Excerpt From 'Forever Young'

Ruth got tapes of a Swedish friend speaking in English, and Loretta played them repeatedly for the next six weeks. “I was frustrated because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get it,” Loretta said. “But after a while I got used to the rhythm of the speech, very gentle, very up and down. Ruth kept encouraging me, and finally we felt I was ready.” Loretta also dyed her hair blond, and wore four-foot-long pin-on braids, wound around her ears. With her rustic clothes, she looked every inch the farm girl.

She and Tom were also thrilled to learn that Loretta was expecting another baby. Schary may not have been quite as pleased, since pregnancies among the stars often led to delays in production, but he knew how much the Lewises wanted a large family, and offered his congratulations. Filming began, and Ruth Roberts proved even more valuable than expected, Loretta said. “We’d do a scene, the director would yell, ‘Cut!,’ I’d think it was fine, but Ruth would stop, and whisper to me: ‘Go a little deeper, say this word softly.’ I’d ask for another take, follow her directions on these small touches, and we were all surprised at how well they worked. If she hadn’t been a woman in that era, she could have been a director, and a superb one, at that.”

Dore Schary was immensely pleased with the dailies, and told Loretta that if she kept going like this, he believed she could win an Academy Award for the role. Loretta laughed. Nothing could be less probable in her mind. But the movie had brought her a new and invaluable friend-Ruth Roberts. “Special people seemed to pop up whenever I needed help or encouragement, whether in my professional or private lives,” Loretta said. “It was no coincidence.”

When Loretta was almost four months pregnant, she lost the baby. She and Tom were heartsick. As Schary had anticipated, he did have to shut down production for about two weeks while Loretta recovered, but even when she returned, she was depressed. Finally, “Tom and I were able to say to God, ‘Well, if it’s Your will, okay. We’ll trust that You have something better in mind.’ It was then that the pain of disappointment stopped.” Later, Loretta began to think of the child as “my little angel in heaven.”

The Farmer’s Daughter was released in spring 1947 to wide acclaim. Moviegoers loved it and so did the critics. Loretta was singled out for much praise, which was unusual since reviewers tended to dismiss her. Delighted, she started work on The Bishop’s Wife, another immensely charming movie featuring Cary Grant and her old pal David Niven. Both men were fun to have around. Cary was a natural athlete, who entertained everyone by walking on his hands between takes, and enjoyed skating in the movie’s winter scene. (Non-athletic Loretta, of course, used a double.) “Cary is probably the only leading man I didn’t fall in love with,” Loretta recalls. “But we were good friends. He was always searching for answers about faith and religion-we had some good talks.” The Bishop’s Wife was released to strong box office receipts in December, 1947. (In 1996, Bishop was redone as The Preacher’s Wife, starring Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington.)

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