“Uncommon Knowledge”

This photograph shows Loretta Young, the actress of yesteryear, and her daughter, Judy Lewis.  Only thing is, they weren’t always together. At birth, after a pregnancy held in secrecy, Judy was placed in the hands of caretakers at St. Elisabeth’s Infants Hospital in San Francisco.  Loretta was far too famous to be witnessed giving birth, as she had conceived with the then married male film star, Clark Gable.  (See the resemblance?)

Soon after, Judy was “adopted” by her birth mother Loretta, which was duly noted in the tabloids and legitimized as a Choice Mom’s decision to have a child alone, and garnered support and empathy from all.  One other little thing:  Judy learned, as these truths will out, that she was in fact the biological daughter of her mother, who needed to keep appearances at all costs.  There was a tearful confrontation, when Loretta admitted she was Judy’s mother, although there was never a public acknowledgement that “I am her biological child.”

In her memoir “Uncommon Knowledge”, 1994 Judy Lewis spoke about her sense of alienation growing up, of being different as an adoptee, and of the necessity to accept adult explanations as to why she could not have the basic information of who she was.  Especially when Judy was living with one birth parent, it seems especially galling this knowledge was withheld.  Loretta Young did not speak to her daughter for three years after the publication of the memoir.  Perhaps things would be different now.  Perhaps.

I know of a case where the birth mother masquerades as a close family friend of an adoptee’s parents because the truth of their real relationship would be too devastating it is thought, and worth the price of life long confusion and ambiguity, not to mention ambivalence toward her mother, for the daughter.  Our hearts go out to people like these, who are forced, through no choice of their own, to live a shrouded identity.

Judy Lewis died at the age of 76 on Friday, November 23, Black Friday, not without knowing the truth, but unable to reach an easy truce with it, and certainly never able to experience the ingrained security of living with accountable parents whose first interest was her.  Though she lived in Hollywood splendor and tried her hand at making movies herself, Lewis eventually became a licensed family and child counselor.  How qualified are the wounded to heal, and what a gift she likely brought to others with her insight.

Meanwhile, the movie made with Loretta Young and Clark Gable which precipitated their romance, “The Call of the Wild”, became a source of fantasy for Judy. The New York Times reporter Paul Vitello http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/01/arts/television/judy-lewis-secret-daughter-of-hollywood-dies-at-76.html?hpw states that when “asked if she ever fantasized about the life she might have had if her parents had married and brought her up, (Judy said) ‘I would have liked them to have…but that is just my dream, you know.  Life is very strange.  Doesn’t give us what we want’.”

Our thoughts about pain, unnecessary and perhaps selfishly wielded, inflicted on a young girl leave us sympathy and respect for Judy — and a search for compassion for a young mother Loretta imprisoned by a system of repression.  Both sought to find their way.

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