM  
Blogger Estella said...

Laura, (not surprisingly), I am also a Loretta Young fan! I used to LIVE for "The Loretta Young Show". Oh, the breathless anticipation I felt just before before she SWEPT through the door each week, wearing yet another fabulous gown! I own all of the DVD's, and have watched them again and again. What IS surprising, however, is that I had never heard of either book you recommended as companion readers to the new one written about Loretta's life. And I am *very* familiar with the work of Joan Wester Anderson! Needless to say, all three books will be in my possession very shortly. Thanks for the info!

6:50 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you all so much for your notes and your thoughts on Loretta!

Estella, wonderful to hear from you, you just crossed my mind the other day and I was going to write you a note this weekend! So delighted to learn of our mutual liking for Loretta Young and happy I could point you in the direction of some good books on Young. I've bought the Loretta Young Show DVDs from VCI but I need to make time to watch them!!

Best wishes,

2:40 PM  
Blogger Moira Finnie said...

I've read the same two other books on Loretta Young and found that they did help to give some sense of a woman with a complicated life.

I am looking forward to reading this new bio, since I suspect that Bernard F. Dick's book on Young may prove to be an appreciative and honestly factual account of Young's difficulties in her private life and her remarkable adaptability as an actress over many decades. I would not expect Prof. Dick, who has also written a good bio of Rosalind Russell and two of the better books on mogul-producers Harry Cohn and Hal Wallis, to write an overly lurid version of her life. I find that Dick is good at conveying how art and commerce made Hollywood's Golden Age possible, but restrains his accounts of personal detail. He also is a diligent researcher whose books provide excellent bibliographies, footnotes galore, and a detailed index. The author is not a lyrical prose stylist, alas, but occasionally lets the facts provide a certain spare eloquence, as in his account of Wallis' lifelong love of British history and the legitimate theater. His restrained encapsulation of the deaths of Ms. Russell in 1976, and the gutting of Paramount Pictures at the hands of Gulf & Western's managers in that same decade were two events that his prosaic but cogent narrative made more moving--he understood what was changing and would never be replaced, but didn't give it hyperbolic importance.

Btw, one of the best assessments that I've come across of the many interesting contradictions and the puzzle of Loretta Young's stardom and current relative obscurity was in Jean Basinger's "The Star Machine"(Knopf 2007). I didn't care for much of the book--but this portion was excellent (and the photo of Young and Tyrone Power on the cover was spectacular).

1:37 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Moira, thanks so much for your insight into Dick's past work. It sounds like this book will be worth checking out -- and that perhaps I should be reading his books on Russell and Colbert as well!

I also read THE STAR MACHINE (I liked that one a great deal) and agree Basinger had some excellent observations about Young. Thank you for reminding me!

Great to hear from you, as always. :)

Best wishes,

11:34 PM  

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