Kay Francis just might be the biggest of the so-called Forgotten Stars, at least to as far as I’m concerned. Kay came into my life by way of my college days at both Fordham University in the Bronx and courses at both the Bronx and Manhattan branches of Fordham University. Whenever I had time both time and money, I’d go to buy film goodies from Movie Star News, a treasure trove of vintage posters, movie scripts, and so much more wonderful memorabilia from decades of amazing posters and other goodies for us movie lovers. Movie Star News was run by the brother and sister team brother of Irving and Paula Klaw in the Village. Paula kind of gave me the Hairy Eyeball at first (understandably; they treat their wonderful wares like they were their children, and who can blame them?), but when Paula realized we were on the same page, we became friendly, and that was how Kay became one of my favorite classic stars!“My life? Well, I get up at a quarter to six in the morning if I’m going to wear an evening dress on camera. That sentence sounds a little ga-ga, doesn’t it? But never mind, that’s my life…As long as they pay me my salary, they can give me a broom and I’ll sweep the stage. I don’t give a damn. I want the money... so that no sign of my existence is left on this earth. I can't wait to be forgotten.”"Kay Francis’ Private Diaries, ca. 1938.”
Kay might be considered a “forgotten star” here in 2014 (unfairly, at least in this gal’s opinion), but that wasn’t always the case! She is considered the biggest of the “Forgotten Stars” from Hollywood’s Golden Age. In Kay's heyday in the 1930s, she was tagged as “The Queen of Warner Brothers,” with a hefty salary of $115,000, comparable to Bette Davis with $1,800! Nice work if you can get it, indeed!
Ironically, Kay didn’t out start as a movie queen, even though she was the daughter of actress Katherine Clinton, unless you count that Kay’s first job was royalty of another kind: Kay sold real estate and arranged swanky parties for wealthy socialites; I guess that'one way to learn one the ropes! !"Following her marriage in 1922 to wealthy James Dwight Francis, Kay naturally, Kay adopted “Kay Francis” as her stage name. And what a pedigree: Kay’s first dramatic role was as the lead in a modern version of Hamlet, with Kay as “The Player Queen!.”
Throughout the decade of the 1930s, Kay Francis was a top Hollywood star, her career a perfect example of the sort that once flourished in the studio system. A tall, sultry beauty, she wore clothes with style and grace, and her name became synonymous with glamour, fashion and modern womanhood. She starred in stylish comedies such as Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise (1932), and the Marx Brothers's The Cocoanuts (1929), but she is best remembered for her films in which a woman of poise and intelligence "faced life," such as Dr. Monica (1934), Living on Velvet (1935), In Name Only (1939), and House on 56th Street (1933).
|Kay Francis and William Powell get in cozy in One Way Passage (1932)|
Kay got her first film role in the first Marx Brothers comedy, The Cocoanuts (1929), playing Penelope, a slinky jewel thief who gets in the middle of the Marx Brothers’ zany romp during the Florida land boom, with the boys running a hotel (practically into the ground!) and making merry mischief at an auction land, thwarting Penelope and her partner, helping, and generally act like their zany, incorrigible selves. The grey-eyed beauty with the a voice as warm as honey was poised for sound and glamorous in her looks and her poise; no wonder Kay was lauded in her heyday as “Hollywood’s Best Dressed Woman,” with designers like Dorothy Jeakins, Travis Banton and Adrian. After Kay got her big break she became an in-demand a leading lady in the Ernst Lubitsch comedy Trouble in Paradise (1932); Doctor Monica; One Way Passage (1932), starring another Team Bartilucci favorite, William Powell; I Found Stella Parish (1935); and so much more.
But we're here to celebrate Kay, so let's enjoy two of Team Bartilucci's favorite blog posts saluting our gal Kay!
Kay Francis Double Feature
1: One Way Passage (1932)
I admit it: I usually don’t enjoy “weepies,” those sentimental movies where you’d better get out your hankies. I’d rather watch an MST3TK episode T3K episode, because life is too short to be sad if I don’t have to be! However, I was pleasantly surprised that that One Way Passage had an enjoyable blend of comedy, drama, and tenderness. Kay and William Powell (another Team Bartilucci fave) have worked together before (For the Defence; Jewel Robbery, and the pair work together beautifully under the sure hand of Director Tay Garnett (The Postman Always Rings Twice; A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court). Orry-Kelly’s fabulous wardrobe is outrageously over the top, but on Kay, it suits her perfectly, especially her hats and gowns, and Powell’s snappy duds are sharp, too!
One Way Passage is the story of two starcrossed lovers: Dan Hardesty (Powell) a murderer who killed a no-goodnik who needed killing, but Dan’s handler, Steve (Warren Hymer), is a bit more sympathetic to Steve when after Dan saves him from drowning instead of letting him and his "bracelts" scram! Meanwhile, we meet Joan (our gal Kay Francis), a woman who loves life, but has little time left. The doctor suggests quiet, but when she sees the dashing Dan, Joan knows what she wants, and it isn’t peace and quiet; as Auntie Mame would say, “I want to live, live LIVE!” Instead of spending her numbered days sitting in bed with no what-not, Joan is determined to..."cram in all the intense beautiful happiness in what life I've got left. That's all living's for! If it's only for a few hours, I want to have it, and I'm going to have it, all I can get my hands on!" You tell '''em, Kay!, er, Joan! The trick is to keep the sad news for each of them -- why each can't come clean in these kind of movies always bewilders me, but those you know how these star-crossed sweeties are in these films! Anyway, Kay and Powell are so endearing, even a cynic like me can't help loving them, It also helps that the supporting cast is enjoyable, with Aline MacMahon as a con artist posing a countess, and Team Bartilucci fave Frank Mc Hugh as a loveble tippler who nevertheless helps the lovebirds in their zany ways.
Kay Francis 2: Raffles (1930)
|Raffles takes that nursery rhryme seriously!|
My dear late mom was a woman of many facets, including her love of fashion. She would tell me about the styles of the era, and how dashing actors like Ronald Colman were. With that velvet voice and charm, who would't want to join Raffles in derring do and romance -- other then Inspector MacKenzie, and even HE admits he can't help liking the guy!
Raffles, AKA The Amateur Cracksman, is a right guy, saving his desperate friend Bunny, who's in hock to the bankers. Our clever hero, who has a knack for a caperr with the Marchioness of Melrose. Just one snag: another flock of thieves is muscling in! It's up to Raffles to set things right in his debonair way -- as long as Inspector McKenzie doesn't gum up the works! Luckily, his fiancee, the Lady Gwen (played by our gal Kay) is sympathetic to his zany yet suspenful dilemma.
|Wow, who knew Lady Melrose was a cougar, that little minx!|
|Gwen, my darling, I love you more!|
No, my sweet, I love YOU more! No, you!
Alas, Kay’s reign was coming to an end at Warner Brothers; Kay’s salary was getting too expensive for Warner Brothers, and she was pink-slipped when Warner Brothers felt she was getting too expensive to keep. It’s been claimed that Warner Brothers’ writers were sneakily sabotaging Kay with her lisp becoming more noticeable as Kay, it’s said, was ’s “L“L”’ dubbed Kay,"The Wavishing Kay Fwancis" -- wiseguys!
Kay was relegated to Monogram, though she did excellent work like the trouper she was. She did some TV and stage work before she finally decided to retire in 1952. Kay spent the rest of her life in New York and her estate in Falmouth, Cape Cod until, sadly, she died of breast cancer in 1966. She left some of her estate (in excess in of $1 million) to the Seeing Eye Incorporated. Kay’s personal papers are accessible at the Weslyan Cinema Collation, as requested.
Will Kay Francis have a well-deserved renaissance? Well, I agree with other fans like me who agree. So, as Kay and her co-star William Powell in One-Way Passage would say, let’s not say farewell, but instead, let’s say “Say auf wiedersehen,” because I think Kay is due for a renaissance We Kay fans are coming around to rediscover the grey-eyed Kay for a comeback for her, indeed, even a renaissance, if you ask me and other fans! Don’t count her out yet!
Oh, I love this woman! When I got around to discovering her about a year or so ago I was positively obsessed with her! Wonderful post, Dorian, and 2 great choices to showcase the elegant Kay.ReplyDelete
Thanks for your kind praise for our Kay Francis Double-Feature, Marsha! I knew you must surely love Kay, too, what with you having great taste! :-DDelete
Loved your post on Kay, Dorian. She's one of my favorites, especially as the fashion plate model for Orry Kelly in all those Warner Bros. movies. I think she's always caught the eye of classic movie fans, so "reviving" interest in her should not be hard. I would have picked her myself as a subject if you hadn't.ReplyDelete
Christian, with your keen eye for lovely clothes, I knew you'd love Kay as much as I do! My dear late mom always loved Orry-Kelly, too. Maybe it's time for someone to put together an Orry-Kelly Blogathon, or at least an exhibition! Many thanks for your kind praise, Christian! :-DDelete
My introduction to Kay was in a western (of course!). She was co-starred with Randolph Scott in 1940s "When the Dalton's Rode". I liked her straight-forward and confident personality. She is hesitant about kicking a former beau to the curb for Randy and he tells her "We're not kids any more." That line always stayed with me. Such a non-sappy thing to say. It wasn't until years later I saw "Trouble in Paradise" and what we may think of as the real Kay Francis. You simply cannot forget her.ReplyDelete
Paddy, I admit I hadn't thought much about Our Gal Kay as a sagebrush kind of gal; my dear mom had, but silly me, I should have, because when I was a youngster, our family would go to a place called Rocking Horse Ranch, where we had many happy hours; surely Kay would have joined the fun, big-time! (Though I'm just a "dude" now, I'm afraid ! :-) Now you have me interested in "When the Dalton's Rode" Thanks for being a pal and for giving me even more reasons to enjoy the fabulous Kay, my friend! :-DReplyDelete
I agree with Caftan Woman re: Kay Francis' confident personality. And, at the risk of sounding cliché, her wardrobes are a never-ending source of wonder for me. (Does Kay Francis look bad in ANYTHING? I think not.)ReplyDelete
I was a little surprised, however, to read that she couldn't wait to be forgotten. I had no idea she felt that way.
Great post, Dor! So glad you included Ms. Francis in the blogathon.
Ruth, I'm delighted that you enjoyed Team Bartilucci's salute to the ravishing Kay Francis (no smarty-pants cracks about our Kay (brickbats to those who don't give her respect, so there!) -- you're our kind of people, but you knew that! :-D Some day someone must put her in some place like The Met Museum and really celebrate that amazing star! And like you, I too am surprised that Kay looked forward to be forgotten. Maybe she thought she's done everything she ever wanted to do; it would be a shame if she didn't appreciate herself as much as we do. Thanks a million for joining me in giving Kay the kudos she deserves, and for being a great friend as well! :-DDelete
Okay, Dorian, I think I've finally figured it out. When my Mom was carrying me she somehow managed to insult a witch. With a cackle the witch intoned: "Your son shall be CURSED! No matter how much he loves movies, and no matter how many movies he's seen, Dorian Tenore-Bartilucci will always have seen more!" The witch then vanished in a cloud of smoke, leaving my Mom to wonder who the heck "Dorian Tenore-Bartilucci" was ("How many people is that?").ReplyDelete
Which, of course, is my way of saying that, whereas I've seen (and enjoyed) Sam Wood's "Raffles" (with David Niven and Olivia de Havilland), I've yet to see the Coleman version (I don't even know why I bother calling myself a fan of . . . insert actor name here . . . when I'm so deficient in following his or her career).
I've also yet to see "One Way Passage", but you already knew that I bet. As with yourself I'm not really into "weepies", unless they're dramatically dead on (and I mean they have to be TIGHT).
Kay Francis, of course, I do know. I also remember her slinking about "The Cocoanuts", thinking I wish I had that swing in my back yard. Ahem). I also remember her in "King of the Underworld" (and wish TCM would run that again, instead of repeat showings of "Watch on the Rhine"). I may never see as many movies as you will (maybe if I could find that witch's e-mail I could send a belated apology . . . or Gretel, whichever I get my hands on first), but you are definitely another one who champions "forgotten" and "underrated" actors (which is a shame when you consider the sort of talent that's been slapped with such a brush).
("Wavishing Kay Fwancis" indeed! You tell 'em, Elmer.)
Michael, you cracked me up with "The witch then vanished in a cloud of smoke, leaving my Mom to wonder who the heck "Dorian Tenore-Bartilucci was ("How many people is that?" is)"! You've perked up Team Bartilucci's day, knowing you love Kay Francis as much as we of Team B. do! You know, I've only seen the 1930 version of RAFFLES, never the one with David Niven and Olivia de Haviland. I'll have to watch it and see how it stacks up with Kay and Ronald, just for fun! :-D For the record, WATCH ON THE REINE is a fine film, but having seen it many times on TCM, I too think they could give it a rest just this once! Thanks for joining the TOTED fun, my friend; you're welcome anytime! :-DReplyDelete
I haven't managed to catch RAFFLES yet, but ONE WAY PASSAGE is an all-time favorite, so I was thrilled to see it as one of your selections. I think it's the best of Kay's half dozen team-ups with Powell. I'm with you on Kay, unfair for anyone to forget, and always well remembered here.ReplyDelete
Cliff, you're truly a gent, and we salute you for your superb good taste for loving Kay Francis! Kay really won me over with ONE WAY PASSAGE, with Kay, William Powell, and the wonderful character actors (our family especially has a soft spot for Frank McHugh as "Skippy"! If Kay Francis isn't unforgettable, I don't know who is! Thanks for joining the fun with with awesome star, Cliff! :-DDelete
Kay Francis certainly hasn't been forgotten in my opinion! She's a doll. So sophisticated and their really isn't any actress today who can be compared to her, or take over her type of roles I should say. Great post! I was hoping you'd expand on that introductory diary entry however.....I wonder why she was so desperate to be forgotten.ReplyDelete
We of Team Bartilucci are always pleased to have The Metzinger Sisters drop by to talk Kay Francis! I must confess that I felt as if I needed something more to round out Kay's life story as well, as I too wondered if there were more helpful info for us to understand her decision to leave the public eye. Have we a mystery, I wonder? You've given me plenty of food for thought -- to be continued? :-)Delete
yay, Kay. You already know I'm a fan of hers. One Way Passage is a big fave of mine as well, and she was a super pair for Powell, equal even to Loy, in my opinion. She was such a fashionplate and influence. I heard or read somewhere the crack about her getting on the ship in the movie Mandalay with no luggage yet she changes outfits every scene practically! only Kay. Nice post to keep her from being forgotten :)ReplyDelete
Kristina, we're both fans of Kay Francis, as well as Myrna Loy -- how's that for a mutual admiration society? :-D In fact, I'm now eager to come and revisit more movies of Kay's, like Jewel Robbery; besides, now I want to check out Mandalay and see just how our gal Kay was able to pack that trunk in Mandalay; it just makes her love her more! Thanks for your kind kudos for rooting for Kay, my friend; we'll make sure Kay's star stays bright! Have a wonderful weekend! :-DDelete
Great post! Loved the opening diary entry! That was still early in her career...Did audiences stop coming to see her or did her salary just get so out of control that WB had to let her go? Why did she fall from the top so quickly? Thanks for a fun read!ReplyDelete
Thanks for joining us at our Kay Francis lovefest, Cameron! We're glad you got a kick out of the diary in One Way Passage. Many Kay fans are as puzzled as I am about her downfall; certainly her sky-high salary was surely a factor, but since she was apparently able to live within her means as she grew older, there must have been more behind it. It certainly makes me want to dig deeper, and our fellow Kay fans, surely! In any case, at least we can still find Kay's films to enjoy and rediscover! :-DDelete
Have not seen either of these films, but enjoyed both reviews. It's only in the last couple of years that I started seeing Francis films like MARY STEVENS MD, a film way ahead of its time, MAN WANTED and THE HOUSE OF 56th STREET. Need to see these two among others. Great stuff as always.ReplyDelete
John, thanks for your kind kudos for Team Bartilucci's Double-Bill with ONE WAY PASSAGE and RAFFLES! Among others of Kay's films, I've also seen MARY STEVENS M.D. and the landmark DOCTOR MONICA -- but I also enjoy seeing Kay getting more lighted films, too, like in TROUBLE IN PARADISE; Man and Woman can't survive on "Suffering in Mink" alone! :-D Hope you and yours have a delightful evening! :-DDelete
Dorian, I have always had a special place in my heart for Kay. Those eyes -- long and languid, with eyebrows quite low and always looking a little sad. I liked her best in the dramas, One Way Passage, and a movie where she played a lady doctor who gets pregnant -- I can't remember the name. What I admired most about her was as you described -- she never gave up, she worked all through her contract even though the studio was giving her bad scripts. I read that she had trouble with her "r's" and towards the end when they really wanted to get rid of her, they would deliberately put a lot of "r" words in her scripts. What worms! But Kay didn't care and went on to the end. Wonderful article about one of my favorites, Dorian!ReplyDelete
Becky, you're a gal after my own heart, but then, you knew that! :-D Your comments about our gal Kay Francis touched my heart! I remember the movie you mentioned, DOCTOR MONICA, possibly the first drama in that era that with a female doctor as the heroine -- Kay was ahead of her time! You're so right about the humiliation Warners put her through, too, and God blesser for being a good sport in spite of it all, making us admire her all the more. Thanks a million for your kind kudos, Big Sis; you, like Kay herself, are a class act! Hugs to you and yours from us at Team Bartilucci HQ! :-DReplyDelete
I've always thought that Kay Francis had the strangest eyebrows in movie history - but even so, I liked her. Though occasionally I got distracted just watching her eyebrows. (Or eyebrauts - as someone I knew once upon a time, liked to call 'em.) Having said that, I enjoyed this fabulous post, Dorian. Who knew that there were other Kay Francis fans out there? I most especially loved when she played the femme fatale - she had the looks, the slink, down pat. I know I've seen ONE WAY PASSAGE, many MANY years ago - the story is so familiar. But I can't imagine William Powell as a criminal.ReplyDelete
Kay certainly had two of the best leading men in these two films. Lucky girl. :)
We of Team Bartilucci are delighted to have you join our salute to Kay Francis, Yvette! True, Kay had an interesting slope in her eyebrows, but I always figured it must have been the style of that era; either way, I liked her style! Like you, I was surprised to see Powell as a criminal, but when I got into ONE WAY PASSAGE and realized Powell had gotten a raw deal and the bad guy had it coming, he got my sympathy, especially when our gal Kay and he fell in love. I don't usually like weepies, as I've said, but with the electricity between Kay and Powell, as well as the fun dollops of comedy along with the star-crossed stars (Frank McHugh rocks!) , those crazy kids won my heart!Delete
I also loved Part 2 of our double-feature, RAFFLES, since my dear late mom just adored the dashing Ronald Coleman, and no wonder! I'd seen Coleman in other films and enjoyed them, and was sure it would be funny, suspenseful, and full of derring-do, and I wasn't disapointed! Kay and Colman were a fabulous pair indeed; the clock hiding place was my favorite. I'm with you, Yvette: Kay sure had wonderful leading men! Thanks a million for joining the fun with our gal Kay, and hugs and a wonderful weekend to you, my friend! :-D