The combo of big snowflakes falling and a Christmas movie is my perfect backdrop for wrapping presents, or even cleaning the house with holiday spirit. For the first time this season, I had an enjoyable afternoon with The Bishop’s Wife. Loretta Young and Cary Grant in the 1947 black-and-white original. Not to worry: I love the 1996 remake with Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington, too, re-titled The Preacher’s Wife and relocated to an African American neighborhood.
Whitney’s accidental death in 2012 adds a layer of wistfulness to all of her recorded performances, for many people, and I’m one of them. How to process her role in telling of a helpful angel come to Earth? Makes me wish angels could have saved her in real life, too.
But, it’s Loretta who gets me squinting at the screen trying to peer past the makeup and dazzling smiles. Because now we know that when lovely Loretta filming her version of the story, her real life was consumed by a spectacular lie. This isn’t exactly a NotMom’s story. This is about a woman in the spotlight who pretended to be childless, by any means necessary.
If you don’t know, Loretta Young’s roles in Hollywood were almost always The Good Girl, The Classy Girl…never the Knocked Up Hollaback Girl, and that was a MUCH bigger deal then than it is now. In actuality, devoutly Catholic, unmarried Loretta had a brief affair with a very married Clark Gable (right) and became pregnant.
in 1935, Loretta dropped her newborn daughter off at a convent,. Two years later, she retrieved the toddler and announced to the world that she’d adopted a child. Here’s how her daughter, Judy Lewis, summed it up in a 1994 memoir:
“Imagine that you’re given up for adoption at birth. At 2, you’re “adopted” by a wonderful woman who marries when you’re 5. He doesn’t like you and treats you badly. Your mother has 2 children with him. He refuses to adopt you, but you take his last name anyway.
At 31, you learn that your adopted mother is your birth mother. Soon after, you figure out what apparently, all of your friends, and all of Hollywood, already knew: Your father is a mega-famous actor — Clark Gable— and you met him only once.”
Long story short, Loretta finally confessed the truth face-to-face to her daughter, but never to the world. When Judy was 5 years old, Loretta married producer Tom Lewis. Wikipedia says “they divorced very bitterly in the mid-1960s.” Wonder if that’s when she told him the truth about her adopted daughter.
Loretta was furious when Judy’s revealing book was published, so she stopped speaking to her daughter until just before she died in 2000. (btw, Clark Gable died in 1960 without ever speaking to his daughter again.
Hiding your true relationship from the child you live with every day — until the kid is in its 30s, for gosh sake –has to drive a person a little nuts, don’tcha think? Yeah, that was decades ago, but why do I think it still happens more than we might imagine? Teen mothers pretending to have a little sister or brother instead of daughter or son seems most likely. And, the reverse can be true, too, when a woman literally delivers a baby and gives it to her childless sister. It happens.
If you’re wondering, Judy (left, in 2000) built a career as a family therapist, working with foster children and pregnant teens. She had children and grandchildren of her own. She may have come out of her mother’s drama in better shape than she had any right to be. She died in 2011.
Maybe there shouldn’t be any more remakes of The Bishop’s Wife. The lead actresses seem to be touched by other angels.
Image Credit: Jill Connelly/Associated Press