Born Myrna Adele Williams in Radersburg (near Helena,
Montana), the daughter of a rancher, David Franklin Williams, and his wife,
Della Mae. Her unusual first name came from a train station whose name her
father admired. She moved to Los Angeles, California when she was twelve, after
her father's death. At the age of fifteen she began appearing in local stage
Natacha Rambova, the second wife of Rudolph Valentino, arranged a screen test for her which she failed, but she persevered, and in 1925 appeared in the movie What Price Beauty. Her silent film roles were mainly those of vampish exotic women and for a few years she struggled to overcome this stereotype with many producers and directors believing that while she was perfect as these femme fatales, she was capable of little more. During her nine year struggle to establish herself, she appeared in nearly 80 films.
Her breakthrough occurred in 1934 with two very successful films. The first was Manhattan Melodrama with Clark Gable and William Powell. Her performance in The Thin Man later the same year as William Powell's sophisticated, witty wife Nora Charles made her a star. She and Powell proved to be a popular couple and appeared in 14 films together, the most prolific onscreen pairing in Hollywood history.
In 1936, Myrna Loy was voted "Queen of Hollywood" (in a contest which also voted Clark Gable "King") and was considered to epitomise the height of glamour and sophistication. During this period she was one of Hollywood's busiest and highest paid actresses.
With the outbreak of World War II she all but abandoned her acting career to focus on the war effort and worked closely with the Red Cross. She was fiercely outspoken against Adolf Hitler and her name appeared on his "blacklist". She helped run a Naval Auxilary Canteen and toured frequently to raise funds.
Myrna Loy returned to films with The Best Years Of Our Lives in 1946 and played the wife of returning serviceman Fredric March. In later years Loy would recall this film as her proudest acting achievement. It also allowed Loy to make a film that demonstrated her social conscience. During her career she had championed the rights of black actors and characters to be depicted with dignity on film.
In later life she assumed a more influential role as Co-Chairman of the Advisory Council of the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing. From 1949 until 1954 she also worked for UNESCO; she also was an active member of the Democratic Party. Her film career continued sporadically (in 1960 she appeared in Midnight Lace and From the Terrace, and was not in another until 1969 in The April Fools) and she also returned to the stage making her Broadway debut in a short-lived 1973 revival of Clare Booth Luce's The Women. Her autobiography Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming was published in 1987.
In 1965, Myrna Loy won the Sarah Siddons Award for her work in Chicago theatre. She received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center in 1986. Although she was never nominated for an Academy Award for any single performance, she received an Academy Honorary Award in 1991 "for her career achievement", she accepted via camera from her New York home, appearing somewhat bloated (possibly from medications she was taking) and thanked everyone sincerely and graciously. It would be her last public appearance in any medium.
After battling breast cancer and enduring two mastectomies, Loy died during undisclosed surgery (although IMDB listed it as cancer surgery) in New York City at the age of 88.
Myrna Loy's remains were cremated and the ashes interred at Forestvale Cemetery, in the capital of Montana, Helena, which is near her birthplace of Radersburg, in her beloved home state, and far from the pains of Los Angeles and NYC.
On August 2, 2005, the centenary of Loy's birth, Warner Home Video released the six films from The Thin Man series, on DVD as a boxed set.
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