When I heard a bio on Myrna Loy was being released, I was very excited. Myrna’s autobiography,Being and Becoming, is hands down the best autobio I have read of a classic star. Honest and refreshingly un-fluffy, the book cemented me as a Myrna Loy fan for life. Unlike a lot of autobios, I felt that Myrna had really covered all the bases so I was intrigued as to what Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood could offer.
Well. I can’t say this bio is overflowing with new information. I can’t say at all that I understand Myrna better as a person after reading it. I CAN say that I did after reading her autobio. And apparently author Emily Leider knows this as well, since Myrna’s autobio is quoted on nearly every page.
By halfway through the book I began to get irritated by the writing. Several pages are devoted to The Thin Man BEFORE Manhattan Melodrama is analyzed, which seems rather ridiculous considering the fact that Myrna and William Powell first starred together in Melodrama and met on the set. 1937’s Double Wedding is reviewed and discussed BEFORE Libeled Lady, which is even more ridiculous since Jean Harlow (their Lady co-star) died while Myrna & Bill were filming Double Wedding and production was temporarily halted.
And Carole Lombard is certainly cheering from heaven to hear that she did indeed win the Oscar in 1937. According to Leider, “[Carole] too would be nominated and chosen Best Actress for her standout zany turn in My Man Godfrey.” Yikes.
Myrna wrote very lovingly about Clark in her book and of their special friendship. A few of the anecdotes are repeated here but overall their films together are apparently not very noteworthy. In my own research, I have seen praises high and low for Test Pilot. Leider does not care for the film, calling the script “sappy” and “cringe-worthy” and sites one bad comment from a film critic. She even comments that despite how bad it is that it was nominated for Best Picture. Well, apparently that is just your opinion then, isn’t it? When Clark is mentioned, there is usually a comment about him trying too hard to be masculine or something of that sort. When describing Bill Powell and Jean Harlow attending the Oscars in 1937 with Clark and Carole, the fact that Clark was still married to Ria is thrown in as a judgmental comment. True, but an odd place to make such an observation. And similar judgement isn’t made by her when describing the married Spencer Tracy’s relationship with Katharine Hepburn. Well certainly nobody can accuse Leider of being a Gable fan, not with unneccessarily snippy sentences like, “Mainly this movie [Too Hot to Handle] serves as just another excuse for more spine-tingling aviation thrills and more sigh-worthy shots of swaggering Gable in goggles and leather, his (false) white teeth gleaming, his dimple dimpling.” Really needed to point out that his teeth are false there?
I found the writing very hard to follow, like a person who starts one story and then delves into another –then forgetting what the original story was supposed to be. A co-star of Myrna’s will be mentioned as part of an anecdote and suddenly there is a paragraph about what they did with their lives for the next 20 years. Also when discussing Myrna’s life in the 60’s-80’s, the events tended to swing back and forth, which I found very confusing. I was very disappointed that there wasn’t much insight into Myrna’s final years and death. Obviously, Myrna’s autobiography offered nothing on that, since she was still alive. I have always just read that she died during surgery and thought surely a bio would have more detail. Nope. No detail of her final day–not even her final week. I still don’t know what she was having surgery for. Leider lists the various illnesses she had over the last few years, such as two masectomies, and gives no detail. I felt cheated. I remember the recent bio of Hedy Lamarr I read in which the author detailed her last day and it was so eloquent and sad. In this book, we just get that she died during surgery. No detail beyond that.
Some information I found interesting that wasn’t in Myrna’s autobio was of her realtionship with first husband Arthur Hornblow Jr. Myrna glazed over several details of the marriage but Leider uncovered that in their relationship, Myrna was madly in love but Arthur was just along for the ride. She tried hard to be the perfect wife for him but, ultimately, she wasn’t enough for him (imagine that, “The Perfect Wife” of all moviedom not being enough for her real-life husband). Her subsequent marriages were all mistakes and she always thought wistfully about Arthur. Very sad. Arthur’s widow apparently liked to “stick it” to Myrna often and is quoted as saying that maybe Arthur was the love of Myrna’s life, but she certainly wasn’t the love of his, showing off a bracelet Arthur had given her, inscribed, “The beloved bearer is the true and only Mrs. Arthur Hornblow Jr.” Leider also confirms that a back alley abortion led to Myrna being infertile, a detail Myrna purposely left out, although she lamented over not having children.
It’s not a horrible book by any means and Myrna’s life was so colorful and interesting. But if you want to really know Myrna Loy, pick up Being and Becoming.