Myrna Loy, Hollywood's film queen of the 1930s and '40s, was honored tonight at a Carnegie Hall gala by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, whose Oscar she never won.
Loy, wearing a multicolored jeweled gown, rose from her seat in a first-tier box to receive the applause and cheers of a formally dressed audience who watched clips from her hit films and a full screening of her recently recovered "lost" 1932 classic, "The Animal Kingdom."
Asked at a pre-gala reception whether she thought the tribute was a belated one, the 79-year-old actress shrugged her shoulders and replied: "I don't think it could have come before this."
Loy listened intently as a parade of her co-stars and directors told anecdotes about her 60-year career in films, Broadway plays and television. They praised her for her cool professionalism, kindness and early involvement in the fight against racial discrimination.
Lauren Bacall was host of the program and was joined onstage, which was decorated by two giant gold Oscars, by Lillian Gish, Lena Horne, Robert Mitchum, Maureen O'Sullivan, Sylvia Sidney, Maureen Stapleton, Burt Reynolds, Teresa Wright, Tony Randall, Sidney Lumet and Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
Betty Comden and Adolph Green wrote the script for the tribute, which included clips from Loy film classics including "The Thin Man," "The Best Years of Our Lives" and "Test Pilot."
Gene Allen, president of the academy, said that although Loy was never nominated for an Oscar, her career was "absolutely magnificent -- she is the best."
"The Animal Kingdom," which Loy made with the late Leslie Howard in 1932, was Loy's first leading role as a white woman. She had played a succession of Oriental femme fatales in her early films, despite her red hair and a rash of freckles.
Born near Helena, Mont., she started in show business as a dancing teacher in Culver City, Calif., and was chosen to dance the Spirit of the Arctic Circle in the stage show with "The Thief of Baghdad" at Grauman's Chinese Theater.
Myrna Williams "temporarily" substituted the last name Loy, for its Oriental sound. But Rudolph Valentino, looking for an Oriental siren for the 1925 "What Price Beauty," saw her at Grauman's and the Third World femme fatale saga was on. Her first Occidental role, a small one, was in 1930 in "Renegades."When Warner Bros. bought "The Animal Kingdom" for a remake, it destroyed all prints of the original -- or so it was thought -- until a search for footage cut from "A Star Is Born" turned up one print in Warner's vaults.
The print was restored by the University of Southern California's film archives and was shown for the first time in 50 years tonight.