The exquisite Loretta Young had one of most enduring careers in Hollywood and her talents were utilized not only in films, but on radio, in theater and on television.
She was born Gretchen Michaela Young in Salt Lake City, Utah on January 5, 1913, the daughter of railroad auditor father Earl and his wife Gladys. There are two versions of what happened regarding her parents’ divorce. One says that Earl walked out on his family, leaving them to fend for themselves and another declares that Gladys, fed up with his cheating ways, left him. Whatever the case is, the marriage fell apart and, in order to support her four children, the fiercely religious Gladys moved with them to Hollywood, California and then opened a boardinghouse.
Having pretty daughters in Hollywood could be advantageous. Gladys’s older girls Polly Ann and Betty Jane did movie extra work in silent films in order to help the family finances. Gretchen also started doing movie extra work as early as four-years-old., when she appeared in a bit part as a fairy in the 1917 film The Primrose Ring. Oddly enough, Mae Murray, the female star of the motion picture, was so enchanted with the child that she actually asked Gladys to allow her to adopt little Gretchen.
While Gladys declined to accept the issue of adoption, she knew that Murray, a major star in the silent days, could benefit Gretchen and gave Murray permission to have her daughter live with her. The child remained with Murray for more than a year. What a grand life it must have been for a young girl to live in such privilege, surrounded by the rich and famous and exposed to the greatest silent stars of that time! She eventually returned home and got a new stepdad when Gladys wed George Beltzer.
Gladys was a very pious Catholic and made certain that all her daughters attended convent schools and were properly educated in things of faith. The values Gretchen learned from her mother and the nuns at the parochial schools she went to stuck fast to her and she was devout throughout her entire life. Gretchen continued to do extra work and signed a contract with First National Studio by the time she was 14-years-old. It was then that her professional name became “Loretta Young”. Loretta, who was by now a stunning beauty, started playing adult women in films like Laugh, Clown, Laugh, the Magnificent Flirt and Scarlet Seas. Her youthful figure was padded up by the studio to appear more grownup. She starred opposite such film heavyweights as Lon Chaney and Richard Barthelmess.
Loretta easily made the transition to sound and became a popular star of the early “talkies”, cranking out as many as 8 movies each year. Her many films include The Squall, The Careless Age, Kismet, The Second Floor Mystery, The Platinum Blonde, Beau Ideal, Little Girl Lost, Weekend Marriage, The Life of Jimmy Dolan, Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back, The White Parade, Call of the Wild, The Crusades, Ramona, Suez, Kentucky, Eternally Yours, The Stranger, The Bishop’s Wife, The Farmer’s Daughter, Come to the Stable and Rachel and the Stranger.
Loretta Young was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for The Farmer’s Daughter in 1947 and again for Come to the Stable in 1949. She won the award for The Farmer’s Daughter.
She conquered early television as well and hosted The Loretta Young Show, which she also starred in every week, beginning each show by appearing in a glamorous gown. The show ran for eight years.
Religious though she was, Young had a pretty interesting romantic life. When she was only 17-years-old, she ran off with actor Grant Withers. The unwise marriage was successfully annulled the following year. She also had affairs with Howard Hughes, married actor Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable. When she became pregnant with Gable’s child, she took time off acting, claiming that she needed to “convalesce” in Europe from an “undisclosed illness”. After giving birth, she secretly had the baby sent to an orphanage, then a year later made news by announcing her plans to “adopt” a child. The child was, in fact, her own daughter by Gable. For years, Young denied that the child was the product of her sexual relationship with Clark Gable, although it was an open secret among Hollywood circles and cause for amusement for her jealous detractors, who laughed behind her back about what they deemed her religious hypocrisy. To Loretta’s horror, the truth was exposed when the daughter Judy wrote a book about the matter many years later. Young also married producer Tom Lewis and fashion designer Jean Louis.
In her later years, she made only rare appearances, including a television movie that garnered her a Golden Globe nomination in 1987. Other than that, her personal life remained private, with the exception of the disclosures in her daughter’s book.
Loretta Young died on August 12, 2000 at age 87.