About the Myrna Loy Center
Box Office Hours
Monday-Friday: 12:00 – 7:00 PM
Saturday/Sunday: 2:00 – 7:00 PM
The mission of the Myrna Loy Center is to inspire Helena by presenting culturally enriching arts experiences of all disciplines; to support local and regional artists in their work; and to foster a lifelong love of the arts through educational projects and experiences.
Historically, Helena has been a regional center for performance and access to the performing arts. In the frontier days in the 1860’s and 1870’s traveling troupes and western theater companies passed through Helena or took up part-time residency during the winter months. Helena and Butte became convenient railroad stops for the best of vaudeville entertainment traveling between Chicago and Seattle from the 1880’s to 1920’s. Through the early 1960’s several grand old vaudeville/movie houses hosted the best of national touring companies. In the early 1970’s, Helena had a need for an organization that could be a link to the past and provide new performance and art experiences to an eager audience.
The Myrna Loy Center began as the Helena Film Society in 1976 to provide alternative cinema to a small city far from major urban centers. Located on the second floor of a historic office building in downtown Helena, Second Story Cinema soon became home to various community arts projects, including theatre, poetry, satirical revues, multimedia, and musical events.
The Series for the Performing Arts began in 1979, presenting traditional and innovative works by culturally diverse artists of national stature. Bringing performing artists from faraway places not only brought a unique entertainment resource to Helena; it also nurtured local and regional artists and created opportunities for arts and humanities education in the community.
With a 1985 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Advancement grant, the Center completed a major capital campaign that resulted in the opening of the Myrna Loy Center, located in the historic Lewis and Clark County Jail in downtown Helena, Montana. The Myrna Loy Center officially opened in 1991. The Center then completed a NEA Challenge Grant that resulted in a growing Endowment of over $688,000 in cash and a Charitable Remainder Trust.
In 1994, the Myrna Loy Center and founding director Arnie Malina won the Fannie Taylor “Career Achievement” award from the association of Performing Arts Presenters, (APAP). In 1997 the Center received the Governor’s Award for the Arts for service in the Arts “essential to the cultural life of Montana.”
In the past 40 years, the organization has sponsored over 650 live performance to this rural underserved population. It presents films daily and provides arts and media education to local schools and to residents.
The Center showcases its productions in a variety of venues. Smaller, more intimate productions—theater, dance, jazz, folk, performance art and cinema—are presented in the 250-seat proscenium arch theater and the 50-seat screening room of the Myrna Loy Center. There is also a small art gallery located adjacent to the box office. Special programs have been presented in community schools, churches, bars, and other gathering spaces.
Myrna Loy—Montana’s First Lady of Film
Montana’s First Lady of Film was born Myrna Williams, on August 2, 1905, in Radersburg, Montana, 40 miles southeast of Helena. Her father, David Williams, served in the Montana state legislature. He was the youngest person ever elected to the Montana State legislature. At age seven, Myrna moved with her father, mother, and brother to Helena, where they lived on 5th Avenue, a few blocks from the Lewis and Clark County jail.Myrna Williams made her stage debut at age twelve at Helena’s old Marlow Theater in a dance she choreographed, based on “The Blue Bird” from the Rose Dream Operatta. At the age of 13, Myrna’s father died of influenza and the rest of the family moved to Los Angeles. She was educated in L.A. at the Westlake School for Girls, where she caught the acting bug. She started at the age of 15 when she appeared in local stage productions in order to help support her family. Some of the stage plays were held in the now famous Grauman’s Theater in Hollywood. Mrs. Rudolph Valentino happened to be in the audience one night. She managed to pull some strings to get Myrna some parts in the motion picture industry. The name Loy, was taken as a professional stage
Myrna Loy’s witty portrayal of Nora Charles in The Thin Man films of the 1930’s and ’40’s transformed her into an enduring screen legend. She created one of the most loved and timelessly entertaining characters in film history. In 1936, a poll of 20 million fans voted her “Queen of the Movies” and Clark Gable “King,” and the two were subsequently teamed in a number of films. Myrna Loy’s candor and warmth graced such film classics as The Best Years of Our Lives, Cheaper by the Dozen, and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. Myrna Loy, the actress, distilled the essence of feminine “rightness” for millions of viewers. She was sophisticated, intelligent and charming. In 1981, she played in her last film, Summer Solstice. In 1991, Myrna Loy received an honorary Academy Award for her lifetime achievement in film.
Myrna Loy, the citizen, was equally impressive. She worked for the Red Cross, supported the United Nations, and became a spokesperson for UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). She also fought the Hollywood blacklisting and witch hunts of the ’50’s and served on Civil Rights Commissions. Throughout her life she demonstrated a genuine concern for fellow human-beings.
On a personal note, her autobiography, Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming, was published in 1987. Her hobbies included dancing and sculpting. She was married to: Howland H. Sergeant (1951 – 1960) (divorced), Gene Markey (1946 – 1950) (divorced), John Hertz Jr. (1942 – 1944) (divorced) and Arthur Hornblow Jr. (1936 – 1942) (divorced).
On December 14, 1993, Myrna Loy passed away in New York City during surgery. By the time Myrna passed away at the age of 88, she had appeared in a phenomenal 129 motion pictures. She was buried in Helena, Montana.