A new perspective on a scandal   Leave a comment

Posted by vp19 on 2015.07.12 at 19:35

Current mood: contemplativecontemplative

It’s almost a certainty that while Carole Lombard was romantically linked and later married to Clark Gable, she was aware that he had sired a daughter out of wedlock by actress Loretta Young. But new revelations over the nature of that conception put the story in an unsettling new light, one that has contemporary resonations.

Most classic Hollywood buffs know Gable and Young teamed up in early 1935 to work on William Wellman’s film “Call of the Wild” for Darryl F. Zanuck’s 20th Century Pictures, where the actress was under contract. It’s also known that wintry weather in Washington state — where location shooting took place — delayed production, and until now many of us assumed Clark and Loretta got in on, pardon the term, to stay warm during inclement conditions, and that’s what led to the birth of Judy Lewis later that year.

According to Young’s daughter-in-law, that assuredly was not the case.

In a fascinating story from Anne Helen Petersen at Buzzfeed, Facebook friend Linda Lewis explained how her mother-in-law came to realize precisely what had happened to her in 1998, two years before her passing. In her later years, Young was a fan of the “Larry King Live” show on CNN, and that year an episode aired where someone brought up the term “date rape.” Watching from her home in Palm Springs, Young asked friend and prospective biographer Ed Funk to define it for her:

“She asked me what that meant and I explained to the best of my ability,” Funk [said]. The next night, Linda was over for dinner, and Young brought up the term again, asking for further explanation. Linda recalls telling Young that it was “basically when you’re with someone that you trust, or literally on a date with them, and you’re not compliant, or you’re saying no, and they’re not listening. And they either can’t hear it or believe the old myth of ‘Oh, you really want that.’ I said, ‘It doesn’t have to be violent, it doesn’t have to be rip-your-clothes-off. It’s when your no isn’t no.’”

“And there was this whole dawning,” Linda said … “Like, suddenly there’s a category that this thing that happened to her fits. And she was a good actress, but this was not fake. She said, ‘That — that’s what happened to me.’ We talked about it, and it didn’t make her angry at him, it just gave her a new frame that I think lifted a lot of her guilt.”

So what happened? Apparently nothing sexual happened between Gable and Young while shooting on location. However, once that was completed, they and other members of the cast and crew took a train back to Los Angeles to finish production. Petersen wrote of what happened next:

When 20th Century finally called the production home in February, Young thought their flirtation would come to a natural end. For the overnight train back to Hollywood, the stars were given individual sleeping compartments, while the crew, including Young’s companion, were seated and sleeping elsewhere on the train. At some point in the night, Gable entered Young’s compartment. Young never spoke of the specifics of what occurred to anyone — not to her sisters, mother, husbands, or children — until decades later.

In some ways, Young’s situation was impossibly unique. Yet it also recalls the millions of unwanted sexual encounters that entire generations of women did not talk about, in part because they couldn’t: They literally did not have the language to do so. The word “rape” was too extreme — something that happened to women in back alleys. The introduction of “date rape” into the vernacular gave a name for an experience that, to that point, had defied description, and thus reportage.

About a month later, Young deduced she was pregnant, a situation which a number of classic-era actresses faced (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/340069.html); unwilling to undergo an abortion, which not only was illegal at the time but deeply against her Catholic faith, she, her sisters and mother came up with a plan to circumvent the studio, which almost certainly would have ordered her to abort. They concealed the pregnancy through a variety of ruses, including a trip to Europe that summer and, once they returned to California, hiding out in a small house in Venice. A few weeks before the due date, Young (with the aid of some strategically positioned pillows) gave a brief interview to fan magazine writer Dorothy Manners, who wrote about it for the January 1936 issue of Photoplay:

By the time that issue hit newsstands, Loretta already had given birth. Young returned home, while the infant daughter, named Judy, was cared for by her housekeeper. But after a nurse on hand to oversee the baby sought to enlist the housekeeper in a blackmail plot, Judy was taken to a Catholic orphanage where she was cared for until Loretta officially adopted her in June 1937.

The rest of the story by now is fairly well known: Judy was taken into the family, raised by Loretta and her next husband, Tom Lewis, and she achieved personal and professional success. Judy was estranged from her mother for some years following the publication of the book “Uncommon Knowledge,” but their relationship warmed in the last years of Loretta’s life. Judy Lewis died in 2011.

Linda Lewis told Petersen she believed the time was now right to explain precisely the events that led to Judy’s birth. “Judy is not here to be hurt by this. And that’s what Loretta really wanted to avoid — because who doesn’t want to be conceived in love?” But what’s going on today eerily echo what may have happened aboard that train in February 1935, as Petersen notes:

After my extensive interviews with Young’s son, daughter-in-law, and longtime biographer, it seems clear to me that by keeping the secret of her daughter’s conception, Young was doing what millions of women have done before and since: using what little power she had to take back control of her life after it had been wrested from her.

But to understand this story — and why Young kept quiet for so long — one has to understand not only how women were made to understand their role in unwanted sexual advances, but also the expectations that governed Hollywood in the 1930s, and the well-honed studio system that ensured, at all costs, that stars hewed to them. But you also have to understand who Gable and Young were — what their larger-than-life images stood for, and all they stood to lose if the truth were revealed.

This is a story about the past, of course, but one with chilling echoes in the present: in the ever-accumulating allegations against Bill Cosby, or this week’s revelations about the rape of a 16-year-old member of The Runaways in 1976. It’s easy to look at Young’s elaborate cover-up and label it ridiculous. It’s harder to see what happened to her as indicative of larger structures of power — patriarchy, of course, but also Hollywood — that continue to make it so difficult for these stories to be told.

It’s a remarkable piece, one I hope will put Young in a more sympathetic light amidst longtime accusations of pious hypocrisy; please ignore a few isolated factual errors throughout and focus on the bigger picture. It’s at http://www.buzzfeed.com/annehelenpetersen/loretta-young?utm_term=.vsZ4pQadgp#.njEgkeg0D.

Posted July 12, 2015 by vp19 in Uncategorized

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