Loretta Young made the leap from child actor to one of Hollywood's leading ladies of the 1930s and 1940s, making close to 100 films with directors such as Frank Capra, Cecil B. DeMille and Orson Welles and A-list leading men like Cary Grant, Clark Gable and Tyrone Power. She won an Oscar for her role in The Farmer's Daughter and was one of the first female stars to command a six-figure salary.
Actress. Born Gretchen Michaela Young, on January 6, 1913, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Young's parents separated when she was two years old, and she and her siblings moved with their mother to Hollywood, California, where their mother opened a boardinghouse. By the time she was four, Young had begun appearing as a child extra in silent films, often alongside her two older sisters. She attended a convent school, but returned to Hollywood at age 14 to sign a contract with First National Studio (the precursor of Warner Bros.), where studio executives gave her the professional name of Loretta.
In the years to come, Young made a graceful transition from pretty child actor to one of Hollywood's foremost leading ladies of the 1930's and 1940's. She made close to 100 films, working with prominent directors such as Frank Capra (Platinum Blonde, 1931), Cecil B. DeMille (The Crusades, 1935), and Orson Welles (The Stranger, 1946), and A-list leading men like Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and Tyrone Power. Young won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the romantic comedy The Farmer's Daughter (1947); she earned a second Best Actress Oscar nomination for Come to the Stable (1949). She also starred in the Christmas classic The Bishop's Wife (1947), costarring Grant and David Niven. The strong-willed Young was one of the first female stars to command a six-figure salary.
In 1953, Young announced her retirement from film. After completing her last movie, It Happens Every Thursday (1953), she never returned to the big screen. Instead, Young signed a contract with Proctor & Gamble and the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) to produce and star in her own dramatic anthology television series, The Loretta Young Show. The show ran for eight seasons from 1953 to 1961, making Young one of the first major Hollywood stars to build a successful career in the fledgling medium of television. She won the first of her three Emmy Awards in 1953, becoming the first actress to win both an Oscar and an Emmy.
Young also consistently made headlines for her personal life, beginning in 1930 when she eloped at age 17 with the much-older Grant Withers, her costar in the film The Second Story Murder (1930). Their marriage was annulled the following year. In 1940, Young married the television producer Thomas H.A. Lewis, with whom she had two sons, Christopher and Peter. Young and Lewis divorced in 1969.
In 1994, Young's daughter, Judy Lewis who had been publicly presented since the 1930s as the actress' adopted child and had taken Young's second husband's name claimed in her autobiography, Uncommon Knowledge, that she was actually the daughter of Young and Clark Gable. Lewis claimed she was conceived during the making of The Call of the Wild (1935), in which Young and Gable (then married to his second wife, Ria Langham) costarred. Young refused to ever publicly confirm or deny her daughter's account during her lifetime, and the two were estranged for several months after the book's publication. (In a biography published after her death, Young admitted in an interview with the book's author that Gable was indeed the father of Judy Lewis.)
After leaving show business altogether in 1963 to devote her time to Catholic charities, Young returned to the small screen in several television movies in the late 1980s. Her last major role was in Lady in the Corner, a 1989 television drama. In her later years, Young was increasingly reclusive, though she made occasional public appearances in support of her favorite charities. She lived in Palm Springs, California, with her third husband (since 1994), the Oscar-winning costume designer Jean Louis, until his death in 1997. Young died of ovarian cancer on August 12, 2000.
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