Loretta Young, elegant lady of Hollywood, dies aged 87

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Loretta Young, one of the most prolific Hollywood actresses of the studio era whose grace and high-cheekboned elegance kept her working in film and television for 40 years, died yesterday in Los Angeles at the age of 87.

Loretta Young, one of the most prolific Hollywood actresses of the studio era whose grace and high-cheekboned elegance kept her working in film and television for 40 years, died yesterday in Los Angeles at the age of 87.

Her career began with silent movies and went out with her own long-running show on the small screen. Along the way, she starred opposite just about every male star of her day, and worked with directors such as Frank Capra, Cecil B DeMille, John Ford and Orson Welles.

Having established herself as a contract player, initially with First National and then with Twentieth Century Fox, she won the Best Actress Oscar relatively late in her life for her turn as a Swedish maid who gets elected to Congress in the 1947 comedy The Farmer's Daughter. "At long last!" she famously sighed as she clutched her statuette at the Academy Awards.

Ms Young had the perfect physique for Hollywood - stick-thin (she weighed little more than seven stone) but broad-shouldered enough to appear taller than her 5ft 5ins. In The Loretta Young Show, which ran for most of the 1950s and early 1960s, she made fun of her own iconic status by making a grand entrance each week in a sweeping movie-star gown.

Her performances were often more memorable than the productions she appeared in. She had the bad luck never to appear in a film of enduring appeal. Directors tended to cast her in their less memorable projects. With Capra, it was Platinum Blonde (1931), and with Welles the surprisingly conventional Nazi escape drama The Stranger (1949).

At a time when movie studios were like factory production lines and actors given little choice of roles, Ms Young nevertheless shone as a versatile performer who maintained strict professional standards. There were years in which she appeared in as many as 10 films. Among her best-known were Born to be Bad (1934) with Cary Grant, Call of the Wild (1935) with Clark Gable, and Shanghai (1935) with Charles Boyer.

Ms Young entered show business at the age of four, thanks to an uncle in the industry. Her father had walked out on the family a year earlier, forcing her mother to move to Los Angeles from Salt Lake City and start a boarding-house.

By the time she was a teenager, Gretchen Michaela Young had become Loretta Young and was working regularly. She eloped with one of her co-stars, Grant Withers, when she was 17, but the relationship did not work out.

She married twice more, once to the producer-writer Thomas Lewis, and again, when she was 80 years old, to her long-standing companion, fashion designer Jean Louis.

A lifelong Catholic, she threw much of her energy into charity work, particularly after her retirement in 1963. "She was an incredible lady," her agent Norman Brokaw said yesterday on announcing her death from ovarian cancer. "I learned from her that if you can handle yourself with class and dignity, you can work as long as you want in this business."

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