When you think of Thanksgiving, you think of turkey, of course.  And the Macy’s parade.  And football.  But Thanksgiving is not associated with gift giving.  Not usually, anyway.  This, however, will be a story of a most remarkable Thanksgiving gift.

 

And it’s mine.

 

First, though, a revelation.  Long-time members of the board know very well of my adoration for Ann-Margret.  It is undoubtedly a good thing that I will never meet her.  Over the course of my life and career, I’ve hobnobbed with admirals, generals, service heads, a prime minister, and even a few people you’ve seen on the screen and I managed to appear reasonably competent.  But if Ann-Margret walked into the room right now, I’d turn into a gibbering puddle of tapioca.  (You fellows of the same vintage as me know of what I speak.)

 

But I have a confession to make.  There was one actress who captivated me even more than Ann-Margret does.  I’m not alone there, either.  Like millions of other red-blooded American males, I fell in love with this lady after seeing her paired with William Powell, as Nora and Nick Charles, in the six “Thin Man” films, beginning in 1934 and ending in 1947.

 

I’m speaking, of course, of Miss Myrna Loy.  As Nora Charles, she was witty, gracious, insouciant, and absolutely devoted to Nick.  She was also stunningly beautiful.  It’s no wonder that public sentiment soon labeled her “the Perfect Wife”.  She played other rôles after The Thin Man, naturally, but they were never too removed from Nora Charles.  And Nora Charles was never too removed from Miss Loy herself.

 

And I had a crush on her, big-time.  It’s O.K., though; the Good Mrs. Benson knows that.  (But---shhh!  Don’t tell Ann.)

 

In fact, the GMB is a huge fan of Myrna Loy herself.  On the rare occasions she posts on the board, you’ll note her icon is a publicity photo of her.

 

As much as we both enjoyed her as Nora Charles, it’s another performance of hers that most resonates with us both.  It’s a scene from the film The Best Years of Our Lives (RKO, 1946), which provides a realistic look at the difficulties in readjusting to civilian life experienced by three servicemen returning from World War II.  With our own separations over the course of my Navy career, some of them for almost a year at a time, we understood all too well the emotions involved.

 

In Best Years of Our Lives, Miss Loy played Milly Stephenson, mother of two teen-agers, whose banker husband Al (portrayed by Fredric March) has been deployed to the Pacific theatre as an Army first sergeant for four long years.  With the war’s end, Al returns home, but he hasn’t sent word to his family.  He wants to surprise them.  He arrives at the front door just as they are getting ready to sit down to dinner.  Milly is in the dining room, at the far end of the apartment, as Al rings the doorbell.

 

His son answers the door, and Al covers the boy’s mouth before his excited cry can spill the beans.  His daughter, Peggy, sees him when she comes out of the kitchen, but Al shhh’s her, too.

 

The camera then shifts to the dining room, where Milly is arranging the dinner plates on the table.  She calls out, “Who was that at the door, Peggy?”  When no answer comes, she shouts, “Peggy!  Rob!  Who was----“

 

Suddenly, her body stiffens.  She drops the stack of plates on the table and turns, with an apprehensive gaze.

 

She knows!  There’s no tangible reason why.  She just knows.

 

She dashes out of the dining room; Al runs toward her, and they embrace.  The GMB and I have yet to get through that scene with dry eyes.

 

But that’s not my Myrna Loy Thanksgiving story.  That occurred several years before I met Cheryl.

 

 

 

It was September, 1988.  I had just finished my second command tour and had been assigned to a large training facility in St. Paul, Minnesota as its new executive officer.

 

Even after I got back to the States, I had a two-day drive ahead of me, so I popped into the nearest book store to find something to occupy my evenings.  Something that caught my eye was a recently published autobiography titled Myrna Loy; Being and Becoming.  I wasn’t as fond of biographies then as I am now, but that one I had to have.

 

I had plenty of opportunity to read it---the two nights on the road, and then, even with the busy days of turn-over from the man I was replacing, my evenings were dead time.  So I went through the book fairly quickly.  While I had always been impressed with Myrna Loy, the actress, I found myself becoming more impressed with Myrna Loy, the person.  She told her story in a straight-forward style, with an occasional wry comment over some bit of fortune or misfortune that had come her way.  Emotion in her voice was reserved for the most personal moments, such as the death of her father.

 

She didn’t dodge her personal failings.  But unlike many “warts and all” autobiographies, in which it seems like the author is taking pride in baring his sins, Miss Loy presented them matter-of-factly, with regret for having committed them.

 

I discovered that, politically, Miss Loy and I were on opposite ends of the spectrum.  She was a hard-line New Deal Democrat.  But I was struck by the practical restraint she showed in her liberal views.  It was the same kind of practicality that she showed in her career and in her life, in general.

 

I was especially impressed at her service during World War II.  She didn’t take the career-preserving route of just performing at U.S.O. shows and showing up at fund-raisers.  No.  Just as many male stars put their careers on hold to enlist in the armed forces, Miss Loy abandoned films to work full time for the Red Cross.  She did the grunt work of putting together care packages, serving food and drink at military canteens (along with washing dishes), and made hundreds of visits to wounded servicemen in hospitals.

 

Democrat or not, it’s tough not to admire a lady like that.

 

 

 

The last few paragraphs describing the events of Miss Loy’s book were necessary to relate.  You had to understand why, when I finally closed the cover, I was left with such a profound appreciation for her.  And that brings us to the point of this Deck Log Entry.

 

You see, I got a crazy idea.

 

I was just an ordinary guy, with no access to the top echelons of anything.  No family or work connexions which would let me pick up the phone and talk to anyone important.  But I got this notion that I had to let Miss Loy know how much respect I had gained for her, after reading her life story.  I was going to write her a letter and tell her so.

 

In the case of someone as famous as Myrna Loy, it wasn’t difficult---even in those pre-Internet, pre-autograph-hunters-network days---to find a mailing address for her.  All it took was knowing where to look, and I knew where to look.  An hour in the reference department at the main branch of the Minneapolis Public Library and I had a mailing address for Myrna Loy.  Undoubtedly, the business address of her agent or manager.

 

Then I wrote her a letter.  I described my admiration of not just her performances as Nora Charles, but of the various incidents of her life she described in her book and how she handled them.  I was specific in those references, because I knew writing simply “Gee, I think you’re swell” wouldn’t tell her very much. 

 

And then I took it one step further.  I concluded with a request . . . .

 

Would she be kind enough to sign my copy of her book?

 

I bought a mailing envelope large enough to hold the book, self-addressed it, and plastered it with postage stamps.  Then I got a bigger mailing envelope and put everything---my letter, my copy of her book, and the envelope I had addressed and stamped---into it and mailed it off.

 

That was at the end of September.  Frankly, my biggest expectation was that some secretary or assistant of hers would open it up and then chunk it into the nearest dustbin.  Weeks went by with no response, and by then, I was so wrapped up in my duties as XO that I had pretty much forgotten about it.

 

That is, until a week before Thanksgiving.  I got home to my apartment, at the end of a long day, and found a package propped up against the door.  It was the envelope that I had self-addressed and stamped.  And there was something inside it!  I opened it as carefully as my impatience would permit.  Inside was my copy of Myrna Loy’s autobiography.  I opened it up to the flyleaf---that blank page in the front of a book---and there it was!

 

I was ecstatic.  I put the book in a box, so it wouldn’t get damaged accidentally.  And the next day, I couldn’t resist taking it to work and showing it off.  Most of the crew were youngsters and really had no idea who Myrna Loy was, but they were impressed that I had gotten a reply.

 

There was also something else that completely escaped my notice at the time, even though I kept the book in my desk and whenever I had a spare moment, thumbed through it.

 

Several days passed, and now it was Wednesday afternoon, the day before Thanksgiving.  The base was practically deserted, with everyone except the watchstanders having departed, either to travel home for the holiday, or if they lived locally, to make preparations for the next day’s feast.  Even my boss, the CO, had gone home early.

 

But I had no place to go.  Flying home to see my parents was impractical, since I had to be back to work Friday.  For me, Thanksgiving was going to be a frozen pizza and trying to find something on television that wasn’t football or a parade.  So I stayed at my desk and enjoyed being able to get paperwork done without the usual steady flow of interruptions.

 

When I finally had my in-box cleared out, I sat back and pulled out Myrna Loy’s book.  I decided to browse through it and re-read some of the passages I enjoyed the most.  That’s when I discovered the odd thing that I had been overlooking so far.

 

Whenever I leafed through the pages, I realised that the book always came to rest on the same page.  I took a closer look.  I found the bottom corner of that page had been carefully dog-eared.

 

Now, you have to understand, I’m a huge reader and I have hundreds of books, and I treat them reverently.  I don’t break the spines; I don’t underline passages in pencil or make notes in the margins; and I don’t dog-ear the pages.  And I knew the fold at the bottom of that page---page 323---had been no accident.  It was too precise, too even.

 

Someone had done it on purpose.

 

I read over the page.  It was from the section in which Miss Loy discussed her theatre work, later in her career, when she wasn’t as much in demand from Hollywood as she had been.  She talked about the fact that, after her performances, she was still met backstage by crowds of admirers.

 

It didn’t take long to find it.  It was at the end of the first paragraph on the page.  I fell back in my chair, stunned.

 

It was a message to me from Miss Loy herself.  She had been the one who marked that page!  And in a very real way, it was a more personal sentiment than the enscription she had written on the front.

 

 

You know that hypothetical game that people sometimes play, the one where you’re asked, “If your house was on fire and you could save only one thing you owned, what would it be?”

 

Now you know my answer to that question.

From Cheryl and myself, to all of you, our fondest wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving Day, and many more of them!

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Happy Thanksgiving, sir, and many more!

Great story. It prompted a comment from me on this thread.

Outstanding, sir! And Happy Thanksgiving!

Commander Benson wrote:

First, though, a revelation.  Long-time members of the board know very well of my adoration for Ann-Margret.  It is undoubtedly a good thing that I will never meet her.  Over the course of my life and career, I’ve hobnobbed with admirals, generals, service heads, a prime minister, and even a few people you’ve seen on the screen and I managed to appear reasonably competent.  But if Ann-Margret walked into the room right now, I’d turn into a gibbering puddle of tapioca.  (You fellows of the same vintage as me know of what I speak.)

I know what you mean. If I ever found myself around Sophia Loren or Pam Grier, I'd react the same way.

Great story!

...Reportedly , 1930s/40s kids had a skipping rope/playing song:

" Myrna Loy/had a boy/by a mem'r of the hoi polloi/I want to be in the movies . " !

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Commander!

Believe It Or Not (to coin a phrase), I pulled out several DVDs last week to watch when I can: Creature From the Black Lagoon, THEM!, The Maltese Falcon, Tarzan and His Mate and......The Thin Man! Myrna Loy was indeed beautiful with a sexy style all her own. Maureen O'Sullivan and Ingrid Bergman had it too.

Of course, now I'm going to try to find her autobiography!

Again all the best for the Holidays!

Happy Thanksgiving Commander... a day late, but the sentiment hasn't changed. Thanks for the wonderful story!

I saw Terry Farrell at Dragoncon this year. Had much the same turn-to-puddle reaction.

Great story

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