January 16, 2012

Book Review: Myrna Loy - The Only Good Girl in Hollywood

Myrna Loy is hands-down my favorite classic movie actress. I have many, many that I love (as any of you who follow my pinterest know) but she tops them all. So I was super-excited when I received the very first biography on her for Christmas.

I've never read her autobiography, released back in the '80s, but so much from that book is included in this one that now I don't feel I ever need to read it. And Leider fact-checks the autobiography, clearing up places where Loy chose to be vague or even silent.

The title comes from something a producer said about Myrna when she wouldn't have an affair with him, when most other actresses had no problem (apparently) floating from affair to affair in one of the earliest "free love" micro-cultures. The book covers not only Myrna's history but Hollywood history, from the silent era forward. And when you read the accounts of those who lived it, the social lifestyles of the rich and famous then aren't all that different from now.

I've only read a few biographies, mostly because they can be deadly dull unless you are already fascinated by the subject. Many times, it seems, biographers are more interested and just putting facts down on paper. But Leider tells a story with those facts. There were parts that were more interesting than others, to be sure - I care far more about Myrna's film career than her stumping for the United Nations - but even then, we're carried along with her on the journey, not just reading facts out of a textbook.

The only part I found a little odd was Leider's obsession with Myrna's sex life as a young woman. It seems like a very, very big deal that the first "adult" relationship she was in was in her late twenties. To Leider, this appears to be a sign of some sort of stunted development or over-dependence on her mother. To me, it was obvious that it was Myrna's observation of her friends' disastrous love lives and her decision to enter into that lifestyle very judiciously. Part of the reason so much of the account deals with that is that, while Myrna was living at home with her mother and not dating, she was playing mistresses, sexy spies and femme fatales who seduced men and either ruined their lives or killed them. So I can see why the contrast with her personal life is anecdotal, but I didn't think it was worth a mention on every page.

Like I say, the book revolves around Myrna Loy's life and career, but Leider also weaves in plenty of history, so it's a fascinating account of the rise of Hollywood, the atmosphere leading up to WWII and the political climate of the 50s and 60s, when Loy was most active as a liberal Democrat who literally worshiped FDR and JFK.

If you have any interest in classical Hollywood, or one of the greatest actresses of that era, I highly recommend this biography. And if you'd like to see Myrna Loy in action, I'd recommend watching Then Thin Man, The Best Years of Our Lives or The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. (Try Netflix)


  1. Sounds interesting! I don't normally read to many biographies, but old film stars biographies are the few I do read. Such a different kind of life!


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