Monday, June 28, 2010

The Wavishing Kay Fwancis

Some quick facts about Kay Francis, star of the Ernst Lubitsch classic, Trouble In Paradise.

● Born in Oklahoma City to an actress mother and a father who left when Kay was four, Francis made her Broadway debut at the age of twenty in a modern-dress version of Hamlet. In 1928, she appeared in a play with future Oscar-winner Walter Huston who was so impressed with her that he arranged a screen test with Paramount Pictures. The test was a success, and Francis made her film debut the following year in the Marx Brothers' first film, The Cocoanuts, which was filmed at Paramount's Astoria Studio in New York.

● Francis had a lisp and was known around the backlots of Hollywood as "the Wavishing Kay Fwancis." Generally, dialogue was carefully tailored to conceal her speech impediment, but Ernst Lubitsch refused to rewrite key scenes of Trouble In Paradise for her and you can hear traces of her lisp if you listen closely.

● She left Paramount in 1930 for Warner Brothers. During the early sound era, she was the highest paid actress at Warners.

● At the time she was known for soap opera-style pictures about long-suffering women who wore great clothes, and much to her chagrin, these productions often focused on the clothes more than the dialogue. This eventually led to a protracted dispute with Warners she was destined to lose.

● She was married five times, divorced five times, and kept a diary that included details of numerous affairs with both men and women. George Cukor later said that all the great stars carry a secret which is revealed in their faces, and that Kay's face suggested her secret was particularly wicked.

● Along with Katharine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo and Mae West, Francis was labeled "box office poison" in 1938 by a group of independent theater owners.

● She made her last movie in 1946. Among her best films were Jewel Robbery, One-Way Passage, Trouble In Paradise and In Name Only.

● She died of breast cancer in 1966. Her estate was valued at around $1 million, the bulk of which went to Seeing Eye, Inc., a company that trained seeing-eye dogs.

9 comments:

KC said...

I wove Kay Francis :-) I didn't know that about Walter Huston giving her a leg up--nice. Too bad there aren't many of her movies available on DVD.

Russell said...

Any mention of the lovely Kay Francis is welcome these days. I hope people try to see beyond her lisp, she's amazing in Trouble in Paradise and her Paramount partnership with William Powell (Jewel Robbery, One Way Passage etc) is really underrated.

Mythical Monkey said...

she's amazing in Trouble in Paradise and her Paramount partnership with William Powell (Jewel Robbery, One Way Passage etc) is really underrated.

I couldn't agree more. I originally sought out Jewel Robbery and One Way Passage to see William Powell and was blown away by Kay Francis. Beautiful, sophisticated, witty and delightfully wicked, both her and the movies. Highly recommended.

Mythical Monkey said...

Too bad there aren't many of her movies available on DVD.

She seems to be one of those forgotten actresses who excelled in the pre-Code era and then saw her best worked shelved after 1934. Which is a pity.

mister muleboy said...

She has a vewwy gweat fwiend in Wome, you knoww. . . .

katie said...

Shouldn't it be "Twouble in Pawadise?"

Gordon Pasha said...

MM

The Lubitsch film, of course, but One Way Passage resonates. And so ably accompanied by Aline MacMahon. Thanks to TCM I have a few of the lesser known Kay Francis films from that most archaic of technologies: VCR. The House on 56th Street, The Keyhole, Living on Velvet.

Gerald

Mythical Monkey said...

Thanks to TCM I have a few of the lesser known Kay Francis films from that most archaic of technologies: VCR.

Back in the day, I used to tape pretty much anything of even the vaguest interest that showed up on TCM and wound up discovering Kay Francis on William Powell day -- in both Jewel Robbery and One Way Passage. The former is a lot of fun, the latter is a classic and is probably Kay's best performance.

And I still have all those tapes in the basement. An awful lot of this blog relies on that stash. I knew they would come in handy some day!

Mythical Monkey said...

As a matter of fact, One Way Passage is on TCM this month -- Thursday, July 29 at 6 a.m. eastern.

God bless TCM.