Portrait of a Lady: Loretta Young

There are a lot of celebrations around Loretta Young’s 100th birthday—Turner Classic Movies has made her the Star of the Month; The Hollywood Museum has mounted a glittering, gorgeous exhibit that spans the years of Loretta’s career, from fresh-faced teen to grande dame; her loving family has scheduled a dozen exciting events scattered around the country, from film screenings to charity happenings that laud Loretta’s well-known humanitarian efforts. (Stay abreast of all the fun by visiting (and LIKING) Loretta’s offical Facebook page and learn more about Loretta on her official webpage: http://www.loretta-young.com/ .) Because I’ve been lucky enough to help some of these activities happen, I’m thrilled to bits that more people are being introduced to this wonderful star. But beyond the sparkle of Loretta’s undeniable glamour, there’s a beauty that’s far more than skin deep.

Loretta’s upbeat outlook and old-fashioned beliefs in God, goodness, and grace make her a role model for any woman who’s ambitious but doesn’t want to act like a rock star or a soap-opera diva. So, for the New Year, may I present a master class from Loretta Young on how today’s modern woman can discover the charms of controlling one’s emotions. Yes, you read that right. It’s time to zip it.

Flip thru the cable channels; how many sobbing, wild-eyed, screaming, reality-show denizens do you encounter? Flip again: bouffant-topped toddlers and their boorish mothers are having matching meltdowns. And here’s the latest episode of the back-stabbing, hair-pulling, name-calling, hard-nosed antics of the “real wives of somewhere-or-other.” Here are the late-night hijinks of the foul-mouthed, naughty-naughty comediennes who are apparently trying to outdo their male counterparts in coarse humor and vulgarity. Is there room today for the subtle, gentle charms of a true lady? I believe so. And a good first step in that direction (as you’re getting your sartorial act together—let’s all agree that a lady does NOT advertise goods or services across her fanny) is getting your emotional act together.

Do that, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the amount of power, respect and authority you can command IF you can command your emotions. So, let’s make a New Year’s resolution to see what it feels like to control yourself.

Keep calm and carry on

In her chatty little 1961 memoir called The Things I Had to Learn, Loretta describes an incident that left a big impression on her…and no wonder! She got to meet the King and Queen of England. She relates that this happy event was the first time she became “really conscious of what we’ll call budgeting one’s emotions.”

It was 1947, and one of Loretta’s most beloved films, The Bishop’s Wife, had been selected for the 1947 Annual Royal Command Film Performance in England. Loretta and her husband Tom Lewis were invited to travel to London to meet the King and Queen.

Loretta tells it this way; “I had kept my eyes on her throughout the entire evening and, female that I am, had taken full stock of what she wore. I really had to drag my eyes away from her fabulous jewels, said eyes never having before—or since–gazed upon such rubies! Then I began to watch her. She was everything I’d ever thought a Queen should be. I was sure there was something I could learn from watching her and, whatever it was, I didn’t intend to miss it. (Here’s some silent video of that meeting! How lucky are we to have this snippet!?) 

“Of course, her charm was Queen-size! It was as exquisitely faceted and as fabulous as the rubies she wore. She spoke so graciously to me of the picture, of Samuel Goldwyn’s taste in the production, of Cary’s performance, of David’s—and of mine. But what really impressed me during all my watching of her that evening was that her dignity had no greater obvious ingredient than that she was completely unhurried.

“I knew that the maintenance of such an unhurried, unharried calm had to be the result of precise, inflexible, self-discipline. I remembered the newsreels I’d seen during the war of the Queen, serene, smiling, unhurried and unharried, standing beside the King on the balcony of Buckingham Palace the day after the Palace had been bombed, to acknowledge the cheers of their subjects and to reassure them.”

“It was easy for me to practice and use the visible parts of the lesson—to move slowly and calmly and control outbursts of speed provoked by the tensions of too-much-to-be-done…that required only a physical discipline. But to practice the disciplines necessary to keep my emotions under control was a horse of another color.”

Not-so-fast forward

Loretta continues: “Discipline and poise are the essentials for the conservation of precious time and energy. Uncontrolled emotion is as undisciplined and needlessly destructive as starting a forest fire with a carelessly tossed match. There’s no forgivable time to spend on the things that are profitless, the emotions that undermine our vitality and leave us spent and dismal.”

So, what does this mean to a generation that thinks NOTHING of bursting into tears on the street, screaming invectives at the drop of a hat, and cursing like a sailor on leave? It means you’re going to have to draw the line somewhere. You don’t really have to express EVERY emotion. Try just sitting on it for a few minutes. This will hurt at first and my generation, that was taught to “let it all hang out,” will feel it especially. But, after a while, you might find there’s incredible power in NOT showing your hand immediately.

You know how you’re at a meeting, and there’s everyone, panting to share their ideas and there’s ONE person who is just hanging back and watching it all? Ever noticed how the whole room tends to shut up and listen when that silent, thoughtful, observant person finally says something?

How to Stay Calm (This will take practice. Pace yourself)

Identify the emotion first: Is it jealousy, envy, anger, frustration, self-pity, shame, do you feel threatened or defensive, is there some self-loathing, helplessness, uselessness, wounded pride? You’d be surprised how much more power you have over an emotion once you’ve identified it.

Engage your compassion: Realize you’re not expressing that emotion in a vacuum. The Queen knew how important it was for her people to be calm, so she displayed her regal confidence. You can do the same at work as you encounter pesky types.

Make a conscious decision: Realize that you’re NOT denying the emotion you’re feeling, you’re just deciding how or IF you choose to express it.

Know your warning signals. It’s rare for someone to go from zero to sixty—usually, there are warning signals. You might: feel impatience, frustration, wandering attention (that’s you, trying to stop paying attention to the thing that’s angering you), maybe you pick or bite your nails, maybe your fingers or palms itch, maybe you start stabbing your pen into the desk or get an urge to start chucking things. In poker, these tell-tale body/facial twitches are called “the tell” and they’re a giveaway to a savvy body-reader. Pay attention to your own body language so you won’t be shanghaied by runaway emotions.

How to Carry On

Okay, you’re got something not-so-nice bubbling to the surface. What can you do to graciously stifle it?

Gracefully, subtly place your finger on your lips as a reminder.

Count to ten or take a walk to cool off—they’re classics for a reason.

Try to think of the consequences if you let ‘er rip.

Remember, you have no idea what someone else is carrying today. Empathy is the heart, seat, and reason of self-control.

Start priding yourself on your self-control. Say to yourself: “I’ve got this under control.” And watch it start to work.

Ban the (F) bomb

Bad habits often start with a healthy dose of peer pressure. In high school, if you didn’t tell dirty jokes or curse, you were considered weird. But I’m guessing most of my readers have left high school far behind them now. Are you still sounding like a refugee from the Bowery Boys? Some professional women might argue that swearing grants them cache with the Old Boys Club. Maybe.

Or maybe it is just one more confirmation that you are not now, nor will you ever be, part of that gang, no matter how many four-letter words or off-color remarks you make.

I’ve found that most adult males (a rare class in our society, I’ll grant you) do NOT like it when a woman swears or curses. They may smile or smirk, but something in their souls winces. Call me old-fashioned and hopelessly outdated, but I really don’t believe that a women’s cursing increases her social status. Professionally, it can hinder you. Personally, it presents an impression that your sights are set pretty low.

My ladylike mom called it being “common.” Sinking down to the lowest common denominator can result in your getting less than you’d hope for—and maybe deserve–in romance, in a job, in a group of friends.

When Loretta saw the Queen gliding about in majestic self-control, she experienced a legendary presence, with the traditions of centuries groomed into her. I’m not saying you have to go full-on Elizabeth, but how about we start by leaving the F-bomb to the adolescent hoards who find it amusing and start acting like full-grown women with a smidgen of class?

(Loretta’s trick to remind her foul-mouthed film crew was to put a “Swear Box” on the set. Every time someone cursed, they dropped quarter in the box. Up the ante to a buck and you might be buying that bucket-list Steinway or going to Hollywood to see the Loretta Young exhibit in no time!)

It might take some real self-discipline to demonstrate majestic consideration and ladylike calm, but give it a try. What’s the worst that can happen?  Happy New Year, everyone!

And Happy Birthday, Loretta. 100 Years of Glamour & Grace, indeed!

(If you missed any of my previous lessons from Professor Young on her principles of feminine power, click here for the first class on Class, and the other 3 lessons. Enjoy!)

PS: Muchas gracias to my brilliant teacher daughter Keziah, who shared her wise “stay calm” strategies with me.

47 thoughts on “Portrait of a Lady: Loretta Young

  1. Brilliant Kay! And such lessons for the new year. I AM CERTAINLY GOING TO PUT THEM TO USE IN MY LIFE! And I know you know which ones! Love and Happy New Year


    • Gosh, I’m so glad you liked it, Donna!!! You and I have had such discussions and I knew they’d hit home on several fronts. Nana (and Loretta) were on the same team, weren’t they? 😉
      Love and Happy New Year, to you, too, my dear! Love, Kay

  2. Such a nice post to read on New Years Eve and I’m taking it to heart. I can always improve and what a great area to improve in.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Stephanie! I’m preaching to myself here, too, and I laying down the law to my wayward temper and tongue! Happy new year and thanks for taking the time to comment! Warmly, Kay

  3. Oh Kay, this is the BEST post for New Year’s Eve! You weave words and photos together to inspire us to reach for the ‘stars’ :-).

    Each of your profiles becomes much more than a celebrity or star persona – you reveal the fascinating person & entice your readers to want to know more about these women! I enjoy them all, but this one on Loretta is very special to me, as she was my beloved mother-in-law. I love it, thank you and Happy New Year my friend!

    • Oh, Linda, it’s lovely to hear from YOU about this! I trust you believe that your dear mother-in-law would be pleased to know that her legacy of love and niceness is living on. As you know, Loretta is very special to me, too, and so are you! Many new year’s hugs from your “sissy”, Kay

  4. You know, Kay, I think this may just be my favorite of all your posts, and that’s saying something. So much wise advice in these words from you and the lovely Miss Young. The timing couldn’t have been better either, since the first quarter of the year is the busiest and most stressful time for me at work, and I have a tendency to let my frustration and unhappiness show far too often. I always regret it afterward, too, replaying my whining/temper tantrum/whatever in my mind and wishing I’d handled things with more sang froid.

    This was a great reminder that keeping your cool in tough situations is so much more powerful than letting everyone know what you’re feeling every second of the day. I’ll try to keep Loretta’s and the Queen’s example in mind when I’m dealing with my upcoming work craziness, and refrain from rushing around with a scowl on my face all the time. Discipline, poise, and unhurried calm will be my goals. 🙂

    Your Loretta Young posts have been the most inspirational for me of anything you’ve written. In fact, last week I printed out the “Professor Young” posts from 2011 to read over them for New Year’s resolution time. Her ladylike behavior and beauty are so appealing to me.

    Happiest of new year’s to you!


    • Darling Melissa, what a lovely chatty note from one of my favorite readers! I suffer from lack of sang-froid (LOVED that reference–the French words that mean “cool blood”) all too often, too. So, you see, these Loretta posts are pure selfishness on my part…I need them more than anyone, practically. I’m so glad that you found some useful hints in them…believe me, I’ll be studying them myself! Poise is not a character trait that’s praised by many these days–let’s start a trend! Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Loretta Young–so many of our favorite actresses had poise, didn’t they? Here’s to a poised, dignified 2013! Keep calm and carry on! 😉 Love, Kay

  5. now “stay calm”is a lesson i sure need.and what a role model.Loretta Young and Irene Dunne are what i call real ladies.Happy new year Kay and everyone.Efi.

    • Happy new year to you, too, Efi! I’m glad you enjoyed this post about a role model I adore. Hope your new year is full of joy! Love, Kay

  6. Very nicely done, Kay! A lot of this advice holds true for the guys, too! I want all of my ‘younger lady friends’ to read this…it’s just great advice.

    I loved your line (and it about had me in tears): “Remember, you have no idea what someone else is carrying today. Empathy is the heart, seat, and reason of self-control.”

    It reminds me of the movie Bang the Drum Slowly.

    Loretta Young was so beautiful, gracious and reserved. Such a lady.

    • What a lovely comment from a true gentleman! Thanks for your kind words, Joel! The line you loved so much was a direct quote from my brilliant daughter, Keziah. She has worked for years with disadvantaged kids, many of whom come from dreadful home enviornments and she drilled that thought into their heads. I was so grateful she shared it with me, so I could share it with y’all! Many wishes for a lovely new year, my friend! I’d love to hear how your younger lady friends take this! My daughter’s classes found that they struggled at first, but couldn’t deny the results! 😉 Hugs, Kay

  7. You know, one of the biggest compliments I got from Kent, the guy I’m seeing now, is “Your language is so *clean*!” He was astounded that I didn’t just bark out “Hey a$$—–, get over here!” like so many of his other friends and acquaintances (heavy duty travelers for business tend to be old school frat boy types, and the world tour for finding myself types are usually profane hippies). I do occasionally let slip with a few salty phrases, but at this point he knows I really mean business when I go blue.

    • As your mom, it’s nice to hear that something of the training I tried to pound into you from MY mom actually stuck! LOVE, Mommo XO

  8. Such a lovely and timely post for the New Year!! Loretta and I share the same surname but as for controlling my emotions, I’m more related to Sophia Loren. I’m working on keeping things to myself and learning to control my emotions. My own mother is so much like Loretta and it’s quite the inspiration.

    As a side note, I love your children’s names. Keziah was Job’s second daughter. I know this because my mother nearly named me Jemimah.

    • Yes, Keziah was named for Jobs 2nd daughter, but for us, Jemimah was not on the table– nor was Belulah!! Lol!!! I named her during a sermon on Job!! 😉 Her middle name is Rose! So her name means Spice Rose!! And my dear mom was a lot like Loretta too!! Hugs to you, dear Keturah! XO

      • Kay, super neat!! My dad saw Keturah when reading through the OT and declared that was my name (which saved me from my mom’s choices of Jemima and Jochebed!) My middle name is Susanna….so my name is Incense Lily. The study of names and how we live them out has always fascinated me. Perhaps it’s a small reason I like exotic things and floriental fragrances 😉

  9. Another lovely post, my friend! These are principles that I live by. Linda is right…you do such a wonderful job of combining real life lessons along with more about these incredible stars. I’ve learned A LOT about Loretta, in particular, from you (of course) and have become an enormous fan. I appreciate you sharing your great affection for this glamorous and graceful woman. Can’t wait to see the exhibit on Tuesday!

    • Thanks, Kimberly, for such kind words!!! I’m much more a Loretta fan now that I’ve read and studied so much about her. I admire her moral courage and dedication to living a life that will be a blessing to others. What a role model!!! I can’t wait to hear all about the exhibit and what you see firsthand! Oh, to be in your pocketbook! XO, Kay

  10. Wow, Kay! This ranks in the top 3 most reflective and motivational posts!! BRAVO, my dear friend.
    First, the video clip said volumes in the mere 10 seconds of footage with Loretta and her most graceful bow. I watched the remaining video to witness how the other ladies lacked the poise and beauty in their bows when meeting the Queen. One woman looked as if she was bobbing for apples! Loretta displayed more elegance than the sum of all the other women in the room.
    Second, the lessons of self-control cannot be more important to women in today’s world of company right-sizing. When managers are forced to decide which skilled employee to retain, the hot-tempered gal with constant complaining will be on top of their list. A valid lesson we can all learn from Loretta. I’ve been more successful applying this lesson in directing actors than in the workplace, but then again, I have much more control on what happens on the stage than at my desk!
    I couldn’t think of a better way to start the new year than to stay in control and watch the power grow within you!
    Thank-you for a reflective gift for 2013!

    • Thanks, Tuch! I totally agree with your observation about Loretta’s graceful courtesy…she looks like she was born offering gracious bows, doesn’t she? And yes, you’re so right about right-sizing at the workplace!!! If we all thought like HR managers about our behavior, it might be a very different office for all of us! Thanks for your kind words and stopping by!! Kay

  11. Thanks Kay for this lovely post and tribute to Loretta Young. She always looked great and was one of the great fashion icons of the 20th century. She worked with the great film and fashion designers of Hollywood – Adrian, Orry-Kelly, Irene, Edith Head, and of course Jean-Louis. The exhibit in Hollywood should be fabulous and I’m looking forward to the TCM line-up.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Christian! Loretta made it her business to grace the world with a lovely lady…and aren’t we the lucky ones that it was captured on film!?! Hugs, K

  12. Kay, I think this Movie Star Makeover blog post is my favorite among your blog posts so far, and that’s really saying something, considering how very much I always enjoy your posts! Having grown up in a lively family of Irish/Italian descent, some of them with potty mouths and/or self-control/anger management issues, I find your post about Loretta Young and her techniques for staying cool, calm, and collected to be required reading! I can imagine my dear late mom somehow reading this from Heaven and applauding! 😀 BRAVA to you on this great post, as helpful as it is entertaining (love Loretta’s beauty, kindness, and poise)! What a wonderful way to start off the New Year! Happy New Year to you, dear Kay!
    P.S.: I loved your anecdotes about your children and their lovely names, too!).

    • Aw, Dorian, that’s so nice to hear! What a lovely thing to say!!! I had my serious doubts about this post, since the potty mouth syndrome is SOOOO pervasive these days, and I’m frankly thrilled at the responses!!! Many hugs coming your way for such kind words, my dear!! I’m sure your mother is sitting there with mine saying “now that’s nice!”…
      Happy new year, my friend! Love, Kay

  13. I love Loretta’s life lessons. I believe that being ladylike is a lost art ( I know I lost it with the exception of my fabulous shoe collection). Something to aspire to for sure! : ) THanks for sharing.

  14. I agree: “Is there room today for the subtle, gentle charms of a true lady? I believe so.” This post was a breath of fresh air!

    Yesterday, I was in the bookstore perusing the Biography section and noting that those who sign book deals are those who love to share ALL the details about poor choices. Books celebrating those who make the world a better place are rare.

    Thanks for posting this!

    • I have had so many wonderful responses to this post that I’m thrilled! So glad you enjoyed it and you’re sooo right about the books that share the ugly not the good. Great insights!!! Best wishes for the new year! Love, Kay

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  17. I really like this class on Charm, Poise and Personality which I took in 1967 but this is even better. I can do it right here at home. We even had our legs checked to see if we shaved one day upon entering class! I will now practice the art of putting my little pinkie to my lips as a reminder. Thank you for taking time to do this website. I best catch up with lesson 2 and 3 🙂

    • So glad you enjoyed this, Janulee! I think we all need those little reminders to mind our Ps and Qs! Thanks for your kind words and for taking the time to comment! 😉 Kay

  18. What a brilliant tribute to what Loretta was all about. Kay you did an outstanding job showing the “true lady” that she was. Our women of today could stand to learn ethics, poise and grace does go a long way..Thank you for this beautiful insight as she was in my books what a role model was to me as a young girl.

  19. What a wonderful page to share. This is the second time I have viewed it, and look forward to reading it again. There is so much to learn from Loretta, and what a fine example she was: actions speaking louder than words!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Liza D. So glad you’re moved to share, too. Happy to spread the word about Loretta’s wonderful advice for living like a lady! Warmly, Kay

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