Loretta Young first entered my life in the '50s through a door depicted on a black-and-white television screen. Her pirouette in a lovely dress - usually designed by Academy Award winner Jean Louis - was a statement of charm and grace.
"The Loretta Young Show" was the capstone of a career that included 98 films, in which she appeared with many of Hollywood's leading men. Young had been advised by top studio executives not to do television because they thought it would ruin her career. She proved them wrong. Her show finished first for eight seasons on NBC and one on CBS.
Loretta (born Gretchen) Young came to view her craft and her stardom as vehicles to teach moral lessons. A serious Catholic, she believed films and later television could have a positive effect on people's lives.
At the end of each program she would convey an uplifting message. Sponsors sometimes complained, contending it didn't reflect "reality," but the public mostly loved it. (A collection of some of the best of her TV series has just been released on videocassettes.)
One of the nicest things about a Loretta Young film is that you can show it to your children and grandchildren without fear that some corrupting scene will appear. Can you do that with many contemporary films?
Loretta summarized her appeal to moviegoers to Ed Funk, for his as-yet-unpublished biography of her: "Compared to Joan Crawford or Bette Davis, I was more average, more like the average woman. During my years, there were a lot of awfully nice, pretty, sweet, honest, average women. I don't know what the average woman is today, but she's certainly not like they were in the '30s and '40s. My appeal wouldn't have been to the intellectuals or the neurotics. Nor to the shop girls and secretaries. That would have been Joan Crawford's market. But there were an awful lot of women out there who were like me - willing to play by the rules, didn't sleep around and weren't very aggressive. A Loretta Young movie had a happy ending, that's what it was geared to - a nice husband, a nice lover, no abuse of any kind - that's what the heroes and heroines were in those days."
Loretta Young, of course, is not like other women. At age 85 today, she still stops conversations and turns heads when she enters a room. Her childhood friend, Jane Sharp, once observed: "Loretta is terribly romantic; her whole aura is romantic. Men were attracted to that; they wanted to protect her. All the gallantry came out in everyone." She has something more than celebrity; she has the gift of genuine star power.
Five years ago, after reading a rare interview with her, I wrote to tell her of my decades of devotion and requested a photo. She responded with a letter and two photos. We then met in Los Angeles and quickly became friends.
In her film "The Bishop's Wife," the angel Dudley, played by Cary Grant, tells her: "You are, and will remain, forever young." But I think Lord Byron would not protest his 1814 poem being applied to Loretta: "She walks in beauty, like the night, of cloudless climes and starry skies; And all that's best of dark and bright, meet in her aspect and her eyes."
Her many fans will be pleased to know that the green eyes still sparkle and those marvelous high cheekbones remain. I know. I've had the pleasure, like David Niven and many others, of kissing them!
"And on that cheek, and o'er that brow, so soft, so calm, yet eloquent, the smiles that win, the tints that glow, but tell of days in goodness spent. A mind at peace with all below, a heart whose love is innocent."
Happy birthday, Loretta! Millions still love you, and for us you are, and will remain, forever young.