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Paul Vitello, Judy Lewis, Secret Daughter of Hollywood, Dies at 76, New York Times, 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.
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.
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, ‘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.’ ”
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.”