Excerpt From 'Forever Young'

“Loretta, thank God for you.” He hugged her. “You probably saved the Academy! You’re the only winner who didn’t finish first in the poll!” (Loretta 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.)

Loretta bolted to the phone backstage, and immediately dialed Gladys’ number. “Mama!” she cried, “It’s Gretch! I won!”

”That’s nice, dear,” a sleepy Gladys answered. “What did you win?” Gladys had never been impressed with the Academy Awards, considering them just another public relations ploy. It would be years before she recognized the significance of her daughter’s achievement.

There were so many reporters waiting for Loretta backstage (the studio had not even made up a biography on her) that by the time she posed for the last photo, and answered the last question, the auditorium had emptied, and the streets were practically deserted. Tom and Loretta came outside to discover that their limousine was gone, probably grabbed by another group. “I remember looking up at the buildings across the street from the auditorium, still clutching my Oscar, while Tom went to find a cab,” she said. “I was in a fog, but a woman hung out her window and shouted congratulations to me. It was marvelous.”

They went on to Ciro’s for the studio party. Each studio had its own table, and since Roz and Loretta’s movies had both been made at the same studio, they were to sit together. But where was Roz? The luster of Loretta’s evening would be dimmed forever if her friend had decided to skip the party. Oh, dear. She noticed the waiters quickly changing the card at the winner place setting from “Rosalind Russell” to “Loretta Young.” How embarrassing! Everyone seemed to be watching her or the entrance, waiting for the two women to meet.

All of a sudden, a stir went through the room. Roz and Freddie had appeared at the door. It seemed to take them forever to work their way through the crowd, but they were coming straight to her and Tom, and Roz was smiling. At last! The two women embraced. “If I couldn’t have won, thank God it was you!” Roz whispered.

“And that,” Loretta said years later, “was Roz.”

Loretta and Tom got home at dawn, to a stack of congratulatory messages. Amid them was one from Sister Marina, her first-grade teacher. Sister had sent blessings from her infirmary sick bed to a favorite pupil, one who now obviously had her own secretary! (And a Catholic husband too.) Just a few hours later, Loretta’s entire extended family-Mama, siblings, nephews and nieces-arrived for a gala breakfast.

****

The Academy Awards ceremony had been a major event for Loretta. But no one who knew her well was surprised when, the following weekend she avoided the limelight and went off to her annual religious retreat at Marymount. God was there for asking, but also for thanking and praising. And she needed a quiet place where she could think.

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