Saturday, December 3, 2011
"Yes, I Am Clark Gable's Daughter"
"Yes, I am Clark Gable's daughter. My mother is Loretta Young."
That was the explosive way Judy Lewis introduced herself to me in 1994 when she was on a promotional tour for her autobiography.
The thing was in 1986 I'd scored a major scoop in Toronto by being the only Canadian reporter allowed on the set of Loretta Young's TV movie comeback called Christmas Eve.
Getting Young to agree to a one-on-one interview had been difficult but on the very last day of shooting she relented.
The head of NBC International which was making the movie simply told her the film had not yet been sold to a Canadian network "because people don't know who you are anymore."
At first Young said she'd give me 15 minutes but seven hours later she was still talking and reminiscing about her great career.
At 73 she was indeed still gorgeous and enviably wrinkle free.
And finally as she prepared for her last scene of the movie I took my leave but not before she offered this compliment: "Thank you for not asking the usual question."
And I said "If I had what would your answer have been?"
Young: "That if true it was the most romantic moment in Hollywood history."
The story was that Young and Clark Gable had an affair on the set of Call Of The Wild (1935). When the deeply religious Young learned she was pregnant she refused to use the studio abortionist but instead went to Europe for months returning anonymously on a ship that docked at Montreal.
From there she proceeded by train via Toronto and Chicago and then had what turned out to be a lovely daughter who was born in a private home in Venice, California. She then arranged to formally adopt the daughter so no one in Hollywood would ever suspect.
To be an unwed mother in 1935 Hollywood would have meant banishment by the studios all of whom had morality clauses in their contracts.
Gable offered to divorce his wife and marry her but Young simply refused.
When I told all this to Judy Lewis, her daughter, eight years later she briefly burst into tears.
Lewis had been told she was adopted and lived with her mother who subsequently married producer Tom Lewis. Young subsequently had two sons by Lewis.
"Growing up I longed to find my real mother. Little did I know she was right beside me."
Judy Lewis talked about the loneliness of growing up thinking she was adopted. But one day in 1949 when she came home from school there was Clark Gable waiting for her in the living room.
"He held my hand, asked all kinds of questions for over an hour. And then he left and kissed me on the forehead. I never saw my father again."
But Lewis joked "I had his dumbo ears, so big I later had to have an operation to reduce them."
Only when she was about to be married did Judy Lewis learn "from my husband" that she indeed was the daughter of Loretta Young and Clark Gable.
"My mother would not admit it to me until 1966. She called me a mortal sin which truly angered me."
In 1994 Judy Lewis was already 59 and had been through several careers as an actress and later soap opera producer. She was studying to be a therapist dealing with traumas of adopted children, she said.
Her book titled Uncommon Knowledge caused a three year rift in her relationship with her mother. They were reconciled before Loretta Young's death from cancer at the age of 87 in 2000.
But when I asked Young for another interview when she was back in Toronto in 1987 making another TV movie she defiantly said "Never!" That movie had already been pre-sold to CTV and she turned down all interview requests.
Judy Lewis died on Nov. 25e of lymphoma at her Pennsylvania home.
She was 76 and is survived by a daughter and grand children.
I remember her saying "Sometimes the real stories of Hollywood are far more interesting than the movies." And how right she was.