Heavily typed to roles as exotics and homewreckers in her early years in Hollywood, this poised, pert and pretty Montana native went on to forge a screen persona of the idealized, sophisticated spouse that has endured and endeared for generations after her heyday. Born in Radersburg and raised in Helena, Myrna Adele Williams was thirteen when her father-- a businessman/rancher who'd been the youngest person elected to the state legislature--died of influenza. Her mother relocated the family to Culver City, and Myrna fostered her love of acting and dance while in high school. At eighteen, she took a job as a stage dancer at Grauman's Egyptian Movie House; her publicity photos caught the eye of Rudolph Valentino and Natasha Rambova, who arranged a screen test. Thought that opportunity didn't pan out, Myrna was hooked, and by 1925 she was wrangling regular bit assignments around town. Within a year, Warner had her under contract, and redubbed the almond-eyed, dark-haired beauty with the Asiatic-sounding surname "Loy."
Myrna's WB deal took her through the twilight of the silents and the dawn of the talkies, and she patiently waded through some five dozen parts of varying heft, almost always cast as maneaters, ethnics, or maneating ethnics. Representative efforts from this phase of her career include "Ben-Hur," "Don Juan," "The Caveman," "The Jazz Singer," "Noah's Ark," "The Desert Storm," "The Squall," and "The Great Divide." Though the early '30s found the profile of her assignments at Warner and on loan rising ("Arrowsmith," "Emma," "Love Me Tonight," "The Mask of Fu Manchu," "The Animal Kingdom"), Myrna thereafter happily signed with MGM. She quickly found herself in roles that had the public and press taking notice ("Penthouse," "The Prizefighter and the Lady," "Manhattan Melodrama," "Men in White"), and then landed her signature role of Nora Charles, the witty socialite wife to William Powell's insouciant private eye Nick, in the studio's charming adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's "The Thin Man." The surprise hit would ultimately spawn five sequels stretching into the late '40s, and Loy and Powell--who ultimately co-starred in fourteen films overall during that span--would gain a niche among the all-time great Hollywood tandems.
A late '30s dubbing as "Queen of Hollywood" was wholly deserved, as Loy enjoyed her career height over the balance of a decade marked by "Wife vs. Secretary," "The Great Ziegfeld," "Libeled Lady," "Test Pilot," "Too Hot to Handle" and "The Rains Came." With the outbreak of World War II, however, the always politically-conscious performer took a career hiatus to throw her energies to supporting America's effort. After the Allied victory, the maturing Myrna went back to work, and the ideal-wife-and-mom roles that were waiting took her into the '50s and provided some of the most memorable entries on her resume, including "The Best Years of Our Lives," "Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House," "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer," "The Red Pony," "Cheaper by the Dozen" and "Belles on Their Toes."
By then, Loy was spending the bulk of her time in service to the United Nations. By the late '50s, she'd return to performing on occasion, and like many of her contemporaries, television would be a frequent outlet. Over the ensuing generation, her notable big-screen appearances would include "Lonelyhearts," "From the Terrace," "Midnight Lace," "The April Fools," "Airport '75" and "The End." She also graced the networks in telefilms like "Meet Me in St. Louis," "Death Takes a Holiday," "Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate," and "The Elevator," as well as episodes of "The Virginian," "Family Affair," "Columbo" and "Ironside." In the '60s Myrna also took to stage performance, and made a Broadway debut with the 1973 mounting of "The Women." In the early '80s, she called it a day, making her last feature appearance in "Just Tell Me What You Want" and having a fitting swan song opposite fellow icon Henry Fonda in the TV-movie "Summer Solstice. Over the last decade of her life, Myrna was frequently feted for her accomplishments; though, amazingly, never having received a competitive Oscar nomination over the course of her career, the Academy presented her with an honorary award for her body of work in 1991.
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