The author makes her case that Myrna Loy (1905–1993) could inspire a fascinating biography, but she doesn’t really deliver one.
Though Loy was once one of Hollywood’s leading female stars, Leider (Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino, 2003, etc.) maintains that she was underappreciated, partly because of the subtlety of her craft. She was too much the complementary role player—most memorably as Nora to William Powell’s Nick Charles in The Thin Man and sequels—rarely the spotlight diva whose dark passions might pique the curiosity of the public. In this comprehensive and cliché-ridden biography, the author shows that irony, complexity and contradiction provided tension between Loy’s public image(s) and her private life. Initially known for the exotic features that inspired the Asian screen surname that the former Myrna Williams adopted, she was in fact an all-American, freckle-faced ranch girl from Montana. Later dubbed “the Perfect Wife” for the roles for which she was typecast, she had four broken marriages to men who were unfaithful to her and/or unsuitable for her. She was even the target of some McCarthy-era red-baiting, though the lifelong liberal Democrat was an outspoken anti-communist. Other than Loy’s autobiography, written toward the end of her long life, this is the first biography of the actress, and it draws heavily from Loy’s book. Leider offers a summary of every career step and (it seems) every one of the “staggering 124 films” she made. Yet either there wasn’t much psychological depth to Loy, or Leider was unable or unwilling to probe it. For all of the encyclopedic detail devoted to the life, the book mainly illuminates the art of “an enormously subtle actress, whose minimalism belied her mysterious powerhouse capabilities.” Such subtlety accounts for the fact that even when the Oscars paid considerable attention to her hits such as The Thin Man and The Best Years of Our Lives, they didn’t even bestow nominations on Loy.
Only for fans of a golden era of Hollywood stardom, as long as they’re not looking for much gossip or personal revelation.