Uncommon Knowledge

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Loretta Young and Clark Gable became lovers in 1935 during the filming of CALL OF THE WILD. Their daughter, Judy Lewis, later adopted by Young, grew up not knowing who her father was. The book is more about the daughter’s search for love and understanding than about the Golden Age of Hollywood. Apparently, nearly everyone else in Hollywood knew the circumstances of Judy Lewis’ birth and kept the secret from Lewis and the general public. Lewis’ fiance, a television director from New York, had even heard the story. Lewis met Clark Gable only once—before she knew he was her father—for an extended conversation at her mother’s house in 1950 that left Lewis wondering why the famous star took such an interest in her. She finally forced her mother privately to admit and discuss the truth of her birth in 1966. To this day, Young has not publicly acknowledged that she is Judy Lewis’ natural mother.

The book’s presentation of Loretta Young is of a mostly cold, autocratic person whose celebrity status seems to have been the principal reason for her hardened, selfish behavior. A line from Billy Wilder’s film SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) comes to mind: “A dozen press agents working overtime can do horrible things to the human spirit.” Loretta Young provides a good case that early and prolonged fame can cripple a person emotionally. Examples of Young’s insensitivity to her daughter turn up, as expected, but there are also instances of her concern and care. The potential sensationalism and savagery of the book is muted by Judy Lewis’ tone of questioning rather than judging.

The author works in the 1990’s as a therapist and family counselor, and the facts of her life come across less as headline-grabbing scandals than as raw material to be understood and accepted. This means that her book is far less sensational than those by other celebrity children and more analytical and richer in insights. Its approach is a pleasant surprise.