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’ 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. 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
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!