While the Oscar-winning actress Loretta Young is beloved by classic movie fans for films such as The Farmer’s Daughter, Come to the Stable, and The Bishop’s Wife, she doesn’t always get the credit she deserves for the full breadth of her seven decade-long career, including the silent films she made as a child actor, her great pre-Code films of the early 1930s, and her pioneering work on television in the 1950s.

midnight-mary-loretta-young-1933-everettNext Tuesday, February 2, Loretta Young’s son and daughter-in-law, Christopher and Linda Lewis, will be on hand at the University of California, Riverside, in Palm Desert, California, for a free screening of Loretta Young’s wonderful pre-Code film Midnight Mary, directed by William Wellman and co-starring Ricardo Cortez, Franchot Tone, Andy Devine, and Una Merkel. William Wellman, Jr., will also be there to discuss his father’s collaborations with the star. One of the films they made together was The Call of the Wild, the 1935 film that paired Young with the King himself, Clark Gable. The pregnancy that resulted from what Young later characterized as a date rape was kept a secret until after Loretta’s death although there were rumors that the baby daughter that Young “adopted” the following year was actually her and Gable’s offspring. Loretta went on to marry Tom Lewis who adopted Judy before the couple had two sons of their own and, in later years, she married famed designer Jean Louis. Loretta Young died in 2000 at the age of 87 but her daughter-in-law, Linda Lewis, keeps her legacy alive with daily posts on the Loretta Young Facebook page as well as the distribution of Young’s groundbreaking TV series. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Linda about her mother-in-law’s career and the upcoming screening of Midnight Mary.

Danny Miller: I love the story about how both Loretta and director William Wellman were loaned by Warners to MGM to do Midnight Mary as a kind of punishment. She had really wanted to be in Berkeley Square which was the big “prestige” picture that year. Of course Midnight Mary ended up being WAY more successful than Berkeley Square!

Linda Lewis: Yes, and it ended up being a huge turning point for her even though by then, at age 20, she’d been making movies for more than 15 years! Back then she was making up to eight pictures a year, but she always said that when she looked back at that one, she was very proud of it. She loved working with William Wellman.


I was looking at the stills from the film this morning at the Academy library and some of them were still labeled Lady of the Evening. Let’s be glad they changed that awful and misleading title!

Oh wow, was that the original title? I didn’t know that!

Yes. A lot of the reviews at the time compared Loretta to Joan Crawford. They said she “out-Crawfords” Joan in the film. Between that and Loretta’s films with Clark Gable and Franchot Tone, I kept wondering how Joan felt about her. Do you know if they were friends back then?

Joan Crawford was very close to Mom’s sister, Sally. But I think there was some competitiveness between them. I remember Mom telling us the story about the first time she asked to tag along with the girls to the Coconut Grove. When they got there, all the guys were all over Mom and Joan said “That’s the last time she comes with us!” (Laughs.) Many years later, Joan rented an apartment from Mom. I don’t think they were ever bosom buddies but Mom definitely had a lot of respect for Joan and I’m sure she was extremely happy to be compared to her in 1933!

Like all of the wonderful pre-Code films of the early 1930s, Midnight Mary has some very racy elements — things that would never be allowed on screen a few years later. Do you think Loretta had any issues with the overt sexuality of those pre-Code movies?

No, I don’t think so. Look, she grew up with the industry and was under contract — I don’t think she ever thought about it. Back then you showed up and made the picture you were told to make, you didn’t stop and question it. Grandma Young, her mother, didn’t love some of the “drape art” photos the girls had to do back then but she wasn’t a stage mother at all, she didn’t interfere in her daughters’ movie careers.

bookadrianThe gowns in Midnight Mary are just insane. I can’t think of anyone who could wear clothes the way that Loretta Young could — even at this early age.

Oh, she was absolutely thrilled to be dressed by Adrian, one of MGM’s best designers! That backless dress from the film was used on the cover of Christian Esquevin’s book about Adrian a few years ago. Loretta looked so great in that style that she was voted the “Prettiest Back” in the 1930s. The clothes in those movies were fabulous and she adored wearing them. I remember her talking about making Laugh, Clown, Laugh when she was a young girl and how they padded her body in that film and changed her from this skinny little waif to a girl with curves. I think that’s when the light came on in her head about how important costumes are to a character — how they can completely change your persona. She worked with the very best costume designers in Hollywood and they all loved her because she paid such close attention to what they were doing.

Did she get to keep any of her fabulous costumes?

No, unfortunately. In those days, the studios would always rework those clothes for other films. But, did you know she was a master seamstress? If she really liked something, she’d go home and make a copy of it for herself! She was the only movie star I know of who was also a seamstress. We used to sew together all the time.

It was so moving to see the outpouring of love for your mother-in-law during the recent Loretta Young Birthday Blogathon in honor of her 103rd birthday. When you look at all the stars of classic films, do you think she gets her due?

To be honest, Danny, I don’t think she gets anything close to her due! As someone who works on her Facebook page every day and is very concerned about her legacy, that’s my overarching goal — to encourage people to give her another chance. As long as people don’t overlay the whole goody-two-shoes image or all the Clark Gable stuff — if they really look at the breadth of her career and what this woman accomplished over seven decades in Hollywood, it’s just amazing. She started in movies when she was four years old, went through the silent era into pre-Code films and then was a huge star in the 1940s and 50s before transitioning into television. She also did a ton of radio — I think she did more Lux radio shows than any other actor. In 1958, Loretta was voted the most influential woman in television. She was involved in every single aspect of her show, from the casting to the editing.

It’s weird how Lucille Ball gets so much acclaim for being a pioneer on television but when most people think of Loretta Young, they think of her famous swirling high-fashion introductions at the beginning of her show.

Yeah, she’s definitely overlooked in this area. She was a true pioneer and worked so hard, it took everything she had — even her marriage! It was a huge commitment that she took very seriously with every fiber of her being. I think she’s very underrated in this regard.

How do you explain it? Do you think it might have been a personality thing?

Well, she and Barbra Streisand were friends and they used to talk about how if you’re a woman and a perfectionist in this industry, you’re considered a bitch or some kind of “iron butterfly” which is so unfair. Also, in comparing her to Lucy, I think comedy tends to stand the test of time better than drama does. Loretta did a groundbreaking anthology series and she played a different character in almost every show. But the fact that it was a drama and in black and white, I don’t that works in its favor for posterity.


The few episodes of the show that I’ve seen are just extraordinary television — with some of the most amazing guest stars that you can imagine.

It’s true. At the moment you can see some episodes on the MeTV Network and also Decades, but Danny, I’m very excited to say that we recently discovered the find of the century! The original copies of the show were all thought to have been destroyed in the early 1960s but through a series of really great luck, we found a huge number of them that have been stored all of this time in pristine 35mm prints! We’ve been showing mom’s home 16mm dupes all these years but we’re now working on a massive project to distribute new versions of the shows from these amazing prints.

Oh, hooray, I can’t wait to see those! You mentioned that issue of Loretta being perceived of as a “goody-two-shoes” and we’ve heard all those stories about the “swear jar” she’d bring to the set of her movies or TV shows —

There’s such a mythology about that! People think that if you cussed at all you had to put money in Mom’s swear jar but that wasn’t the case. Mom was very religious and she just didn’t like when people said “God damn it” or stuff like that, but she always said, “The four-letter words are free!” All of those stories about people who supposedly stuffed the swear jar with $20 bills and then said, “Fuck you, Loretta!” — none of those are true, mom used to laugh at them.

The actress Barbara Rush, who was a good friend of Loretta’s, starred in one of my father-in-law’s plays called Father’s Day. Barbara told me about Loretta coming to the show and how everyone in the audience looked at her whenever someone in the cast swore. She said your mother-in-law made a point of very openly laughing at all those lines so that everyone in the theater would relax!

Oh, I love that. That was the thing about Loretta, she always went out of her way to put people at ease. She was really one of the most gracious people I’ve ever met. If she walked into a party and felt people were intimated by some kind of celebrity worship, she always diffused it — she was so warm with people. She was truly a wonderful mother-in-law and just a remarkable person.

I remember seeing her in later years and she was every bit as gorgeous and elegant as she always was — really until the day she died.

Oh, Danny, she was so beautiful — and sexy, too, she never lost it! She used to flirt with men and just bowl them over all the time. Women loved her, too, she wasn’t one of those people who made women uncomfortable, but I have to say that men were like melted butter when they were in her presence!

I so admire the work that you do to keep her legacy going. Is part of that also dealing with the misconceptions or outright lies that are out there about her?

Yes, I’ll speak to that stuff if it’s particularly stressful.

When David Bowie died a few weeks ago, I saw that crazy story floated again about how she somehow came on to him.

That was first printed in an unauthorized biography of Bowie. Believe me, it never happened, the whole thing was completely made up. She wasn’t into rock stars at all and she would never be interested in anyone that androgynous, it just wasn’t her style. Honestly, it was one of the most ludicrous stories I ever read. I did contact the publisher at the time but we were unable to get a retraction. And now it’s out there and has been reprinted in every language in every newspaper: “Loretta Young Rebuffed by David Bowie.” Just ridiculous, I was pretty horrified by the whole thing.

Are there any other stories out there that make you crazy?

Yes, there’s a brand new novel called All the Stars in the Heavens in which the author completely fictionalizes Loretta’s life. We finally came out with the story last year about Loretta’s relationship with Clark Gable that resulted in her daughter, Judy, which Loretta had come to see as a kind of date-rape scenario and then this novel comes out in which Loretta and Gable are star-crossed lovers and Loretta is pining away for him until the day she died. Ugh. That was a hard one because we waited a long time to tell the true story about Clark Gable and it was not an easy story to tell.

I remember when that broke last year. Did it play out in a way that you were happy with?

judylewisFor the most part, yes. I certainly had no agenda in telling it other than finally setting the record straight. Mom did not want that story out there as long as Judy was alive because she felt it would hurt her to know about it which is very understandable. But she said that if Judy passes (Judy Lewis died in 2011) and we felt there was any good that could come out of the story that we should tell it. Look, it was a long time ago and Loretta had made her peace with it.

When I heard about it, my biggest fear was that people would talk about Loretta in the same way they judge other women in that situation — why did she stay in touch with Gable? Why did she make another film with him?

That film was done as a favor to Dore Schary, she felt she owed it to him. Loretta discussed it with her husband at the time and the truth is that she felt that if she did that movie it would quell some of the rumors about who Judy’s father was — remember that was not public knowledge until decades later. Of course, it didn’t work! But we feel that Loretta deserves to have the record set straight and her story told. Because I was so close to her for 25 years and know firsthand what a high level of integrity she lived from, it’s very important for me to clear out all the debris. She was never a goody-two-shoes, she had a hilarious sense of humor, and she was warm and gracious on every level. Yes, she could be a bit of a diva, but maybe that was a good thing. (Laughs.) I remember her saying to me and Chris when we’d go out, “I have to be Loretta Young tonight, I can’t be Mom!”

Midnight Mary will screen at 6:00 pm on Tuesday, February 2, at the UCR Palm Desert Auditorium. Chris and Linda Lewis will be on hand for a discussion after the film along with William Wellman, Jr.