Los Angeles Loretta Young took the secret to her grave.
Now in a posthumous biography, the Academy Award winner ï¿½ who crafted an image of purity on and off the screen ï¿½ admits publicly for the first time that she gave birth to a child as the result of a brief fling in 1935 with her leading man, Clark Gable.
Because Young was unmarried at the time, her pregnancy was kept secret, and the baby girl was placed in an orphanage and later "adopted" by the actress, though no adoption papers were ever filed.
Hollywood had long speculated that Young and Gable were the girl's natural parents. But Young, who had earned a reputation as being deeply religious, never commented on the rumors in her lifetime ï¿½ even when daughter Judy Lewis wrote a 1994 book declaring that Gable was her father. Young's book of memoirs, "The Things I Had to Learn," published in 1961, never discussed the union.
Now, "Forever Young," by Joan Webster Anderson, and available in bookstores on Friday, helps to clarify the long-ago tryst. The author interviewed Young at her Palm Springs, Calif., home for two weeks in May 1999, then communicated extensively with her by telephone and mail.
Young had admired the work of Anderson, a writer of Christian inspirational books who had best sellers with "Where Angels Walk," "An Angel to Watch Over Me" and "The Power of Miracles," and asked her to do the biography.
After being turned down by major New York publishing houses, "Forever Young," which is filled with spiritual references, found a home with publisher Thomas More, an Allen, Tex., company that specializes in Catholic books.
Young died of ovarian cancer on Aug. 12 at age 87 at the Los Angeles home of her half-sister and brother-in-law, the Ricardo Montalbans.
A brief affair
Young and Gable, whose second marriage was on the rocks at the time, became acquainted on the snowy, Washington state location of "Call of the Wild," a Yukon adventure-romance loosely based on the Jack London novel. Gable and Young had the romantic leads, with Jack Oakie as comic relief.
"She said the tryst happened on the train coming home," Anderson remarked in an interview from her home in Prospect Heights, Ill. "She fully expected to date him when they got home, but she told him that sex would not be a part of it. He said that was all right."
Yet, once back in Hollywood, the romance never developed. Gable divorced Texas socialite Rhea Langham and later married actress Carole Lombard. Young went on to marry producer-writer Thomas Lewis.
Judy Lewis, 65, and bearing a striking resemblance to her mother, lives in West Hollywood. She is divorced with a grown daughter, and is licensed as a family therapist.
Interviewed at the Beverly Hills Hotel, which was once partly owned by Young, she was asked when she learned that she wasn't an adopted child.
"I guess it was about two weeks before I was to be married," she replied. "I said to my future husband, 'I can't marry you; I don't know who I am.' He said, 'Don't worry about it, I know everything about you. You're Clark Gable's daughter.' That's the first time I had heard that.
"Everybody else had. I grew up with movie children, and they all knew the story. Nobody ever told me, nobody. ...
"I had always felt there was something people weren't telling me. But every time I asked my mother, 'Why didn't my parents want me? Why was I adopted?' she'd divert me. She'd say something like, 'I couldn't love you any more than if you were my own child.' That stopped me."
After Lewis married, had a daughter and launched an acting career in New York City, she finally confronted her mother.
"I had been in therapy for two years, and I was ready to find out the truth about my background," she related. "I was working in a soap opera, and I took two days off to fly to L.A. Mom picked me up at the airport, and it took about 12 hours to say to her, 'Is my father Clark Gable?' She said yes, and then we spent the whole night as she told me everything: how it happened, where she was, how frightened she was, how she hid me and the knowledge of me from everybody except her family."
A one-time meeting
Since Young was devoted to Catholicism, abortion was out of the question. She made Cecil B. DeMille's "The Crusade" in her early pregnancy, then visited Europe with her mother.
She returned to Hollywood and was sequestered at her home, her physician reporting that she had an internal ailment that required surgery. Months later she began the postponed "Ramona," looking her usual slim self.
Her daughter was 19 months old when columnist Louella Parsons announced that she had been adopted by Loretta.
In 1950, Gable and Young were reunited on the screen as co-stars in "Key to the City," but their romance never rekindled.
It was during "Key to the City" that Lewis (who had taken the name of Young's second husband, Tom Lewis) had an encounter with her real father.
"I was 15, and I came home one day to find Clark Gable standing in my living room," she recalled. "I was thrilled, since I had just seen 'Gone With the Wind.' I thought he was there to see Mom, but she left us alone. She said, 'Stay a while and talk to Mr. Gable.' I thought, 'What could I talk to Clark Gable about?'
"He asked me about my life. I told him about dancing lessons, about my first romance ï¿½ with Jack Haley Jr. We spent maybe an hour together, and then he left." She never saw him again.
Gable never had another child during his lifetime. His son with Kay Spreckels Gable, William Clark, was born after the star's death in 1960.