I’ve always been a big fan of the Thin Man movies of the 1930s and 1940s starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. Last year I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Myrna Loy had a long history of liberal activism.
During World War II, Loy temporarily gave up acting to devote most of her time working with the Red Cross. She was so fiercely outspoken against Adolf Hitler that her name appeared on his blacklist, resulting in her films being banned in Germany. She also helped run a Naval Auxiliary canteen and toured frequently to raise funds for the war efforts.
Loy was a passionate Democrat who strongly supported Franklin Roosevelt and became close friends of Eleanor Roosevelt. She spoke out against Joe McCarthy’s red-baiting in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In 1947 Loy sued the Hollywood Reporter for accusing her of being a communist and dared the House Un-American Activities Committee to call her in to testify.
During the 1930s, Myrna Loy spoke out for better jobs for black actors. She fought for racial equality her entire life. During the 1960s, Loy assumed an influential role as co-chairman of the Advisory Council of the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing. Myrna Loy worked for the presidential campaigns of FDR, Adlai Stevenson, John F. Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy.
Here is an excerpt of an article by Lara Gabrielle Fowler for Backlots that was very informative:
As she became familiar with the Hollywood landscape, she noticed the inequality afforded to black actors in Hollywood, and began to advocate for their rights within the industry. At one point, she approached her bosses at MGM with the issue. ‘Why does every Negro in a film have to play a servant?’ she asked…’
…In 1932, Loy was active in the election campaign of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and remained a champion of his ABC programs throughout his presidency. Onscreen, she became known as the witty and intelligent Nora Charles in The Thin Man series and her screen image quickly became that of the ‘perfect wife.’ But Loy never identified with that characterization and spent her time offscreen tirelessly advocating for the New Deal…
…She had managed to balance her career in Hollywood with her political work, and begin a new chapter of her career on the stage while at the same time throwing her support behind Adlai Stevenson in his presidential campaigns. When Stevenson didn’t run in 1960, Loy worked hard to stump for Kennedy. During the Kennedy campaign, he invited her to be part of his Conference on Constitutional Rights and American Freedom, where she met Hubert Humphrey and immediately befriended him. After Kennedy’s election, her closeness with Humphrey led to Loy’s involvement with the National Council Against Discrimination in Housing, where she worked throughout the Civil Rights Movement…
…On the subject of the Vietnam War, Loy identified with the college students who protested against the war and considered herself to be getting ‘more radical’ as she aged. She said that if work commitments with April Fools hadn’t prevented her from going to the 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention, she surely would have been arrested along with the antiwar protesters outside.
In this video, Illeana Douglas & Jane Fonda Discuss Myrna Loy in THE THIN MAN. Both Douglas and Fonda admire her for her acting and comic skills. In researching Loy’s background, Jane Fonda grew to admire Myrna Loy’s liberal activism.
Here is a video tribute to William Powell and Myrna Loy in the Thin Man series.