Judy Lewis – the secret love child of Clark Gable and Loretta Young – has died of cancer aged 76.
Judy Lewis sensationally revealed in her 1994 memoir Uncommon Knowledge that she was conceived in 1935 when Loretta Young, 22, and the married Clark Gable, 34, were shooting the classic movie Call of the Wild.
Loretta Young, a single Catholic woman, concealed her pregnancy and placed her daughter in an orphanage at eight months. The actress brought her daughter into public view at 19 months, saying the girl was her adopted child.
Terrified her secret would come out, Loretta Young did all she could to cover up clues about her daughter’s origins. There are no photographs of Judy Lewis up to two. Up to seven the photos show her wearing a bonnet.
Judy Lewis recalled: “My ears stuck out, just like my father’s did. So I had plastic surgery when I was seven. My surgeon had told my mother that an operation of this nature was extremely painful.
“He suggested it should wait until I was older. But she insisted.”
Judy Lewis saw her father, Clark Gable, who died in 1960, only once, when she was 15.
She said of the encounter: “As he left, he gave me a kiss on my forehead, but I didn’t know he was my father. I cry when I watch his films. Why didn’t he ride up on a white horse and rescue me?”
There is a Gone With The Wind scene where Clark Gable plays affectionately with his fictional daughter. “I like to imagine that he was thinking of me when he was playing those scenes,” Judy Lewis said.
She added that perhaps the famous “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” was a truer reflection of his feelings towards her.
“At the time, what Loretta Young did was completely successful,” said Leonard Maltin, a film critic and Hollywood historian.
“The general public never had any inkling that she had done this. It protected her stardom and her image as a wholesome young woman.”
In 1940, Loretta Young married Thomas Lewis, and Judy Lewis took his surname – but she was never formally adopted by her stepfather.
“It was very difficult for me as a little girl not to be accepted … by my mother, who to this day will not publicly acknowledge that I am her biological child,” Judy Lewis said in 1994.
Loretta Young’s parenthood was an open secret in Hollywood but Judy Lewis’s friends had been instructed not to tell her.
It wasn’t until Judy Lewis’ wedding that her groom Joseph Tinney finally told her that Clark Gable was her father. She was 23.
Judy Lewis explained: “I grew up surrounded by rumours that Clark Gable was my father. Everyone knew who my parents were, even my closest friends, but no one dared tell me.
“It wasn’t until the night before I was to get married that my future husband told me who my father was. I had told him my suspicions about my mother being my real mother and that I didn’t know who my father was.
“He then said: <<I know everything. It’s common knowledge, Judy. Your father is Clark Gable>>.”
“Twenty-three years of my life had passed and everyone in the world knew about me – but me. I cried then. And I have been crying for most of my life,” said Judy Lewis, who had years of therapy.
Judy Lewis was born in Venice, California, and went on to perform on Broadway and TV in her own career.
She also produced the soap opera “Texas”, a spinoff of “Another World”. In the 1980s, Judy Lewis earned psychology degrees, advocating for children’s rights and counselling teenagers.
Judy Lewis later became a psychotherapist in Los Angeles, something she pursued until her illness. In 1994, she wrote “Uncommon Knowledge”, acknowledging her parentage publicly for the first time.
“The situation in which they found themselves in 1935 would not have posed such a problem in the Hollywood of today,” Judy Lewis wrote in the book.
Before Judy Lewis’ memoir was published, the identity of her parents had long been rumoured.
However, Leonard Maltin said the truth was never truly public until the memoir, in which Judy Lewis describes her mother telling her the truth in 1966.
In the book, Judy Lewis said Loretta Young told her then: “Well, he was your father. He was darling. Sweet and very gentle.
“He was married, so when I discovered I was pregnant with you, I was frantic and terrified. It would have ruined both our careers, a scandal like that.”
Loretta Young, one of Hollywood’s most glamorous screen goddesses of the Thirties and Forties, died in 2000 aged 87. Gable died in 1960 aged 59.
Judy Lewis, a psychotherapist and actress, of Palm Springs, California, died in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, on Friday. Her survivors include her daughter, three half-brothers and her partner, Steve Rowland.