Myrna Loy, Her World Beyond Hollywood, Part I 1905-1949

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park

Myrna Loy was an American actress whose 129 movie career made her a household name for decades.  A New York Times reporter wrote in November 1987, that “During the many years Myrna Loy reigned as one of America’s leading movie stars, millions of fans idolized her as ‘the perfect wife,’ a paragon of charm, sophistication and intelligence whose sly sense of humor never deserted her no matter how outrageous the circumstances-or her husband’s behavior.”[1]   Despite the stardom, Loy’s life extended well beyond Hollywood.  She also carved out a role as a highly respected spokesperson for international social issues and she worked tirelessly for the United Nations, liberal political candidates, and Civil Rights legislation.

publicity photo of Myrna Loy

Myrna Loy publicity photo

Myrna Loy (Myrna Adele Williams) was born in Montana in on August 2, 1905.  Her acting career began with a few minor roles in silent films. She appeared in the first European-American co-production (the silent film Ben Hur); the first film with a score (Don Juan); the first talkie (The Jazz Singer); and, the first filmed operetta (The Desert Song).  In 1934, she starred in the MGM smash hit Manhattan Melodrama, along with Clark Gable and William Powell.  This was the first of fourteen films Powell and Loy made together.  Her career took off with another 1934 MGM movie, The Thin Man, based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett.  The film, in which she and Powell played the jaunty, charming, and witty husband-and-wife detective team Nick and Nora Charles, was a box office hit, and nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. It would quickly spawn sequels, beginning with After the Thin Man (1936).

Myrna Loy, William Powell, and dog Skippy from the Thin Man

Myrna Loy and William Powell as Nora and Nick Charles from The Thin Man movies

By the mid 1930’s Loy was so popular with the movie-going public that she had become one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood and in a December 1937 poll in the United States and Canada, Loy and Clark Gable were voted by 20 million moviegoers as “The King and Queen of Hollywood.” [2]  She was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s favorite actress; her films were often shown at the White House.[3]   Roosevelt’s secretary wrote: “the President’s favorite actress was Myrna Loy. He plied Hollywood visitors with questions about her, wanted very much to meet her, and to his great regret, when she at last came to the White House for a March of Dimes celebration, he was out of the country at an overseas conference. ‘Well,’ he asked when he returned, ‘what was she like.’”[4]  She also became a personal friend of Eleanor Roosevelt.[5]  President Harry Truman also enjoyed her movies.[6]

During the 1930s studio heads discouraged political activity by their stars, arguing that it would alienate a large portion of the movie audience.  When she was a reigning star at MGM in the 1930s she lent her name to the campaigns of Roosevelt. This did not help her relations with the studio boss, Louis B. Mayer, whose personal hero was Herbert Hoover. She and Mayer had repeated battles.[7]  In September 1938, after the Munich Agreement where part of Czechoslovakia was occupied by German forces, Czech leader Jan Masaryk, in London, went on the radio and gave a speech in which he sadly reported the sell-out of his country at Munich. Loy was so moved that she dispatched a cable of sympathy to him. After the broadcast hers was the first message he received. She said “He sent me a cable of thanks, and he told the press of my message. The news got back to Germany, and my pictures were banned.”[8]  She received a sharp reprimand from MGM’s New York sales department.  But it did not change her attitude toward political activity.[9] According to her biographer, “Her support for Masaryk, and the response to it, changed Myrna….Now she had taken her first steps on a worldwide stage. She knew that henceforth, what she said and did about national and international events might have an impact on others. She would never go back to a life of political disengagement.”[10]  Later, Loy would develop “one of my most cherished friendships” with Masaryk who visited New York often during and after World War II.  In his final broadcast, Masaryk said “Myrna Loy, whose words of encouragement in the darkest hour of my life and the history of my nation helped to give me courage during the seven long years that followed.”[11]

Loy in 1937 and 1938 took an interest in, but did not formally join, the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League for Defense of American Democracy.  In late 1938, after Kristallnacht in Germany, Melvyn Douglas, active in the Anti-Nazi League, organized a petition calling for the economic boycott of Germany. It was signed by 56 directors, producers, writers and actors, including Loy, Edward G. Robinson, Joan Crawford, Claude Rains, James Cagney, Groucho Marx, and, Henry Fonda.  Later, Louis B. Mayer admonished her not to make public statements against Hitler because the studio had receipts in Germany that it wanted to claim.[12]  

Loy starred in Another Thin Man, which was released in November 1939, two months after World War II had begun in Europe.  During 1940, Loy performed in a benefit for the French, sold peanuts with Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, and Charles Boyer at a Buy-a-Bomber benefit. She also joined Merle Oberon, Claudette Colbert, Anabella, and Maureen O’Sullivan as cigarette girls, while Charles Laughton, Laurence Olivier, Ronald Colman, Charles Boyer, William Powell and others formed a chorus line at a Coconut Grove fund-raiser for Franco-British War Relief.  During the summer of 1940, she and William Powell turned over their earnings from a Lux Radio Theater broadcast ($10,000) to the Red Cross.  Also during 1940, Loy worked for President Roosevelt’s re-election campaign.[13]

Her war-related work continued in 1941.  In a radio broadcast “Bundles for Britain” on January 1, Loy performed along with Jack Benny, Bette Davis, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Loretta Young, Claudette Colbert, Spencer Tracy, Mary Martin, Ronald Colman, Merle Oberon, Tony Martin, and Charles Boyer.  A month later on February 8, in a 90-minute radio broadcast from Hollywood, entitled “America Calling,” Loy joined other Hollywood luminaries (Carole Lombard, Clark Gable, Sam Goldwyn, Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power, Shirley Temple, Groucho Marx, Spencer Tracy, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Melvyn Douglas, Mary Martin, and Ronald Colman) to raise money for Greek War Relief.[14] She also spent time in Hollywood, for the filming of Shadow of the Thin Man, which was released in November 1941.

With the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Loy went to work full time for the war effort, all but abandoning her acting career. Her activism in the early years of the war mainly involved lending her presence and her name to raise money for overseas relief and to support American troops.  Just days after Pearl Harbor a group of Hollywood actors got together to form the Hollywood Victory Committee. Clark Gable soon enlisted Loy’s help to serve in the Screen Actors Division of the Hollywood Victory Campaign, coordinating talent for hospital tours, bond rallies, and camp shows.  In December 1941, she donned a blue uniform for the Hollywood Chapter of Bundles for Bluejackets, helping to run the Naval Auxiliary Canteen at Long Beach. The next January, she persuaded Spencer Tracy and other actors to pledge ten dollars a month to the group, which supported the United States Navy. She also shot promotional reels for War Bond drives and Bundles for Britain.

In March 1942, she traveled to New York to appear with John Garfield, Tyrone Power, Loretta Young, and Janet Gaynor at a Navy Relief Show in Madison Square Garden.  The show raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. On April 12, 1942, a radio program entitled “Keep ‘Em Rolling,” produced in cooperation with the War Production Board, starred Loy and Otto Kruger in an adaptation of “The Captain from Connecticut.”  At the end of September 1942, Loy joined a great number of performers, including Charles Laughton, Ethel Merman, Al Jolson, Dorothy Lamour, Pat O’Brien, Paulette Goddard, Kate Smith, Burgess Meredith, Danny Kaye, Lillian Gish, and the Ink Spots, at a gala Army Emergency Relief show. Some twenty-thousand people attended this event at Madison Square Garden, which raised $10 million in bonds, and $200,000 for Army Relief.  In 1943, a radio program entitled “Greece Fights On” was designed to promote the sale of a newly published book, The Atlas of World War II. Profits from the sale were to be donated to The Greek War Relief Association. Celebrities, including Loy, endorsed and urged the purchase of the book.[15]

During the war years she received more than 50,000 letters from lonely servicemen overseas proposing marriage. “Each one declared he knew I’d make him a perfect wife. It nearly drove me crazy” she said.[16]

As the war continued Loy wanted to make a more personal contribution. That opportunity came when the American Red Cross asked her to set up entertainment programs for Eastern military hospitals and rest centers. By April 1943, after having moved to New York City, she had taken on an unsalaried full-time job with the American Red Cross as assistant to the director of the Military and Naval Welfare Service for the North Atlantic Area. Her duties involved serving as a liaison between entertainers and military hospitals and setting up visits by Broadway and Hollywood performers to wounded or disabled members of the armed forces. They entertained servicemen in forty-two East Coast centers.  She made countless hospital visits herself and put in long stints at stage-door canteens.[17]

In late 1944, Loy returned to movie-making, with The Thin Man Goes Home (released in January 1945). She then returned to New York City and resumed her Red Cross work.  She wrote “it seemed essential as the war wound down to make sure that the entertainment and hospital tours, the morale-lifting would continue when the bands stopped playing.”[18]  At some point in 1945, she was the emcee for an episode of “Command Performance,” produced by the Armed Forces Radio Services for entertainment to United States troops stationed overseas. [19]

At Eleanor Roosevelt’s invitation, Loy attended a birthday party for President Roosevelt in Washington, DC on January 30, 1945, to help raise funds for the March of Dimes.[20]

Eleanor Roosevelt at Franklin D. Roosevelt's birthday celebration with Myrna Loy, others

Jan 30, 1945 – Eleanor Roosevelt at Franklin D. Roosevelt’s birthday celebration with Gene Kelly, Charles Bickford, Veroinca Lake, Joe E. Brown, Jane Wyman, Myrna Loy, George Murphy, and Margaret O’Brien, NAID 196787

During the spring of 1945, Loy became interested in the United Nations.  “From the moment of its founding, in the spring of 1945,” her biographer noted, “Myrna took up the mission of the United Nations as her own crusade.”[21]  She visited the Lake Success temporary headquarters for the United Nations.  Moved by the visit, she later wrote “I still recall the impact of the proud circle of international flags flying outside those temporary headquarters. A vague concept of world peace had engaged me since my childhood support of Wilson’s League of Nations.  Firsthand exposure to the wags of war in burn centers and psychiatric wards intensified it. The founding of the United Nations in 1945 gave it direction, a sense of commitment that my picture career had never inspired.”[22]

That involvement would bring problems.  Her troubles began when she read the preamble of the United Nations Charter at a meeting of the American Slav Congress, unaware that the Department of Justice had listed the organization as subversive and communist. She was soon smeared as a fellow traveler. The Hollywood Reporter ran an article that named Edward G. Robinson, Orson Welles, Burgess Meredith, Loy, James Cagney, and others as having “sponsored Communist or Communist-dominated organizations.” In a libel case, filed on October 4, 1946, she sued for $1 million. She dropped the suit when the paper issued a front-page retraction, stating that “a grievous injustice had been unwittingly been done Miss Loy.”[23]

Two weeks after the retraction, the much-praised William Wyler’s Oscar-winning masterpiece, The Best Years of Our Lives was released. Loy would receive rave reviews for her performance, but no Academy Award.[24]  In swift succession she made with Cary Grant, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, released on July 24, 1947, and the Song of the Thin Man, the last of the series, released August 28, 1947.  Her attention would soon be directed not to another film, but to Washington, D.C. and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), under Representative J. Parnell Thomas.

Loy was outspoken to HUAC.  When she went to New York to promote The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer before its Radio City Music Hall premiere, her interviews drove RKO’s publicity people “crazy.” Instead of touting the picture she used the exposure to “blast the continuing smear-and-run campaign of the Thomas committee. As my fury at that injustice intensified, my outbursts became more frequent, less guarded.”[25]

In September 1947, HUAC decided to hold hearings to expose and root out Communists from positions of power and particularly those in the entertainment industry.  HUAC subpoenaed 43 prominent Hollywood figures and demanded that they testify before the Committee.  In response a Committee for the First Amendment, a group was hurriedly organized, by screenwriter Philip Dunne, Loy, and film directors John Huston and William Wyler, to “protest these attempts to curb political freedom and set arbitrary standards of Americanism.” The organization described itself as a “non-political organization campaigning only for honesty, fairness and the accepted rights of any American citizen.”  Loy contributed $1,000 to the committee and attended the founders’ meeting in the living room of Ira Gershwin. The committee eventually consisted of several hundred Hollywood liberals and thousands throughout the country.[26]  

HUAC scheduled hearings to begin October 20.  Shortly before that day, a telegram was released from Hollywood personages not under subpoena stating that they were “shocked and outraged by the attempt to smear the motion-picture industry.” Among the signers were Loy, Paulette Goddard, Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, Katharine Hepburn, Burgess Meredith, Ava Gardner, William Wyler, and John Huston. Once the hearings began, the same entertainers were among a group that issued a broadside describing the investigation as an attempt to smear the industry, and called the hearings morally wrong because “any investigation into the political beliefs of the individual is contrary to the basic principles of our democracy; any attempt to curb freedom of expression and to set arbitrary standards of Americanism is in itself disloyal to both the spirit and the letter of our Constitution.”  The Federal Bureau of Investigation tagged her as “one of the most vociferous” protesters of the HUAC hearings.[27]

Testifying before HUAC on October 23, Robert Montgomery, George Murphy, Ronald Reagan (then president of the Screen Actors Guild), and Gary Cooper gave their views on communist involvement in Hollywood.  A group of Broadway and Hollywood artists disclosed after the hearing that its members had banded together to form the Committee for the First Amendment, to oppose the inquiry on the grounds that it stifled the free spirit of creativeness and violated the constitutional right of free expression by investigating individual political beliefs.  In an informal news conference in the hearing chamber, members of the new committee were identified.  Among them were Loy, Paulette Goddard, Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, Burgess Meredith, George S. Kaufman, and Moss Hart.[28]

On October 26, the Committee for the First Amendment sponsored and paid for 25 prominent Hollywood personages, including Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Danny Kaye, Sterling Hayden, John Huston, and Ira Gershwin, to fly to Washington D.C. to show their opposition to the HUAC inquiry into alleged communistic activity in Hollywood. It also paid for a nation-wide radio broadcast, entitled “Hollywood Fights Back,” denouncing the inquiry as an abridgment of free expression. The 30-minute broadcast over the American Broadcasting Company network was a running commentary by one personality after another. In all there were about 35 film stars and other Hollywood figures making comments.  Among them were Loy, Bacall, Lucille Ball, Humphrey Bogart, Houston, William Holden, Peter Lorre, Burt Lancaster, Vincent Price, Edward G. Robinson, Paulette Goddard, William Wyler, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, and, Frank Sinatra.  Expressing the program’s keynote, Myrna Loy declared “We question of the right of Congress to ask any man what he thinks on political issues.”[29]

The HUAC hearings were adjourned on October 30, with ten writers and directors refusing to answer questions regarding possible Communist affiliations. These so-called “Hollywood Ten” were voted in contempt by Congress in November, tried in federal court in 1948, and sentenced to 12 months in jail.  Even though HUAC had adjourned their hearings, on November 2, the Committee for the First Amendment sponsored another airing of “Hollywood Fights Back”.[30]

After the HUAC hearings, Loy turned her attention back to movie making.  She joined with Cary Grant and Melvyn Douglas in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, which was released on June 4, 1948.

The year 1948 would see Loy making movies, but also becoming more involved with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  UNESCO had been established on November 6, 1946, as a specialized agency of the United Nations, based in Paris. Its declared purpose was to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through educational, scientific, and cultural reforms in order to increase universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and human rights along with fundamental freedom proclaimed in the United Nations Charter.  In January 1948, Loy sent them a check for $500 for the United Nations Appeal for Children, which planned a world-wide campaign to help feed hungry children throughout the world.[31]

Early in 1948, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. invited Loy to be his guest at a dinner for Trygve Lie, the United Nations Secretary General, held at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. She sat on the dais between Nelson Rockefeller and Benjamin V. Cohen.  There she met Estelle Linzer, an associate of Eleanor Roosevelt who worked as program director for the American Association for the United Nations (AAUN). They would become close friends. Linzer enlisted Loy’s active participation in the AAUN.[32]

The death of her friend Jan Masaryk in March 1948, according to her biographer, nudged Myrna Loy toward increased activism in the internationalist cause, since Masaryk had served as the Czech United Nations delegate and headed the World Federation of United Nations Associations.[33] She returned to California, where the AAUN West Coast director, Elsie Jensen Brock, asked Loy to work for the association. Loy agreed.  During the spring, Loy, on behalf of the AAUN, made appearances on behalf of the United Nations and gave speeches to women’s groups. She spoke on the topic of “Women United for the United Nations,” to the California Women’s Council on March 23.[34]

In mid-May 1948, Loy went to San Francisco as a delegate to UNESCO’s Pacific Regional Conference.  The Conference, which was attended by three thousand diplomats, educators, and civic leaders, aimed at promoting local-level support groups. During the Conference she expressed her views on how mass communications could best serve the international cultural organization. She also addressed San Francisco youth associations and touted UNESCO on radio shows.[35]  One of her most productive relationships evolved when George V. Allen arrived from a diplomatic mission to Iran. As Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, he was in direct charge of UNESCO and scheduled to address the conference the day he arrived. Loy was assigned to brief him on everything that had happened beforehand.[36]  Allen, a big advocate of the participation of the movie industry in the cause of world peace, was eager to speak to Loy about the movie industry.[37]  Loy later wrote, “Having already narrated a film short for the U.N.’s Crusade for Children, I knew that documentaries met with a certain audience resistance.” During meetings with Allen, Luther Evans, the Librarian of Congress and Dr. Clarence Dykstra, Provost of UCLA, “I expressed my belief that one little incident to battle international prejudice dropped into an entertaining film is worth all the documentaries ever made.”  With that in mind, the State Department and the National Commission for UNESCO appointed Loy chairman of a preparatory committee to establish a grass-roots Hollywood support group, which became the Hollywood Film Committee.   The committee set up headquarters at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and began to apprise the Hollywood establishment of its potential for nurturing international cooperation and understanding.[38]

Loy still found time to make, with Robert Mitchum, The Red Pony (released March 28, 1949) and to go to Europe to make If This be Sin [in Great Britain, That Dangerous Age], released in April 1949. Her secretary traveled with her to Europe to deal with her United Nations correspondence. Early in 1949 in London, Loy supported the Information Service of Free Czechoslovakia and the United Nations Association of Great Britain to establish the Masaryk Memorial Fund and supported their efforts to erect a statue and a Masaryk center for international studies in Geneva.[39]

Back in the United States, during the spring of 1949, Estelle Linzer put forward Loy as a board member of the American Association for the United Nation’s board of directors, believing Loy could educate Americans about its importance at a time when the United Nations was often under attack. Loy, who was feeling she could afford to give the United Nations her undivided attention, would be elected a board member.[40]  Linzer said:

She became one of our most effective speakers, because she never depended on being Myrna Loy. Although her presence, her celebrity, would bring people in, Myrna realized they would lose interest and never come back if she merely sat there looking pretty. She wanted to understand every aspect of what she was advocating. She also wanted to prove herself as a person of some depth and knowledge. She achieved this because she reads and studies and learns. She’s as good a student as she is an actress.

Linzer added that Loy remained a loyal board member and hard worker on the Pacific Coast.[41]

During the summer of 1949, while in Europe, George V. Allen, whom she met at the UNESCO meeting in San Francisco, invited her to Paris to serve as a consultant on mass communications to the American delegation at UNESCO’s Conference.[42]  She agreed.

Even before the Conference began, at the UNESCO House in Paris, Loy was interviewed on August 8. When asked about education, she said “the problem of fundamental education has always interested me very much and I have heard of some very interesting things that have been done.” She explained to the interviewer that “I was given a chairmanship of a committee – the Ways and Means Committee – last year, in Hollywood, to explore the problem of motion pictures in relation to UNESCO, how the motion picture could be useful and how it could tell the story of the ideals and the hopes of UNESCO.” She also stated “I think the fight for human understanding is a very dramatic one. I am thoroughly convinced that it is and I think it should be presented as such” in movies.[43]  That month the UNESCO Courier carried an article about her new role as UNESCO’s Hollywood ambassador. The article stated “Can any good thing come out of Hollywood? Can any good thing come out of UNESCO? To both of these questions, which the public at large may ask itself sometimes without being too sure of the answers, Myrna Loy…returns an emphatic Yes.”[44]

Loy told an AP reporter on September 17, that she was in Paris to advise the American delegation to UNESCO. She said she would attend the opening session of the Fourth Session of UNESCO’s General Conference scheduled to begin September 19, and would continue as film adviser to George V. Allen, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, during the three weeks of the conference. The United States delegation included, among others, Milton E. Eisenhower, president of Kansas State Agricultural College; Luther J. Evans, Librarian of Congress; and Reinhold Niebuhr, Union Theological Seminary, New York.[45]

Once the Conference began, she wrote there were non-stop meetings, receptions, and broadcasts for UNESCO Radio. “We worked,” she added, “like dogs.”  She assured the Conference of the film world’s interest in UNESCO. She also told the program and budget commission that the film industry could do much to interpret the UNESCO message and she reported that the UNESCO idea had met with enthusiasm in the film industry. [46]

Loy said that she experienced resentment from a certain faction of the American delegation at first:

We had some marvelous representatives-university presidents, scientists, politicians-but there existed an obvious division between the down-to-earth people who understood my reasons for being there and the intellectual snobs who looked down their noses at the movie star invading their ranks. This ivory-tower mentality, particularly from the universities, which evaluates in terms of caste and shuts out the mere artist, infuriates me. I certainly do not think we are second-class citizens.[47]

Allen felt that she should address the American delegation so they would have a better appreciation of her. One day he told her she was to address the delegation the next morning. “You got to say something-people are so curious about you being here.’ It was then nearly midnight. I stayed up most of the night, pacing, studying, [and] agonizing over a speech that would tell the ivory-tower boys what artists could bring to this political forum.”  Her speech emphasized the difficulty in selling peace, and the rare few throughout history who had managed it. She stressed the need for public relations and the importance of selling UNESCO. The speech was well-received.[48]

This is a photograph of Miss Myrna Loy, American film star in Paris for the conferences is being shown the Exhibit of Human Rights by Clive Entwistle.

Photograph of Myrna Loy at UNESCO Exhibit on Human Rights, 9/1949, NAID 74229137

During the Conference, Loy had a chance to explain to Congressional adviser Democratic Representative Mike Mansfield of Montana what UNESCO was all about. She later wrote that Mansfield returned to Washington, “with enthusiastic reports of our work, publicly acknowledging my efforts in areas where women, let alone actresses, were not taken seriously.” [49]  Mansfield praised her contribution to the conference on the floor of Congress. “It did my heart good to see how Miss Loy came to every meeting for two weeks, took part in all discussions and even made a speech or two,” he said, going on to suggest that she was helping UNESCO gain wider acceptance among ordinary Americans. “It is unfortunate that UNESCO’s principles have been hard for the miner, the working man and the housewife to grasp.”[50]

Edgar Dale, a professor at The Ohio State University, on October 5, 1949, wrote Allen that he had received letters and critical comments about the appointment of Myrna Loy as an advisor on “technical film production of UNESCO at the recent Paris conference.” “These angry and sometimes bitter comments,” he wrote, were “usually made the assumption that I had something to do with it or at least that I had concurred in it.”  Dale wrote that in his replies he had pointed out that at no time had he ever been consulted about Loy’s appointment as “a technical film advisor, and that if I had I certainly should have opposed it.” “I told these critics that Miss Loy was a person deeply interest in the aims of UNESCO, but if she had any technical competence in the film field it was news to me.” He added that one letter to him suggested that an investigation be made of her appointment.[51] Because Allen was in Europe, his deputy, Howland H. Sargeant, responded (from the RG 59 Central Decimal Files):

I am sure that Mr. Allen will be concerned over the misinterpretation which has been placed on the participation of Miss Myrna Loy in the work of the United States Delegation to the UNESCO General Conference in Paris and I hope that you will acquaint your friends with the facts.

Miss Loy long has been prominent in UNESCO work in Los Angeles. You will recall that she led a group representing Hollywood studios and the various guilds to the UNESCO Regional Conference at San Francisco and that she was elected chairman of a Hollywood Film Committee for UNESCO. Furthermore, Miss Loy had spent several days at UNESCO House, conferring with Director General Torres Bodet and other officials, before the Conference took place. Knowing that she was in Europe, and of her deep interest in the UNESCO program, we invited her to work with the Delegation. I am told that she made a most effective contribution.

The invitation to Miss Loy was extended in the same manner that invitations were sent to other UNESCO leaders, particularly members of the National Commission, who were in Europe at the time of the Conference… [52]

After the conference, Loy went to Hollywood to costar opposite Clifton Webb in Cheaper by the Dozen (released April 17, 1950).  When time permitted she often spoke to groups and meeting with studio heads trying to interest them in incorporating UNESCO themes into their movies and arranging meetings for visiting State Department officials in the continuing campaign to involve Hollywood in the workings of UNESCO.[53]

Loy spent a whirlwind Christmas week in Washington D.C.  She reported on the progress of her Hollywood Film Committee to Librarian of Congress Luther Evans, Allen, and his assistant Howland Sargeant. She attended working luncheons, receptions, dinners in her honor, and “countless State Department functions.”  “I was,” she said, “no longer the new girl in town. I was a worker, a participant, and treated as such.”[54]  Loy also spoke with a reporter and told him about the influence of motion pictures.  She said that when seen abroad people could associate themselves with the characters in the picture and they realized that people the world over were the same. “That’s one thing our films can do for UNESCO” she said.  After the interview the reporter wrote that one could see “that the Ideal Wife of the American screen is a lady who can talk and whose horizons have spread with the times.” What impresses you most about her is how she had progressed “to the role of good citizen of the world.”[55]

Myrna Loy’s World Beyond Hollywood continues in Part II 1950-1993.


[1] Leslie Bennetts, “Myrna Loy Receives A Tribute,” The New York Times, November 7, 1987, p. 9.

[2] James Kotsilibas-Davis and Myrna Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987), p. 146; Emily W. Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood (Berkley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2011), pp. 166,168, 191; Rob Edelman, “Myrna Loy’s Star Still Burns Bright,” The New York Times, February 3, 1980, p. D23; Elizabeth Kastor, “Myrna Loy, Once and Always,” The Washington Post, December 4, 1988, p. G1.

[3] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, p. 179; Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, pp. 236-237; T Caroline Frick, Saving Cinema: The Politics of Preservation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 42, 99; Rob Edelman, “Myrna Loy’s Star Still Burns Bright,” The New York Times, February 3, 1980, p. D23.

[4] Grace G. Tully, F,D.R., My Boss (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1949), p. 85.

[5] Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, p. 237; Rob Edelman, “Myrna Loy’s Star Still Burns Bright,” The New York Times, February 3, 1980, p. D23.

[6] Truman did not often watch the movies, but on his trip to Key West between March 12 and April 10, 1950, he watched Loy’s Cheaper by the Dozen.

[7] Bob Thomas, “Politics Still Beckons to Myrna Loy,” The Washington Post, September 21, 1968, p. C6.

[8] Bob Thomas, “Politics Still Beckons to Myrna Loy,” The Washington Post, September 21, 1968, p. C6; . Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, p. 156. It was during the summer of 1939, that Loy learned that her films had been banned in Germany. Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, p. 202.

[9] Bob Thomas, “Politics Still Beckons to Myrna Loy,” The Washington Post, September 21, 1968, p. C6.

[10] Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, p. 203.

[11] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, pp. 178, 224.

[12] Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, pp. 202, 204-205; Sally Denton, The Pink Lady: The Many Lives of Helen Gahagan Douglas (New York, Berlin, London: Bloomsbury Press, 2009), pp. 56-57; Thomas Doherty, Hollywood and Hitler 1933-1939 (New York, Chichester, West Sussex: Columbia University Press, 2013), pp. 120-121.

[13] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, pp. 163-164; Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, p. 223; Denton, The Pink Lady, p. 63.

[14] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, p. 164; Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, p. 227; Ronald L. Smith, Horror Stars on Radio: The Broadcast Histories of 29 Chilling Hollywood Voices (Jefferson, North Carolina and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2010), p. 190; Myrna Loy’s Radio Credits from Martin Grams blog.

[15] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, pp. 168, 169, 175, 181; Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, pp. 227, 228, 236; http://martingrams.blogspot.com/2011/07/myrna-loys-radio-credits.html..

[16] Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, p. 239.

[17] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, pp. 181-182; Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, pp. 239-240; Peter B. Flint, “Myrna Loy, Model of Urbanity in ‘Thin Man’ Films, Is Dead at 88,” The New York Times, December 16, 1993, p. B17.

[18] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, p. 187.

[19] http://martingrams.blogspot.com/2011/07/myrna-loys-radio-credits.html.

[20] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, pp. 187-188; Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, p. 237. “President Hails ‘Stream of Dimes’: Stars of Hollywood Gather in Washington to Celebrate President’s Birthday,” The New York Times, January 31, 1945, p. 23.

[21] Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, p. 258.

[22] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, p. 221.

[23] “Hollywood Paper Facing Libel Suit, Runs Loy Apology,” The Washington Post, October 22, 1946, p. 4;  “Myrna Loy ends Suit,” The Washington Post, November 8, 1946, p. 1; Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, pp. 205-208; Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, pp. 259-261.

[24] The movie won seven Oscars. While Loy did not receive one, her performance won her the Brussels World Film Festival of Films and Fine Arts prize for the best performance by an actress.  “French Film Wins Prize at Brussels,” The New York Times, July 1, 1947, p. 30; Peter B. Flint, “Myrna Loy, Model of Urbanity in ‘Thin Man’ Films, Is Dead at 88,” The New York Times, December 16, 1993, p. B17. Loy went to Brussels to personally accept her award from the prince regent of Belgium. Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, p. 255.

[25] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, p. 221.

[26] Gladwin Hill, “Stars Fly to Fight Inquiry into Films,” The York Times, October 27, 1947, p. 1; Steven J. Ross, Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 112; Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, pp. 261-262; Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, p. 216.

[27] “Radio, Television and Floodlights Will Open Red Film Inquiry Today,” The New York Times, October 20, 1947, p. 14; Thomas F. Brady, “Hollywood Split by Hearings,” The New York Times, October 26, 1947, p. X5; Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, p. 261.

[28] Samuel A. Tower, “Hollywood Communists ‘Militant,’ But Small in Number, Stars Testify,” The New York Times, October 24, 1947, p. 1.

[29] Gladwin Hill, “Stars Fly to Fight Inquiry into Films,” The York Timest, October 27, 1947, pp. 1, 26;  Ronald L. Smith, Horror Stars on Radio: The Broadcast Histories of 29 Chilling Hollywood Voices (Jefferson, North Carolina and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2010), p. 168; Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, p. 261; “The Nation,” The New York Times, November 2, 1947, p. E1; Myrna Loys Radio Credits; Loy did not fly to Washington, D.C. for the HUAC hearings because she was in the middle of filming Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, p. 261.

[30] “The Nation,” The New York Times, November 2, 1947, p. E1; Steven J. Ross, Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 112; Ronald L. Smith, Horror Stars on Radio: The Broadcast Histories of 29 Chilling Hollywood Voices (Jefferson, North Carolina and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2010), p. 168.

[31] Kathleen Teltsch, “Many Send Money to U.N. Child Fund,” The New York Times, January 8, 1948, p. 20.

[32] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, pp. 225-226; Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, p. 270.

[33] Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, p. 270.

[34] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, pp. 226, 227-228; Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, pp. 270, 361, n.20.

[35] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, p. 228; Richard L. Coe, “Myrna Loy Talks of UNESCO Role,” The Washington Post, December 23, 1949, p. B7; Howard C. Heyn, “Time Doesn’t Wither Myrna Loy,” The Washington Post, April 18, 1948, p. L1; Sonia Stein, “Myrna Loy Gleans New Fan Mail,” The Washington Post, April 23, 1950, p. S7 Howard Thompson, “A Lady Known as Loy,” The New York Times, February 1, 1959, p. X7; Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, pp. 270-271.

[36] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, p. 228.

[37] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, p. 228.

[38] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, pp. 228-229.

[39] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, pp. 230, 235.

[40] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, p. 229; Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, p. 270.

[41] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, p. 229.

[42] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, p. 239.

[43] Interview with Myna Loy, Film Star and Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee of the Southern California Council for UNESCO, UNESCO Interview, Document UNESCO/MPR/35 Paris, August 8, 1949. This special interview was recorded with Myrna Loy for rebroadcast in the United States. “Unesco on the Air,” UNESCO Courier September 1949 Volume II No. 8 (September 1949) p. 8.

[44] Caroline Frick, Saving Cinema: The Politics of Preservation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 99.

[45] “Myrna Loy Film Aide,” The New York Times, September 18, 1949, p. 83.

[46] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, p. 239; “Balance Sheet of the Conference,” UNESCO Courier November 1, 1949 Volume II No. 10, p. 4; Michael Clark, “Marxism’s Claims Stated to UNESCO,” The New York Times, September 29, 1949, p. 15.

[47] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, p. 239.

[48] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, p. 240.

[49] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, p. 239.

[50] Leider, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, p. 273.

[51] Letter, Edgar Dale to George Allen, First (sic) Assistant Secretary of State, October 5, 1949, Decimal 501.PA/10-549, Central Decimal File, 1945-1949 (NAID 302021), General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59.

[52] Letter, Howland H. Sargeant, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs to Edgar Dale, College of Education, Bureau of Educational Research, The Ohio State University, October 21, 1949, Decimal 501.PA/10-549, Central Decimal File, 1945-1949 (NAID 302021), General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59.

[53] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, p. 246; Richard L. Coe, “Myrna Loy Talks of UNESCO Role,” The Washington Post, December 23, 1949, p. B7.

[54] Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myra Loy: Being and Becoming, p. 246.

[55] Richard L. Coe, “Myrna Loy Talks of UNESCO Role,” The Washington Post, December 23, 1949, p. B7.

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4 Responses to Myrna Loy, Her World Beyond Hollywood, Part I 1905-1949

  1. Anonymous says:

    Yet another brilliant and fascinating blog post! You are a brilliant archivist, researcher and storyteller!

    Like

  2. Greg Bradsher says:

    I want to thank Anonymous for the kind words. But I am not as great a storyteller as you may think. My wife pointed out to me I was remiss for not mentioning, after picturing, Asta the dog. Skippy, the Wire Fox Terrier, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skippy_(dog), who played Asta in the first two Thin Man movies, had his own Hollywood career, appearing in over dozen films during a ten-year period, and being very well-paid for his work.

    Like

  3. Jim Kelling says:

    Myrna Loy, never a “wall flower,” was one of the earliest Hollywood actresses who portrayed the strong and independent woman in film roles; Joan Crawford and Katherine Hepburn also come to mind. With William Powell in the Thin Man series, she was an equal partner with the debonair detective. Her left-wing politics undoubtedly cost her many fans, however.

    Like

  4. Patrice Brown says:

    Myrna Loy was a wonderful actress. Thanks you Greg for presenting the other side of her “career”!

    Like

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