Thursday, March 19, 2009

Myrna Loy | Vamp Gypsy & Asian Femme Fatale

Young Myrna Williams, who would later be known as screen star Myrna Loy, had her theatrical debut around 1918

Myrna Loy (August 2, 1905 – December 14, 1993) was trained as a dancer, but after a few minor roles in silent films, she devoted herself fully to an acting career, and from 1925 gradually established herself as a film actress. She was initially typecast in exotic roles, often as a vamp, before career prospects improved following her performance as Nora Charles successfully paired with William Powell in The Thin Man (1934).

Her silent film roles were mainly those of exotic women including vamps in Finger Prints, (1927) to gypsies The Squall (1929) to Mexican senoritas Rogue of the Rio Grande (1930) to Asian femme fatales The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932). Studios thought she was perfect for Asian roles, thus casting her in yellowface several times such as parts in A Girl in Every Port and The Show of Shows to a lead role playing an Indian princess in John Ford's The Black Watch.

Her breakthrough occurred with the advent of talkies: she appeared in 1927's The Jazz Singer as an uncredited chorus girl. In 1929 she improvised a "foreign" accent, sang and danced in Warner Brothers' first musical The Desert Song (1929). Loy later commented on the film's success and noted " kind of solidified my exotic non-American image".

One of the last of these roles was Thirteen Women (1932) in which she played a vengeful half-caste named Ursula Georgi. For a few years she struggled to overcome this stereotype with many producers and directors believing that while she was perfect as femmes fatales she was capable of little more.
1926 film Across the Pacific

FURTHER READING The Orientalization of Myrna Loy »

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