Loretta Young returns to TV after 23 years

Christmas Eve NBC, Monday, 9-11 p.m. Stars: Loretta Young, Trevor Howard, Arthur Hill, Ron Liebman. Director: Stuart Cooper. Teleplay: Blanche Hanalis. AFTER 94 movies and more than 300 TV appearances, Loretta Young is not at all disappointed - in fact, she's pleased - that millions of people remember her best for ``coming through the door in a new dress.'' ``After all,'' she says by telephone from Beverly Hills, where she lives, ``the format of my television shows [``The Loretta Young Show,'' 1953-61, and ``The New Loretta Young Show,'' 1962-63] was chosen to make them remember that.''

Miss Young, whose appearances on those NBC series won her three Emmys and five more nominations, as well as a Golden Globe Award and a Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, hopes the shows will be put back into circulation with no updating of her coming-through-the-door introductions. ``Part of the nostalgia would be watching those clothes develop from 1953 to 1963. You can almost tell by the clothes and hairstyles what year it is.'' She owns more than 100 of the films herself, and NBC owns the rest.

``I love clothes,'' she says and admits that the pleasure of wearing beautiful ones again in her TV special ``Christmas Eve'' was a major factor in her decision to return to TV after an absence of 23 years. ``That, and the fact that the film deals with three of our biggest problems - unemployment, homelessness, and the generation gap.''

Stylist Jean-Louis, who designed all of her clothes in the last year of her TV series, acted as fashion consultant for the special, in which Loretta Young plays a chic, compassionate, wealthy woman determined to give away her money wisely and also to bring her grandchildren and son back together. It is a pleasant, uplifting but predict able holiday film, filled with a charming spirit of conciliation but notable mainly for the return of a seemingly indestructible Loretta Young, still looking stylish and beautiful. What has Miss Young been doing for the past 23 years, and how does she manage to look so well?

She laughs the bubbly Loretta laugh that has become a trademark. ``I've been doing little or nothing. ... Maybe that's why I look well. I get an awful lot of rest, read a lot, do some charity work, spend as much time as possible with my three children and four grandchildren. My life is not at all hectic, and I think that has a lot to do with the way people look.''

A few times a year Miss Young appears before groups to show excerpts from her films and TV shows and to answer questions. ``Mostly those who come want to know about my personal life,'' she giggles.

What is her favorite film? ``I guess the one I got the most mileage from, the one I won the Academy Award for - `The Farmer's Daughter.' But I also loved `Ramona' and `Rachel and the Stranger.''' Miss Young says she doesn't watch much television, although ``I'm crazy about `The Bill Cosby Show,' because I always feel better about myself and the people in the world after I've seen it.'' She also watches ``Dynasty.'' Would she accept a role in ``Dynasty?''

``Oh, no. All the good roles are taken. And'' - she laughs again to make certain it is clear she is jesting - ``I'm not satisfied with bit parts.''

Young objects to much of the vulgarity and violence she sees in new films and TV shows. She feels, however, that the pendulum is swinging back to quality and cites several recent specials as evidence - especially last year's Joanne Woodward special, ``Do You Remember Love?'' and the recent CBS drama ``The Promise.''

Why did she choose to do ``Christmas Eve'' after so many years of leisure? ``I liked the story, and I guess I was ready to go back to work. My mother died a year and a half ago at age 96. She had been the spiritual mainstay of the family. We were all wild about her, but we realize she had earned her reward. This story happened to come along at exactly the right time in my life. The woman in it is positive, attractive, working for a good purpose, and I would like to see more of this kind of person on the screen. We need more joy and uplift and sensitivity in this world. Wouldn't it be marvelous to have all the money in the world, as this woman does, and give it away properly? That would make me so happy.''

Young attributes some of the generation-gap problems of our society to the fact that so many working mothers are separated from their offspring. ``I know women have to work. My own mother had to, because my father left when I was four. But she opened a boarding house where she could work and still be with her children. To give us a better atmosphere, she advertised for families as boarders.''

Would Loretta Young return to television in a series? We chat about the recent return of Lucille Ball and the fact that some critics believe that Lucy should have been allowed to age gracefully on air. Miss Young refuses to criticize her fellow actress, but she does say: ``I would not try to be the same person I was 23 years ago. I have always embraced age. I was always emulating my mother, and she was 24 years older than I. Still bright, compassionate, understanding, full of the sensitivity that comes with age and none of the crankiness and irritability some people ascribe to aging. It doesn't have to be that way. My mother was wise and beautiful to the end. I identify with her in this special. There were shots in this film in which I look like my mother.... If I could do the film over again, I would do things even more like my mother would do them.''

How does it feel to be a living legend? ``I can't see myself as a legend. I do recognize it as a compliment, though. It means that I haven't spoiled something which people have dreamed up about me.''

What's next for Loretta Young now that she has broken the ice of a 23-year retirement? ``Who knows? I try to handle each day as it comes - good, bad, or indifferent. But I can't do that alone. I have to do that with God. So far it has worked for me. At 73 I am so grateful to Him I can't tell you.''

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