1930s Screen Icons: Myrna Loy

1930s Screen Icons: Myrna Loy

Myrna Loy is perhaps known best for her roles as femme fatale in silent movies. Because of her exotic beauty she was often cast in the role of Asian or Eurasian characters but later became a popular female lead in romantic comedies where she was frequently paired with William Powell and Clark Gable.

Here are some things you might not have known about Myrna Loy:

  • When she was just 16 she posed for her high school sculpture teacher for the central figure in the sculpture Fountain of Education (photo below). Interestingly this sculpture also appears in the opening credits of the movie Grease.
  • It was Rudolph Valentino who gave her the break she needed into movies. He spotted her portrait in a photographers studio and asked her to come and test for his movie Cobra. She didn’t get the part but this got her in with the studio and she as given a bit part in the film Pretty Ladies soon afterwards (along with a young and inexperienced Joan Crawford).
  • Loy shot to stardom partly due to the misadventure of somebody else when gangster John Dillinger was shot and killed after watching one of her movies. Suddenly everyone wanted to know about Dillinger’s favourite movie star!
  • She was cast for the role in The Thin Man after being pushed into a swimming pool whilst at a Hollywood party. She handled the situation so well that she landed the role.
  • At the height of her career (1937-38) Loy was one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood
  • During WW2 Loy was very outspoken in her views against Adolf Hitler, so much so that she earned herself a place on the official Nazi blacklist.
  • She made over 120 movies in a career which spanned 6 decades.
  • As well as her on-screen pairing with Powell and Gable, she worked with the biggest male stars at the time including Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, Robert Montgomery, James Stewart and Tyrone Power.

Above: Publicity Photo for The Thin Man, with Myrna Loy, Skippy, and William Powell, 1936

1930s Screen Icons: Myrna Loy

Publicity photo of Leslie Howard and Myrna Loy in film The Animal Kingdom (1932)

1930s Screen Icons: Myrna Loy

Fountain of Education by Harry Fielding Winebrenner, Venice High School, 1922. Myrna Loy modelled for the central figure ‘Inspiration’.

1930s Screen Icons: Myrna Loy

Image source and copyright: 1, 2, 3, 4, This work is in the public domain in that it was published in the United States between 1923 and 1977 and without a copyright notice.

9 thoughts on “1930s Screen Icons: Myrna Loy

  1. Emileigh

    Why was she often cast as an Asian or Eurasian character? She seems pretty Caucasian looking to me, but was she not? Was it just the shape of her eyes that made her seem “exotic”?

  2. Missy

    Back then very few Asians were cast as characters in the big studios … If they were they were generally make and villains … Many, many well known actors played Asian parts … Paul Muni, Richard Barthlemess, Warner Oland and Luis Rainer (who one an Oscar for playing Olan in The Good Earth) Anna Mae Wong was the only well known popular Asian actress … But she lost out on that part … Another thing about Myrna Loy is that she grew up in the same small town in Montana where Gary Cooper was from … I have only seen one fuzzy picture of them in the same room, they didn’t appear in a movie together … Her Grandmother was friendly with Gary’s Mother and Myrna talked of sledding in front of Judge Cooper’s (Gary’s Father) home … In the states she’s most well known for her roles in the 30’s & 40’s … She played opposite Wm Powell I believe 9 times, once as Billie Burke who was married to Flo Ziegfeld and played Glinda The Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz …

    • Mary, WHV

      Very true, and later (even once Asians were regularly cast in movies) there were lots of movies where the main characters were still Europeans or Americans wearing terrible makeup. Peter Ustinov (in Fu Man Chu?) and Peter Sellars spring to mind!

    • Michael Mixerr

      Missy, I did not know that very few Asians were cast as characters for these big studios out in Hollywood/New York at that time. Thank you for sharing these interesting facts with us.

  3. Dar

    Shen was superb in the “Thin Man” movies, as well as “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House”

    She was always good as the witty wife who never really pays attention to wehat her husband says.

  4. Movie watcher

    Before knowing anything about her history, I was always interested in Myrna Loy. Beautiful, funny, smart and an independent thinker is how I perceived her as a viewer when I first became acquainted with her in the late 70’s. I felt she was everything a modern actress should be. It is interesting to discover that she was one of the highest paid actresses of her time. Good for her!


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