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Paula
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Paula

A maternal melodrama that is part thriller, part tearjerker, Paula (1952) opens with John Rogers (Kent Smith) getting the news that his beautiful wife Paula (Loretta Young) has lost their baby during childbirth. Though she fixes her make-up, combs her hair and tries to put on a happy face for her husband, Paula is devastated by her loss. Only the hospital's Director of Surgery and family friend Dr. Clifford Frazer (Alexander Knox) seems to recognize her need to grieve, telling Paula in so many words, to stop pretending and cry. "The world has not collapsed because you've lost your child. It's happened to thousands of other women who've survived and so will you...Keep on repressing these feelings and you'll be a very sick woman."

Driving to meet John at a party one night after learning from her gynecologist (who sends the distraught woman home with a shot of booze) that she will never have a child again, a speeding Paula hits a seven-year-old orphan boy. A witness to the hit-and-run accident, Raymond Bascom (Will Wright), a local rancher, whisks the child off to the hospital while Paula simmers with guilt over what she's done. Tracking the child down to the hospital where he is recovering, she convinces Dr. Frazer to let her take him in and help the now-mute boy learn to speak again after his devastating injury.

John is less than pleased by the idea. An ambitious, recently appointed dean of the English department at the local college, John is suddenly very aware of scandal and others' impressions of his family. He tells Frazer that of all the children Paula wanted to adopt, "why does it have to be a freak." Once again reaching beyond the parameters of surgeon to offer his psychoanalytical analysis of human behavior, Frazer tells John that a child, of any kind, is just what his vulnerable wife needs. "She's gonna get worse," he cautions John. "You might find yourself dealing with a psycho-neurotic."

While Paula makes great strides with the little boy and finds an emotional replacement of sorts for her lost child, the local police move closer in their search for the hit and run driver who fled the scene of the accident.

The traumatized young child David who captures the hearts of Paula and her husband was played by Tommy Rettig who would go on to star in the TV series "Lassie." Rettig beat out some 500 child actors for the role of Jeff Miller in the show's 1954 premiere. Hollywood legend has it that after the Jeff role had been narrowed down to three actors, the decision was made to cast Rettig when Lassie walked straight up to the child and nuzzled him warmly. Rettig appeared on the show for four years. Rettig made his acting debut at six alongside Mary Martin in a touring production of "Annie Get Your Gun," and appeared in 17 films including the iconoclastic screen version of a story by Dr. Seuss, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. (1953).

Born Gretchen Young in 1913 Salt Lake City (she later added the name Michaela at confirmation), Loretta Young had a less than idyllic childhood. Her mother separated from her husband when Young was three and moved the family to Hollywood where she ran a boarding house. Her mother would eventually marry one of her borders, George Belzer, and the pair would produce a half sister for Gretchen. Georgiana would eventually go on to marry actor Ricardo Montalban.

Along with her two sisters, Polly Ann and Elizabeth Jane (known onscreen as Sally Blane), from the time she was four Young appeared as a child extra in a variety of films beginning in the silent era. After a sabbatical while she attended convent school, Young returned to acting at age 14. As the story goes, director Mervyn LeRoy had called the Young house to cast Polly Ann for a role, and when Gretchen told him her sister was unavailable she asked if she might do.

Though many of the films she appeared in were programmers, Young's progress from teenage actress to leading lady and from silent to talkies was smooth. She switched from First National to Fox in the Thirties and enjoyed great success for her combination of beauty and a sweet disposition.

Young's first brush with scandal came in 1930 when she eloped at age 17 to Arizona with 26-year-old costar Grant Withers, though the union was annulled the following year. Ironically enough, the pair would again appear together in Too Young to Marry (1931). Though successfully covered up, Young's second brush with romantic disaster occurred in 1935 while she was filming The Call of the Wild with Clark Gable. The pair had a brief affair which left Young pregnant. Because Gable was married to socialite Rhea Langham and an out-of-wedlock child would probably have ended his career, Young went away for a time to have her baby, eventually pretending to have adopted the little girl who would grow up with no knowledge of her real father and mother.

Young married producer Tom Lewis in 1940, and one of their two sons together, Peter Lewis would go on to perform with the San Francisco rock band Moby Grape. Her final marriage was to fashion designer Jean Louis in 1993.

Known for her great beauty and her preference for playing virtuous and wholesome women, Young finally received recognition for her acting talent in 1947. Young won her first Best Actress Academy Award for The Farmer's Daughter, a Horatio Alger-esque tale of a farm girl who becomes a congresswoman. She was nominated again in 1949 for Come to the Stable.

It Happens Every Thursday (1953), made just one year after Paula, would prove to be Young's final film before transitioning into the new medium of television. Young was one of the first film stars to successfully make that difficult move into TV.

She appeared on a successful NBC anthology series, The Loretta Young Show as hostess and star for eight years, a show which garnered her three Emmys, making her the first person to win both an Academy Award and an Emmy. The show had originally been called Letter to Loretta and each episode opened with her reading a piece of her fan mail, a routine she eventually abandoned. Long known for her faith and support of Catholic charities, Young ended each installment of The Loretta Young Show with a moral lesson that reflected her concern about American values in the postwar years.

In the 1970s Young successfully sued NBC for showing reruns of the show. Young feared that the outfits and hairstyles she wore during her introduction for each show would appear dated and out of fashion. In 1961 Young published her memoir, The Things I Had to Learn. In 1962 she briefly returned to television for the year-long run of the comedy The New Loretta Young Show. Young died at age 87 of ovarian cancer at the home of her sister Georgiana Montalban.

Producer: Buddy Adler
Director: Rudolph Mate
Screenplay: Larry Marcus, James Poe, William Sackheim
Cinematography: Charles Lawton, Jr.
Film Editing: Viola Lawrence
Art Direction: Ross Bellah
Music: George Duning
Cast: Loretta Young (Paula Rogers), Kent Smith (John Rogers), Alexander Knox (Dr. Clifford Frazer), Tommy Rettig (David Iarsen), Otto Hulett (Lt. Dargen), Will Wright (Raymond Bascom).
BW-80m.

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