Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood

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From the beginning, Myrna Loy’s screen image conjured mystery, a sense of something withheld. “Who is she?” was a question posed in the first fan magazine article published about her in 1925. This first ever biography of the wry and sophisticated actress best known for her role as Nora Charles, wife to dapper detective William Powell in The Thin Man, offers an unprecedented picture of her life and an extraordinary movie career that spanned six decades. Opening with Loy’s rough-and-tumble upbringing in Montana, ...
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Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood

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From the beginning, Myrna Loy’s screen image conjured mystery, a sense of something withheld. “Who is she?” was a question posed in the first fan magazine article published about her in 1925. This first ever biography of the wry and sophisticated actress best known for her role as Nora Charles, wife to dapper detective William Powell in The Thin Man, offers an unprecedented picture of her life and an extraordinary movie career that spanned six decades. Opening with Loy’s rough-and-tumble upbringing in Montana, the book takes us to Los Angeles in the 1920s, where Loy’s striking looks caught the eye of Valentino, through the silent and early sound era to her films of the thirties, when Loy became a top box office draw, and to her robust post–World War II career. Throughout, Emily W. Leider illuminates the actress’s friendships with luminaries such as Cary Grant, Clark Gable, and Joan Crawford and her collaborations with the likes of John Barrymore, David O. Selznick, Sam Goldwyn, and William Wyler, among many others. This highly engaging biography offers a fascinating slice of studio era history and gives us the first full picture of a very private woman who has often been overlooked despite her tremendous star power.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this well-researched and comprehensive biography, Leider (Dark Lover) shows Loy as an accomplished actress (The Perfect Wife; The Thin Man; and The Best Years of Our Lives) and a humanitarian. Loy was discovered by Rudolph Valentino, and her striking looks initially cast her in exotic roles, playing the daughter of Fu Manchu, a Mexican spitfire, and a gypsy seductress; but once MGM teamed her with William Powell, her comedic ease and style sense made her a box office hit. Leider studies Loy’s work and examines the development of the studio system, offering insight into the careers of co-stars Powell, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, and Montgomery Clift. Proud of her work with the Red Cross, the United Nations mission, and UNESCO, she championed artists as ambassadors of peace. Leider’s portrait nicely details Myrna Loy as not only a movie star but also an ardent activist. (Oct.)
Choice - C. Rollyson

“A top-notch biography of a great performer. . . . Highly recommended.”
Washington Post - Dennis Drabelle

“A crisp, smart biography.”
Wall Street Journal - Alexandra Mullen

“Loy's gifts are easy to enjoy, hard to describe. She's been lucky in attracting an even-tempered sympathetic biographer like Ms. Leider, whose book, like the best of its genre, sends you back to the films.”
Cbq Communication Booknotes Qtly - Betsy Butler

“In addition to thoroughly documenting each of Loy’s films . . .the book describes her activities during the leave she took from filmmaking in the early 1940s.”
San Francisco Book Review / Sacramento Book Review - Leslie Wolfson

“This is a must read for anyone who is a Myrna Loy fan.”
The Oklahoman - Dennis King

“An engaging and heartening portrait of the classic movie star who never let the glamour of her impossibly glamorous profession go to her head.”
Palm Beach Post - Scott Eyman

“An excellent biography.”
San Francisco Chronicle - Thomas Gladysz

“Leider . . . has penned a thoroughly researched and stylishly written biography of an accomplished actress who was more than just her screen credits.”
Charleston Post & Courier - Nada Arnold

“Kudos to author Emily Leider for a brilliant, riveting portrait. . . . ‘Myrna Loy’ is an encyclopedic, fascinating page-turner for film buffs.”
Strictly Vintage Hollywood

“I've not wanted to put the book down. It's that good, yes, it is really THAT good. . . . If you're a fan of Myrna Loy and her films, this is a must read.”
Portland Book Review - Alicea Swett

“Movie buffs will appreciate the careful research that went into this book, while readers wanting intimacy will delight in hearing Myrna’s own voice come through.”
The National Post - Robert Fulford

“Well-researched and shrewdly conceived.” - Miguel Rodriguez

“Emily W. Leider has managed to give us the biography of an actress that avoids the crass tell-all format of many celebrity biographies—it is well researched, the prose is eminently readable. . . . It is a must read for fans of Myrna Loy, it will interest fans of film in general and classic film in particular, and it is also an interesting read from a purely historical perspective, thanks to the research put into it and its scholarly tone. Pick up the book and revisit these films.”
Library Journal
Leider, author of the excellent biographies Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino and Becoming Mae West, has turned her insightful gaze on Myrna Loy (1905–93). Loy, who is best remembered as the "Perfect Wife" Nora Charles in The Thin Man and its sequels, had a career that spanned almost 60 years—yet this is the first biography of her to be published. Leider's meticulous research reveals the shy, warm, and modest figure behind the image of the cool, chic urbanite. Sprinkled throughout the text like small, glittering gems are glimpses of Loy's friendships with famed celebrities such as Joan Crawford, Cary Grant, Rudolph Valentino, Clark Gable, and John Barrymore. VERDICT Leider's books are smart and witty trips through the lives of her subjects, and this work is no exception. It will appeal to cinema buffs, social historians of early to mid-20th-century America, and those just looking for a good read.—Teri Shiel, Westfield State Univ. Lib., MA
Kirkus Reviews

The author makes her case that Myrna Loy (1905–1993) could inspire a fascinating biography, but she doesn't really deliver one.

Though Loy was once one of Hollywood's leading female stars, Leider(Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino,2003, etc.) maintains that she was underappreciated, partly because of the subtlety of her craft. She was too much the complementary role player—most memorably as Nora to William Powell's Nick Charles inThe Thin Manand sequels—rarely the spotlight diva whose dark passions might pique the curiosity of the public. In this comprehensive and cliché-ridden biography, the author shows that irony, complexity and contradiction provided tension between Loy's public image(s) and her private life. Initially known for the exotic features that inspired the Asian screen surname that the former Myrna Williams adopted, she was in fact an all-American, freckle-faced ranch girl from Montana. Later dubbed "the Perfect Wife" for the roles for which she was typecast, she had four broken marriages to men who were unfaithful to her and/or unsuitable for her. She was even the target of some McCarthy-era red-baiting, though the lifelong liberal Democrat was an outspoken anti-communist. Other than Loy's autobiography, written toward the end of her long life, this is the first biography of the actress, and it draws heavily from Loy's book. Leider offers a summary of every career step and (it seems) every one of the "staggering 124 films" she made. Yet either there wasn't much psychological depth to Loy, or Leider was unable or unwilling to probe it. For all of the encyclopedic detail devoted to the life, the book mainly illuminates the art of "an enormously subtle actress, whose minimalism belied her mysterious powerhouse capabilities." Such subtlety accounts for the fact that even when the Oscars paid considerable attention to her hits such asThe Thin ManandThe Best Years of Our Lives,they didn't even bestow nominations on Loy.

Only for fans of a golden era of Hollywood stardom, as long as they're not looking for much gossip or personal revelation.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520253209
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 10/3/2011
  • Pages: 424
  • Sales rank: 1,448,260
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Biographer, poet, and memoirist Emily W. Leider is the author of Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino, Becoming Mae West, and Rapid Eye Movement and Other Poems, among other books.
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Table of Contents

List of Plates

1. The Climb
2. Not Your Typical Helena Girl
3. Life without Father
4. Enter Myrna Loy
5. Warner Bros.’ Exotic Vixen
6. Breakthrough
7. Cutting the Veil
8. Mr. and Mrs. Thin Man
9. Myrna Loy vs. MGM
10. Mrs. Arthur Hornblow Jr.
11. Wife vs. Mistress
12. Trouble
13. Things Fall Apart
14. Rebound
15. Postwar
16. Breaking Away
17. Mrs. Howland Sargeant
18. New York Ending

Appendix. Myrna Loy’s Film, Television, and Theater Credits
Plates follow page

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 3, 2012

    A bit of a slog

    Myrna Loy is one of my favorite actresses, so I was excited that there was finally a biography of her. Now, I haven't finished yet -- I'm only up to page 110 -- but boy, howdy, it's turning into a long slog! The first few chapters, on Loy's childhood and family situation, are interesting. Ironically, it's once she begins working in movies that the book becomes a bit of a snooze. The author's formula is roughly this: Myrna began working on this film in year X. Synopsis of plot; synopsis of Myrna's role. How Myrna felt about the role. A smidge of personal information: did she like her co-stars, did the leading man hit on her? Very brief. Then any good notices she received. Then onto the next film. Repeat. Feels a bit like a forced march to me; like I said, I'm only on page 110, yet it's become almost a chore to read this thing and I'm not sure I'll finish. Oh, and Myrna doesn't seem to have liked the actresses in her peer group who would have been her "competitors," whether intentionally or not, which doesn't strike me as very attractive.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Ode to one of the finest actresses of the 20th Century.....

    Completely researched and well written, this book pays tribute to one of the finest actresses that has ever graced the silver screen. This work captures the private, unseen life of a woman who truly stands out from among her peers in both her actions and her grace. The only book you'll ever need on star who captured our hearts in such films as "The Thin Man" and "Best Years of Our Lives." A must have for your personnel library. Now if only someone could do as great a job for her frequent co-star, William Powell.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2012


    Ms. Leider acknowledges early on that Ms. Loy did not give a lot of personal info in interviews and letters of possible interest did not survived, but a sour note is that this book is more of a movie review than a bio. Half of the book is composed of complete story lines from Ms. Loy's movies. One of my favorite actresses appears to have been a doormat for a vindictive father, four husbands, a controlling mother and a non-working brother.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2012

    A Gift For Myrna Loy Fans. Get It!

    I grew up watching Myrna Loy movies on TV. She was an icon, someone for a young girl to pattern herself on if she wished to be witty and elegant. Wit and elegance were not merely in the roles Loy played -- in real life she was a generous woman who was involved in world politics through the wars and upheaval that occurred during her lifetime. I didn't know that Myrna Loy had started in silent movies; now I do because the book contains a complete filmography. And I learned about some of her best films which have rarely been on TV. I loved reading every word of this biography. The author gives full credit to the parts she used from Loys's autobiography and adds much more to that based on her own research, with great detail on Myrna Loy's private life and her career.

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