There’s That Word Again

Loretta Young, 1933

Loretta Young, 1933

Today, Anne Helen Petersen, a writer for Buzzfeed, published an article that aims to, after so many decades, bring a clearer understanding of the long gossiped about and heavily misunderstood (by myself, included) “relationship” of Loretta Young and Clark Gable.

I encourage everyone to read the article before continuing any further, as some of what I say might not make a darn bit of sense, if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Last week, I composed a very angry open letter to an author who used the term rape, as if it was just a simple, but forceful, act of love. In response, it was proposed that rape, in the 1930’s, is just what we would call rough sex, today. I want everyone to take a good, long look at Loretta Young. At 22 years old, a man with whom she had only a working relationship came into her room and would not take no for an answer. A child, Judy, was conceived, and for the remaining 65 years of Loretta’s life, she would, with grace that I cannot fathom, endure being called a hypocrite, the sinning saint, and worse. I know this because I was one of her detractors for many, many years. For 65 years, she had to live with guilt, with the burden of thinking she was solely responsible for her fate, that she had to atone for a sin. For Loretta and for everyone who survived, not knowing for years that they were not to blame for what happened to them, I will never apologize for going on the attack, and I will never, ever forget or forgive the people who seem to think that a 1930’s rape is justifiable.

As you can see from posts spanning the last few months, this story wasn’t my “come to Jesus” moment. I’m not above admitting that it didn’t even take this kind of revelation for me to admit that I was wrong. And the funniest part of all is that I don’t actually have a really clear moment of when I knew that I had been being a giant, judgmental jerk for so many years, but I remember reading Loretta’s first quote in Joan Wester Anderson’s authorized biography and thinking, “Oh hell, this woman sounds exactly like me.” I mean, clearly I don’t have fans, not even decorative ones, but the general idea of what she was saying is exactly how I’d viewed religion since I was a wee thing, rebelling in Christian Elementary School. I sincerely hope that I’m not breaking any laws quoting this-

Our human connections are guided by God, and ultimately all of us are linked through His love. Thus, we have all already met, not as actress and fan but as His children, and we can never be lost to each other. (Loretta Young)

I’ll be honest- I think I was partially going in to this book just looking for ammo. Just that foreword reeled me in, though. The simple story of just how, for lack of a better word, regular and down to earth she was reminded me of at least one other lady I initially thought was a joke. The further I went on, the more something struck me as odd- Loretta seemed to be totally open about mistakes, brutally honest about her feelings, and genuinely a delightful human being. Now, where was this seductress, this oversexed nymph that I’d been told about?

And that’s it. That woman was not there. To even think of her as such seems entirely laughable, now.

The continuation of my story and my weird, trippy connection to a lady who died 15 years ago seems like a waste of space, so I’ll spare you any more of that. What I’m trying to get at, here, is that all it took was for me to give her a chance. I learned so much of what kind of person she truly was, and that throwing caution to the wind while having a fling with Gable was so totally out of character that it didn’t make any sense, whatsoever.

Now, we learn the truth, and it comes with shocking implications not only for Clark Gable, but I feel for us as a society, too. I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading and responding to comments on Buzzfeed, today, and even with this revelation, the people who are hell bent on hating Loretta will not even take a step back to look at what they’re saying about themselves, by saying all things short of having her burned as a witch. It is 2015, and there are still people out there who demand that Loretta, a victim of rape, be held accountable for her actions. She had her child, raised her to the best of her ability, in such strange circumstances, but people still make these insane demands of her memory. It’s as if they want her family to get her kicked out of the Catholic faith, or something. You know, that faith that was a big reason for Judy having been born, in the first place? What, exactly, did we ever want Loretta to do? Mistakes were made, sure. Could she have been more open with Judy? I’m sure of that, too. Do I absolutely agree with how everything went down? Nope. Honestly, though, in those shoes, with that hand of fate, damn it all if I wouldn’t have lost my marbles. Yet there are many people who feel like they’re taking up some noble cause, on Judy’s behalf, without ever knowing that she and her mother eventually reconciled. Judy Lewis’ life was not easy, from the beginning. Neither was her mother’s. We need to stop blaming Loretta, stop wanting her to be different, stop applying what we would do in that situation, to her, because we can’t change her. Now that we do know a little bit more of her story, I can only hope that many of us can apologize to her. Her faith kept her going, and she tried her level best to be a good role model. She didn’t want this to be the focus of her life, and she certainly never wanted anyone to say, “Loretta Young had a baby out of wedlock, so why can’t I?” She thought she was to blame, and now we know she was not. Step back, think about that, and stop asking Loretta to crawl through the mud to gain your approval. She did the best with what God gave her.

Another question I have is this- where has our outrage ever been, over Gable being a known womanizer? We never asked him to apologize. We never said, “Holy shit, he got a girl pregnant then acted like it was all her fault!” (Okay, I think I might have said that a few times, but I’m not pulling any punches on my own guilt or excusing my own stupidity.) The huge flaw in many comments today, and through history, have been this very thing. No, Gable was not openly religious, but is it that alone that gives him a pass? Of course not. His pass is that, historically it’s been nothing more than a game for men to make conquests out of women. I’ve honestly never cared for him, and many times I’ve said that and heard, “But he was a war hero!” Well, let me just sit my ass back down because clearly that makes him a saint. People love to make excuses for him and his behavior. Granted, he was a product of his time, but his cavalier attitude toward bedding women is still embraced, to this day.

I guess the whole point of this is simple. If you’re going to get mad at Loretta, I suppose I can’t stop you. After all, it took an inexcusable amount of time for me to not have that ignorant beef with her. But if you want to be mad at her, you need to be even more pissed off at Gable, a serial adulterer. Loretta’s mistake was being too nice. Gable’s mistake was being a predator.

My complete and total respect to Linda Lewis, Loretta’s daughter in law, for her amazing work in keeping Loretta’s name alive, and helping to clear it. These situations are never easy, and I, for one, am so damn proud to know her, even if only online. xoK

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11 thoughts on “There’s That Word Again

  1. The Buzzfeed article made me reconsider my opinion of Loretta Young. I always thought it was awful that she kept the truth from Judy for so many years when her paternity was common knowledge in Hollywood. However, after reading what Loretta went through and that she tried to keep her daughter from knowing that she was not a product of love, it is just heartbreaking. Thanks to Linda and Chris Lewis for setting the record straight after so many years so future generations will know the truth. Clark Gable gave us some great movies, but I don’t think he was much of a person.

    • I am so pleased to read the reactions above—I am the author of Loretta’s biography, FOREVER YOUNG, and although she gave me permission to cover the “Judy story,” she had certainly been wounded many times by thoughtless (and even cruel) writers, and was initially tentative during our early interviews. When it became obvious that I had too much respect for her to demean her choices, (and understood why she would never have done away with her child) our relationship moved to a closer level.
      FOREVER YOUNG was intended to tell the story of a lovely and courageous woman, but when it was published, most of the reviews focused on the “scandal” even though many decades had passed. I wondered if I had failed in my quest to present Loretta as a normal person whose life included many challenges, not just one. But, judging by the comments here, perhaps light is finally being shed. Thank you all.

      • You did an absolutely outstanding job in telling her story. I often just refer to it as “her book,” meaning LY, because it felt so much like it was just her sitting at a typewriter, getting it all out. (I say typewriter because we’d still be translating her heiroglyphs, hehehe.) Many biographers take the opportunity to interject their own feelings on a subject or their own wishes. That was, refreshingly, not the case, in FY.
        As I’ve told Linda, I’m pretty much the most hard headed person out there. If Forever Young was able to get her true character through to *me* that’s a real testament to your abilities. 🙂

  2. Loretta Young has been one of my favorites since, as a teenager, I watched her TV show every afternoon on our local NBC channel. I almost never missed it. I’ve seen so many of her movies and have loved every one of them. I will admit that I was a bit judgmental when I learned years ago about the situation with her daughter, Judy. Like many, I assumed she willingly had an affair with Gable and to protect her reputation pretended that her biological daughter was “adopted”. It never made me dislike her…just made me wonder a bit about her true character. Now that we know the truth of what happened and the lengths she went to in an effort to protect her child it is, indeed, heartbreaking. It probably took more unselfish love than most of us can fathom. Many thanks to her family for making this story public.

  3. Kayla Mary Astor – You go girl! Thanks for your honest, straightforward approach and ability to separate Loretta the woman from all the myth and innuendo. I am glad that my friend Judy is not alive to see all of this, though. Deep down she knew that Loretta loved her and did the very best for her that she could. But she yearned for an answer to the question of her identity and couldn’t know how very complicated a situation it really was. My hat’s off to Loretta for her strength and abiding love for Judy and for living her very long life with integrity in the face of gossip and speculation, when in the end none of it really mattered except for the three individuals involved.

    • I have so much insane respect for Judy and Loretta, now. Of course, I have for a while, but the last two days, it’s like… Their lives were that. Any time I chose (which I won’t, ha), I could walk away from this and say, “All of you people are jackwagons.” Judy and Loretta? Never once. I’m glad that neither of them are around for these awful comments, but I wish they could see the support. I wish they could know of the girls and women who never heard their names before, but are with them, supporting them, seeing what a very public struggle their lives were, and finding hope for a future where ladies don’t have to hide their stories or have theirs hidden from them.
      Thanks so much for your comment. I truly, truly appreciate it more than words can say. 🙂

  4. Kayla, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart – what a powerful article you wrote for Loretta & for Judy and all who’ve walked in their shoes. I’ve read and reread this several times today, when the comments and nastiness overwhelmed me, your words knitted me back together. I had to send the article over to my dear friend Joan Wester Anderson (author of the authorized biography you referenced) she will be pleased to read of your turning point. We’re very grateful to you for speaking out & so eloquently, too! LY was the most extraordinary mother-in-law & friend to me, she deserves to be known for the good she did & you’ve helped me to begin to right some of the wrongs. God bless you for your honestly, I’m honored to be your friend. XO Linda

    • I have been so moved to have been able to be part of this, even for such a short while. I’ve read your comment over and over, trying to reply, and it’s hard for me to think that it’s even about me, haha. I look at all the comments I’ve gotten and think, “Me? Psh. What? Psh. Everyone knows I am a giant, emotionless lizard trying to take over Tokyo, this stuff must be for some other fellow.”
      Nonetheless, even though I truly just suck at accepting that anything I say matters to someone, know that, somewhere in this vast psyche (Judy would have had a field day with my neuroses, lol), I am so very honored that what I said here has helped you in this journey. I happen to think you’re pretty grand, Linda, and ah hell, I’m getting all emotional again, but whatever you EVER think I can help with, I’m your girl. Thanks for being awesome, and thanks for being my friend. 🙂

  5. Bravo Kayla for your typical honesty and truth telling. There is something truly freeing about being honest. Miss Young was always a favorite. She was wonderfully gracious to me back in the early 80’s when we found ourselves walking side by side out of the Church of the Good Shepherd after Sunday morning Mass. I was a bit in awe of her staggering beauty and smile. I’ve a feeling she knew I was at a loss for words and said simply, “A lovely sermon wasn’t it!”. The response from my film class to the screening of “The Bishop’s Wife” was amazing. I imagine it’ll be similar when I show them “Come to the Stable” this fall. Kayla, your words have obviously touched Miss Young’s family, but they have also touched all of us too. Never stop sharing the truth.

  6. This is all absurdity. How many films did Loretta make with Clark after this pseudo event? How many saintly actresses like Miss Young would consent to make another film with her supposedly rapist? My father’s family all came from Cadiz Ohio, many shared Gable’s war record, and the things he did for his family and fellow Ohioans with gratitude and pride. Let it be! Miss Young and her swear jar have made her saintly persona believable, the truth lies somewhere in the mix!

    • Karen-
      First of all, thank you for your comment. I feel as though it would be rude of me not to thank everyone.
      Secondly, I’m not exactly sure where you’re going with the comment. Though I thank your family and, yes, even Clark Gable, for his service to the country, in the armed forces, I can’t see how that has anything to do with, well, anything else. Again, let me quote a book and hope I’m not breaking any laws.
      “As we (Myrna Loy, Clark Gable, Rhea Gable) drove toward my mother’s house, I could see that Clark was beginning to feel quite a bit amorous. He started edging toward me- with his wife sitting right there beside him. Of course, he was probably loaded, by that time. We all were, to a certain extent.
      Clark escorted me to the door. As I turned to unlock it, he bent down and gave me a ‘monkey bite.’ (It left a scar on my neck for days.) I turned around and gave him a shove, sending him backward two or three steps off the porch and into the hedge. As he stumbled back, he laughed a little, which infuriated me all the more. It was just the idea of his wife sitting out in the car. I’d had quite a few beaus, but this was different, you see, this was not right. I wanted no part of it.” (Myrna Loy, Being And Becoming, 1987)
      That was 1933. Presently, most people I know think Myrna Loy was outstanding, and she was. She would be a champion for equal rights, for women’s rights, etc. She would go on to make numerous films with Gable, after this event. While clearly not a rape scenario, it offended her, deeply enough that she thought it important to talk about 54 years later.
      The point of my post is this, and I think you may have missed it, based on how rudely you treat Loretta. Gable was a known womanizer. He, as evidenced here, would even get fresh with women, while his wife was close by. But, instead of saying, “Wow, that totally sounds like something that a man with that pattern of behavior would do,” people tear Loretta down. Yes, she made another movie with him, which began filming 14 years after Call Of The Wild. Clark had calmed down (things like possibly being to blame for your wife dying in a plane crash, because of her hearing about him getting amorous with Lana Turner and trying to get home quickly, could do that to a man), and what a field day the very small, gossipy city of Hollywood would have had, if Loretta had refused to act with him. That’s like saying, “Sorry, no, we have History and I’m running from it.” And really, they do have good acting chemistry. LOTS of people had good acting chemistry. Remember, too, that it wasn’t until 1998 that Loretta figured out that there was even a term for what she’d gone through. In 1949, she still felt like she was 100% to blame.
      I know this has been a long reply, but I do hope that, possibly, you’ll reconsider your opinions. If not, you know, whatever, I tried. But your comment reeks of victim blaming and shaming, and that requires at least a little knowledge boost.

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