Sunday, August 2, 2009

Happy Birthday, Myrna Loy

Parnell Set

Myrna Loy and I have exactly three things in common. We're female, we grew up in Montana and we share the same birthday. Besides that, she more or less leaves me in the dust. I always liked sharing a birthday with someone so beautiful and talented, but she was also a champion of civil rights, was outspoken against Fascism and even made Hitler's blacklist, spoke out against McCarthyism and was politically active all her life, even living in Washington DC for a time. But, like our gender often is, she was complicated. I remember asking Mother once, long before I had seen any of her movies, if she was beautiful. Mother's reply stuck with me. "Oh, yes," she said somewhat wistfully, "She's very beautiful, but she has had trouble accepting growing old." I'm not sure why that stuck with me, other than I felt badly for her and, in my childish mind, thought it would be better to accept the natural progression of life. Later, when I was totally hooked on her movies and her life, I learned that was true. She was highly self-conscious of growing older, and the idea of taking on roles where she played the mother or aunt of a rising starlet was hard for her, but she did take on some of those roles and played them with her typical grace and effortless talent. For as much as I admire her, she also lived a life where things were done for her; by her own admission she couldn't "boil an egg." So, she was a little vain and spoiled, but that comes with the territory she traveled in, I suppose. I should add that, now that I am around the age she was when I posed that question to Mother, I am much more sympathetic to her predicament. I feel honored to share this day with her.

What does this have to do with my typical topics? Not much, other than, when I consider the many sides of her personality, I am reminded that people are such complicated creatures. There is the face they show the world, there is the image the world takes from that, and then there is their private self that very few others get to see. I knew that about this woman I admired so much, but I think I lost sight of it a little where my oldest daughter was concerned. I lost the possibility that the side of herself she showed me might not be who she really was in her heart. Now, from the journals she left behind and the total strangers who have contacted me to say how she touched their lives, I know the two sides of Kelsey were light and dark. So, here I am, on Myrna Loy's birthday, committing to not judge books by their covers. I wish that I could have this conversation with my daughter, but I hope that Myrna Loy is up there somewhere reading over my shoulder and will talk to her about it.

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