Morgan le Fay On Screen: Myrna Loy
The first actress to play Morgan le Fay in a talking picture was the great Myrna Loy in 1931’s A Connecticut Yankee. Born Myrna Adele Williams in 1905 in Montana to a musician mother and rancher father, Loy took dancing lessons and made her stage debut at the age of 12. After her father died in the influenza epidemic of 1918, her mother moved the family moved to Los Angeles. For a while Loy taught dancing and was in the chorus of Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, before she was spotted by a photographer and made her film debut in What Price Beauty? (1925), recommended for the role by Rudolph Valentino.
Typecast at first as exotic femmes fatales, Loy made over 60 films before she was contracted to MGM in 1931. At MGM she was gradually given more challenging roles and opportunities, broke out of her typecasting, and became one of the biggest and most admired stars of the era, excelling in drama and most especially comedy. Her series of Thin Man films, in which she and William Powell played the affluent husband and wife detective team Nick and Nora Charles, were phenomenally successful. In 1936, Loy was such a huge and beloved star that she was voted Queen of Hollywood in a national poll (Clark Gable was voted King).
Upon the outbreak of World War II, Loy put her career on hiatus to join the war effort, working for the Red Cross. Her public condemnation of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime led to her being put on Hitler’s blacklist and her films being banned in Germany. After the war, she had a major success in the Oscar-winning The Best Years of Our Lives, accepted an assignment to be a US representative with UNESCO in Paris, and later became a distinguished character actress in films and TV. Astonishingly, despite her popular success and critical acclaim, Loy was never even nominated for an Academy Award. Eventually, however, she was awarded an Honorary Oscar in 1991, two years before her death at the age of 88.
Before her golden MGM years, Loy starred as Queen Morgan le Fay in the 1931 film of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, titled simply A Connecticut Yankee. Released by Fox Film Corporation ten years after the previous 1921 adaptation, this version was also a popular success and was chosen as one of the year’s best films by the New York Times. Starring opposite comedian Will Rogers as Hank Martin, silent era star William Farnum as Arthur, and English actor Brandon Hurst as Merlin, Loy plays both the ‘seductive woman’ in the modern-day opening scenes and Morgan le Fay – described as a “femme heavy” – in the main story in Camelot, which is an extended dream. Loy’s role as Morgan le Fay is small but she makes an impact – AND gets to wear some fabulous costumes!