In 1948, Hollywood screen star Loretta Young astonished the pundits by winning the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of a Swedish maid in The Farmer’s Daughter. Young had dyed her hair blond, and worked very hard at perfecting a Swedish accent. She beat out the favorite for the award, Rosalind Russell, who was also one of her best friends. When the actress went onstage to accept the award, Academy President Jean Hersholt greeted her by saying, “Loretta, thank God for you. You probably saved the Academy! You’re the only winner who didn’t finish first in the poll!” At first, Young didn’t know what he meant, but later it was explained to her: Would the awards ever again have been considered suspenseful, or even honest, if winners were all but announced ahead of time? That was the last year the Daily Variety took its poll predicting winners before the ceremony.
Below is an excerpt of Joan Wester Anderson’s authorized biography Forever Young: The Authorized Biography of Loretta Young, published by Thomas More Publishing.
The Farmer’s Daughter While Loretta was working on (ironically) The Perfect Marriage, Dore Schary visited her on the set. Schary, a former writer-producer at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, was now the production chief of Vanguard Pictures, run by David Selznick, Myron’s brother. Selznick wished to do The Farmer’s Daughter as his next project. The movie, originally a Finnish play titled “Katie for Congress,” is about an effervescent Swedish-born girl who works as a maid for a United States congressman and his family, and eventually becomes a congresswoman herself. The starring role had been offered to Ingrid Bergman, a genuine Swede, but she had turned it down. Several other starlets had been considered, including the skater Sonia Henie from Norway. Dore Schary had been sure from the beginning that Loretta was right for the role. But Selznick and others had disagreed. Now, with the rest of the players cast, time was growing short, and Schary was given the green light. As they spoke on the set, Loretta expressed doubts about her ability to master a Swedish accent. “I could do southern,” she suggested to Schary. “My mother still has a trace of it, and I’m used to it.” No, said Schary. It was an essential part of the story that Katie is foreign born; Swedish would be better.
Further, Schary had a solution: he would assign Ruth Roberts to coach Loretta. Ruth was Swedish, but had no accent. She had originally taught English to Swedish immigrants in Minnesota, and because her brother, George Seaton, was a Hollywood director (Miracle on 34th Street among other hits), Selznick had hired her to help Ingrid Bergman lose her Swedish inflection. (”We always said Ruth took away Ingrid’s accent, and gave it to me,” Loretta recalled).
Loretta finally agreed because despite her concern she loved the role. Katie was a departure from the glamorous women she usually portrayed but, in many ways, was just like her-determined, headstrong, fiercely principled. The movie also had a patriotic theme, and took a strong stance against prejudice, values Loretta appreciated.