Gina Mei
Updated Jul 13, 2015 @ 2:21 pm

In 1935, legendary actress Loretta Young discovered she was pregnant with Clark Gable’s child, and conducted one of the most elaborate cover-ups in Hollywood history. Rather than tell her studio, 20th Century, about the pregnancy — which would have undoubtedly led to an abortion (something Young, a devout Catholic, considered a sin) — Young managed to keep it a secret by continuing work, going abroad, faking illness, and then giving an interview with a prominent gossip columnist while eight months pregnant and surrounded by strategically-placed pillows. After her daughter, Judy, was born, Young gave her up to a Catholic orphanage — and then adopted her back a couple years later.

The story is perhaps one of Hollywood’s greatest scandals: Gable and Young were co-stars in The Call of the Wild, and at the time, Gable was still married to his second wife, Maria Langham. Neither Gable nor Young publicly confirmed the identity of Judy’s father while alive — and Young only revealed the truth in her memoirs, which were published posthumously. But now, a new and heartbreaking piece of the story has emerged, in an incredible longform piece by Anne Helen Peterson on Buzzfeed.

According to the piece, in 1998, while watching an episode of Larry King Live, an 85-year-old Young heard the term “date rape” for the first time. Young asked her friend Edward Funk and her daughter-in-law Linda Lewis to explain what it meant — and in the process, found the words to describe something horrible that had happened to her more than 60 years prior. Lewis explained that date rape is “basically when you’re with someone that you trust, or literally on a date with them, and you’re not compliant, or you’re saying no, and they’re not listening.” For Young, it was a revelation.

“That’s what happened between me and Clark,” she said, according to Buzzfeed.

Throughout her life (and even after her death), Young was often painted as duplicitous, selfish, and hypocritical; that she touted her Catholic morals when convenient but in reality acted against them. This idea of Young was in large part rooted in what happened between her and Gable — and while Gable left the situation mostly unscathed, it followed Young for her entire life. (Case in point: Peterson mentions that Young was photographed in Vanity Fair a year before her death, and the question of Judy’s parenthood was brought up yet again in the interview.)

As Peterson writes, “It’s easy to look at Young’s elaborate cover-up and label it ridiculous. It’s harder to see what happened to her as indicative of larger structures of power — patriarchy, of course, but also Hollywood — that continue to make it so difficult for these stories to be told.”

According to the CDC, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be the victim of rape in their lifetimes; and 86% of the time, the perpetrator will be a non-stranger. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network estimates that only 32% of rapes are reported, and that only 2% of rapists will ever serve jail time.

In ways big and small, victim-blaming and rape culture remain as prevalent as ever — and only make it all the more difficult for victims to come forward with their stories. According to Buzzfeed, Young had spent her life blaming herself for what had happened with Gable, because she didn’t have the words to explain otherwise. “Date rape” was something she never even knew existed, let alone something she knew could happen to her.

“After my extensive interviews with Young’s son, daughter-in-law, and longtime biographer, it seems clear to me that by keeping the secret of her daughter’s conception, Young was doing what millions of women have done before and since: Using what little power she had to take back control of her life after it had been wrested from her,” Peterson writes.

And when asked why Lewis, her husband (Chris, Young’s son), and Funk chose to come forward with this story now, they acknowledge it was a difficult decision. After all, both Young and Gable have passed away, and therefore can’t speak for themselves about what happened. But ultimately, Lewis hoped the story could help other victims.

Judy is not here to be hurt by this. And that’s what Loretta really wanted to avoid — because who doesn’t want to be conceived in love?” Lewis told Buzzfeed. “But then I realized that it’s almost every day, all these rapes, and the men just keep getting away with it.”

“When you’re the keeper of this information, it’s a terrifying story to tell for the first time,” she continued. “It’s so dramatic. The onus is on us to prove it, but you can’t prove it. It’s ‘he said, she said.’ But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tell the story.”

To read the rest (and you really, truly should), you can go to Buzzfeed right here.

(Image via 20th Century Fox)