Happy 111th Birthday, Myrna Loy!

Myrna Loy was born Myrna Adele Williams 111 years today in Helena, Montana. She ranks very highly indeed in our personal pantheon of Hollywood stars, so her birthday is always, in our view, cause for celebration. Here are some ML Did-You-Knows:

  • Loy was of Welsh, Scottish and Swedish descent.
  • Though Gary Cooper also grew up in and around Helena, he and Loy never met until they had both moved to Hollywood.
  • Her father was a rancher and a politician—the youngest person ever elected the Montana State legislature. He died of influenza when Loy was just 13, after which her family moved to Los Angeles.
  • She began acting in school plays at 15; some of those productions were staged in Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
  • Loy attended Venice High School, where the speech and drama awards are now called “Myrnas.” There’s a statue outside the school that bears her likeness. It’s titled “Inspiration.”
  • Loy, who spoke out early and often against Hitler and the Nazi regime, saw her films blacklisted in Germany.
  • She was John Dillinger‘s favorite movie star. He had just seen her in Manhattan Melodrama (1934) when he was gunned down by police as he left the theatre.
  • Frequent costar and close friend William Powell‘s nickname for Loy was “Minnie.”
  • Her father got her first name from the name of a train station he passed through, and it was pulp writer Paul Cain who suggested she changed her name from Williams to Loy.
  • Loy moved to Manhattan in 1960 and remained there for the rest of her life. As she wrote of the Big Apple in her autobigraphy, “If you’re bored in New York, it’s your own fault. Something’s always happening. But in Hollywood, if you’re no longer reigning, you simply don’t matter.”

Happy birthday, Myrna Loy, wherever you may be!

Myrna Loy

Warren William Goes on the Run!

Warren WilliamThough he may not be well remembered by your average Jill or Joe, for movie buffs, Warren William is an icon of 1930s Hollywood—especially the pre-code years.

Though he played a few good guys, William’s typical character ranged from roué to to cad. He is, for fans of 1930s cinema, the man we love to hate. As Roger Fristoe wrote for tcm.com, “William played his fast-talking, opportunistic characters with such style and dash that Depression-era audiences often found themselves rooting for him.”

William was a creature of the city, more urbane sophisticate than rough-and-tumble he-man. One can easily picture, say, Clark Gable or Gary Cooper feeling quite at home in the great outdoors, but somehow not William. And yet, William remained trim and fit until the end. He was broad-shouldered and had a narrow waist, and one would assume, because he appeared so fit, that he was athletic and active, in the gym if not on various fields of play.

But how, then, to explain the way he ran? (His daffy dash begins at the 30-second mark in the video below.) Mind you, we’re in no position to mock anyone else’s athletic abilities (it’s usually we who are being mocked), but we’ll admit that William’s sidewinding caper (as seen here in The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt) made us giggle.

Cagney Under the Stars!

Imagine you’re at the drive-in, watching a war picture, and James Cagney pulls up in the space next to you.

That’s what happens in this memorable scene from White Heat (1949). Cody Jarrett (Cagney), on the lam with Ma Jarrett (Margaret Wycherly) and his wife, Verna (Virginia Mayo), after shooting a police detective, eludes the cop in hot pursuit by making a quick right turn into the San-Val drive-in as the police siren recedes into the distance.

The theatre’s marquee touts a double feature of South of St. Louis (1949) and Siren of Atlantis (1949), but the movie actually seen on the screen as Cody and Co. settle in to discuss their plans is Task Force (1949), starring Gary Cooper and Jane Wyatt.

We enjoyed seeing the uniformed attendants offering peanuts and popcorn and placing the speaker just so in the passenger-side window. We couldn’t help but wonder just how many such attendants the San-Val employed on a busy Saturday night back in 1949 (if, in fact, it employed any attendants; it’s possible that was a creative touch added by the producers of the picture)

Burbank’s San-Val, the second drive-in ever built in California, opened in 1938 (the first, called The Drive-in Theatre, opened for business in 1934 at 10850 W. Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles) and was shuttered in the mid-1970s. The theatre, which originally had a capacity of 590 cars (it later accommodated more than 800 cars), was located at 2720 Winona Avenue, at the confluence of Winona, Naomi Street and San Fernando Road. An office building housing a number of movie production and effect houses now occupies the spot.