By PAUL VITELLO
Published: November 30, 2011
Her mother was Loretta Young. Her father was Clark Gable.
Yet Judy Lewis spent her first 19 months in hideaways and orphanages, and the rest of her early life untangling a web of lies spun by a young mother hungry for stardom but unwilling to end her unwed pregnancy.
Loretta Young’s deception was contrived to protect her budding movie career and the box-office power of the matinee idol Gable, who was married to someone else when they conceived their child in snowed-in Washington State. They were on location, shooting the 1935 film “The Call of the Wild,” fictional lovers in front of the camera and actual lovers outside its range.
Ms. Lewis, a former actress who died on Friday at the age of 76, was 31 before she discerned the scope of the falsehoods that cast her, a daughter of Hollywood royalty, into what she later described as a Cinderella-like childhood. Confronted by Ms. Lewis, Young finally made a tearful confession in 1966 at her sprawling home in Palm Springs, Calif.
Young was 22 and unmarried when she and Gable, 34 and married to Maria Langham, had their brief affair. She spent most of her pregnancy in Europe to avoid Hollywood gossip. Ms. Lewis was born on Nov. 6, 1935, in a rented house in Venice, Calif. Soon she was turned over to a series of caretakers, including St. Elizabeth’s Infants Hospital in San Francisco, so that Young could return to stardom.
When Ms. Lewis was 19 months old, her mother brought her back home and announced through the gossip columnist Louella Parsons that she had adopted the child.
Ms. Lewis grew up in Los Angeles, cushioned in the luxury of her mother’s movie-star lifestyle even as she endured what she later described as an outsider’s isolation within her family and the teasing of children at school.
They teased her about her ears: they stuck out like Dumbo’s. Or, as Hollywood rumors had it, they stuck out like Clark Gable’s. Ms. Lewis’s mother dressed her in bonnets to hide them. When Ms. Lewis was 7 her ears were surgically altered to make them less prominent.
Until Ms. Lewis, as an adult, confronted her years later, Young did not acknowledge that Ms. Lewis was her biological daughter, or that Gable was Ms. Lewis’s father. When Young married and had two children with Tom Lewis, a radio producer, Judy took his name but remained the family’s “adopted” daughter.
And though conceding the story privately to her daughter — and later to the rest of her family — Young remained mum publicly all her life, agreeing to acknowledge the facts only in her authorized biography, “Forever Young,” and only on the condition that it be published after her death. She died in 2000.
But Ms. Lewis revealed the story of her parentage in her own memoir, “Uncommon Knowledge,” in 1994. She described feeling a powerful sense of alienation as a child. “It was very difficult for me as a little girl not to be accepted or acknowledged by my mother, who, to this day, will not publicly acknowledge that I am her biological child,” she said in an interview that year.
After Ms. Lewis released the memoir, her mother refused to speak to her for three years.
The lightning bolt that gave Ms. Lewis the first hint about her parentage came during an identity crisis before her wedding day. Two weeks before her marriage in 1958, Ms. Lewis told her fiancé, Joseph Tinney, that she did not understand her confusing relationship with her mother and that she did not know who her father was. “I can’t marry you,” she said she told him. “I don’t know anything about myself.”
Mr. Tinney could offer little guidance about her mother, she wrote, but about her father’s identity he was clear.
“It’s common knowledge, Judy,” he said. “Your father is Clark Gable.”
She had no inkling, she wrote.
In interviews after her book was published, Ms. Lewis was philosophical about the secrecy in which she grew up. If Young and Gable had acknowledged her in 1935, she said, “both of them would have lost their careers.”
Much of Ms. Lewis’s account was painful to recall, she said. She quoted Young as saying, “And why shouldn’t I be unhappy?,” explaining her decision to give birth. “Wouldn’t you be if you were a movie star and the father of your child was a movie star and you couldn’t have an abortion because it was a mortal sin?”
Young was a Roman Catholic.
After graduating from Marymount, a girls’ Catholic school, Ms. Lewis left Los Angeles to pursue acting in New York. She was a regular on one soap opera, “The Secret Storm,” from 1964 to 1971, and had featured parts on numerous others. She appeared in several Broadway plays, produced television shows, and in her mid-40s decided to return to school. She earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Antioch University in Los Angeles, and became a licensed family and child counselor in 1992.
Ms. Lewis, who was a clinical psychologist specializing in foster care and marriage therapy, died of lymphoma at her home in Gladwyne, Pa., her daughter, Maria Tinney Dagit, said.
Besides her daughter, Ms. Lewis is survived by two grandsons and her half-brothers, Christopher and Peter Lewis. Her marriage to Mr. Tinney ended in divorce.
In a 2001 interview on CNN with Larry King, Ms. Lewis recalled speaking to her mother about her early life.
“I was also asking her about being adopted,” she said, “as adopted children do. They say, ‘Where are my … ‘’ ”
Mr. King interjected, “ ‘Who’s my mother?’ ”
“Yes,” Ms. Lewis said. “ ‘Who’s my mother? Who’s my father?’ And she would answer it very easily by saying, ‘I couldn’t love you any more than if you were my own child,’ which, of course, didn’t answer the question, but it said, ‘Don’t ask the question.’ ”
But at that point Ms. Lewis was wistful about her past. “Call of the Wild,” she said, was one of her favorite movies. The love scenes between her parents, she said, “show the love they feel for each other.”
Mr. King asked if she ever fantasized about the life she might have had if her parents had married and brought her up.
“I would have liked them to have,” she replied. “But that is just my dream, you know. Life is very strange. Doesn’t give us what we want.”
- Judy Lewis, Secret Daughter of Hollywood, Dies at 76 (nytimes.com)
- Judy Lewis Dead: Clark Gable and Loretta Young’s Secret Daughter Dies at 76 (moviefone.com)
- Clark Gable’s Secret Daughter, Judy Lewis, Passes Away at 76 (inquisitr.com)
- Secret Daughter of Clark Gable and Loretta Young, Judy Lewis, Dies at 76 (foxnews.com)
- Loretta Young, Clark Gable’s ‘Secret Daughter’ Judy Lewis Dies at 76 (ibtimes.com)
- Clark Gable & Loretta Young’s Secret Daughter Dies At 76 [Rip] (jezebel.com)
- Judy Lewis, Clark Gable and Loretta Young’s Secret Daughter, Dies at 76 (hollywoodreporter.com)
- NYT: Clark Gable’s secret daughter dies at 76 (today.msnbc.msn.com)
- Clark Gable’s secret daughter, Judy Lewis, dies at 76 (pbpulse.com)