After 20 years of stardom, her career seemed ready for the inevitable decline. Then producer Dore Schary offered her The Farmer’s Daughter, in which she would play a maid who ends up being elected to Congress. “Do you mean you want me to play it with a Swedish accent, a blond wig and all?” she asked. “Isn’t that dangerous?”
“Yes, but it could also win you an Academy Award,” said Schary.
No one else thought so. Rosalind Russell was the heavy favorite for Mourning Becomes Electra. When Miss Young was announced as best actress of 1947, the audience gasped in surprise. “At long last!” she sighed as she held the Oscar.
The award bolstered her career, and she went on to such films as The Bishop’s Wife (Cary Grant, David Niven), Come to the Stable (John Lund), Mother Was a Freshman (Van Johnson), Because of You (Jeff Chandler). Her last feature came in 1953 with It Happens Every Thursday (John Forsythe).
“Pictures were great, but there was no real communication with the audience,” she said in a 1966 interview. “The other aspects of being a movie star I can’t knock: the fame, the grand houses, the glamour, the money, friends.”
Worked for Charity
A lifelong Roman Catholic, the actress worked tirelessly for the church’s charities, including a home for unwed mothers and a children’s foundation. She insisted on propriety on her movie sets, and even enforced a kitty for her charities, to which set workers contributed a coin every time they swore. Legend has it that on Rachel and the Stranger, the irreverent Robert Mitchum loosed a spate of profanity and dropped $5 into the kitty.
Miss Young’s daughter Judy, adopted in the mid-’30s, claims Miss Young hid one lapse from traditional morality. In a 1994 book, Uncommon Knowledge, Ms. Lewis claimed she was the result of an affair between a married Gable and Miss Young. According to Ms. Lewis, Miss Young had her baby in secret in late 1935, then eventually “adopted” the child when she was 2.
A spokesman denied it, and in a 1995 New York Times interview, Miss Young refused to discuss the story, calling it a “rumor of a bygone time,” and adding, “I have made peace with my daughter.”
She was born Gretchen Young on Jan. 6, 1913, in Salt Lake City, where her father was a railroad auditor. She had two older sisters, Polly Ann and Elizabeth (who had her own movie career as Sally Blane) and younger brother, Jack.
When Gretchen was 3, her father abandoned his family. Her mother moved the children to Los Angeles and opened a boarding house. She later married and had a fourth daughter, Georgianna, who became the wife of Ricardo Montalban.
An uncle in the movie business found work for the Young girls as extras, and Gretchen started when she was 5. Eight years later, director Mervyn Leroy called the Young house with a role for Polly Ann in Naughty but Nice. “Polly Ann isn’t here; will I do?” Gretchen inquired. She made her acting debut in the comedy, and the star, Colleen Moore, changed the 13-year-old’s name to Loretta.
Throughout her career and afterward, she always appeared the movie queen, with perfect coiffure and makeup, dressed in the latest fashion, upbeat in her view of life. On the screen and off, she always seemed taller than her 5 feet 5 inches. She seldom varied from 109 pounds.
After the end of her TV series, she pursued the things denied her during the hectic years in the studios.