Actress Loretta Young Dead

Monday, August 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Loretta Young, the elegant Hollywood beauty who specialized in playing strong-willed heroines with firm principles during a 26-year film career and went on to star in her own television show, died Saturday of ovarian cancer. She was 87.

Young, whose acting career extended from silent movies to television and included an Academy Award for best actress in ``The Farmer's Daughter,'' died at the home of her sister Georgiana Montalban and actor Ricardo Montalban early Saturday morning, said Norman Brokaw, her longtime agent and friend.

``She was an incredible lady,'' Brokaw said. ``I learned from her that if you can handle yourself with class and dignity, you can work as long as you want in this business.''

From 1953 to 1963, Young appeared on television in more than 300 episodes of ``The Loretta Young Show,'' opening the program with her much-satirized trademark of sweeping through a doorway, always in a high-style gown. She was nominated seven times for Emmys as best starring actress and won three times.

``During the series, I played every role possible — Chinese, Japanese, Swedish, Indian, old, ugly, young, pretty,'' she remarked in a 1973 interview. ``It was a marvelous experience for an actress to do everything she had ever wanted to do. I got it out of my system.''

She retired at the end of ``The New Loretta Young Show'' in 1963, devoting her time to charities and a line of beauty products bearing her name. She returned to acting only briefly, appearing in the television movie ``Christmas Eve'' in 1986 and, lastly, the television movie ``Lady in a Corner'' in 1989.

She appeared in 88 movies dating from 1927 to 1953. During her Hollywood heyday, Young appeared opposite most of the top male stars of her time, including Lon Chaney, John Barrymore, Clark Gable, James Cagney, Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant and Robert Mitchum.

A shapely beauty with large blue-gray eyes and high cheekbones, Young starred at age 15 with Chaney in the 1928 film ``Laugh, Clown, Laugh.'' She was never less than a star afterward.

Between 1929 and 1930 she appeared in 15 movies, including ``Broken Dishes'' with the hard-drinking actor Grant Withers.

When she was 17, she eloped with him. They lived together for eight months before she filed for divorce, claiming she paid most of the bills. Young never spoke of the marriage, and it never appeared in her official biography.

Her career flourished in the 1930s, with contracts with Warner Bros.-First National and then 20th Century-Fox. In 1934 she appeared in 10 films, including ``Born to Be Bad,'' ``The House of Rothschild,'' ``The Devil to Pay,'' ``Caravan,'' Cecil B. DeMille's ``The Crusades,'' ``Call of the Wild'' and ``Shanghai.''

In the '40s she made such films as ``The Story of Alexander Graham Bell,'' ``The Doctor Takes a Wife,'' ``Bedtime Story,'' ``The Lady from Cheyenne,'' ``China,'' ``Along Came Jones'' and ``The Stranger.''

After 20 years of stardom, her career seemed ready for the inevitable decline. Then producer Dore Schary offered her ``The Farmer's Daughter.'' The role was that of a maid elected to Congress.

``Do you mean you want me to play it with a Swedish accent, a blond wig and all?'' Young had asked. ``Isn't that dangerous?''

``Yes, but it could also win you an Academy Award,'' Schary had said.

No one else thought so, not with Rosalind Russell the heavy favorite for ``Mourning Becomes Electra.''

When Young was announced as best actress of 1947, the audience gasped in surprise.

``At long last!'' she sighed as she held the Oscar. The award sustained her career, and she went on to such films as ``The Bishop's Wife,'' ``Come to the Stable,'' ``Mother Was a Freshman'' and ``Because of You''. Her last feature came in 1953 with ``It Happens Every Thursday.''

``Pictures were great, but there was no real communication with the audience,'' she said in a 1966 interview. ``The other aspects of being a movie star I can't knock: the fame, the grand houses, the glamour, the money, friends.''

The actress also contributed to Roman Catholic charities, including a home for unwed mothers and a children's foundation. She insisted on propriety on her movie sets, and even enforced a kitty for her charities, to which set workers contributed a coin every time they swore. Legend has it that on ``Rachel and the Stranger,'' the irreverent Mitchum loosed a spate of profanity and dropped $5 into the kitty.

Young's daughter Judy Lewis, adopted in the mid-'30s, claims Young hid one lapse from traditional morality. In a 1994 book, ``Uncommon Knowledge,'' Lewis claimed she was the result of an affair between a married Gable and Young. According to Lewis, Young had her baby in secret in late 1935, then eventually ``adopted'' the child when she was 2.

A spokesman denied it, and in a 1995 New York Times interview, Young refused to discuss the story, calling it a ``rumor of a bygone time,'' and adding, ``I have made peace with my daughter.''

She was born Gretchen Young on Jan. 6, 1913, in Salt Lake City, where her father was a railroad auditor. She had a younger brother, Jack, and two older sisters, Polly Ann and Elizabeth, who had her own movie career as Sally Blane.

When Young was 3, her father abandoned the family. Her mother moved the children to Los Angeles and opened a boarding house. She later married and had a fourth daughter, Georgiana.

An uncle in the movie business found work for the girls as extras, and Young started when she was 5. Eight years later, director Mervyn Leroy called the Young house with a role for Polly Ann in ``Naughty but Nice.'' ``Polly Ann isn't here; will I do?'' Young inquired. She made her acting debut in the comedy, and the star, Colleen Moore, changed the 13-year-old's name to Loretta.

Throughout her career and afterward, she always appeared the movie queen, with perfect coiffure and makeup, dressed in the latest fashion, upbeat in her view of life.

After the end of her TV series, she pursued the things denied her during the hectic years in the studios.

``I decided the whole world was a soundstage, and I wanted to see it,'' she told a reporter in 1986. ``I traveled for two years. When I came back, I wasn't anxious to return to work, and I didn't need to financially. Suddenly the years slipped by. I was living my life. It was quiet when I wanted it quiet and exciting when I wanted it exciting.''

Except for ``Christmas Eve'' in 1986, she stayed out of the limelight, pursuing her charities and spending time with her family.

In 1940, she married broadcast executive Thomas Lewis, and they had two sons, Christopher and Peter. The couple divorced in 1969.

In August 1993, Young surprised her friends by marrying fashion designer Jean Louis. She was 80; he was 85.

She told Daily Variety: ``We've known each other for so long. And when something is right, it just slips into place.''

Jean Louis died in April 1997.

Young is survived by her sister and three children.