|Loretta Young and Judy Lewis|
So imagine if you were "adopted" by your "birth" mother and raised as an "adopted child." Your mother later marries, and has two "of her own." You take her husband's name, but you are still the "adopted child" in the family. When you ask your mother "as adopted children do. They say, 'Where are my.... Who's my mother? Who's my father" And she would answer very easily by saying, 'I couldn't love you anymore than if you were my own child.' Which of course didn't answer the question, but it said, 'Don't ask the question.'" *
And he says: "It's common knowledge, Judy. Your father is Clark Gable."
"Judy Lewis, Secret Daughter of Hollywood, Dies at 76" read the headline in today's New York Times. She was 32 before she discovered the web of lies that cast her, the real life daughter of Hollywood royalty, into what she described as a "Cinderella-like childhood" as the outsider, the adopted daughter of Loretta Young. The facts are this:
Young was 22 and unmarried in 1935 when she had a brief affair with Clark Gable, 34 and married, on the set of The Call of the Wild (apt title). Young was Catholic and abortions were not only forbidden, they were against the law everywhere. A pregnancy would have been a huge scandal and ruined her career. Young spent most of her pregnancy in Europe hiding from public scrutiny, but gave birth to her daughter in a rented house (still obviously hiding) in Venice, California. The infant was turned over to a series of caretakers, and Young returned to Hollywood. When her daughter was 19 months old, Young brought the baby home and announced through the gossip columnist Louella Parsons that she had adopted the child. Given the mores of the day, and the pressures to not be a woman like that, we can say that Young was clever to find a way to keep her baby and her career, given what happened to others who had babies when not married to the fathers.
But how about letting your child in on the big secret?
THE AWFUL POWER OF SECRETS
Even after Lewis confronted her mother with the truth, Young refused to fess up. Eight years later in 1966 Young finally made a tearful confession. I can hardly imagine the raw and powerful emotions of both Young--who had kept this secret so buried that she couldn't even tell the truth when you daughter came to her knowing it--and that of Lewis, who has to absorb and accept that her mother found a way to keep and raise her, but kept the truth from her until she was 31. Like, wow.
As someone who felt the stigma of the mid-Sixties--that free-love era that people imagine sure as hell did not exist in my world of 1966--and kept my pregnancy as hidden as possible, not even telling my parents, I can empathize with the pressure that Loretta Young felt. Decades later when the married Ingrid Bergman became pregnant by director Robert Rosellini in 1949, the public scandal in America killed her Hollywood career for several years. Talk about scandal: so great was the uproar from the public and pulpit, she was even denounced on the Senate floor, and Ed Sullivan refused to have her on his show. (She and Rossellini had a son; then twins, one of whom is actress Isabella Rossellini.) In 1966, I had to quit my job--it was unusual enough being a woman reporter not in the "women's department"--but single and pregnant? Forget about it. I went into deep hiding.
But good lord, why not come clean to her daughter at some age before it was forced out of her? This, I don't like about Loretta Young. As a child I watched The Loretta Young Show on television (1953-1961), on Sunday nights with my mother. Young introduced the dramatic series in a incredibly fashionable outfit, and she's swirl around as she shut the door behind her (supposedly her living room) as she walked into yours. Her public persona was that of a classy lady, above reproach and forever glamorous, which is probably one reason I liked the show--what was she wearing tonight? Loretta Young "get in trouble" like that? Unthinkable. The dramas themselves were about some problem that supposedly someone had written her about; I would imagine they stayed away from adoption-themed stuff. Young acted in half of the shows herself.
As I recall, when I got older I myself heard the rumor that the adopted daughter of Young was actually her daughter--it's possible that I even heard this from my mother when I was a teenager. But apparently this common knowledge had not reached Lewis. Everyone kept the big secret of her life from her, a story we all too often hear from adoptees.
Young did tell the truth to a biographer, with the stipulation that it not be published until she died; but
|Judy Lewis around 1977|
"I refused to be dismissed that easily," Lewis wrote. "It all came pouring out — all the years of hurt and abandonment, all the feelings of not belonging, of being an outsider in my own family, years of repressed emotions that couldn't be contained any longer. The floodgates were opened and the words flowed unchecked."
"'No. I will never acknowledge what I consider a mortal sin — my mortal sin,'" Young replied, according to Lewis.
In an interview later Lewis said, "It was very difficult for me as a little girl not to be accepted or acknowledged by my mother who, to this day, will not publicly acknowledge that I am her biological child." After the book was published, Young did not speak to her daughter for three years. Young died in 2000.
AND DOESN'T SHE LOOK LIKE HER FATHER?
Lewis did have a career as an actress, appearing in a television soap for many years (The Secret Storm), and on Broadway; she also produced television shows. I don't know what kind, if any, of a relationship she ever had with her father. He died in 1960, two years after Lewis's fiance told her the rumor that was the truth. Later Lewis became a clinical psychologist and a licensed family and child counselor. She certainly had the personal family drama to call upon in her therapy.
It's the terrible force of public censure that makes these stories. It's the understanding of the powerful emotions unleashed by the story that makes them compelling. Today they are still the terrible reality of too many people's lives. Maybe it is impossible for many if not most adoptees to have what we could call a good relationship with their first/birth mothers, but at least the censure in most quarters (save Utah) is at least eroded to the point where being a single mother is not cause for a public and ruinous scandal.--lorraine
And for an ironic treat, watch the video below. Amazing.
*The above quote is from an interview on Larry King.
**("Positive adoption language purists, take note--how Un PC was that? Real father, real mother.)
The Times obit: Judy Lewis, Secret Daughter of Hollywood, Dies at 76