I knew Loretta the last 12 years of her life. Our relationship began in a professional capacity in that I was to be the collaborator on her autobiography. That project never came to fruition but, in the end, I got much more, I became her friend. She allowed me into her world in a very personal way. I came to know her sisters and brother, her sons, her friends, and most of all, herself.
Loretta was a very private person, in part, because that is how she survived sixty years of being a celebrity, but also because of where she fell in her family. Her two older sisters, Polly Ann and Sally, grew up sharing everything, her younger brother Jack was raised in a different home, and her youngest sister, Georgina, was much, much younger.
As a child, Loretta had two modes, off in her own little dream world and as a great worker in her mother's boarding house when the boarders were watching. The need for attention started early, perhaps at age four on the day when her father walked out, the screen door slamming behind him, riding off on his motorcycle, never to return.
Loretta was different from my pre-conceived image formed from memories of her television show. As the hostess of that show, she had struck me as beautiful, gentle, and good, most of all good. In real life, she was still beautiful when I met her, even at age 76, but she was much more sophisticated, smarter, and a lot more fun than I had imagined.
Loretta made a point to have fun. She loved having people for cocktails prior to going to dinner and she made sure that there were one or two witty people who could make people laugh over anything. Often, she was the center of attention, telling stories about her Hollywood past because she knew everyone, every leading man had been her leading man, and she had tangled with almost every studio head in town.
After knowing Loretta for several years, she asked me one day to give her a signal by rubbing my chin every time I thought she was dominating the conversation. I seldom did because, even if she was, the guests were glued to her every word.
There was, however, one exception - when her close friend Jane Wyman was present and it was obvious that Loretta's being the center of attention annoyed Miss Wyman. My chin got a lot of rubbing that evening!
Her son Chris once asked me to talk about his mother's sense of humor. She seldom told jokes but was good at relating humorous stories. Most of all, she had a big, full, hearty laugh and, if you were the one telling the story, her green/gray eyes would connect with yours and you felt like you were the most entertaining person on earth.
I learned an important lesson from knowing Loretta. Even if you're rich and famous, one is never able to hit the cruise button and sail through their later years. During the time I knew Loretta, she married and then lost her husband Jean Louis, lost her two older sisters and her brother. The release of her daughter Judy's book caused her much heartache.
Through it all, she worked at keeping her spirits up, often by having fun people around her. But, much more at the core of her peace was her faith. She would often say, "He only sees the trying," and Loretta never stopped trying.