Monday, November 10, 2014

Let's take a minute and appreciate Myrna Loy, shall we?


Imagine: you´re having hell of a bad day, the weather sucks and all odds are against you. Eventually you think "Okay, this day could not get any worse" but you know that´s always possible, which doesn´t even matter at that point because your mood is on an ultimate low - from a scale of 1 to 10, it´s probably -20.  At the end of the day you´re either hitting your couch or your bed and you do the only thing that keeps you sane. You turn in a movie. But not just any movie. A movie that will make you feel good, that will make you forget that doomed day you survived. After a while you begin to get this fuzzy, warm feeling and you are perfectly content (under a blanket, of course).
This is how you could describe the effect Myrna Loy has not just on me but on a lot of other people, too. There are some people that are so special, so precious that no matter what, they will always make you feel better. Sometimes you cannot even describe why you love them so much, because that love has manifested itself so much, that you either don´t know what to say or you could basically write a five-page essay with reasons about why this person is the best person on the planet. So, here are a couple of reasons why you should take a minute and appreciate the freckle-faced redhead with the turned-up nose.


1. She was a woman ahead of her time who fought for equality, spoke her mind and stood up for everyone´s rights

As a Myrna fan, this fact makes you especially proud. When you watch the rare interviews that exist or read her book, you honestly cannot help but wanting to hug her for her straightforwardness. If it was early in her acting career or later when she was more politically involved, she always spoke her mind (and got into trouble for that at times). Best example is when she asked "Why does every Negro in a film have to play a servant? How about just a black person walking up the steps of a courthouse carrying a briefcase?". This was during a time when everybody had no sense for equality, when black people were ignored and could not get a proper acting job. This question of hers caused a storm. It was the early 1930s, later of course, people saw that she was right with her notion that everyone should have the same rights.
Another example from a completely different department is her pixie ears. She had ears that stuck out, which exasperated the makeup department on a regular basis. They tried to glue them on, but nothing worked. Same went for her nose. She had a little bone on the side of her nose, which cast a shadow in certain lights. This drove the cameramen crazy "because they never knew when it would appear. They’d see the rushes, groan, ‘There’s that thing again,’ and have to retake the scene. It looked like a tiny smudge on my nose. I mean you could hardly see it, but that’s how far the mania for perfection went." So she was often called in for retakes and since those are rather expensive she was once called in by the makeup department who announced that they maybe would fix her nose. "I was horrified. I used to be known as ‘The Nose’ for goodness’ sake—thousands of women went to plastic surgeons to have it duplicated. I said, ‘Never! Nobody’s touching this nose!’ and got out of there fast.”. Again, she did things against the odds (since it was not uncommon that a film studio ordered you to have plastic surgery) and was right. I could go on, but I think you should just read her book.

2. Her voice
This point might cause some people to have a question mark over their face, but let me explain. Her voice is special, just like she is. You have to listen to her and if you do, you´ll immediately know what I am talking about. There is this lilt in her voice only she has. And sometimes she has the cutest way of pronouncing words, either she goes up at the end of a sentence or she does something else only Myrna would do. If you´ve never heard her Lux Radio Theater shows, you are really missing out. Just listen to her- or watch one of her movies.


3. That perfect combination of wisdom, wit and grace

The way she carried herself, the way she spoke and what she did was just so graceful. All her roles have such a wonderful grace about them that you honestly get the feeling that she is unreal. But then in other cases when you read about her, you see that she was just as down-to earth like you and me. Still, that grace just never went away. She oozes it. Along with this grace (I mean, just look at her pictures) was this wisdom - she really was wise beyond her years and talked about things things, we deal with now. When I kept looking for quotes to present, I found myself reading her book again and stumbled across one I had actually forgotten:
"Women should never be intimidated into dressing down to strengthen their professional image. Display your femininity proudly. A woman needn´t don horn-rimmed glasses and orthopaedic oxfords to prove she has brains."
Yet, she could be just as witty as Nora Charles - she had a wonderful sense of humor. It naturally showed best when she was with William Powell, off and on screen. They were invited by Sid Grauman to get their hands and feet imprinted in front of the Grauman's Chinese Theater when they came up with the idea of giving Sid Grauman a scare. So, they did not turn up with their normal shoes but clown shoes and they nearly gave him a heart attack. Of course they did not do their imprints with those but the prank was funny nevertheless.


4. She is everyone´s best friend basically - especially ours

And I don´t just mean that everyone in the film business loved her with a lot of people having such a trust in her that they shared their problems with her or that they were simply able being able to show their true self when being with her-  no, I also mean us. Of course, there are the stories of James Stewart exclaiming that he will marry Myrna one day or how she looked after Bill Powell when he had cancer, how Clark Gable could show his sensitive site and read poetry to her and just be himself, not having to prove that he is the no. 1 macho guy. She could always look behind the fa├žade and see what´s really going on. What I mean is we always get this true sense of "Wow, she could actually be my best friend if she were still alive." You always get this feeling that you know her so well, and it´s not just because you might have read about her or watched her movies, it´s on another level. You know you two might really hit it off. You know, she would never judge you for what you do, she would listen to you but also she was someone to steal horses with. She would be the perfect BFF. And that just shows on screen and anywhere else, she had a beautiful character. 

5. She was a fantastic actress and played modern women who had their own mind

Her body of work is great. She started off in the silent film era but really became successful in the 1930s, during the pre-code era. She is probably most known for playing the witty Nora Charles in The Thin Man, a character that was equal to her husband long before equality and feminism really came up. She has her own mind, is never afraid to speak it and to take action if she thinks it´s necessary. And she never takes no for an answer [x]. But it wasn´t just this delightful character. There were other roles, which give you the same feeling. Just look at Libeled Lady, Third Finger Left Hand, The Best Years of Our Lives or Cheaper by the Dozen/ Belles on their Toes: all of the women she portrayed had their own mind, their own lives and their own goals. A lot of the women she played had their own professions and had a definite tendency towards the modern woman. Sometimes it was subtle, sometimes it was more obvious but it usually was always there. 


6. She used to be the shy, freckled kid who managed overcome hardships and became one of the superstars of her time
"I was scared as a mouse growing up. Although busy and doing many things, I had difficulty talking to people for years. I’ve worked to overcome it. There isn’t anybody I won’t take on now - within the bounds of propriety, shall we say."
She grew up in a little town called Helena/ Montana at around the same time Gary Cooper lived there too. She was into theater from very early on, and tried to overcome her shyness. When she came to Hollywood as a trained dancer, it wasn´t easy at first. She had a hard time at the beginning, but she kept on fighting. She then married (four times in total) and wanted to find love. The wish of a fulfilled marriage with children was never supposed to be. Her first marriage failed, just as the other three. The men either underestimated her and didn´t take her seriously or were not good (enough) for her - mind you, one even beat her. She got out of all the marriages save and sound and with her head held high (and her heart broken). She was a fighter, all her life. The best example is when she took a break from film (which is courage as well!) during WWII to support soldiers and she visited them in hospital. To me, this example stands for how she took on everything in her life:
"There was a gang at Bethesda Naval Hospital I would visit on holidays, when hardly anyone came near them. Lying there covered with plaster, while plastic ears set or patches healed where skin had been taken from their stomachs to fix their faces, they would shout: "Hey, Myrna, how about slippin' us some skin?" They were all so cheerful. The blind boys could hear my name, put their hands over my face, get hold of my nose , and said "Yup, that´s her." I would have fun with them for a little while and then go to the ladies' room and cry.After a while I could take almost anything, even the psychiatric wards. Apparently I had something that made them trust me, whcih is what you must have with mental patients. They´re just enveloped with fear. It would infuriate me when after a stretch on the wards I´d go to some fancy restaurant and hear a lot of well-dressed people bitching about the butter-shortage or gasoline rationing."


7. She is just so cute and her smile kills you

source
It starts with that nose scrunch, continues with random moments in movies where you can see she is almost dying because she would love to laugh but can´t - like there is one in Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House where this man explains something to Cary Grant and Myrna is in the background perfectly dying, or in Another Thin Man when the Nick Jr. forces his dad to drink up the milk. Also, how adorably snobby she was about dancing. She was a trained dancer and loved dancing but absolutely refused to go dancing The Charleston with her friend Joan Crawford who was known to become the epitome of the 1920s flapper and was a skilled dancer herself, or when Clark Gable made an attempt to get her and she sent him flying off his porch (which ended in a close friendship), or the numerous cute things she did with William Powell. On top of that, she had an absolutely adorable smile - and dimples (I have a thing for dimples).


8. ...and because her on-screen relationship with William Powell is everything we aspire in a relationship

When The Thin Man was released in May 1934, a film that would change the image of marriage. Nick and Nora Charles became the epitome of an equal marriage, even though nobody knew how the audience would react when seeing this movie for the first time:

"The matrimonial combination of Powell and Loy - even that was a risk, because in those days you got married at the end of the movie, not at the beginning.[...] The whole thing broke with tradition in several ways" (Samuel Marx quoted by Kotsilibas-Davis, Loy, 1987) 

Nick Charles is a detective, married to his rich wife Nora. The plot is not as interesting as the interaction between those two.
"What made "The Thin Man" special was the playful and affectionately insulting relationship between Powell and Loy. Theirs was not just a happy marriage but a modern one, a union of equals".

Nick and Nora Charles were equal in every respect and it´s such a natural thing. In all of their films Myrna and Bill are equals and they have such a beautiful interaction, they tease each other, have fun, have ups and downs and just love each other and their love is so pure (on screen) and yet it´s so light that you really wish your relationship would end up like this. They trust each other completely and know they can rely on another. It´s almost symbiotic, they complement each other. Both are an individual with their on life on their own and together they just take this whole thing on the next level. And that´s such a beautiful thing.


(a video a very dear friend of mine did and which I absolutely love)


All in all I can say that Myrna Loy is a truly inspirational woman, someone you really can look up to. Taking her as a role model can only make you a better person. So, if this little post triggered your interest or makes you go and get one of her films, then my job is done and I succeeded. And you definitely make me a happy person.


Further reading:
  • Kotsilibas-Davis, James, Loy, Myrna, 1987: Myrna Loy. Being and Becoming. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd
  • LaSalle, Mick (2000). Complicated Women. Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood. New York: St. Martin's Griffin.

Note: A BIG thank you to everyone on tumblr who replied to my question on why they love Myrna. You really were a great help.