Gossip, of course, abounded. To anyone who could count, Loretta's three-month "illness" in 1935 corresponded to the latter stage of pregnancy. Was baby Judy Loretta's biological child? Could she be Clark Gable's daughter?
Loretta refused to acknowledge or comment on Judy's "adoption" or paternity. If reporters hinted, she simply gave them a cool look, then changed the subject. "It was a rumor then, it's a rumor now and it will always be a rumor." was her stock answer.
"Judy slipped into our household with the greatest of ease," Loretta recalled. "Polly and Sally still lived nearby, and Georgie, Mama and I were still at the Bel Air house. Being a parent changed nothing in my life except it brought me more joy."
Along with these personal difficulties, professional trouble was brewing with Daryll Zanuck. As head of Twentieth Century studios, he had taken only Loretta and Constance Bennett with him when his company merged with the Fox Company in mid-1935. He now wished to renew Loretta's contract, which still had two years left. Loretta refused.
She had turned down several assignments because she hated the roles Zanuck gave her, which were mediocre, she felt, and did little to push her toward leading lady stardom. "I can only do the kind of scripts I like, otherwise, I'm not very good," she told him one day.
He ignored her, though, and assigned a script written for Cary Grant and Jean Harlow to Loretta, because Harlow was unavailable. Loretta protested, but made the film anyway.
Things finally came to a head once the picture hit the theaters. Of the film one critic wrote, "I saw a movie last night starring Cary Grant and Loretta Young, Born to be Bad. And it is!" That was all the ammunition she needed.
Loretta absolutely refused to do the next picture Zanuck assigned her; Lloyds Of London. He threatened to fire her. She shouted back, "Go ahead! I'd be delighted to leave!" then stormed out of his office. It was a move that could cost her her career.
"You know, he can destroy you," a friend commented to Loretta a short time later. "An agent could protect you against these kinds of things. You're just too nice. You need to see Myron Selznick."
By most accounts, Myron Selznick was the toughest and best connected agent in the industry, and represented most of the top female stars; Carole Lombard, Constance Bennett, Merle Oberon and Joan Bennett. Loretta objected vehemently. "I can't stand Myron Selznick! He's so crude."
At precisely nine the following morning, Myron Selznick was standing in her living room. "Got anything to drink?" were his first words.
Grudgingly, Loretta filled him in that she had two years left on her contract with Twentieth Century Fox, and could foresee Zanuck offering her more of the same lackluster roles. "I just don't want to work for Zanuck anymore," she told Myron. "He knows nothing about developing a woman's career."
Myron seemed to understand. He dialed Twentieth Century Fox. Mr. Zanuck was in conference and couldn't be disturbed. "Tell him I'm here at Loretta Young's house," Myron told the secretary, and hung up.
The phone rang almost immediately. It was Zanuck. "Loretta is not doing Lloyds of London." Myron told him. "Fine," Zanuck replied, "But, as punishment, she would go off salary again, this time for ten weeks, and the weeks would be added on to the end of the two years left on her contract." "Fine" Myron agreed.
"Did we win or lose?" Loretta asked Myron when he hung up. "A little of both." He shrugged.
Loretta was dumbfounded. Such a kind gesture, from someone she'd detested for so long. She had judged too hastily, she realized. Myron Selznick might well turn out to be one of those special angels God was always sending her.
During her suspension, without pay, Loretta found work on the radio and her ongoing conflict with Zanuck was eventually settled during another acrimonious meeting after her suspension.
"No more fighting," Myron advised her. "Just work these two years out as quickly as you can, and then go on from there." She hated to do it, but she knew Myron was right... and she had no other choice.
Loretta was still working out those two years when she was assigned to a movie with Tyrone Power. They did three together in 1937 and began to date. According to some, it was Zanuck who eventually broke them up — Tyrone was a handsome newcomer, attracting many female fans, and it wouldn't do to have him married too early in his career.
Loretta claimed they were never more than just friends, and they remained so for many, many years.
Next: Leaving Fox
Excerpts © copyright 2000 Joan Wester Anderson. All rights reserved.