Monday, April 19, 2010

Myrna Loy: "Something That Made Them Trust Me"

My favorite Myrna Loy story.

It's from her autobiography Being and Becoming, published in 1988. If you had never seen a single Myrna Loy movie, this book would make you forever her slave. Myrna (I hope the first name doesn't seem like lèse majesté --I love her too much to think of her as Miss Loy) put her movie career somewhat on hold during World War II and afterward to do various forms of charitable work. During the war she spent a lot of time visiting military hospitals. Amputees, burn victims, men blinded in battle, eventually even the shell-shocked guys in the mental wards, she went to see them all. "Apparently I had something that made them trust me," she says, with her usual graceful understatement. "The blind boys would hear my name, put their hands over my face, get hold of my nose, and say 'Yup, that's her.' I would have fun with them for a little while and then go to the ladies' room and cry."

Here is Myrna, offering a steadying arm, kind counsel and a well-timed hair of the dog to another star on a visit to Halloran Hospital in Staten Island.

The biggest hit of all was Betty Grable, who agreed to visit Halloran during a brief stop in New York. When I picked her up at the hotel, she flopped limply into the car. 'Have I got a hangover,' she groaned. 'Harry James and I were out on the town last night.' A game gal, direct and unaffected, she tried to make polite conversation on the way to Halloran while obviously suffering. Finally, I stopped at a little roadhouse, and made her take some beer to appease the gremlins.

Then we got up there, and she's a sensation. Can you imagine? This was the pinup girl of the Navy, the Army and the Marine Corps. They were so thrilled, so excited--some of them shy, some of them forward--and she was absolutely terrific, which wasn't easy in her condition, particularly since she hadn't been prepared for all that horror. Overcome at one point in the burn ward, she sat down on the edge of an empty bed, looking up at me like a little girl ashamed of being naughty. 'That's all right,' I said. 'You can sit and rest.' In the last ward, to cap the climax, we ran into a sexy, life-size model of Betty. The men had built it out of cardboard, with the emphasis, of course, on her famous legs. She was a little upset by it, a bit taken aback. Betty was sick and tired of her legs. All the so-called sexpots become aggravated by the preoccupation with their legs or whatever it is that's concentrated on. 'Oh no, don't be upset,' I told her. 'They love you. They're just happy to see you.' So she stayed quite a while and bore the adulation, giving kisses and autographs, putting her lip-prints on plaster casts as the men moved joyfully around her, some on crutches, some legless in wheelchairs, some excitedly clapping their good hands against their legs, in lieu of a hand that was gone. Once you had seen those men and talked with them, watched their faces light up and heard them call you by your first name, once you realized the amazing impact of your presence--to them you were something of home, however little it might have been--you couldn't walk away.


DavidEhrenstein said...

Oh Wow. I'm going to have to get that book. She was The Best.

I never tire of watching her movies. Not only does she not "date" she always seems ahead of the curve.

That's because she was.

The Siren said...

David, you would love her in this book. She was an ARDENT progressive and her book is peppered with asides about her fighting beliefs in civil rights, social justice and peace. She is also very kind and generous toward almost everyone, one exception being Christina Crawford and another being Ronald Reagan.

Karen said...

Geez, THANKS, Siren. As if it weren't way too early in the morning to make me cry.

Sheila O'Malley said...

I love the bit about her making Betty Grable have some beer "to appease the gremlins". Smart lady.

I haven't read this, but I have been gorging myself on Loy/Powell movies these days (watched I Love You Again yesterday) - and am in love with her. Well, both of them. It's amazing: the chemistry/alchemy of TWO. They were wonderful on their own as well, but together? Magic. It can't be described, although I keep trying, but you can feel it - it's palpable.

Gotta put this book on the list - not surprised to hear she was lovely and humorous and human.

X. Trapnel said...

Ah, Myrna; beautiful, just beautiful in every way. There was nothing "starry" on film (or apparently off) that could lose its luster with time. She always seemed to stand slightly apart in film surveying the scene with intelligence, empathy, and wit. In a lesser actress--and woman--this could turn a bit smug; with Myrna it deepend her allure and mystery.

The Siren said...

David is right, she hasn't dated a bit. Other stars may need a bit of explanation or warming up to; not Myrna. Powell was her perfect screen partner but she could be just right with many costars. I love her reactions, moment by moment, watching Fredric March get drunk in TBYOOL. Any wife could recognize each minute of that scene.

Fiona said...

I absolutely want to check that book out. Thanks for the tip!

DavidEhrenstein said...

I'm not sure if I mentioned this before but a number of years back I had the great fortune to see Loy in person when she attended a special screenign at the Theater 80 St. Marks of tow non-Thin Man movies she did with Powell: I Love You Again and Double Wedding. They're both lovely pieces of fluff keyed to the Gods who starred in them.

Anyhoo Loy was sitting behind me watchign the films -- which she hadn't herslef everseen. When they were over she sighed and said to the friend who had accompanied her "Oh God -- I'd fogotten just how great Bill was!"

Rebecca said...

love this story.

The Siren said...

You know what I really love, in addition to their pulling over to get a beer? Grable being embarrassed by a life-size cutout of her legs, applauded by some men who had lost theirs. Myrna (and her co-author James Kotsilibas-Davis) has a sympathetic eye for detail.

Yojimboen said...

It starts about 8.00 minutes in – for me (and, I fancy, a healthy slice of the rest of the world) the greatest scene in the history of American cinema.

X. Trapnel said...

Y, how could you? I'm sitting at my desk at work, a sobbing wreck. My god! all that in 10 minutes, and then the film goes on from strength to strength.

A philospophical question: Since Hoagy Carmichael is Butch here does that mean that Al, Millie, Fred, and Co. live in a world with no Stardust, Nearness of You, I Get Along Without You Very Well? Now, I like Among My Souvenirs but it's hardly compensation.

Unca Jeffy said...

Myrna...despite being elegant and easy-on-the-eyes...was from Montana (my own home state). If anyone would understand the comfort of a friend with some "hair of the dog that bit you" if would be her.

I think I just fell a little more in love with this woman!

VP81955 said...

Wonderful story about a wonderful lady. Myrna was a class act all the way and, like Carole Lombard, will always be ahead of her time. (It's too bad they never made a film together; their styles were distinctly different, but they'd have complemented each other.)

Two Loy-related entries from "Carole & Co." worth checking out. First, a 1933 Photoplay article -- about the time she was abandoning Asian roles -- with the rather unfortunate title, "No More Chinese, Myrna?" (As if she were swearing off moo goo gai pan.) Also note that Loy is never directly quoted:

The other entry is from Sunday, noting that a re-creation of a famous statue of Loy that stood in front of Venice High School (her alma mater) is back, now in bronze rather than a sculpture, and was unveiled earlier this month:

Yojimboen said...

My work here is done.

Yojimboen said...

Well, perhaps not quite…
A rare disagreement, chère Madame:

“Myrna (I hope the first name doesn't seem like lèse majesté --I love her too much to think of her as Miss Loy)…”

I love her too much not to think of her as such. And you can be sure (babe, you can bet Park Slope) that if it’s Mister Cukor on these pages, damn straight it’s Miss Loy. ;-)

WV: ‘berble’:
Something I swear on
a) as to the veracity of the above statement.
b) when I’m dragged into court charged with lerble.

Vanwall said...

TBYOOL is one of the greatest ensemble films of all time, I can't find a weak link in it, and Myrna more than holds her own as one of the anchor characters. There are scenes that compete for your ranking as the best ever all through the film.

I think her Thin Man ones are my faves, tho - she had comic timing that was unapproachable. I get the feeling she was more of a real person in real life, rather than a construct that she had to live up, or down, to. Plus she was a stunning woman on screen.

The Siren said...

Y., in real life for sure she'd have been Miss Loy, but she is also my fantasy girlfriend and so in my besotted state she is also Myrna to me.

J.A. Morris said...

Thanks for posting this! I'm fortunate enough to work in a library,ran upstairs and checked out the book as soon as I read this. And thanks to David E for the great story!

I found this 1945 article through a Google News search,it talks about Loy's involvement with the Red Cross and her visits to military hospitals:

And here are two funny newspaper ads featuring Loy,
Lux Toilet soap:

And Ellis Mills Salon:
(let me know if these tiny urls don't work)

X. Trapnel said...

Y, I'm with our hostess on this. It would most certainly would have been Miss Loy in life (we shouold have been so lucky), but in the paradis artificiel of cinema she is ever Myrna.

And if it's Mr. Cukor here then it must surely be Alfred Lord Hitchcock, le roi Renoir, St. Orson of Xanadu, and Maxissimus Ophulsianisimus Trismegisthus King of Heaven and Earth.

Meredith said...

Myrna Loy is my inspiration for how to be a positive force in the world. I love her book so much, and this is one of my favorite moments in it too.

Gloria said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gloria said...

I finished reading "Being and Becoming" not long ago and I cannot reccomend it enough.

Wherever I look, Myrna seems to me to be always on the right side of things (as in the "Spanish Civil War" right side of things)

And one of my top favourites among Cary Grant's screen partners (along with Ann Sheridan and Infrid Bergman)

Yojimboen said...

Incredibly, her unbilled role as a chorus girl in The Jazz Singer was her 22nd (!) film.
The Lady paid some dues.

Here she is at age thirteen – Venice High School yet to come. Be still my heart.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Oh Lord that scene gets me every time!

It's a perfect demonstration of how to convey emotion with your back to the camera.

Robert Avrech said...

Ah, what a wonderful post about a wonderful book.

Myrna was one of the greatest stars of the Golden Age. I have always preferred her work to Garbo, Crawford and Davis.

Myrna Loy, unlike those other ladies, had a sense of humor that made her more human, and afforded her a greater range of characters.

As your post indicates, Myrna was a woman of conscience and sensitivity.

When the Jewish moguls at MGM were ready to appease the Nazis in order to maintain their lucrative German market, Myrna spoke out against the genocidal Jew-hatred that was at the heart of the National Socialist movement.

I wrote about it here:

BTW, Myrna's favorite of all her movies is the dazzling Test Pilot, with Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy.

I'm inclined to agree with her.

Dan Leo said...

Great clip from "Best Years", Yojimbeam.

That shot of the sailor looking out at the clouds from the plane -- just beautiful and heart-wrenching. A perfect example of what cinema can do in a way that other art forms cannot.

...And later in the cab when Fredric March tells the sailor: "You're home now, kid."

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

As it happens, I've read "Being and Becoming" ... which is rare for me, since my usual method of dealing with actor biographies is to pick through them in libraries and then, later, to be vague about my sources of informtation.

Loy would seem to've been an admirable individual. Still and all ... I was put off by the space in her book devoted to individuals rushing up in Miss Loy and telling Miss Loy how wonderful she is.

What would be the phrase this? This inclusion of other people's admiration which she doesn't *quite* endorse? "Conspicuous modesty"?

Feta said...

Serendipitously enough, I just moments ago ordered a copy of this book from amazon. I'm looking forward to reading it.

The Siren said...

Mrs HWV, it's been a while since I read it and while I can remember the parts I loved very well, I don't remember there being much back-door bragging. I am sure I took it as her trying to acknowledge her fans.

Robert, as always good to see you. I will look forward to reading your link.

Jeff, welcome. Myrna was very proud of her Montana roots and certainly she speaks well for the state.

J.A. Morris, welcome, and loved the military hospital link. It really must have been very difficult to visit such suffering people so frequently and for such long periods, but she was a real patriot and saw it not just as a duty, but a honor.

The Siren said...

Rebecca, I think this is the first post of mine that got you to comment. :)

Y., that really was a wonderful link.

Feta, welcome, and you won't be disappointed with Being and Becoming. It's one of the best ghostwritten star memoirs ever.

The Siren said...

Gloria, I don't remember her saying anything about the Spanish Civil War but I am inclined to agree with you anyway.

Meredith, she really is inspirational. I read this book as a teen and I also found her a great role model, frank about her failings (largely bad taste in men, a near-universal thing for female stars it seems) and forthright about her accomplishments.

Dan, to me there isn't a false note in that whole movie. It is one that gets deeper and more meaningful for me each time I see it, a movie that really goes to the heart of being American, in the best sense.

gmoke said...

My mind immediately went to "The Best Years of Our Lives" too. She is so perfect in that film but then I don't think I've ever seen her perform badly.

I copied a call to CSPAN to my computer from early in the Iraq War. It is from a woman who talks about visiting injured soldiers at Walter Reed. Her feelings are so touching and true and eventually the CSPAN host recognizes that it is Cher. I think there are many, many, many Hollywood figures who do kind and human things, use their celebrity and fame to good purpose that we never hear about.

At least I hope that it so.

Thanks for telling us about the human side of Myrna Loy.

gmoke said...

We need another "Best Years of Our Lives" for the permanent wars we are currently engaged in. We need it because my readings about PTSD show that strong community support is healing for those who are suffering and we have way too many returning soldiers who are invisibly wounded.

John Huston's "Let There Be Light" is a useful reference point. Too bad that it was kept from its audience for nearly 40 years. You can see it now online at

Karen said...

TBYOOL is really a kind of cinematic harmonic convergence: the perfect meeting of screenwriter, director, cast, cinematographer, and composer. I can't imagine a single component changing to make it any better, and several changing to make it worse.

The Siren said...

VP, I missed you up there-thanks so much for the links, and I agree, Loy and Lombard inspire a similar type of love, though they were dissimilar actresses.

Gmoke, what a lovely story about Cher, whom I have loved for years.

X. Trapnel said...

Karen, if you want to see how it could have been worse read the novel in verse it was based on, Glory for Me, by Mackinlay Kantor, a very odd production indeed (among other things Homer's injuries make him a drooling spastic and the noirishness that haunts about the edges in TBYOOL is given full melodramatic play).

Another treasurable wordless scene is Theresa Wright comforting Dana Andrews after his nightmare. Wyler let's the scene go on a little longer than one might expect and Wright (just wonderful) shows sympathy, curiosity, fear, and intimations of love with the most subtle shifts of expression.

Yojimboen said...

Beautifully put, Karen.

Trish said...

Myrna Loy was and is the best detective's wife, best hostess and best female drunk of all time. But she is even better in TBYOOL. The film seriously belongs to its middle-aged marrieds - Myrna and Fredric March. I use to think March was an old ham - Dr. Jeckyll anyone? But sometime in the late 1930s he figured it out, and thereafter became one of America's finest. Siren mentioned Myrna watching him get drunk: could anyone believe that they weren't actually married? As a child TBYOOL didn't impress me. It's only as an adult participant that I can understand its virtues.

X. Trapnel said...

A book infused with the same spirit and edgy mood as TBYOOL and echoes it almost uncannily (a measure of the latter's emotional honesty and grasp of social reality) is Back Home by the great Bill Mauldin, not I'll bet, a forgotten name around here.

pvitari said...

Top of my list of "classic movies I haven't seen that I really need to see right away" is The Best Years of Our Lives. I adore Loy and March (not to mention Wright and Andrews) so I have no idea why I haven't seen it. But I will. Soon. Promise.

Er...Now playing at the Screencap Bijou: City Girl.

Stephen Brophy said...

I remember her in a nice little made-for-TV movie (just had to imdb it) called "Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate." She starred with Helen Hayes, Sylvia Sidney and Mildred Natwick, playing a group of old friends who get involved in some sort of crime by making up an imaginary person to enter into a computer dating situation.

The plot was typical and obviously not too memorable. But what causes it to stick with me are the many scenes between the various women as the complications ensue. Miss Loy's character was definitely the brains of this bunch.

Yojimboen said...

This is from her 36th film.

I swear this woman turns me into unset Jello.

Operator_99 said...

On screen, off screen, the same gracious quality, wit, compassion and timelessness. We were lucky that film and Myrna discovered each other.

Karen said...

Dear lord, Y.! One can only imagine what Nora would have made of Azuri.

Yojimboen said...

Excerpted from the 1929 NYT review of John Ford’s The Black Watch starring Victor McLaglen and Myrna Loy:

“…Mr. McLaglen does good work as Captain King, but it's a pity that his speech does not suggest more emphatically the Scot.
Miss Loy does fairly well, but she is a heroine of the Mohammedan hill people who is meticulous about her facial make-up and the inextensiveness of her attire…”

Patrick Wahl said...

Siren - very nice story, thanks for putting that quote up.

Yojimboen - I worship the ground that movie walks on, and that particular section of the movie is some of (or just plain the best) movie making ever. Wyler doesn't do anything fancy, just makes brilliant movies.

Buttermilk Sky said...

I always suspected MISS LOY of being a class act. Thank you for confirming it. And oh, her first appearance in "Best Years," busy in the kitchen, when she suddenly realizes who is at the door...I have to see that one about once a month.

VW: quitagra. For men who want to stop having erections.

X. Trapnel said...

Also Loy cancelling that evening's engagement. Best telephone acting ever. March's expression is priceless.

Eminence Grise said...

I adore Myrna Loy. My fiance and I have gone as Nick and Nora for Halloween. I love how she balanced beauty with sly wit and intelligence.
She is timeless - so much so that when I went to look for my wedding dress and they asked me what I wanted to look like on the day, I said, "Myrna Loy."

crumit said...

I read Loy's autobiography when it first came out. After reading this, I feel the urge to track it down and read again.
The Best Years of Our Lives has always been one of my favorite films, but my favorite scene speaks to the issue of whether the characters were living in a Hoagy Carmichael-free world. It's when Homer asks Butch to play "Lazy River." Not only does it give the audience a chance to watch Hoagy playing his own work, it's heartbreaking to listen to Homer talk about the awkwardness he feels around his family while he's watching Hoagy Carmichael's graceful hands.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

Have people around here run into the reference to Myrna Loy in Noel Coward's song "Mad About The Boy"?

The song was written for a '30s revue called WORDS AND MUSIC and, as originally conceived, had several choruses: one for a schoolgirl, one for a streetwalker, one for a cleaning lady. *Also* a chorus -- the one with the Loy allusion -- for a businessman. This went unperformed, for all of the predictable reasons, but it *was* published.

Part of the words go:

"Mad About The Boy,
"I know it's silly, but I'm
"Mad About The Boy"

[There's some stuff about turning to his doctor and his wife, but finding sympathy with neither]

"People I employ
"Have the impertinence
"To call me Myrna Loy;
"I rise above it.
"Frankly love it,
" 'Cos I'm abolutely
"Mad About The Boy."

Outside of the fact that "Loy" rhymes, obviously, with "Boy," I believe that this speaks to a perception of ML as connected to romantic melodrama.

X. Trapnel said...

Crumit's post amplifies my earlier inquiry. If Butch plays Lazy River then who wrote it? Why aren't any of Butch's customers astonished that he looks, sounds, and plays just like Hoagy Carmichael.

Just asking.

Yojimboen said...

Yeah, I’m right with you on that, X; I've always been puzzled why none of the characters in The Student Prince remarked on how much Edmund Purdom sounded like Mario Lanza.

Vanwall said...

So jaded, M Yo and M X - where's your suspension of disbelief? Mine's over there in a box. Or is that ambiguity? o_O

Hoagy is one of my favorite apparitions in film, a guy who looks like himself, but remains multi-personal. It's like asking what's the difference between a duck? One of its legs is both the same.

Yojimboen said...

Heaven forefend, M VW, that I would appear jaded! Cynicism, I leap-frogged over in my grade school playground, sprinted past fatalism as a young man, and now, approaching my dotage must confess that nihilism has long since disappeared from my rear-view… But jaded? You injure me, sir.
My mother had a mad pash for Hoagy, so my liking for him was possibly pre-natal. He belongs for me in a singularly odd category of Americans (and I suspect you have to be a foreigner to recognize it) who weren’t completely American. There was about them a timelessness and placelessness, an indefinably universal aura. Hoagy had it, Bill Mauldin, Eden Ahbez (Nature Boy), Ernie Kovacs and certainly Miss Loy. Of the present generation, Randy Newman, maybe? But not many more.

SteveHL said...

Mrs. HWV, it may not be on the level of Noel Coward, but back in 1941 the science fiction and fantasy writer Theodore Sturgeon wrote a story called "Shottle Bop", in which the proprietor of a magical shop explains that his bottles can bring a person everything necessary for true happiness:

For half a buck, a vial of luck
Or a bottle of nifty breaks
Or a flask of joy, or Myrna Loy
For luncheon with sirloin steaks.

Vanwall said...

Ah, M Yo, 'twas but the cream of a jest, and as I subscribe to the doctrine of Vanwallism, (of which I am currently the only known acolyte), one of it's tenets is my tongue is firmly planted in cheek most, if not all of the time.

SteveHL - Love the Sturgeon doggerel!

Yojimboen said...

“…my tongue is firmly planted in cheek most, if not all of the time.”

With me it’s all the time. I had hoped my “Heaven forefend…” would be a clue to the intent – it was written in my best Basil Rathbone voice (you know, the man Dorothy Parker described as ‘two profiles pasted together’). Nothing you might say could injure me, sir.

Another story: Like DavidE, I was once fortunate enough to be in Miss Loy’s presence (me and several hundred others); on Jan 15th 1985 AMPAS organized a tribute to the lady – held at Carniegie Hall.
(Souvenir program)

I had thought I’d miss it, but at the last minute I got free and ran from my office on 44th up to 57th St. I got lucky; the box office had a couple of returns. Inside, I got luckier still when I found myself sitting within a few feet of the lady; behind her, yes, but unlike most of the audience I didn’t have to crane my neck; plus the bonus was, every few minutes she would turn to friends on either side and I got a close-up of that profile. Mein gott, what a profile! There were luminaries aplenty on stage that night blowing kisses up at Miss Loy, Lauren Bacall, Lillian Gish, Lena Horne, Joe Mankiewicz, Robert Mitchum, Maureen O’Sullivan, Tony Randall, Burt Reynolds, Sylvia Sidney, Maureen Stapleton and Teresa Wright; and I don’t remember a word any of them said.

camorrista said...

Siren, in 1948, when my family lived in London, on Saturdays I'd walk to the local Odeon, and, if the feature was rated for Adults, I'd badger a grownuup into taking me in with him (or usually, her).

Adult matinees were rarely crowded, so I wss shocked when I turned the corner on to the theater's street to see a line stretching for hundreds of yards.

The movie, of course, was TBYOOL, and I did manage to wheedle my way in--much to the fury of a more than one grownup.

As powerful as TBYOOL is today, imagine its impact in 1948 (1946 or 1947 in the US) on spectators who had lived it. Our neighbors--he had been in the Royal Navy, she had kept the home fires burning--went to see it six nights in a row.

At the time, I was nine, and I didn't understand a lot of the movie--but I understood Harold Russell wasn't an actor and had actually lost his hands; I understood that homecomings could be awkward--or worse; I understood that Myrna Loy loved Frederic March but was frightened for him; I understood that Dana Andrews was reliving something horrific as he sat in the nose of junked bomber; and I understood that the people around me in the theater understood things that made them weep.

Vanwall said...

camorrista -

A brilliantly poignant little remembrance - it sums up TBYOOL better than almost anything I've read; thanks for posting it.

I've read that one of my faves, "Letyat Zhuravli", AKA "The Cranes are Flying" - the Soviet version of this film in a way - had similar effects on the audiences of its time; long lines, repeated viewings, and yes, weeping.

camorrista said...

Vanwall, you picked an apt example--I've been to Russia a few times, and many of the people I know there have lasting & vivid memories of the effect of THE CRANES ARE FLYING.

Like THBYOOL, it was simultaneously a beautifully executed movie and was released (just) in time to speak to the generation it depicted. And in the Soviet Union, as in the US, most of the adult population had been directly affected by the war.

I suspect that's why there hasn't been a movie since that's had the same existential impact--far fewer (Western) people have been affected by Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan & Iraq, and none of those wars ever had same emotional ambiance as World War II--the last of the "Good Wars," as it were.

Vanwall said...

camorrista -

Excellent point about the side-effects of WWII - a communal sharing of grief and triumph, and when the right movie is made, it's like a bit of glue that helps cement people together. TBYOOL and LZ had a common thread of an emphasis on the un-heroic and common, the average, or worse, and what happened to ordinary people regardless of combat experience or not.

I'm watching TBYOOL as I type this, and it's still a powerful film, regardless of what some critics have said over the years - it works damn well. One of the things I noticed is when Myrna's character realizes someone special is at the door, there's a mingled fear in her expression - knowing it might be a telegraph instead of March. Boy, she was great with her eyes, and all through this film.

I've been wondering if the recent financial melt-down will have a legacy of influence on films about or that reference it, similar to the "Depression" films from the thirties.

Vanwall said...

I meant telegram - don't use that word too often anymore.

Karen said...

Oh, gosh, camorrista, thank you. That was simply beautiful.

Cee said...

Such a wonderful anecdote, thank you for sharing! Myrna really was something special, on and off the screen.

X. Trapnel said...

Jaded V? I suppose you NEVER wondered why nobody in Joe Macbeth (1955) ever stopped the action with "Ferchrissakes! Everything that's happening's just like in--MACBETH!!! That guy's name is Banky and he's Duffy and Joe, well Joe is...! Hey, we can stop this thing!"

A world without Hoagy Carmichael is bad enough, but a world without Shakespeare?

camorrista said...

Vanwall, would it be rude to point out that--so far as I can determine--most critics who have disdained TBYOOL either were not around to experience its original impact (David Thomson, Dave Kehr, 95 percent of all bloggers) or, if around, did not serve in the military (Manny Farber)?

Movies, more than books, more than plays, are made in and for their times, and whatever their lasting value, it's both lazy and deceitful to ignore that.

To take an obvious example, CASABLANCA could not be made today, even as a period piece, because audiences today don't believe in that kind of sacrifice CASABLANCA belongs to 1942 as THE ENGLISH PATIENT (which is CASABLANCA turned on its head) belongs to 1996.

To take a less obvious example (and of a better movie) LA REGLE DU JEU belongs to 1939 as SHAMPOO belongs to 1975; or MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK belongs to 1944 and KNOCKED UP belongs to 2007.

This doesn't mean terrific movies don't give pleasure to people year after year, but it's a different kind of pleasure than the people got who saw them when they came out. As the old bromide goes, "You hadda be there..."

The Siren said...

Camorrista, you remind me of why I miss you when you aren't around. Your evocation of seeing The Best Years of Our Lives is one of the best tributes to that movie I have ever seen.

Your last comment is interesting, too, in that I have never believed in praising an old movie by talking about how modern it looks or feels. That just isn't what I want from these films. I *want* 1939, 1944,, I absolutely do not want 2007 but then we all knew that.

X. Trapnel said...


David Thomson has changed his mind on BYOOL. One surprising detractor (whose argument is mystifying) is Andrew Sarris. Richard Schickle took a smack at in his memoirs and got every detail wrong (bad memory or critical incomprehension). Another detractor from the time period was Robert Warshow for whom it was "middlebrow" (to me a term with no intellectual content or descriptive value) and failed at making a "radical" critique of the war and the society the 3 soldiers were returning to. One critic (don't remember who; maybe Dwight Macdonald) called it "reactionary."

Underlying these rejections is, I think, the idea that the commercial Hollywood mainstream can't do honest or truthful social realism. There's no question that BYOOL is "Hollywood" in its production values, but it pushes or broadens the limits and points to an undemonstrative, lyrical realism (no wonder James Agee loved it) that never came to fruition in the shrill now-it-can-be-told fifties.

camorrista said...

X. Trapnel, thanks for the update on the various critical reactions. I didn't realize Thomson had changed his mind, but I certainly knew about Sarris's reaction; he and I used to get into fierce--but friendly--arguments about Wyler, whom he considered a mere producer (as though in Hollywood a producer is ever "mere"), not a director--but then Andy once scorned Billy Wilder, too. There, of course, apostasy has set in.

Regarding Dwight Macdonald (another champion arguer) I don't recall his reviewing TBYOOL--as I remember, his movie-critic period came later--but I can certainly imagine him deriding it.

As to Warshow, well, what can I say? There are many people who take him seriously; for good or ill, I'm not one of them.

Finally, may I respectfully disagree with your explanation for these negative responses? I've rarely read an attack on TBYOOL that wasn't, at heart, political: in essence, the attackers (certainly those you cite) are so keen to see the picture as a cunning defense of empty middle-class American values--and Wyler as the examplar of Hollywood's corrupt fluency--that they miss not only how it's made but what's in it. Can you think of another Hollywood milestone movie whose continuous bleakness so undercuts its nominally happy ending? The studios were perfectly happy to depict pain, but they knew to a hair how urgent it was to give their audiences just enough uplift so they'd come back the following week.

In any event, as the great Arabian proverb has, "The dogs bark, and the caravan moves on."

Vanwall said...

cammorista - Not rude in the slightest, as have I found history, a favorite subject of mine, to be invaluable in appreciation of film in general. It can be a pain in the ass when viewing historicals, but even the slim century we have passed through while filming has its periodicity - each era, however slight, subsuming the previous one - and failure to catch the actual intent as opposed to the subjective interpretations of myriad I-know-more-about-this'n-than-you's, leaves it pretty naked they've missed the point, pal. Maybe because I'm just a rank sentimentalist, but frankly, you're dead right about this film in particular, and a lot of others by association.

And say, idn't dat Hoagy dere?

Yojimboen said...

The man his ownself.

X. Trapnel said...


I suspected an aversion toward Wyler in general had to do with Sarris's (whom I admire enormously) dismissal. I thoroughly agree with you regarding the politics behind the critical attacks; if you want to see a defense of empty middle class values then Since You Went Away is your film. I'll only note the look exchanged by Loy and March when Theresa Wright opines on the ease and perfection of their marriage. As for Macdonald and Warshow, their minds calcified in the atmosphere of the Partisan Review world (never true of Agee) and could never credit anything, aesthetically or politcally that "failed" to meet the strictures of High Modernism or whatever form of radicalism was then in fashion. No question that that BYOOL resolves nothing at the end. Al will continue drinking, get into trouble at work, Fred and Peggy will get "kicked around," Homer has no job, Rob will take up with Marie...

The Siren said...

XT, I agree on SYWA although there are some moments of great beauty in that film, almost all of them from Jones & Walker. Wyler loved Loy, btw, as everyone did. He talked about how he thought she should have an exit line for the scene where she tucks March into bed. She wanted to play it the way it was written, with no line, and of course it was perfect. Wyler said not many actresses would refuse another line, but she always thought of the good of the picture.

X. Trapnel said...

Siren, did you know that Loy's and Wright's burst of laughter when making up the bed was unscripted and spontaneous? A lovely moment.

Agreed about Jones and Walker, but part of our (ok, my) reaction is seeing them under threat from the gathering Selznick clouds.

The Siren said...

SYWA is quite flawed; I love Colbert but that was one stiffly written, damn near unplayable role she had, a great lady like Mrs Miniver (one Wyler movie I have trouble defending). Cotten is utterly wasted and Shirley Temple annoys me in a way she seldom did as a child star. One surprise was Monte Woolley, not a man I look forward to seeing. And he's mostly the same as always in the movie, but his scene when he learns of Walker's death chokes me up.

But Selznick on the horizon or no, the loves scenes between Walker and Jones are as tender as any to come out of the 1940s...which is saying a great deal. Walker was so, so talented.

X. Trapnel said...

"Walker was so, so talented"

Oh my, yes! His Bruno Anthony, like TC's Sidney Falco is a bracing alternative to all that 50's "sensitivity."

The Siren said...

But Walker could do sensitive too, oh boy could he. He also makes my heart turn over in The Clock.

Bruno is fascinating as a conscienceless psychopath, with absolutely no redeeming qualities there in the script, and yet Walker manages to suggest something way out at the margins that might have been worthwhile once upon a time. It's a mind-boggling piece of acting and I seldom see "psycho" performances that can come within ten miles of it.

X. Trapnel said...

Oh, Siren, I would always differentiate between sensitivity and "sensitivity." Yes, Bruno does suggest "good stuff gone bad" (D.H. Lawrence), but his malevolent wit, Iago-like, the seamlessness of his performance (no angsty-methody mannerisms) place Bruno way beyond Simon Oakland-style explanation. (Didn't Uncle Charley [Cotten, not Demarest] fall off a horse as a child?

DavidEhrenstein said...

He was also very good in Three Women and A Wedding.

camorrista said...

David E, how right you are-- Cromwell had a remarkable career as a performer, starting in 1912, according to Broadway Data Base. He did a fair amount of Shakespeare in the 1930s and won a Tony in 1952, playing opposite Henry Fonda, in POINT OF NO RETURN. (Fonda lost to Jose Ferrer.)

In 1951, Cromwell was blacklisted, and didn't work in movies till 1958. His last job before his enforced hiatus was THE RACKET; his first when he came back was THE GODDESS. An enviable CV indeed.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

"Siren, did you know that Loy's and Wright's burst of laughter when making up the bed was unscripted and spontaneous? A lovely moment."

I had no idea, but I'm so pleased to read this because that's one of my favorite scenes in this film. Enjoying all the comments on the wonderful Myrna Loy, and "Best Years".

Gotta love the banner, too.

Jake Riley said...

Myrna Loy is my favorite actress of all time. I especially enjoyed her play opposite William Powell in the Thin Man franchise.

From everything I have seen she is nothing but a class act, to have a glimpse behind the lady would be invaluable. I am going to have to get my hands on a copy!

odannyboi said...

Still think the best scene in BYOOL comes later, when Myrna challenges her daughter's claim that her parents have always had it easy and so don't know what love is. Myrna's rebuttal is the most eloquent and succinct articulation of love I've ever heard in a movie.

odannyboi said...

Myrna Loy and Gary Cooper were kids growing up together in Helena, Montana. They never appeared on screen together, despite all their success and years in Hollywood. Life scatters stars around us, not just on screen - though come to think of it, it did take Hollywood to put her together with Bill Powell. Maybe a fair trade, after all.

sobrien31 said...

When I met Myrna Loy (twice 1965 and 1970) she was totally present and listened to me (age 18 and 23)with interest and a warm smile. After commenting on her performances (Barefoot in the Park and Dear Love)she graciously replied to my questions involving her career and politics (of which we were both on the same page). Your story about Loy's work with the Red Cross during WWII reminded me of my own research for the Kay Francis Biography I wrote a few years ago. Kay and Myrna not only shared the night shift together at the USO--they spent countless hours with the wounded. Kay often found herself holding the hand of a dying young man at the Corona Naval Hospital. If she felt a patient was near death, Kay would stay on, no matter how long, holding their hand for human contact until it was all over.
Scott O'Brien

Karen said...

OK, no fair making me cry at work...

cc said...

The comment about Myrna telling a friend about forgetting how great Bill was choked me up. As just as great as they were onscreen, it seems like off screen they were incredibly close. Myrna really seems to have had a special place in her heart for William Powell. I've read other touching remarks she made about him in interviews. He also talked very highly of her. Very special.