A BAD GIRL MAKES GOOD: Hitherto Unrevealed Facts About the Devastating Kay Francis Who Started as a Siren and Is Becoming Better and Better
By Radie Harris
SILVER SCREEN, February 1931.
SHE looks as volcanic as Mt. Etna during an eruption. And is as calm as a lake on a clear day.
She looks like a brunette Peggy Joyce. And doesn’t even own a diamond bracelet.
She looks like the daughter of a thousand earls. And was born in Oklahoma City.
Her name is Kay Francis.
It was during the first talkie boom that Kay took the trek west to find gold in them thar microphones [webmaster’s note: ‘thar’ is appeared as in original text]. She’s been Hollywood’s ultimate gasp ever since. Men swoon when she enters a room and women sidle close to learn the recipe. To Kay, it is no novelty. Life has always been like that!
Long before she ever dreamed of becoming a “moom pitcher” star, Kay, without lifting a single eyebrow or exposing a bare knee, vamped more men than Theda Bara in her “kiss-me-my-fool” hey-day.
Kay, herself, has never been too susceptible. But when she does “fall”, it isn’t a plunge—it’s a nose-dive!
Her first “heart” was the young man whose last name she now emblazons in electric lights—Dwight Francis. She me him shortly after she had graduated from Miss Fuller’s School as Ossining. It was the case of love at first sight that culminated in a large wedding at the very swanky St. Thomas’ Church in New York.
Although he was heir to the Francis millions, all his rich relatives were very much alive, so Dwight took his bride to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where realtors told him that two could live as cheaply as one Kay went domestic in a Big Way and so help my Aunt Sophrosia, loved it! She did all her own housework—including the cooking and laundry—and the residents of Pittsfield will vouch for the fact that she looked as beautiful in her ginghams and denims as she does in her silks and satins now.
After almost two years of happiness, there was a rift in the marital lute. Kay sailed for Europe and a divorce. She spent the next few months exploring England, France, Holland, and Belgium. Few of Kay’s friends know that she was entertained by crowned heads everywhere. No interviewer has ever heard the story. It is part of Kay’s modesty that she doesn’t like to publicize anything that might be associated with “putting on the dog.” It was just by mere chance that I happened to hear about the time she dined with Queen Wilhemina in the Royal Palace at The Hague and when she found herself confronted with the problem of deciding which knives and forks to use out of the vast array at her place, she solved it by asking the Queen herself!
Returning home to America, Kay encountered a very bad crossing. One night during a particularly heave storm she remained up on deck. Leaning against the rail, looking out at the fathomless sea below, she suddenly felt free—indomitable, self-confident. Then and there she decided to become an actress. Ten days later she was playing on Broadway in the modern clothes version of “Hamlet.”
True, she had often thought about going on the stage before, but her mother, Katherine Clinton, a former vaudeville and repertory player, had been so strenuous in her objections that she had turned to other vocations instead—secretarial and modeling being included among the list.
Kay loved to tell the story of her first day as a model. She regaled me with it when I lunched with her not very long ago.
“I had been spending the weekend visiting friends at Southampton and arrived in town early Monday morning just in time to check in on my new job. Everything went very smoothly all day and I was just congratulating myself on my quick adaptability when six dressed were reported missing from the racks. Of course, no one accused me BUT…I was a new girl…I had arrived that morning with a valise…the evidence was all against me. If I had stolen the entire store I couldn’t have felt—nor looked—more guilty. I was so embarrassed I never went back. I’m sure to this day they suspect me of ‘taking ways.’”
Right about this time Kay fell in love again. This time with Allen Ryan, Jr., of the Social Register Ryans. They became engaged and Kay flashed a solitaire large enough to illuminate Madison Square Garden. But Allan and his family objected to Kay’s continuing career. And Kay was just beginning to become really interested in it. Besides, she knew that she could never stand the boredom of a Park Avenue matron’s life. So she returned the ring (which, is not according to Lorelie Le a’ tall a’ tall!) and took up bachelor girl quarters with her two friends, Louis Long, the present Mrs. Peter Arno and Katherine Swan, now on the scenario staff at Paramount Pictures.
They didn’t live in Greenwich Village, but they were poor and struggling “artists” just the same—their combined earnings just managing to meet the monthly rent. Lois and “Swannie” were always trying to marry Kay off a dozen or more of the millionaires who wrote off the welcome on her doormat every night. Neither of them had much confidence in her acting ability and felt that with her beauty, a brilliant marriage was her métier.
All this happened B.T. (before talkies) so pictures never occurred to any of them. Long before, Kay had taken a silent test for the vamp role in “Sorrows of Satan”. She wore a blonde wig. The result was enough to make Kay vow that she would appear on the screen again. Instead, she went to Cincinnati and joined Stuart Walker’s stock company, the kindergarten of all first-grade players.
After serving a rigid apprenticeship of two seasons, Kay returned to Broadway and appeared in “Crime” with Kay Johnson, Chester Morris and James Rennie and in “Elmer the Great”, with Walter Huston.
It was during the run of this play that Paramount was combing the town for someone to play the female menace in “Gentlemen of the Press”. Kay was approached for a test. She turned it down in polite, albeit no uncertain terms. Her unfailing memory recalled all too vividly the nightmare of her first test! Paramount pleaded and cajoled and Kay hedged with all sorts of excuses—broken ankles, sprained ribs and even housemaid’s knee. It was Walter Huston’s persuasive powers that finally won her over. She appeared in “Gentlemen of the Press”, vamping with sound.
When Kay first went to Hollywood, she was determined to save her money. She rented a small bungalow in Beverly Hills. A colored maid, Ida, was her only accessory.
Other actresses returned to Broadway flat broke Not Kay! In less than a year she had saved a tidy sum. She still lives in the same bungalow and still has the same made, although her living expenses have since increased by one yellow Ford coupe, called “Rabbit” because it goes into leaps and bounds; two Persian cats, “Mitzi” and “Tibs”; a canary named “Napolean”; a Boston Bull christened “Caesar”; a wire-haired terrier whose godfather is William Powell and whose name is “Sniffer”; and seven fish—known as the Seven Vestal Virgins.
Although she has the reputation of being one of the best-dressed women in Hollywood, Kay doesn’t spend half her salary on her wardrobe. She never makes an “entrance” and yet, when she enters a room, she is immediately the cynosure of all eyes. Everything she does is effortless—with no striving for effort.
Shoes are her greatest hobby. At the last census there were more than 75 pair. She doesn’t own any diamonds and never wears anything in silver and platinum. Despite her brunette beauty, she claims she is a “golden” girl.
Although she is on every host and hostess list in Hollywood, she doesn’t go in for a continual round of parties. She has a small group of friends, the John Cromwells (Kay Johnson), the Arthur Hornblows, the Louis Bromfields, the Edmund Lowes, with whom she likes to dine informally.
She adores music. When she was a child it was her mother’s fondest hope that she would be a genius of the piano. Kay wanted to be a trapeze artist and wear pink tights. Both have since recuperated from their respective disappointments. Kay now occupies a box at the Hollywood Bowl during the summer months and at the opera during the season. Her escort on the musical evenings is usually Mrs. Mackenna’s little boy, Kenneth.
Kay’s cup would be overbrimming now if she could only see New York again. She hasn’t been back for almost two years and no anodyne but a return trip will cure her nostalgia. She is hoping that in a very important future she will be allowed to make a picture at the Paramount New York Studios…and then excuse her dust!
Many of Kay’s friends, however, crossed the desert sands to help assuage her homesickness. They report that she is still the same Kay—sweet, unspoiled, unaffected, evidencing no traces of “going Hollywood.” This, in the nature of things, is not surprising. Popularity and adulation have always been hers and her grand sense of humor would never allow her to take herself too seriously. In other words, she doesn’t think she is important.
Which, really, is the most unimportant thing about her.