(The original version of this post appears in my column in today's Keene, Sentinel)
(Young in, "She Had to Say Yes" which, apparently, she did)
Judy Lewis 2002 - The apple didn't fall far from the tree
About 75 years ago, when Hollywood starlet Loretta Young started filming “Call of the Wild” with film icon Clark Gable, she probably didn’t imagine her responding to such a “Call” would change her life forever. Single and a “devout Catholic,” Young left the film shoot pregnant and fearing a scandal that would devastate her career and Gable’s.
The daughter born of that union, Judy Lewis, 76, died this month. Lewis spent much of her life grappling with the painful reality that she was raised as Young’s “adopted” child rather than her natural born child. Lewis as even kept in seclusion by Young for a few months following her birth, then actually placed in a children’s home only to be retrieved two years later. All this was to add more credibility to the adoption myth.
In her 1994 book, Uncommon Knowledge, Lewis wrote of the painful abandonment she felt and, ironically, the truth about her parentage was the one issue that created divisive friction between mother and daughter their entire adult lives. Young only told Lewis who her father was after Gable died in 1966 when Lewis was in her 30’s.
Lewis wrote that a similar situation evolving when her book was published would not have caused such a stir. Today, 16 years beyond that, it not only creates no stir, it is almost common practice. Single women have and raise children of their own with no marriage plan: celebrities routinely have sumptuous weddings where their toddler out-of-wedlock children serve as ring bearers and flower girls.
In today’s new context, it is not uncommon to hear comments about what some see as the deteriorating morality of our society. Single parenthood is still frowned upon by many, and “single mothers,” in particular have become an idiom for “loose and irresponsible” women, despite the fact that their loved and cared-for children often seem perfectly content and thriving.
Though every child in an ideal world deserves and should have two loving parents, there can be no question that one loving and caring parent is certainly better than subjecting any child to the kind of abandonment, shame and rejection Loretta Young used against her daughter. Going through the bureaucratic hoops of placing the baby in an orphanage only to fetch her again two years later to raise her as an “adopted” child gives new meaning to the word bizarre. And to withhold the identity of the child’s true father until after that father was dead and the child over thirty years-old makes it clear whose interests the mother protected.
Unplanned pregnancies happen. Sometimes they are terminated: usually they go forward to the birth of a child. When that happens, both the mother and the father of that child have an obligation to the child. In Judy Lewis’s case, her mother clearly favored her career and former lover over her child.
Clark Gable as the father, on the other hand, apparently was telling them both what he told Scarlet in “Gone with the Wind”—that, “Frankly, my dear[s], I don’t give a damn.”