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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The actress who had a sweet way with a sharp line

"Some actresses take us by storm. Some steal quietly into our hearts. Myrna Loy had a sweet way with a sharp line, and she could communicate more with a delicately raised eyebrow than most performances can with a raised voice."

- Anjelica Huston, 1991

No, today isn't Myrna Loy's birthday. That was August 4th. And usually I only utilize one particular occasion to write solely about an actor: a birthday. But I'm going to make an exception for Myrna Loy because I have neglected her so much on this blog. And I really really like her. And I want to talk about her!

Myrna and I go back long ways. There are about three or four films I credit to the beginning of my classic film obsession. Technically it would be "The Sound of Music" (1964). For about a year I was obsessed with that movie, and it was my, hands down, favorite film. I watched it over and over and I knew every character, every line, every song (I think I still do). I honestly abused our DVD player with that film. But it wasn't until about year later that I became obsessed with classic film on a whole. I think it was one summer night when I sat around bored in our house, honestly playing with a ball or something, and my dad came up and invited me to watch a film with him in our basement (we have a movie theater there).

Well, I went down to watch it and that film turned out to be "Love Crazy" (1941), with William Powell and Myrna. I guess I was pretty open minded as a little kid, because I don't remember asking, "EW?! This is black and white?!" or "Who the heck are these people?". I just watched it. It was the first screwball comedy I had ever seen and mind you, screwballs don't exist anymore. Humor today tends to fall under the categories of either a) satire, b) raunchy, or c) disgusting.

Well, it was my first experience with a screwball comedy and I couldn't believe how funny it was. I split my sides and laughed out a lung during the whole film. I instantly declared it one of my new favorite films. I was on the verge of classic film, and then "Singin in the Rain" (1952) caught me hook and sinker and I never really went back. I asked my father, "Could you show me some more old movies?" And the rest is history. 

So though looking back there are certainly better screwball comedies, I will always have a sentimental attachment to "Love Crazy" (1941), and the sweet actress with a cute upturned nose that starred in it alongside William Powell.

Myrna Loy was voted "The Queen of Hollywood" (to Clark Gable's King) in 1937. And though she and Clark made a few films, her most famous co-star in the movies was easily William Powell, with whom she made fourteen films, half of which she starred as Nora Charles to Powell's Nick in the stylish "The Thin Man" series.  Nora Charles, the sophisticated female Sherlock, is probably Myrna's most familiar role. (I have not seen all "The Thin Man" films yet, I tend to watch those gradually over time. I think I'm up to "Shadow of the Thin Man" by now.)

The other night I felt like watching something, so I went on pay-per-view and checked out what TCM had (all their movies are actually free. I honestly don't know what I'd do without Turner Classic Movies). One of the films was "Evelyn Prentice" (1934), and the plot sounded promising, and it had Bill and Myrna in it, so I went for it. It had been a while since I'd seen a Myrna Loy film and it reminded me what a wonderful, beautiful actress she was and how terribly I've neglected the actress who had a "sweet way with a sharp line" (in the words of Anjelica Huston). 

Myrna Loy was a personification of refined beauty, sophistication, and style. She had a clever way about her and could portray the strongest emotions in the most subtle of ways. She wasn't the chew the scenery type. And not like there's anything wrong with the latter mentioned actress. You think of Bette Davis, perhaps, when it comes to chewing up scenery - and I love Bette Davis. But still, Myrna was a delicate actress. She didn't even have much of an education in acting, but she knew how to make a character seem real, natural, effortless, even down to the pauses between her lines like we would have in real life.

She was called "the perfect wife," because the characters she played were oftentimes the perfect wife. You think of Nora Charles, a sophisticated mix of sleuth, the perfect hostess, the dependable woman. Despite this, when Myrna started out she was actually oftentimes stereotyped as the "vampy" woman, jungle princesses and the like. But studios began to recast her and soon she was "the perfect wife," though she herself didn't really like the label.

She was a woman before her time. She was quoted as saying, "What about a black person walking up to the steps of a courthouse with a briefcase?". In the 60's she became a big supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, and served as an adviser to the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing. She called her work in the pre-Civil rights film, "Hams and Eggs at the Front" (1927) "shameful". She was a liberal and a feminist.

Myrna was never awarded the Oscar, but in 1991 she was given an Honorary Award, which is where the quote from Angelica Huston comes from. Myrna accepted the award from her New York apartment and said very simply, but genuinely with the elegance she'd exhibited all her life, "Thank you. You've made me very happy." 

She had a quiet way about her, but she was a beautiful actress who also happened to be a very incredible human being. I think people tend to overlook her, I was overlooking her, but Myrna deserves more than that. So a new vow: talk more about Myrna this year. Because I like her quite an awful lot.


"Life, is not a having and a getting, but a being and a becoming."

- MYRNA LOY (1905 - 1993)


Bette said...

I'm so glad you posted about this wonderful actress! I've recently gotten to know her more and sen loads of her films and she's in my top 5! She deserves so much more of a fandom on Blogger, she's huge on Tumblr - I don't get why she isn't as big here! Rianna, you and me need to start a Myrna Loy appreciation blog ASAP, I'm not even joking :-D

P.S. I watched Test Pilot with her, Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy today, it's on youtube and you should check it out if you haven't already. Just search TstPltA.
P.P.S. Tell me if you wanna start that Myrna appreciation blog :-D

Dani said...

I'm not familiar with Myrna Loy's work, but "The thin man" has been on my list for quite some time. So I'd better get on and watch it. I think I might try and follow Bette's tip and watch Test Pilot on youtube as well.
You know, you're very lucky to have such good programming on TCM there. Here where I live, TCM is a piece of garbage. They're showing so much stuff from the 90's you wouldn't believe. When I went to the US I was really amazed at how many cool old movies they showed there.

Rianna said...

BETTE! Finally, someone else that loves her! I agree, she's pretty big on Tumblr, all those GIFs of her nose scrunch and such. :) She is so underrated. And yes, I will totally start that Myrna appreciation blog with you ;D Thank you for the Test Pilot link. Myrna and Clark and Spence, *swoon*.

Rianna said...

You definitely need to see some of Myrna's films! Start with "The Thin Man", and anything with her and William Powell is pretty good. And out of sentimental reasons I must suggest to you "Love Crazy." ;) "Evelyn Prentice" and "Libeled Lady", too. That is all her and Bill Powell, on her own you should also check out "The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer", and like Bette said, I would try "Test Pilot." I haven't seen it yet... but with Myrna, Clark, and Spence it must be good!

Yeah, I hear the international TCM is just not that good. On occasion TCM shows more modern stuff, but 95% of the time its just old movies. It's wonderful. :)

Bette said...

Rianna, can you comment on my blog with your email or some way I can contact you, I've had an idea for a collaborated blog! :-D I have comment moderation on so I won't publish the comment.

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