NEW YORK -- Screen great Myrna Loy, who spent more than a third of her 88 years building a career that went from silent films to television, died Tuesday at a Manhattan hospital following extended illness. She was 88.
The popular actress died at 6:22 p.m. EST at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, hospital administrator Pat Sommers said.
Born Aug. 2, 1905, on a cattle ranch near Helena, Mont., she was christened Myrna by her father, David Williams, because he was attracted to the name he saw on a railroad flagstop. She changed her last name to Loy while playing Asian roles.
She was discovered by Rudolph Valentino in the days of silent movies and remained a star for well over half a century, winning the title in 1936 as 'Queen of the Movies' in an national poll.
Although she never won an Oscar or even a nomination despite making scores of films, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored her with a gala evening at New York's Carnegie Hall in January 1985. The academy followed that in 1990 by giving Loy an honorary Oscar.
The red-haired, freckled-faced Loy began her career as an exotic dancer and achieved fame and a place in the hearts of the theater-going public as the consummate wife in the 'Thin Man' series with William Powell. In the rollicking detective stories on celluloid she epitomized the average male's ideal of a wife -- glamorous, exciting and yet domestic.
Her roles ranged from a bit part in 'Ben Hur' through a succession of Oriental dancer parts before she starred with Warner Baxter in 'Renegades.'
Her careerturned to serious performances in 'The Prizefighter and the Lady,' 'Broadway Bill,' 'Manhattan Melodrama,' 'The Great Ziegfeld' and the succession of 'Thin Man' stories. She was in 'Test Pilot' with Clark Gable and more than 120 other films, including the Academy Award-winning 'The Best Years of Our Lives' in 1946.
After the death of her father during the influenza epidemic of 1918, Myrna, her mother and younger brother, David, moved to Southern California. She had won honors in Montana in dancing school, and while attending high school in the Los Angeles community of Venice also taught dancing.
She got a job as a splicer in a motion picture studio and joined the ballet chorus of Grauman's Chinese Theater early in the 1920s.
Valentino, at that time the original Latin Lover and box office king at Paramount Pictures, saw a photograph of her and asked her to make a screen test.
'Valentino liked to discover people,' she recalled later. 'I was only 19 years old and thrilled at the thought of working in pictures.'
Loy didn't get the part she tested for but on the basis of the test was signed by the studio for 'What Price Beauty' in which she wore an exotic headdress and clinging gowns to slink across the stage.
Warner Bros. placed her under contract and her first talking picture role was as an Arabian dancer in 'The Desert Song.' Then came 'Renegades,' 'Transatlantic' and scores of other roles for every major studio in Hollywood.
In real life, Hollywood's 'perfect wife' married four times, first in 1936 to producer Arthur Hornblow Jr. She divorced him in 1942 and married automobile rental magnate John Hertz Jr. They were divorced in 1944.
Her next marriage was on Jan. 3, 1946, to producer Gene Markey. A divorce followed four years later. Her fourth husband was another movie producer, Howland Sargeant. They were married June 2, 1952, and divorced May 31, 1960.
During her marriage to Sargeant, Loy became active in politics, including taking a non-salary post with the United Nations as film advisor to UNESCO.
She also was active in social causes in New York.
She moved gracefully from leading lady roles to character parts, explaining her decision to accept lesser parts very probably was the reason she continued to make movies in her 70s.
She appeared in many television productions, including 'Summer Solstice' with Henry Fonda in 1980 and in episodes of 'Love, Sidney,' 'Columbo' and 'Ironsides,' and toured in stage roles. But she continued to accept top roles in films, including 'Airport 1975,' and 'Just Tell Me What You Want,' filmed in 1979. She had a cameo role in 'The End' in 1978.
On a visit to Montana midway in her career she bought the ranch where she was born and used it as a vacation retreat.
The Motion Picture Academy on Jan. 15, 1985, honored Loy with a benefit gala at Carnegie Hall in New York that reviewed the highlights of her career including a 'lost' movie in which she starred in 1932.
Among those who appeared on stage to recall their work and experiences with her were Lillian Gish, Sylvia Sidney, Robert Mitchum, Maureen O'Sullivan, Burt Reynolds, Maureen Stapleton, Tony Randall and Lauren Bacall.
The tribute included clips from great Loy film classics including 'The Thin Man' and 'Topaz.' Gene Allen, president of the Academy, observed that although Loy was never nominated for an Oscar award, her career was 'absolutely magnificent -- she is the best.'
The 'lost' movie was 'The Animal Kingdom,' which Warner Bros. bought for remake, intending to destroy all prints of the original. A print was found in Warner's vaults during a search for lost footage for the Academy's restoration of 'A Star is Born.'
'The Animal Kingdom,' which co-starred Leslie Howard and Ann Harding, was the first film in which Loy played a suave sophisticate instead of a Eurasian siren. It led to her casting by director W. S. Van Dyke as Nora Charles in 'The Thin Man' pictures with Powell.