Myrna Loy (born Myrna Adele Williams; August 2, 1905 – December 14, 1993) was one of the greatest film actresses of The Pre-Code Era and The Golden Age of Hollywood. Over a 50-year career, she started out by playing exotic sexual temptresses, before moving on to wisecracking Screwball Comedy heroines, and then playing nurturing wives and mothers.
Loy was born in Helena, Montana, the daughter of cattle ranchers. As a child, she took dancing lessons. After her father's death in the influenza pandemic of 1918, her mother took the family to Southern California. By 1925 Loy started getting parts in silent films. Her exotic good looks often led her to be cast as The Vamp (and sometimes in Yellowface as well), and she continued to get such parts after making the transition to sound.
A career slump in the early '30s was turned around when Loy got the lead female role in Manhattan Melodrama. This film is remembered for two reasons. First, it was the film that John Dillinger went to see right before he was murdered by the FBI outside a Chicago theater (Loy was displeased by the macabre publicity later associated with the film). Second, it was the first film that Loy made with co-star William Powell. Powell and Loy would soon become one of the most famous Those Two Actors pairs of all time, starring together in fourteen films in the 1930s and '40s.
Another Powell-and-Loy film, released that same year (1934), became the movie which both of them are best remembered for. The Thin Man, with Powell and Loy as a wisecracking married couple who have to solve a murder, was thought by MGM to be a low-budget B-Movie. But it became a colossal hit, getting an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and establishing Powell and Loy as stars of the first magnitude. Five more Thin Man pictures would follow, albeit to diminishing returns in later installments. During this period, Loy came to be nicknamed "The Perfect Wife", for her ability to work in tandem with whatever leading man she was paired with.
The Great Ziegfeld, in which Loy starred as Billie Burke opposite Powell as Florenz Ziegfeld, won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1936. More hit films followed before Loy mostly left acting behind to work in support of the American war effort in World War II. The Best Years of Our Lives, one of the first films Loy made after the war, became the second film she appeared in to win Best Picture. She managed to find sporadic work as she aged, mostly in television; her final big-screen appearance was in 1980. Her well-regarded autobiography, Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming, was published in 1987.
In one of Hollywood's more egregious Award Snubs, Loy was never so much as nominated for any competitive Academy Awards during her career — not even for The Best Years of Our Lives, which got nominations for almost everyone else involved — but she did receive an honorary Oscar two years before her death in 1993.
Filmography on TV Tropes:
- Ben-Hur (1925) as Slave Girl (uncredited bit part)
- Don Juan (1926) as Mai
- The Jazz Singer (1927) as Chorus Girl (uncredited bit part)
- Arrowsmith (1931) as Joyce Lanyon
- Love Me Tonight (1932) as Countess Valentine
- Thirteen Women (1932) as Ursula Georgi
- The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) as Fah Lo See
- The Animal Kingdom (1932) as Cecilia
- Topaze (1933) as Coco
- The Barbarian (1933) as Diana Standing
- When Ladies Meet (1933) as Mary Howard
- Men in White (1934) as Laura Hudson
- Manhattan Melodrama (1934) as Eleanor
- The Thin Man (1934) as Nora Charles
- Evelyn Prentice (1934) as Evelyn Prentice
- Broadway Bill (1934) as Alice Higgins
- Whipsaw (1935) as Vivian Palmer
- Wife vs. Secretary (1936) as Linda Stanhope
- The Great Ziegfeld (1936) as Billie Burke
- Libeled Lady (1936) as Connie Allenbury
- Double Wedding (1937) as Margit Agnew
- Test Pilot (1938) as Ann Thurston Barton
- I Love You Again (1940) as Kay Wilson
- Third Finger, Left Hand (1940) as Margot Sherwood Merrick
- Love Crazy (1941) as Susan Ireland
- The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) as Millie Stephenson
- The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947) as Judge Margaret Turner
- The Senator Was Indiscreet (1947) as Mrs. Melvin G. Ashton (uncredited cameo)
- Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948) as Muriel Blandings
- The Red Pony (1949) as Alice Tiflin
- Cheaper by the Dozen (1950) as Lillian Gilbreth
- Belles on Their Toes (1952) as Lillian Gilbreth
- The Ambassador's Daughter (1956) as Mrs. Cartwright
- From the Terrace (1960) as Martha Eaton
- Midnight Lace (1960) as Aunt Bea
- Airport '75 (1975) as Mrs. Devaney
- The End (1978) as Maureen Lawson
Tropes that apply to her career:
- Billing Displacement: She's given top billing in The Best Years of Our Lives, even though her character Milly is a supporting one. It's thought that this was the reason she didn't get an Oscar nomination - as a star of her calibre could not have been put into the Best Supporting Actress category.
- Contractual Obligation Project: She was only allowed to star in The Thin Man if they could shoot it in three weeks so she could star in Stamboul Quest.
- Creator Backlash: The Mask of Fu Manchu was the last straw for her, and she began to push for better roles than the 'exotic' ones she was forced into. She especially took exception to the scene where Fa Loh See appears to be getting off on Terry being whipped.
- Creator's Apathy: She admitted in her autobiography to deliberately chewing the scenery in The Mask of Fu Manchu because she found the material so ridiculous.
- Housewife: Many of her characters. She was even nicknamed 'The Perfect Wife'.
- Irony as She Is Cast: She was often typecast as mothers and housewives, while in real life, in her own words:Some perfect wife I am. I've been married four times, divorced four times, have no children, and can't boil an egg.
- Leslie Nielsen Syndrome: She began her career playing Ms Fanservices in films that were usually adventure, horror or some form of pulp. She later achieved stardom in light comedies.
- Plays Great Ethnics: Even though she was a redhead of Welsh descent, she spent her early career playing Asians, Mexicans, Indians and general 'exotic' roles.
- Star-Making Role: The Thin Man definitely saw her becoming more famous, and allowed her to transition away from her vampy exotic roles.
- Those Two Actors: Fourteen films with William Powell.
- Yellowface: Apparently looked "exotic" enough to be pushed into this role before she became famous. It later became Old Shame for her.