Miss Myrna Loy.
you feel like a nut.
Sometimes, you don’t.
Sometimes you wanna
write a snarky post about:
— all you can think about is a picture in your head —
One that won’t go away,
and you wouldn’t want it to if it could.
There have been a few ( really, very few ) remarkable and unforgettable people in the American cinema over the last 100 years….
People who will always be recognized as essential to what film meant to our culture — even far into the future.
And of course, I certainly enjoy their work, especially the Duke’s.
He was ,
and continues to be,
a much admired role model for me.
But I have always had a strong fascination with a group of Hollywood divas who project a certain je ne sais quoi —
— a grace, charm, and the ability to make my jaw drop when they appear on screen.
….. the list starts to get longer,
once I start thinking about it.
But my favorite–
the woman who makes me stand up
and take notice every time
she shows up on screen, is Myrna Loy.
Myrna played every kind of role imaginable in her 50-some years in Hollywood,
to sultry, strong and sexy–
in a New York second.
Her love of fun and her sense of humor was legendary in a town that could get pretty wild on it’s own —
She was a natural on and off the camera.
In 1991, she was given an honorary Academy Award for:
“her extraordinary qualities both on screen and off,
… with appreciation for a lifetime’s worth of indelible performances“.
Myrna was born a Montana girl in 1905,
-and she grew up in Helena-
the Queen City of the Rockies and the State Capital.
Unfortunately for the family, 1918 brought a pestilence back from the European war, in the form of the Spanish Influenza Epidemic —
which ended up infecting upwards of 500 million people worldwide —
Her father died from it that year,
…. and the family was forced to move to a property they owned near Los Angeles, in Culver City, California.
She described herself later:
“I was a homely kid with freckles that came out every spring and stuck on me till Christmas.”
The private school which she was attending, however, objected to her participation in these creative outlets,
… and eventually, she enrolled in Venice Public High School in order to continue them.
One of the things Myrna is still remembered for there–
is that, at age 17, in 1921, she posed for a famous statue —
— called ” Fountain of Education ” by Harry Fielding Winebrenner,
And that statue —
( technically, a bronze duplicate of the original cement figure )
The piece, described at the time by the Los Angeles Times as a:
“vision of purity, grace, youthful vigor, and aspiration”,
…. couldn’t have been modeled by a more perfect girl —
she, herself would have later argued the point:
…. although she was considered by many to project the very image of a ‘perfect wife’ as Nora Charles in the Thin Man series.
” Some perfect wife I am. I’ve been married four times, divorced four times, have no children, and can’t boil an egg. “
And Myrna was never that.
Honest, funny, gorgeous, vital, self-aware, enthusiastic, sensual — yes.
Rudolph Valentino was instrumental in getting Myrna her first ‘big break’ in moving pictures,
and by 1925, she was working in bit parts for Warner Brothers Studios.
The studio changed her last name to Loy,
and they started casting her as a mysterious femme fatale in films like “The Mask of Fu Manchu” and “Thirteen Women” —
She made over 80 films between 1925 and 1934, including “Manhattan Melodrama”–
— a popular gangster film–
Of course, the role that changed her whole acting career came in 1934- the year she was cast as Nora Charles in the “Thin Man”, with William Powell.
This pairing with Powell resulted in what people back then called ‘Pure Chemistry’ —
And they would end up making 5 Thin Man movies,
and a total of 14 films together.
She remembered the role very fondly :
added to her charm, wit, and sense of humor came across wonderfully in those “Thin Man” movies–
….. and Myrna became an important star in high demand.
She obviously enjoyed working with William Powell,
” I never enjoyed my work more than when I worked with William Powell.
He was a brilliant actor, a delightful companion, a great friend and, above all, a true gentleman. “
But, according to both Myrna and Wm. Powell– never lovers.
if that’s the case,
I can’t help but feel sorry for William Powell.
Myrna Loy created a body of work that very few actresses will ever be able to match,
in terms of comedic and dramatic quality —
Her death at age 88 in 1993,
closed a life that was full of adventure, challenges, and joy.
— She always had lived her life by her motto :
“Life is not a having and a getting, but a being and a becoming.”
When I think of Myrna,
I remember a quote of hers when she was describing why she loved playing Nora Charles…..
And I’ve always been struck by just how much she might have been describing her self.
” Nora had a gorgeous sense of humor;
She appreciated the distinctive grace of her husband’s wit.
She laughed at him, and with him when he was funny.
What’s more, she laughed at herself.
Besides having tolerance, she was a good guy.
She was courageous and interested in living–
— and she enjoyed doing all the things she did.
You understand, she had a good time, always. “
And may that be said of all of us, my friends.
PS: If you’re enjoyed this post, please drop me a comment and let me know.
If you didn’t ….
well, feel free to keep that to yourself.
She has been called
the original ‘vamp’:
and she really was
the American silent
screen’s first sex symbol.
Theda appeared in more than 40 films,
those films that remain
extant show an actress
who totally understood
how to project a personal
sense of smoldering, exotic
sensuality and desirability
through the camera lens.
The ‘vamp’ archetype
is an old one —
Men have almost
an inborn taste
for the idea
of a provocative,
and assertive female,
who uses the power
of her femininity
and sexuality to ‘seduce’
them away from their
sense of ethics and judgement –
Even to the point of personal ruin.
Theda played that role
on screen like no one ever had,
and no one ever will—
….even modern literature
has rarely seen such
an intense characterization
of this concept —
And in this respect,
her performances have
more affinity for the
psychologist than the
The scripts could be
….. but she always brought
this allegorical aspect
into her characters.
In movies like:
“A Fool There Was”,
“The Devil’s Daughter”,
“Gold and the Woman”,
“The Unchastened Woman”,
and “When a Woman Sins”,
….. she played the head-strong ambitious female
that would stop at nothing
to get what she wanted-
whether the motive
was a mercenary one,
In the classic films:
and the “Eternal Sappho”,
She also played more
classical divas like “Cleopatra”,
and Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet”,
The costumes used in a
Theda Bara picture were
often very alluring and transparent–
Her beautiful buxom figure,
deep set eyes, and almost
mesmerizing body language
combined to complete the package —
Male audience members
couldn’t take their eyes off her,
…… and women would
often faint or scream
during a performance.
Her impact on screen was magnified by the fact that movies were still in their infancy,
….and most audience members
had some degree of difficulty
remembering that what
they were seeing in the theatre
wasn’t reality, despite the
lack of sound or color.
She was quite aware of this effect,
and although she sometimes
tired of the ‘vamp’ role,
she was quoted in the 1920’s as saying:
“I will continue doing
vampires as long as people sin”.
Theda Bara’s work predates the
“It Girl” by almost 10 years,
….and while Clara’s persona
was one very in tune
with the twenties —
fun loving, perky,
and somewhat even innocent,
— as if nudging the
fears and lusts,
the by-products of an
industrial age, still lurked.
(and still lurk)
Bara was born in 1885,
in Cincinnati, Ohio,
as Theodosia Burr Goodman,
…..and first appeared on stage
at the age of 23 in a play
called “The Devil” (1908).
Her first film was made in 1914,
in New York, called “The Stain”,
(she made 4 more in
the following year )
…. but within three years,
she, along with most of rest
of the fledgling motion
picture industry, had
moved to Hollywood, California.
She worked mainly for Fox Studios,
and when the Fox nitrate-film archive in New Jersey burned down in 1937,
—– most of her films
burned with it.
What we have left of her work
are some short previews,
fragments of clips, and
complete copies of only 6 films.
And, of course,
—- these wonderful posters and pictures.
One added point —
The top picture on this post
was painted by Rolf Armstrong.
Another, this one on the right,
featuring Miss Bara as Cleopatra,
was painted by Henry Clive.
And, of course,
there was a set of
pictures taken of Marilyn Monroe,
doing homage to Theda Bara
as Cleopatra, as well.
A picture from that series is below.
So, here’s to beautiful,
sensual women of every age and era !!!!!