WEIRDLAND: Myrna Loy - Christmas Morning (with William Powell)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Myrna Loy - Christmas Morning (with William Powell)

Myrna Loy and William Powell in The Thin Man- Christmas Morning: It's Christmas morning. Detective Nick Charles is lying on the couch in his bathrobe, shooting ornaments off the tree with his brand-new air gun, using the bottoms of his slippers to aim. "This is the nicest present I ever got," he tells his wife, Nora, who's sitting in a nearby chair, wearing a fur coat. Then, trying to aim using a mirror, he misses an ornament and shoots out a window, at which point he curls up into a ball and pretends to be asleep. He opens one eye to glance over at his wife. She just looks bemused and goes back to stroking her new coat. Instead of talking about property damage, they reminisce about the criminal who almost killed them the night before. And then they have another drink. While Loy herself was divorced four times, she had a pretty great life (1905-1993), and an incredible career. A pre-feminist feminist who has yet to be rediscovered by the third wave, Loy demanded the studio pay her as much as William Powell. She fought for civil rights. She and F.D.R. had an extended, unconsummated romance. Spencer Tracy, Clark Cable and John Barrymore all pursued her.

No actress of today radiates the sheer sexual wisdom of Myrna. No actor ever achieves the quirky lust she brought out in William Powell. As Nick and Nora, they bring something rare and precious to bear on marriage: a sense of humor. He makes her swoon with the wise figure he cuts, and makes her laugh with wry lines like, "This case is putting me way behind on my drinking." One time at a New Year's Eve party, the lights go out and when they come back up, Nick is kissing someone else. "Ahem," Nora says. Nick tips his hat to the other woman and apologizes for his mistake, then resumes kissing his wife. Every time they run into an old friend of Nick's, the friend assumes the beautiful Nora is his mistress and Nora, amused, doesn't correct him. I remember reading an Anna Quindlen column many years ago about the difference between boyfriends and husbands. She says she's always liked boyfriends better, so when she married, she picked a boyfriend type. It's the difference between security and freedom. And '30s screwball comedies like The Thin Man are all about the latter. Nora understood that it's important to be the wife and the mistress at the same time. Nick understood that it's important to be both the husband and the boyfriend.

Oh, there were times when Bill had a crush on me and times when I had a crush on Bill, but we never made anything of it. We worked around it and stayed pals. In this world today, nobody seems to understand how you can just be terribly close and love somebody a whole lot and not sleep with him. If Bill and I had been lovers, then we would have had fights. And if we’d been married, it would have been even worse. —Myrna Loy

Jean Harlow and William Powell in "Reckless" (1935) directed by Victor Fleming

Myrna complained in her autobiography about the way Harlow was distorted beyond recognition and maligned in the press, as well as in sensationalized biographies and biopics. Just as she would jump to Joan Crawford’s defense after Christina Crawford’s tattle-tale book Mommie Dearest came out, she stood up for Harlow, who was indeed subjected to tabloid-style smears too many times. But Myrna’s defense went overboard. She sanitized Harlow, overlooking the frank sexuality that had catapulted her to stardom and the questions that Paul Bern’s probable suicide raised. She characterized her friend as the good-girl victim of exploiters and gossipmongers bent on tarnishing an idol. Myrna’s cleansed Harlow is intelligent, well-mannered,joyful and easy to be with, “a sensitive woman with a great deal of selfrespect”, not the cheap sexpot she’d often been taken for. But in her zeal to protect her friend, Myrna denied Harlow’s zesty essence.

What happened to the free spirit notorious for going without underwear, the secret drinker, or the promiscuous blonde who’d dallied with the married Max Baer and Howard Hawks? Harlow grew up a lot during her last few years and evolved into a brilliant screwball comedienne, but she was never prim. If Myrna found Harlow’s death hard to bear, Bill Powell found it totally devastating. Behind dark glasses, and leaning on his mother’s arm, he sobbed without stint at her Forest Lawn funeral, an MGM production at which Jeanette MacDonald broke down while trying to perform “Indian Love Call” and Nelson Eddy sang “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life.” L. B. Mayer sent a heart of red roses five feet tall pierced by a golden arrow. Bill Powell strode up to the coffin to place a single gardenia on her breast. Carole Lombard muttered that she hoped there would be no such superproduction when her turn came. "Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood" (2011) by Emilie W. Leider

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