Former journalist, The China Post, Taipei, Taiwan.
I have been a fan of Loretta Young for many years and always admired her graceful elegance. I never imagined I would one day have the opportunity to meet her in person and experience first hand her genuine grace and hospitality.
How I met Loretta Young, whom I fondly refer to as LY (from the way she signed her notes and letters to me), was a complete surprise. Even now, I can’t help smiling as I recall the circumstances. It occurred in Taipei, Taiwan during the month of October 1966. At the time I was Feature Editor on the staff of The China Post, and in that capacity attended a Rotary International luncheon meeting at which Ruth Roberts, a television producer and close associate of LY, was the guest speaker. I had an opportunity to interview her and subsequently wrote a comprehensive feature article about her for the paper. The day the article appeared Ruth telephoned me to thank me and inform me that LY was coming to Taipei.
The day LY arrived I arranged to leave the paperearly so I could attend her scheduled news conference. By the time I found a parking place the news conference was underway so I stood in the back of the crowded room. I had a clear view of the proceedings as I observed Loretta Young graciously answering questions, smiling her radiant smile and quietly relying on her interpreter. When the session was over, LY stood and thanked everyone for coming. I returned to the paper and wrote a feature article for Sunday’s Women’s Page. Monday morning I received a telephone call from Ruth Roberts. She liked the piece I wrote about LY and then said someone wished to talk with me. I recognized the next voice; it was LY herself! “How were you able to write such an in depth article when we haven’t met?” I tried to explain that it was just some thing I seem able to do based on my impressions and hoped my answer would be adequate. When I went home after work that day I couldn’t wait to share my conversation with my husband.
The next morning LY phoned me at work and asked if I would have time to come to her suite at The Grand Hotel. When I arrived I was immediately put at ease. She was very cordial and down-to-earth. I was surprised when she asked me to accompany her as often as I could during her Taipei tour. In the meantime, she had some ideas for articles she would like me to ghost-write for her…if I was willing. I tried not to choke and heard myself say I would be pleased to work with her. A large tape recorder with a big reel of recording tape sat on the coffee table; a mike was placed next to the recorder. LY looked at me and said it would be easier to use the recorder and just let her thoughts flow as we talked. The recording would be for me to use as a reference. She turned on the recorder and began talking and revealed her many ideas for articles, books, etc. We chatted for over two hours and we soon realized how much we agreed about the current events of the day. As LY shared an idea about a news article she would say, “But you know how I feel about this,” or “Marlene, we think alike on this so just write it according to your views.” These sessions continued another two days. In the meantime, LY invited me to join her for lunch at the hotel. Josie Wayne, her traveling companion and wife of the actor John Wayne, accompanied us. Being a shy person, I concentrated on appearing poised as I walked into the restaurant with LY and Josie. We were shown to our table and heads turned and a little murmur rippled through the room as diners recognized LY. Soon after we were seated, a few diners came to our table and asked for LY’s autograph. She graciously obliged and we attended to our lunch.
One day I offered to drive LY to a certain silk store in the heart of downtown Taipei. She was to be met there by a Chinese interpreter. I picked her up at the hotel and without hesitation she hopped into my little white 1966 VW bug. I smiled and told her my limo was in the shop. We both laughed and off we went to shop for some silk brocade. There was a stir of excitement as the shop clerks recognized LY. With the interpreter’s help, she made a sizable purchase and asked to have it delivered to her hotel. On our drive back to the Grand I told LY I noticed she never wore dark glasses against the glare of the sun and asked her why. Her response was another insight into what makes her tick: “I never wear dark glasses when I’m in public. Fans like to see the eyes of their favorite personalities, and since fans help pay my bills it’s the least I can do to acknowledge their loyalty.”
I tagged along during a visit to a Leper Sanitarium a few miles south of Taipei, unsure of what to expect. We were led into a small room where several seated patients awaited a visit from the lady from Hollywood. Josie Wayne and I quietly looked on. With an interpreter by her side, LY went to each patient and knelt down to look them full in the face, some minus noses. She gently stroked their face and then held their gnarled hands, some were stumps minus fingers. She spoke softly to them, smiling her radiant smile. I stood in awe as I watched this lady from Hollywood express her love and compassion to these wretched souls suffering from the merciless ravages of leprosy. She brought them a measure of happiness and self-worth that day, and I learned an unforgettable lesson.
My husband Tom and I invited LY, Josie Wayne and Ruth Roberts to our home for a family-style Mongolian bar-be-cue dinner. It was a casual meal held outdoors to prepare and cook the meal and indoors to leisurely eat it. Our cook was thrilled when I told her she would be cooking for LY. She wore her fanciest silk brocade cheongsam and a hint of lipstick colored her smiling lips. She could not stop smiling as LY watched her, and she explained the different ingredients used to create this tasty Mongolian meal. LY happily posed with Han Hsu as well as with my four children. The evening was a relaxed and happy event.
As a guest of the Nationalist Chinese Government, LY was given a special tour of Quemoy, a tiny island fortress off the coast of mainland China. She wanted me to make that trip with her, so I could submit an article to Reader’s Digest on her behalf. I soon found myself boarding an old camouflaged WWII twin engine DC-3 headed for Quemoy! That was one flight that will live in my memory forever. Bench-like seating lined both sides of the bare fuselage interior. Some of the windows were gone. I found a small space to sit and placed my tote bag on the floor between my feet. I groped for a seat belt; there was none. My fellow packed-in passengers were returning soldiers, wives, crying children, along with crates of live clucking chickens, quacking ducks, and one bleating goat. It was at this point I realized I was sitting next to an open window. Once the door was closed and we were underway, I was glad I had an open window seat. To add to the thrill of this flight we had to fly under the Communist radar and we literally skimmed across the cresting ocean waves. The return trip later that day was equally thrilling.
Looking back on this brief time, about ten days in all, it was a difficult balancing act to cover my job at the newspaper and accompany LY, but it helped me grow as a writer. LY helped many people reach beyond their limits and recognize their potential in whatever endeavor they undertook. She certainly gave me the confidence to broaden my writing horizons.
I shall always remember Loretta Young, the Lady from Hollywood, as a generous, gracious, gentle-hearted soul who loved her Lord and gave loving compassion to those in desperate need.