My favorite Myrna Loy story. As you can perhaps tell from the new banner, it is particularly appropriate this fine Brooklyn morning.
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.