Chris Lewis has always known his mother was special. And now he wants to share his admiration for her with the world.
Loretta Young, a reigning Hollywood actress of the ‘30s and ‘40s who first appeared on screen at age 4 and would later make her mark on television, passed away in 2000 at age 87 from ovarian cancer, the New York Times reported. In her lifetime, the Oscar-winning star appeared in nearly 100 films alongside Lon Chaney, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Tyrone Power and Cary Grant — to name a just few.
Now items worn by the Old Hollywood icon, as well as personal mementos she collected over the years, are now up for grabs online at Los Angeles-based auction house Julien’s Auctions in a sale titled “Property From the Estate of Loretta Young.” According to Lewis, longtime fans of one of Hollywood’s most famous stars can own her pieces such as jewelry, jewelry, couture and more.
Lewis and his wife, Linda, spoke to Fox News about why they’re auctioning off Young’s dazzling belongings now, what it was really like growing up with Young, her final years, how she overcame personal scandal, as well as how she never gave up on her faith.
Fox News: What compelled you to participate in this auction and why now?
Chris Lewis: Since my mother passed away in 2000, my wife and I have been going around the country doing trunk shows of her possessions and talking about her career in film festivals. And over the years, we’ve acquired a lot of her belongings. But we’re getting older and we’re cutting down. We’re not doing as many of those events anymore. So we decided it would be best for everybody if we just shared these things with her fans.
Fox News: Were you hesitant to auction off any of your mother’s personal possessions?
Chris: Everything has its time, you know? [laughs] They weren’t doing any good in our closet or in storage. And even if you weren’t a fan of Loretta Young, my mother had some wonderful furniture and dresses from her years as a movie star.
Linda Lewis: Many of the furniture pieces at the auction were found or made by grandma, Loretta’s mother. Many, many years ago Grandma and Mom came with a U-Haul truck filled with some very special pieces of furniture *laughs*.
Fox News: How determined have you been to keep your mother’s legacy alive?
Chris: Very determined, of course. She was unique in the industry. She had a 70-year career. She was successful in both movies and television. She won an Academy Award in 1948 and then won three Emmys during the ‘50s. She grew up with Hollywood and survived in television. She had a remarkable career, but more importantly, she was a remarkable person. She wasn’t at all a diva like you would expect from a movie star. She was very down to earth and just as generous as a person.
Fox News: When did you realize that your mother was different from other moms?
Chris: When you grow up in an environment as we did, you always think it’s normal. We grew up in a big house with 18 rooms, an elevator and service. You assume everyone lives that way. [laughs] But both my parents worked and they were very successful. So we had a nice home. But the first time I really figured she was different was when we would go to church. We were Catholics so we would go to church in Beverly Hills every Sunday. When leaving the church, people would ultimately come up to mom and ask for her autograph. She would always say, “I don’t give autographs when I’m out with my children.” I noticed that didn’t happen to everyone else.
Then the time that really made a difference? I was 8 years old. My mother was doing a movie called “It Happens Every Thursday” with John Forsythe. It was done at Universal Studios. My dad told me and my brother one day, “We’re going to have lunch with mom at the studio.” We didn’t know what that meant but we went with him. When we got to the studio, we went over to the stage where they were filming. And when we got there, the stage was dark and everyone was on their lunch break. But I saw the set, which was supposed to be this little newspaper office. And then after lunch, I remember going to what they called dailies, which allowed the crew to watch what they shot the day before to judge their performances. My mother was insistent upon seeing dailies on all her films. But that same newspaper office I saw earlier had come to life. It was bustling with people. And my mom was up there on the screen. So it kind of clicked with my mom.
And I remember one night in New York … Mom and I went to see some play. As we walked down the aisle to get our seats, people in the theater stood up and applauded mom. During the intermission, it got so crowded that we couldn’t leave our seats. But people were so respectful of her. And at that time, I was just 13-14 years old. But that made a lasting impression on me.
Fox News: What are some fun facts about your mom that would surprise fans today?
Chris: She was an excellent seamstress. Especially during the later years, she would sew [dresses] for her friends. She would get these really great fabrics and turn them into gifts. She had this little Singer sewing machine she used all her life, which is part of the auction, along with her sewing table. She especially loved sewing with my sister. Mom and Judy would sew all the time. And at the end of her life, she did a lot of philanthropy. She would visit AIDS patients, go to hospices, spend a lot of time with veterans – she used her time well. But she did it quietly. She didn’t have cameras there and all that stuff. She just wanted to do it herself. She was a great role model. When she was a child, her mother ran a boarding house in Los Angeles. So it was there where mom learned how to serve others and help people. She came from humble beginnings and she never forgot that.
Fox News: Is it true she was a devoted Catholic in Hollywood?
Chris: She was very Catholic and would go to mass every day [in her later years]. Usually at 11 o’clock in Beverly Hills. In Palms Springs, the earliest mass was eight in the morning, but she didn’t get up early. [laughs] The Desert Regional Medical Center even named its chapel after her because she would attend the mass there all the time. [laughs] … [And] there were a whole bunch of people in Hollywood who were Catholics. Bob Hope’s wife was very Catholic. John Wayne’s wife, very Catholic. And they were all lifelong friends. There was even a group called the “Catholic Mafia” in Hollywood [laughs] so there were a bunch of them. And our house was full of priests all the time.
Fox News: How did she feel about her work on television?
Chris: She was very passionate about it. She was a pioneer in the business. She was one of the first women, aside from Lucille Ball, to produce her own television show. Mom was the executive producer of her own television show, so she was also a pretty good businesswoman. And television was the enemy back then. She was told by executives that if she pursed television, she would never do another film again. … But Dad was in the advertising business and it was really him who pushed her into television. She was in her late 40s at the time. So your chances of continuing your career as a woman, at the time, was very tough. So you had to redefine yourself. And mom never liked the parts she was given by the studio executives. So she thought about getting into television. She got to play all the parts she wanted to play and she was the executive producer, which meant that she called the shots.
Fox News: What do you believe was the secret behind her lasting success?
Chris: She had a moral compass. Growing up for us kids, you always respected everybody. We treated everyone equally. She knew she never wanted to play parts that were negative or brought people down. She fought the studios and got suspended several times because she refused to do the movies that the studio guys wanted her to do. That can ruin a career. But I think people sense that moral compass. She would take six months off and not get paid because she was suspended. But she would then come back and get her way.
Linda: She told me — when she was 85 — “Even now when I leave the room, I hope people say, ‘What a nice girl!’” [laughs] She really cared about everybody. She really listened to people. She was genuine. And because she played so many different characters, she truly had empathy for everyone. She put her toe in the water of every lifestyle you could possibly have. Therefore she truly led from her heart. And I really think that had a lot to do with her success.
Fox News: You previously spoke out about your sister, Judy Lewis, and the identity of her father. According to the New York Times, Judy maintained in her 1994 autobiography “Uncommon Knowledge” that Clark Gable was her father and she was conceived during the making of 1935’s “Call of the Wild.” Looking back, why did you choose to speak out?
Chris: I didn’t think that Judy should have written the book while mom was still alive, but that was Judy’s decision to make. … She needed her catharsis, her voice to be heard I guess. I wouldn’t have written it while mom was alive though because it was embarrassing to mom. But it’s not an unusual story. Hollywood is just about that, but that wasn’t about me. That was about Judy and mom. And I certainly didn’t want to get involved with that… The thing is Judy had a great life just like my brother and me and it was provided by mom.
Fox News: It sounded like, based on your mother’s final years and her work, she must have made some sort of peace with the situation.
Chris: Oh yeah, of course. After the book came out all of my mom’s friends said, “Oh, that’s terrible! You should take Judy out of the will!” Stuff like that. But mom was above all that. She got a lot of advice from priests. But the last thing mom would ever do is get retribution. In the end, everyone got equal in mom’s will. And mom reconciled it very easily.
Fox News: What do you hope audiences will get from this auction and your mother’s contributions to Hollywood?
Chris: As a celebrity, her work speaks for itself. She was a beautiful actress, but she took her business seriously. She could light a set as well as any director of photography. That’s because she worked with all the best, yes, but she also paid attention. She would get a script and it was as if she had a photographic memory. She would know what page a certain line was on. It never took her much time to read a script.
Not only did she take her craft seriously, but it was just as important for her to be a good wife and mother. To me, that was amazing because the film business takes a lot of your time. You go to work at five in the morning and not return until nine at night. And then to balance your personal life on top of that? That’s why a lot of Hollywood marriages don’t work because they’re never there and everybody wants something from you… but she remained very dedicated. She was just special.