But nothing during this humid summer moved me as much as the passing of Loretta Young. I knew the star and corresponded with her regularly over the years; she was unfailingly gracious, amusing and down to earth. So I felt the loss personally. But Young's death also is the near closure of a generation of screen stars. In fact, there are no major movie players left who began, as Young did, in 1927 - her feature-film career went straight through to 1953, after which she segued, with spectacular success, to the then-new medium of television. Young was a big name and a great beauty, but somehow she missed mythic stature as a screen icon. Her devout Catholicism might have played a part - she refused what she considered "unsavory" roles - no colorful drunks or tramps or cold-blooded killers. And she didn't have the edgy neurosis of contemporaries such as Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stan- wyk or even Katharine Hepburn (who stands alone as the last great female figure of Hollywood's Golden Age).
But despite her reputation as a "clotheshorse" and her lack of easily recognizable - and caricatured - mannerisms, Young's presence onscreen was not saccharine. Her women tended to be strong and self-reliant, imbued with good humor, common sense, plenty of glamor and a healthy but not sloppy interest in the opposite sex. Similar, in fact, to the unfairly maligned Doris Day, Young's best performances showcase her talent for nervous tension - emotions held on a tight rein, as in "The Stranger" and "Cause for Alarm." What a pity that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences didn't see fit to honor Miss Young with a special Oscar. After all, if they could do it for Sophia Loren . . .
Off-screen, Young remained serene, secure in her religion and a dazzling testament to clean living. Only two years ago, Vanity Fair ran a full-page photo of Young in its annual Hollywood issue. At 85, described simply as "The Face," she was the most beautiful woman in the entire magazine! There were some problems of estrangement from her children, but that happens in life - particularly in celebrity life.
To some, she is a campy figure of the 1950s, swirling through her TV doorway in some floaty creation, welcoming her weekly audience - or the sometimes mocked woman who was intolerant of foul language and put up a "swear box" on all her movie sets. However, as standards of gentility, courtesy and civilized social behavior continue to erode, these images are perhaps not the worse things for which to be remembered. I'll always treasure my memories, her notes, the lively intelligence she conveyed, her thoughtfulness. She was a real lady, a real leading lady, a real star.
THE LAST mega-star leading lady who presided over the end of the Silent Era and the Golden Age of Hollywood as well as the Golden Age of Television is Loretta Young. (Katharine Hepburn is also a glorious survivor of Hollywood's Golden Age, but she missed the silents.) Loretta, still vital and healthy, living in Palm Springs, Calif., will be 87 years old tomorrow.
Fans want Miss Young to have honors from the American Film Institute, from the Screen Actors Guild and the Television Hall of Fame, but so far it seems some people have bananas in their ears. "The Loretta Young Show" is coming back through cable and video and was the longest-running TV drama anthology of its time, more than 250 episodes.
Loretta was hands down the most beautiful of all the stars featured in last year's Vanity Fair Hollywood issue and one wonders why the Academy doesn't give her another Oscar or the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award or something special. (Loretta won her Oscar back in 1947 for "The Farmer's Daughter." Listen, they gave Sophia Loren a special Oscar, how about Loretta, who is the living history of moviedom?) She was also the first woman to win an Oscar and an Emmy. Loretta, long may you wave! I devote a special chapter to this grand lady in my coming book, "Natural Blonde."
Our thanks to Dominic Campisi for bringing the above Liz Smith column to our attention.