It's rather appropriate that the most prolific, and beloved, screen couple in the history of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer -- the studio with a lion mascot -- were both Leos. (So am I, for that matter, born Aug. 19.) Earlier this week, we saluted William Powell on the anniversary of his birth; now, we'll do likewise with Myrna Loy, who was born 104 years ago tomorrow. (This is being done a day ahead of schedule because I may not have access to a computer tomorrow.)
We've written Loy's praises before -- and her autobiography, "Being And Becoming," is a must for anyone interested in classic Hollywood -- so this time, we'll supply you with some tidbits regarding Myrna's magnificent career:
* By the time of "The Thin Man," the film that firmly established the Powell-Loy team (they had worked together earlier in 1934 in "Manhattan Melodrama"), Myrma had already made 81 movies in nine years. In some years, she made as many as 12 films.
* She got her break through Rudolph Valentino. She got a tryout for his film "Cobra," and while she didn't get the part, both he and his wife, Natalia Rambova, were supportive. Myrna's first film, "Pretty Ladies," came later in 1925, as she and Joan Crawford both played chorus girls.
* Did you know Loy once worked with Ernst Lubitsch? It was in the mid-twenties silent "So This Is Paris," where Myrna has a small role as a maid.
* Myrna did a lot of "exotic" roles up until 1932, as her slightly slanted eyes could be exaggerated for such parts, but she once even performed in blackface. It was for a 1927 film, "Ham And Eggs At The Front," a World War I farce about black soldiers written by Darryl F. Zanuck! Truth be told, Loy looks more like a Native American than a black woman, and she appears nowhere as grotesque as the males made up in heavy blackface, but Myrna -- who as early as the 1930s decried racial stereotyping in movies -- regretted this movie for the rest of her life.
* There might have been one more Powell-Loy film -- "Escapade" -- but Myrna walked off the set, and it had nothing to do with Powell. Rather, it was that she believed MGM wasn't paying her at the level it was paying other stars at the studio. The move paid off, as she soon received an improved contract. (Incidentally, Loy's replacement in the film was Luise Rainer.)
* During the first few years of talkies, Loy was occasionally loaned out to smaller, independent studios -- companies such as Gotham, Chesterfield and Sono Art that are more or less forgotten today.
* Loy was married four times, but none of them were to fellow actors. Perhaps the closest she ever came to marrying one came late in the 1950s, when she had a romance with, of all people, Montgomery Clift (who was 15 years her junior).
* Both Loy and Kay Francis were initially sought to play the mother in the Lana Turner version of "Madame X," but both turned it down. The role instead went to Constance Bennett, who died soon after filming was completed. (When Bennett was at her peak in 1931, Loy made a film called "Consolation Marriage," and one reviewer said it was "a bad Connie Bennett picture.")
Anyway, a happy birthday to one of the classiest people in Hollywood.