With her almond-shaped eyes, tilted-up nose, and ladylike but wry and relaxed manner, Myrna Loy was one of Hollywood's most popular actresses of the 1930s and maintained that stardom for decades. She came to embody the perfect wife--sympathetic, wise and sexy--opposite William Powell, Clark Gable and others. Loy was the ultimate proof that marriage and companionship in the movies need not be an exercise in mutual henpecking or a mere happy ending, but rather something fun and exciting in and of itself.
A former dancer, Loy began in films as a bit player from the mid-20s and was primarily cast as mysterious, exotic types for the first decade of her career. Loy entertainingly wrecked many a home and stole many a leading man (however temporarily) from the arms of his wife or fiance in films including "The Squall" (1929) and "Consolation Marriage" (1931). She occasionally snagged a more realistic or sympathetic part, as in "Cock of the Walk" (1930) or "Arrowsmith" (1931), but Loy's dominant image was summed up in films like "13 Women" (1932), in which her vengeful half-caste murders the sorority sisters who snubbed her long ago, and "The Mask of Fu Manchu" (1932), as the title villain's daughter, gleefully whipping his white captives.
In retrospect, 1932 began the real turnaround in Loy's career, her delightful flair for comedy first highlighted with her supporting performance as the man-hungry Vantine in Rouben Mamoulian's musical masterpiece "Love Me Tonight" (1932). She also provided sophisticated competition for nominal star Ann Harding in "The Animal Kingdom" (1932) and "When Ladies Meet" (1933) and brought her trademark subdued sexiness to an early important lead opposite John Barrymore in the whimsical "Topaze" (1933).
Stardom awaited her, and, in 1934, W.S. Van Dyke cast Loy opposite ideal co-star William Powell in the first of the hugely successful "Thin Man" comedy-mysteries, confirming her as a favorite with movie audiences around the country. Her Nora Charles came from money but was eager for thrills, and so she pushed husband and former detective Nick into one comic adventure after another as he solved seemingly impenetrable whodunits. Loy's best non-"Thin Man" films opposite Powell (with whom she made 14 joint appearances in all) include the drama "Evelyn Prentice" (1934) and the screwball farces "Libeled Lady" (1936), "I Love You Again" (1940) and "Love Crazy" (1941). Her best efforts with Clark Gable, meanwhile, include "Wife vs. Secretary" (1936) and Loy's own personal favorite among her starring vehicles, "Test Pilot" (1938). Her popularity peaked in the late 30s, and when Gable was voted "King of Hollywood" in a popularity poll, Myrna Loy was right beside him as elected "Queen".
Increasingly active in politics after her WWII service with the Red Cross (she was a founding member of the Committee for the First Amendment), Loy continued a career distinguished by her fine performance opposite Fredric March in William Wyler's Oscar-winning study of postwar readjustment, "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946). She also extended her perfect wife image opposite Cary Grant in the delightful "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" (1948) and the enjoyable "Cheaper by the Dozen" (1950) opposite Clifton Webb. She became very active in promoting liberal causes, was a thorn in Richard Nixon's side for decades before it became popular, and was the first film star to work for the United Nations. Loy continued in occasional character roles with star billing from the mid-1950s until the 80s ("Lonelyhearts" 1958, "The April Fools" 1969, "The End" 1977), and ventured successfully into stage work as well. Her final film work was a lovely supporting performance as Alan King's long-suffering secretary in Sidney Lumet's comedy, "Just Tell Me What You Want" (1980). She also performed beautifully opposite Henry Fonda on the TV drama "Summer Solstice" (1981).
Loy's deceptively straightforward artistry kept her from getting the types of flashy roles which netted Oscar nominations, but she was rewarded for her illustrious career with an honorary award in 1990. She was also feted with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Kennedy Center in 1988. The first of her four husbands was producer Arthur Hornblow, Jr. (married 1936-42) and the third was screenwriter-producer Gene Markey (married 1946-50).