Fame is so fleeting. Tell a Generation X'er that Loretta Young died Saturday at age 87 and the response would likely be "Loretta who?" That's a shame, because hers is one of Hollywood's great success stories. To achieve it, she had to overcome a great asset, which gradually became an obstacle -- her beauty.
Young debuted as a leading lady at 15. Most actresses are still playing children at that age. But Young's distinctive high cheekbones, creamy complexion and luminous eyes simply overpowered the camera.
While this led to a long and lucrative career, Young was stymied by the parts she was given in movies. Too often she was simply a elegantly gowned decoration, with little character to portray. Many came to believe that looking glamorous was all she could do.
In 1947, Young delivered a resounding rebuttal to her critics with her role in "The Farmer's Daughter." Her performance as a Swedish farm girl from Minnesota who runs for Congress was so captivating that she won the Academy Award as best actress.
However, as is often the case in Hollywood, the award improved her paycheck more than the quality of parts she was offered. In 1953, when television beckoned, Loretta Young still felt she had much to accomplish.
When she became producer and star of "The Loretta Young Show," a weekly dramatic anthology series, Young finally had the creative control to play any part she wished, and made the most of it. Young's entrance, in which she'd sweep onto the set in an eye-filling gown to introduce each episode, became her trademark. But that was virtually the only concession to her old, fluffy image. Young gorged herself on acting challenges that had always been denied her, playing characters of widely varying ages and nationalities.
The show was an absolute triumph. It ran for 10 years and more than 300 episodes, earning Young seven nominations for best starring actress, which she won three times.
When "The Loretta Young Show" reached the end of its run in 1963, Young decided to retire from the screen. She made one other acting appearance, in the 1986 television movie "Christmas Eve," and probably only did that to show her longtime fans that neither her looks nor acting ability had dimmed. Once again, and for the last time, Loretta Young proved her point.
Hollywood is notorious for its many, Marilyn Monroe-type beautiful losers who the world can never seem to forget. But Loretta Young was one its biggest winners, and she also deserves to be remembered.
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