In 1986 Judy Lewis asked her mother, actress Loretta Young, if she would ever publicly acknowledge that Clark Gable was Lewis’s father. “No,” Young replied. “Never.”
But Young, who died of ovarian cancer in August at 87, had a change of heart. Joan Wester Anderson, author of Forever Young, a new, authorized biography of the Oscar winner, says that Young admitted to her last year that Judy, now 65, was not adopted, as Young had long insisted. She was the product of a one-night stand with married Gable while they filmed 1935’s Call of the Wild.
Not that the news comes as any great surprise. In her 1994 autobiography, Uncommon Knowledge, Lewis, a divorced Los Angeles family therapist, claimed her mother had fessed up to her in 1966. Young fled to Europe after learning she was pregnant, returned to Los Angeles to have baby Judy, then sent her to a foundling home for 19 months before “adopting” her. Had the truth come out, “her career would have been finished—so would my father’s,” says Lewis, who met Gable only once. “She had valid reasons.”
But Young, who also told Lewis she wished she had persuaded Gable to marry her, clung to her fiction, refusing to speak to Lewis for 11 years after hearing that Lewis might write an autobiography. (They made up in 1997.) Anderson, 62, says Young finally came clean because “she figured out there was a lot in her life people could gain something from.” Says Lewis: “I was pleased she had the courage to tell the truth. It’s a circle that’s now closed.”