Judy Lewis, out-of-wedlock daughter of Loretta Young and Clark Gable, died of cancer on Friday, Nov. 25, at a retirement home in the Philadelphia suburb of Gladwyne. She was 76.
Young, who was an ardent Catholic, and Gable, then married to Maria Franklin Langham (17 years his senior) had an affair while starring in William A. Wellman’s 1935 adventure drama The Call of the Wild. Young had just turned 22, Gable was 34.
In a manner similar to the absurd stories of so many Hollywood melodramas of the period, after learning of her pregnancy Young took off for Europe. Upon her return months later, she was reported ill and convalescing at a hospital in the Los Angeles suburb of Venice, where Judy was born Nov. 6, 1935. When the girl was almost two, Young officially adopted her (and a boy, later returned) from an orphanage in San Francisco. Young married businessman Tom Lewis in 1940.
Despite myriad rumors, Young — a Best Actress Oscar winner for The Farmer’s Daughter (1947) and a highly popular television personality in ’50s — refused to acknowledge the truth until 1966, when Lewis was in her 30s. By then, Gable, once known as the King of Hollywood and one of the stars of Gone with the Wind, had been dead of a heart attack for six years. (His only other [known] child, John Clark Gable, was born months after his death.)
Lewis, who later in life became a psychotherapist, told her story in the 1994 autobiography Uncommon Knowledge. In her book, she recalled her mother saying:
"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. We would never have worked in films again. I was so frightened I didn’t know what to do. I was Catholic and I couldn’t have an abortion.
"Mama and I decided that Clark had to be told, but when I told him, he turned to Mama and he said, ’I thought she knew how to take care of herself. She’s been a married woman [to actor Grant Withers, from Jan. 1930 to Sept. 1931], hasn’t she?’"
Loretta Young and Clark Gable would work together one more time, in George Sidney’s 1950 romantic comedy Key to the City. Young, among whose film credits include Laugh, Clown, Laugh, Man’s Castle, The Crusades, The Stranger, The Bishop’s Wife, and The Accused, died of cancer in August 2000. She refused to talk to Lewis for three years following the publication of Uncommon Knowledge.
As per the IMDb, Lewis appeared in only a handful of movies, including a bit part in Airport 1975, as one the passengers aboard the fateful plane eventually piloted by air attendant Karen Black. She also performed on Broadway and on television, including recurring roles in the TV series Outlaws and General Hospital.
Additionally, Lewis was a producer of the Another World spinoff soap Texas. In 1985, she shared a Writers Guild of America Award for several episodes of the daytime soap Search for Tomorrow.