Loretta Young (born Gretchen Young; 6 January 1913 – 12 August, 2000) was an American actress. Starting as a child actress, she had a long and varied career in film from 1917 to 1953. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in the film The Farmer's Daughter (1947), and received her second Academy Award nomination for her role in Come to the Stable (1949). Young moved to the relatively new medium of television, where she had a dramatic anthology series, The Loretta Young Show, from 1953 to 1961. The series earned three Emmy Awards, and was re-run successfully on daytime TV and later in syndication. In the 1980s, Young returned to the small screen and won a Golden Globe for her role in Christmas Eve in 1986.
Loretta Young was born Gretchen Young in Salt Lake City, Utah, the daughter of Gladys and John Earle Young. When she was two years old, her parents separated, and when she was three, her mother moved the family to Hollywood. She and her sisters Polly Ann and Elizabeth Jane (better known as Sally Blane) all worked as child actresses, but of the three, Gretchen was the most successful.
Young's first role was at the age of two or three in the silent film Sweet Kitty Bellairs. During her high-school years she was educated at Ramona Convent Secondary School. She was signed to a contract by John McCormick, husband and manager of actress Colleen Moore, who saw the young girl's potential. Moore gave her the name Loretta, explaining that it was the name of her favorite doll.
Young was billed as Gretchen Young in the silent film Sirens of the Sea (1917). She was first billed as Loretta Young in 1928, in The Whip Woman. In 1929, she was named one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars.
In 1930, when she was 17, she eloped with 26-year-old actor Grant Withers with whom she was married in Yuma, Arizona. The marriage was annulled the next year, just as their second movie together (ironically entitled Too Young to Marry) was released.
From September 1933 to June 1934, she had a well publicized affair with actor Spencer Tracy (who was married to Louise Tracy), her co-star in Man's Castle.
In 1934 Young co-starred with Cary Grant in Born to be Bad, and in 1935 co starred with Clark Gable in the film version of Jack London's The Call of the Wild, directed by William Wellman. During filming, the two had an affair.
Young was then 22 years old; Gable was 34 and married. Young became pregnant by Gable.
Young, a devout Catholic, considered abortion a mortal sin, so when her pregnancy began to advance, she went on a "vacation" to England. Young gave birth to a daughter, Judith, on November 6, 1935, in Venice, California. Young named Judith after St. Jude because he was the patron saint of (among other things) difficult situations. Weeks after her birth, Judith was placed in an orphanage where she spent the next 19 months in various "hideaways and orphanages" before being re-united with her mother; Young then claimed that she had adopted Judith.
In 1940, Young married producer Tom Lewis. They had two sons: Peter Lewis (of the San Francisco rock band Moby Grape); and Christopher Lewis, a film director. Judith, Young's daughter by Clark Gable, took Lewis's last name.
Young and Lewis divorced in the mid-1960s.
In 1947, Young won an Oscar for her performance in The Farmer's Daughter.
That same year, she co-starred with Cary Grant and David Niven in The Bishop's Wife, a perennial favorite, which was remade in 1996 as The Preacher's Wife starring Denzel Washington, Whitney Houston & Courtney B. Vance.
In 1949, she received another Academy Award nomination for Come to the Stable.
In 1953, she appeared in her last theatrical film, It Happens Every Thursday, a Universal comedy about a New York couple who move to California to take over a struggling weekly newspaper; her co-star was John Forsythe.
After her career as film actress basically finished in 1953, Young started her work in Television. She hosted and starred in the well-received half-hour anthology television series Letter to Loretta (soon retitled The Loretta Young Show), which was originally broadcast from 1953 to 1961. She earned three Emmy awards for the program.
Her trademark was a dramatic entrance through a living room door in various high-fashion evening gowns. She returned at the program's conclusion to offer a brief passage from the Bible or a famous quote that reflected upon the evening's story. The program ran in prime time on NBC for eight years, the longest-running primetime network program hosted by a woman up to that time.
From the time of Young's retirement in the 1960s until not long before her death, she devoted herself to volunteer work for charities and churches with her friends of many years: Jane Wyman, Irene Dunne, and Rosalind Russell. Young briefly came out of retirement to star in two television films: Christmas Eve (1986) and Lady in a Corner (1989). She won a Golden Globe Award for the former and was nominated for the latter.
In 1988, Young received the Women in Film Crystal Award for outstanding women who through their endurance and the excellence of their work helped expand the role of women in the entertainment industry.
In 1993, Young married for the third and final time, to the fashion designer Jean Louis, who has designed the Marilyn Monore dress which she worn for Jack Kennedy's birthday in 1962.
Their marriage lasted until his death in April 1997.
Loretta Young died of ovarian cancer on 12 August 2000, at the home of her maternal half-sister, Georgiana Montalbán (the wife of actor Ricardo Montalban) in Santa Monica, California. She was interred in the family plot in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. Her ashes were buried in the grave of her mother, Gladys Belzer.
Through her life, Loretta Young refused to confirm or comment publicly on the real identity of her daughter Judith Lewis until 1999, when Joan Wester Anderson wrote Young's authorized biography. In interviews with Anderson for the book, Young stated that Lewis was her biological child and the product of a brief affair with Gable. Young would not allow the book to be published until after her death.