LOS ANGELES - Loretta Young, the Academy Award-winning actress whose high cheekbones, pale skin and luminous eyes made her a reigning Hollywood beauty of the 1930s and 1940s, died yesterday of ovarian cancer in Los Angeles. She was 87 and lived in Palm Springs, Calif.
Ms. Young, who won an Oscar as best actress for her performance in "The Farmer's Daughter" in 1947, later became a favorite of television viewers as the star who twirled onto the stage in a designer gown each week to introduce an uplifting drama on "The Loretta Young Show."
Ms. Young died at the home of her sister, Georgiana Montalban, wife of actor Ricardo Montalban, said Norman Brokaw, chairman of the William Morris agency and Ms. Young's agent for 50 years.
She first appeared on screen at age 4 as a fairy in the silent film "The Primrose Ring." In 1928, she became a leading lady, starring opposite Lon Chaney in "Laugh, Clown, Laugh." In addition to "The Farmer's Daughter," in which she played an effervescent Swedish-born maid who runs for Congress, she appeared in nearly 100 films, often with such matinee idols as Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Tyrone Power and Cary Grant.
Her movies included "Taxi" with James Cagney in 1932; "Zoo in Budapest" with Gene Raymond in 1933; "Man's Castle" with Mr. Tracy, also in 1933; "Call of the Wild" with Mr. Gable in 1935; "The Stranger" with Orson Welles and Edward G. Robinson in 1946; and "The Bishop's Wife" with Mr. Grant in 1947.
Ms. Young's screen image suggested a blend of virtuous poise, sensuality and vulnerability. She once said that she had had crushes on all of her leading men and that she was "susceptible" to men in general.
Reflecting on her appeal to moviegoers, she told Edward J. Funk, a co-author of an unpublished autobiography, "There were an awful lot of women out there who were like me, who were willing to play by the rules, didn't sleep around and were very aggressive. A Loretta Young movie had a happy ending."
She achieved her greatest popularity on "The Loretta Young Show." In the half-hour anthology series, which ran on NBC from 1953 to 1961, Ms. Young played characters from Queen Nefertiti to a nightclub singer. A trademark of the show was her glamorous entrance.
The show was an audacious step for her because a fearful Hollywood was attacking television, a young medium and a formidable rival.
Ms. Young said she was warned that if she appeared on television regularly she would be "blackballed out of this business." But she saw television as the "wave of the future" and signed a contract with NBC and Procter & Gamble to produce and star in the dramatic series.
She won the first of three Emmy Awards in 1953, which made her the first actress to win an Oscar and an Emmy.
Perhaps the biggest controversy in her long career arose years after she left the screen. In 1994, her adopted daughter, Judy Lewis, maintained in an autobiography, "Uncommon Knowledge," that she was the daughter of Ms. Young and Clark Gable and that she was conceived during the making of "Call of the Wild," in which the two starred.
Ms. Young refused to confirm or deny her daughter's account, dismissing it as "a rumor from a bygone era."
Ms. Young was born Gretchen Michaela Young on Jan. 6, 1913, in Salt Lake City. When she was 2, her parents separated and her mother moved with her daughters and son, Jack, to Hollywood.
Ms. Young attended a convent school and began appearing as a child extra in movies, often working with her older sisters. First National Studio signed her to a contract at age 14 and renamed her Loretta.
In 1930, at 17, Ms. Young eloped with Grant Withers, her co-star in the film "The Second-Story Murder." The marriage was annulled the next year. In 1940, she married Thomas H. A. Lewis, an advertising executive who became a producer of her television series. The couple, who divorced in 1969, had two sons, Christopher and Peter.
Strong-willed and independent, Ms. Young was among the first female stars to command a six-figure salary. She owned the rights to "The Loretta Young Show" and controlled its content, casting and final editing. In 1963, at age 50, Ms. Young left show business.
Her later years were quietly shared with her third husband, Jean Louis, a designer for Columbia Pictures, whom she married in 1994. Louis died in 1997.
Ms. Young is survived by her three children and her sister.