When Loretta allowed my wife and me into her world less than a decade ago, following a "fan" letter, we joined an exclusive club whose members were never rivals for her attention and affections, both of which she gave freely. Instead, we saw ourselves as members of a family who enjoyed each other's company because we all enjoyed hers.
There are celebrities in abundance. There are few true stars. Loretta was a star. I saw her stop conversation as she entered a room. And I participated in conversations with her, as a house guest, that my wife and I will never forget. She was generous with her love and she was generous with her life. Not many know of her unpublicized volunteer work at a Palm Springs hospice where she would minister to the afflicted, often telling them of God's love and the path to Heaven. She was a strong pro-lifer. Her car displayed a bumper sticker which said, "Your Mama was pro-life, dawlin'."
Loretta was a trail blazer for women in television, as well as for good television. When she left film for TV, studio heads said her career was over. In fact, it was expanding. For nine seasons, "The Loretta Young Show" topped the ratings, first on NBC, then on CBS. When a sponsor complained that the high moral tone of the show, especially her uplifting messages at the end, were offending some people, she kept doing them and viewers rewarded her with high ratings. She also blazed fashion trails, frequently spinning through a door in Jean Louis gowns. The Academy Award winning designer would become her husband as both entered their eighties. The famous twirl was not planned. A seamstress who had worked on the back of one dress regretted that the audience would not be able to see her work if she entered in the normal way. Thus, the graceful spin was born.
Though her last work was "Christmas Eve" for NBC in 1986, a film about a woman who believed -- despite evidence to the contrary -- that her estranged children would be home for Christmas, she continually added new fans who were becoming familiar with her work for the first time.
There was an elegance about women of Loretta's age. "Great Dames," the writer Marie Brenner calls them. They survived sexism, before it became a word. They overcame personal challenges, of which Loretta experienced not a few. But they were troopers -- in life and in their craft. An example of her meticulousness: While watching her watch a re-run of "The Loretta Young Show" on TV one night in her home, I asked her, "what do you look for in a television show that is more than forty years old?" She replied, "Oh, I'm thinking how I might have done that scene better."
Two years ago, I wrote a column to mark her 85th birthday. Hundreds of letters poured into me and to her. Most were incredibly gracious, testifying to how people she had never met had been touched by her life. She couldn't believe the response. I could.
I will miss her company and her girlish charm which could, and did, attract legions of men, and women, too. But I have most of her films (thanks to her permission to copy those I couldn't buy) and her picture is on every floor of our home. This isn't a "Sunset Boulevard" relationship with the writer floating dead in the pool, but an appreciation that made my life, and that of many others, the better for having known her.
Maybe this is just the meandering of a star-struck fan, but Loretta Young caressed and blessed so many lives beyond her own. Everyone who met her knows what I mean. And everyone of us knows that what Lord Byron wrote about another woman in another century could well be applied to Loretta: