All posts by M.O.



By Elizabeth Wilson

March 1937 issue of Silver Screen


ON EVERY major studio lot in Hollywood there is a Quality Star. It’s part of the movie tradition. Now these Quality Stars are not the most beautiful women on the lot, rarely the most popular at the box office, and never the best actresses, but strangely enough it is they who knock down the biggest salaries and who cause great commotion in the “front office” at the mere drop of an eyelash.

They possess that elusive combination of attributes that, added to a dash of beauty and soupcon of personality, makes Glamour. And Glamour, boys and girls, is the most expensive thing in Hollywood. It is the duty of these Quality Stars to give chic, good taste and class to the cinema. First of all they must be able to wear clothes so maddeningly beautiful and divinely ultra that every female in the audience will bite her nails through sheer envy; and secondly, they must be able to play lovely lonely ladies of mystery, who make the big sacrifice for love, and who go trailing off alone across the desert sands.

Ah, romance and glamour. Women cry for it, women pay for it. The Quality Stars are definitely women made stars. Paramount has its Marlene Dietrich. Metro has its Garbo. And Warner has its Kay Francis. Now Kay isn’t the most beautiful girl on the Warners contract list, she has never been included among the Big Ten in the exhibitor’s poll, and she certainly isn’t the best actress on the lot (Bette Davis can act rings around her any day), but no matter how you look at it Kay has glamour and class. She’s the reigning Queen of the Warner Brothers movie kingdom in the San Fernando Valley. She is the pride and joy of Orry-Kelly, designer de luxe. She is the toast of the Beverly Hills smart set. And as sort of an anti-climax she is one of my favorite actresses—on the screen.

I suppose you know all about Kay Francis “on the screen.” Beginning with “Gentlemen of the Press” back in 1929, she has been in four or more pictures a year ever since—one of which “One Way Passage” is her best, “The Marriage Playground” her worst, and “Another Dawn” her latest—and unless you were born yesterday, and I doubt that, you have seen a deal of Miss Francis in the celluloid.

But what of Miss Francis in the flesh? Well, now, there is a bit of quibbling. There are those who say, “Have you been ritzed by Kay Francis today?” And those who say, “I never hope to know a grander gal.” “Cold as dry ice,” says the Press. “Warm and generous,” say her publicity people. “Charming,” says Ian Hunter. “Humph,” says Claude Rains. And if you think I’m going to take sides you’re crazy.

There are two things which magazine and newspaper writers always want to interview Kay Francis about—her love life and clothes—and those happen to be the two subjects on which she is just about as communicative as a clam. When a member of the publicity department asks her if she will consent to an interview Kay will say, “If it’s about pictures, yes. If it’s about private affairs, no.” She has the most terrific private life complex I have ever seen in any actress. She’s decidedly no gay extravert of the gold fish bowl. “My private life is my own,” says Kay, and means it. And completely entre nous, I think she’s got something there, but far be it from me to encourage it, because if all celebrities were as tight-mouthed as Kay, where would I be? Looking up at a curbstone somewhere, no doubt.

But, anyway, it really is a shame that she is so fussy about her private life because she has had a highly interesting and exciting one. Kay is a vital person. She is interested in people and strange places, and has always been ready to embrace change and adventure when they come her way. She is entirely of this world.

As Katharine Edwina Gibbs, Kay began that private life she is so secretive about on January, not so many years ago, in Oklahoma City, and the date was Friday the thirteenth. Being born in Oklahoma City was probably the only un-chic thing Kay ever did. But before she was year old her family moved to Santa Barbara, California, then to Los Angeles, and Denver. When she was about four her actress mother, Katherine Clinton, the daughter of a pioneer, decided to return to the stage and little Katharine—she did not become Kay until she went on the stage herself—spent her growing up years in one fashionable Eastern school after another. She was “finished” at Miss Fuller’s School for Girls at Ossining and the Cathedral School of Garden City.

Kay’s earliest recollection of the theater was when, at the age of four, she was allowed to sit “out front” one matinee day and watch her mother act. It was one of those melodramas so much in vogue at that time, and for the third act curtain her mother had to shoot herself. The shot rang out and the audience was frightfully impressed—then through the tense atmosphere piped up Kay’s baby voice, “Mother’s not really dead—she’s only acting.” Kay received her best spanking to date and was sent away to school.

When she had finished school Kay did a very surprising thing for a beautiful young girl, with the theatre in her blood—she entered a business college and took a course in shorthand and typing. Graduating from there she became a secretary to the financial secretary of Mrs. Dwight Morrow, and later to Mrs. W.K. Vanderbilt. Kay had always liked politics, big business, and international finance, so she rather fancied herself as a future lady of Wall Street or woman of density or something. But before she had caused a flurry in steel or cornered a market in anything she had become a bit bored with it all and was off to Europe.

“Business training,” Kay declares, “teaches one not to volunteer information. That, I suppose, is the secret to my well-known reticence about my own life. Thanks to my training in the business world I keep a secretary-like silence about most of the matters that concern my employer, who happens to be myself.”

Well, of course, you can’t keep an actress down forever, so along about 1926 Kay decided, much to her mother’s horror, to take a fling at the theatre. She received valuable training in the Stuart Walker Company, playing in Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Dayton—in fact, Kay gives Mr. Stuart Walker, now a Paramount producer, all the credit for making an actress out of her.

Returning to New York she played featured parts, but not leads, in “Venus,” “Crime” (along with Sylvia Sidney and Chester Morris), and with Walter Huston in “Elmer the Great.” And then the movies. It was in those gay pre-depression days of 1927 to 1930 that our Miss Francis practically became the belle of New York. Charming, chic, poised, and the most smartly dressed woman in any night club, it is no wonder that men went mad over her. At that time she lived with two girls in a small apartment near the corner of 51st and Park and it speaks well for their popularity that although they only had two rooms they had three telephones. There was such merry, hectic jangling of bells of an evening as you never heard—but it was all for fun, and fun they really had. Crazy, mad things. But Kay put an end to madness, temporarily, the night of the great Indoor Polo Match of East 51st Street when a two-hundred pound football player, in the excitement of the game, fell on Kay and broke her collar bone.

Kay Swann and Lois Long, her roommates, laughed heartily, but Kay didn’t think it was funny at all. Lois Long, who later became Mrs. Peter Arno, and still later became the ex-Mrs. Peter Arno and the New Yorker’s famous Lipstick, visited Kay in Hollywood recently and Kay threw a cocktail party for her that was quite the gayest thing of the year. There were no broken collar bones. Girls do grow up.

And what was Kay doing about all these men who were becoming raving maniacs for love of her? She married a couple of them and let the others sulk it out. Prior to going on the stage she married young Dwight Francis, hence her theatrical name of Kay Francis, and people who knew her then, when she was in her teens, say she was certainly the model wife. Dwight was from one of the Best Families, but there wasn’t much money for the young married couple so they lived in a little house in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and the future Glamour Girl of Warner Brothers cooked three meals a day for her husband. It was all very beautiful and simple.

Kay’s second marriage was to William A. Gaston of Boston, whose father was Mayor of Boston and then Governor of Massachusetts. This marriage ended in a Paris divorce court and Gaston later married Rosamond Pinchot. Her third marriage was to Kenneth MacKenna of Canterbury, New Hampshire, whom she met in Hollywood one fine morning when he was introduced to her as the leading man of her next picture.

MacKenna, well known New York actor whose real name is Jo Mielziner, immediately worked on a whirlwind courtship and finally won a “Yes” out of Miss Francis when she was recovering from an illness at a Hollywood hospital. He drove her from the hospital directly to the Los Angeles City Hall, and got a ticket for speeding, too, where he bought a license. Then the two of them, all alone, boarded his boat and sailed away for the island of Catalina, where they were married in the little town of Avalon in January 1931.

Kenneth used to like to tell an amusing story of their first night as Mr. and Mrs. Jo Mielziner. It seems that he had stocked the boat with provisions, and Kay was all excited over cooking their wedding dinner while they were anchored off Catalina. But he had forgotten to put gasoline in the stove tank and in the midst of Kay’s culinary display the darned thing sputtered and went cold. There was no gasoline on the boat. “There must be gasoline somewhere,” said Kay desperately, following it with one of her most classic remarks: “Fate wouldn’t let this happen to me on my wedding night.”

The Kenneth MacKennas spent their honeymoon in the house where Janet Gaynor has lived for the last few years, and then were divorced. No one knew exactly why, and you can be quite sure that tight-mouthed Kay did not choose to enlighten anyone. After her divorce Kay was seen often in Hollywood escorted from time to time by William Powell, Ronald Colman, and Maurice Chevalier. They weren’t romances—just good friends.

But for the last year she has been keeping “steady company” with big, blonde, anything but handsome Delmer Daves, a one-time lawyer who became a writer, and whom Kay met on the Warners lot when he wrote the script for one of her pictures. There is much speculation in Hollywood as to whether they will marry or not. Kay has said many times that she will not marry again until she is through with pictures—her present contract with the Messrs. Warner Brothers has three more years to go.

Before her recent departure for Europe, and she has been to Europe more than any other actress in Hollywood, she made a statement for the press. “I am not going to get married while I am in pictures,” said Miss Francis. Ten days later she was on a plane for New York, where she was joined by Delmer Daves, who, not by accident, caught the same boat she took for France. When last heard of they were celebrating Christmas together in St. Moritz, along with the Douglas Fairbanks and Merle Oberon. Your guess is as good as mine.

Next to interviewers who ask her about her love life Kay loathes, with a fine and beautiful loathing, fashion stills and gallery sittings, in fact she hates to have any kind of portraits taken. Getting her into the studio photographic gallery for a fashion sitting is just about equal to accomplishing the impossible. The still camera lens, for some reason or another, brings out the worst in Kay and she can usually be counted upon to go into a temperamental rage and tell everybody off in sight. And when Kay gets angry she does it thoroughly. Of course the night after one of these stormy gallery sessions Kay usually spends calling up everybody she bawled out and telling them quite meekly she is very, very sorry.

This fashion-fury of Kay’s is probably a hang-over from the humiliation she suffered when she first came to Hollywood. Paramount had a new featured player who was being sent out from New York and who, rumor had it, could wear clothes. There must be a publicity campaign to “put her over.” Why not call her the Best Dressed Woman in Hollywood and cause a controversy with Connie Bennett and Lilyan Tashman? Why not?

And so, when Kay got off the Chief in Pasadena, she found the station jammed with trunks and luggage not her own and a publicity department frantically snapping her by trunks, on trunks, in trunks. She shuddered every time she picked up a paper for weeks afterward. “Kay Francis, the Best Dressed Woman, Talks About Hats… How to Dress Smartly on Nothing, by Kay Francis, Hollywood’s Best Dressed Star,” etc. etc. etc. What the red flag is to the bull the word Best Dressed became to La Francis. But it stuck like adhesive tape.1937silverscreen3

In publicity circles Kay Francis is still the clothes horse of Hollywood. But, perversely enough, in the first scene of the first picture she made in Hollywood, “Dangerous Curves,” starring Clara Bow, she wore a tailored suit which had once been made for Bebe Daniels and left behind in the wardrobe department. And Miss Francis’ lines didn’t coincide then, or now, with those of Miss Daniels.

“Now I can be the best dressed woman in Hollywood,” Kay once snapped to an interviewer. “I but only six dresses a year.” And that’s quite true. She buys them in New York and under no conditions will she be photographed in them. They belong to that scared private life. She will not allow the studio to have a “home sitting” of it. In fact she permits them and the Press to enter as rarely as possible. It’s a charming, small frame house, in a quiet section of Hollywood, and is simply and tastefully furnished. She lives there alone. The last time I saw Kay Francis she was at the smart cocktail party Merle Oberon gave before leaving for England. Kay wore a rather dowdy sports coat and no hat. Hardly the Best Dressed Woman.

It is said in the market place, by those who pretend to be in the know, that Kay Francis is one of the four richest movie stars. When she is ready to retire she will be so financially independent that she can thumb her nose at anybody. The Francis weekly stipend from Paramount and Warners has not gone into Beverly Hills estates, Duesenbergs, yachts, race horses, furs and star sapphires. On the contrary, it has gone into annuities, trust funds, bonds and similar little knick-knacks. Yes, for a pretty girl Kay has been very intelligent.

Though “society” to her finger tips she has always refused to live according to the Hollywood tradition. When all the other Glamour Girls go mad for Duesenbergs, Rolls, and town cars, Kay buys a Ford, and not very often either. She drives it herself. She has never had a chauffeur. Her one but of jewelry is a wrist watch, which she sort of excuses by saying that it’s a hardly little gadget. She has beautiful clothes, of course, though not the most expensive, and very few of them.

She usually gives one big party a year and in that way pays off all her social obligations—the rest of the time she contents herself with small dinner parties of four or six. The past year she has taken very little interest in Hollywood’s social whirl, as she usually goes to a friend’s cabin at Lake Arrowhead for the weekends when she is working, and as soon as her pictures are finished she dashes off to Europe. These European trips are practically her one great extravagance. She has chosen for her friends the cream of the social set in Hollywood—the Countess de Frasso, Mrs. Samuel Goldwyn, Dick and Jessica Barthelmess, Ronnie Colman and William Powell—and if she is of a mind to she can be one of the gayest of gay party girls, provided of course that there are no candid camera around to spy on her private life.

Her chief fault, people who work with her will tell you, are her moods. It seems that she can sink rapidly into the very depths of despair and despondency, and the further she sinks the more ill-tempered she becomes. When Miss Francis is in a mood the “hired help” of the studio keep their distance. But just to show you what a contrary personality she has Miss Francis is also one of the most thoughtful and generous of the movie stars to the same “hired help.” Her generosity is not accompanied by a fanfare of trumpets and banner lines in the newspapers. Her generosity, my dears, belongs to that sacred private life, and it took a great deal of prying about before I could discover it. Kay Francis may be Hetty Green to the jewelry salesmen and the real estate brokers, but she’s the Good Samaritan to many a bit of broken humanity.

And here’s a believe-it-or-not for you and Mr. Ripley: Kay Francis who stands for all that is glamorous and languorous on the screen was once pushed about the Mad Marx Brothers in a harum sacrum flicker called “The Cocoanuts.” How times do change. Though she is one of the best read of the movie stars, she has a perfect passion for detective stories and never misses one of them. She is crazy about small animals and has a regular menagerie of dogs, with a marked preference for dachshunds and Scotties, as well as cats, gold-fish, canaries, and a parrot. George Brent gave her a couple of pigeons, but they weren’t homing pigeons and flew away.1937silverscreen1

She got a job as a model for clothes once (before she went on the stage) but had to give up modeling because her feet were too small. Her feet aren’t that big. Somebody once told her she had bad legs so she is very sensitive about them—but they’re really not bad at all. She has a perfect back. She is also sensitive about that little trouble she has with her R’s.

She has a keen sense of humor but often-times has trouble telling a joke—somehow or other the point comes out first, or else there isn’t a point. She loves bridge and backgammon, isn’t the athletic type, but plays a very good game of tennis. The last thing she did before leaving for Europe in December was to have her legal name changed from Katherine G. Mielziner to Kay Francis. If she intends to marry Delmer Daves it seems she would hardly have taken the trouble to go to court to secure a legal name change which marriage would speedy change again. But don’t ask me—I know from nothing.

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Kay and Pat Are Like That

Kay and Pat Are Like That!

“What, the aloof Miss Francis and the genial O’Brien as a love team? Yes—and our exclusive story tells why they liked to work together—much to Hollywood’s surprise.”

By Liza,

Screenland, January 1938

screenland1938jan1WHAT with feuds and floods and flotsams I have seen in a deal of Unrest in my life, but never an Unrest that could compare with the colossal Hollywood Unrest of 1937. Everybody was sulking about something. Nobody was pleased about anything. Somebody was happy, I guess, but it wasn’t anybody I knew. In the “front offices” there was more stomping of feet than you’ve ever heard West of the Cotton Club. But it wasn’t exactly a Susy Q or a Big Appl. Even if they had consulted a couple of fortune tellers and tried terribly hard Pat and Kay couldn’t have been a worse time to launch a new screen love team in “Women Are Like That.” Everybody said that the fur would fly.

It seems that Kay Francis wanted to play the Grand Duchess in “Tovarich” (so did Garbo who pouted something awful); in fact, Kay claimed the role had been promised to her when she signed her new contract, and so when Claudette Colbert was borrowed for the coveted part Kay, quite annoyed by it all, started suit against her employers, Warner Brothers. And it seems that Pat O’Brien was scheduled to go into “Swing Your Lady” but he didn’t like the script (neither did Joan Blondell who walked right off the set and took a course in hula dancing), and Pat didn’t want to pile up another suspension, so he said holy mackerel and jumping catfish, haven’t you got something else around here I can do? And so with a fugitive from “Swing Your Lady” and a would-be Grand Duchess for its stars you can well imagine that “Women Are Like That” got off to a sour start. Despite the usual heat which came in in scorching gusts from the Valley the atmosphere of Stage Nine was as cold as a producer’s heart, and so heavy and ponderous that no one dared speak above a whisper. Heavy, heavy hangs over their head. Fine or superfine? A very fine lawsuit, my dear.

A suing actress isn’t the most sociable person in the world—instead of the customary one chip she has the whole block on her shoulder—she is utterly convinced that the studio is trying to ruin her, so why should she be pleasant to anyone. The boys and girls from the publicity department hang an imaginary “small-pox” sign over the door of the stage and keep as far away as possible. Little people like you and me run like mad in the opposite direction. A suing star, it seems, has all the delightful charm of a coiled cobra. But the leading man, unfortunately, can’t run or duck, or doge—he’s got to stay right there and face it, venom and all. Poor Pat, his friends said, he’d better take his heavy underwear, it’ll be awful cold there in the tombs.

screenland1938jan3Kay Francis is a prestige star. She is undeniably the “First Lady” of the Warner Brothers lot and gets the best in everything else, if not always in pictures. On the set she is slightly aloof, even when not suing, and doesn’t like to have crowds of tourists gaping at her when she is doing her scenes, or interviewers hanging around waiting to ask if she is going to marry Delmer Daves. On the other hand Pat O’Brien, a cordial good-natured Irishman, and as natural as the day is long, likes nothing better than having mobs of people watching him act—in face he and Humphrey Bogart even act better, if that is possible, when they have an admiring audience—and he doesn’t care what an interviewer asks him because his life is an open book. When Pat first started working at Warners a guy from production asked him, “Mr. O’Brien, do you want your sets closed or not?” To which our Mr. O’Brien replied, “If you want to tear down the sides of the stage and put in grandstand seats it’s all right with me.” So what-to-do-about-the-set was the all-important question when the social Mr. O’Brien met the aloof Miss Francis. But it was a question with only one answer. Poor Pat, his friends said, he’ll die of loneliness, we’ll send him wires addressed Commander Byrd. Poor Kay, her friends said—oh, I forgot to mention that Kay has some friends, too—they’ve given her a fast-talking Irish mug who hasn’t been out of a uniform in years for a romantic lead, why couldn’t she have Fernand Gravet! Or Charles Boyer!

screenland1938jan2But the funny thing about it all, of course, was that while everybody was poor-Patting Pat, and feeling awfully sorry for him, Pat himself was quite pleased with the turn of events. It seems his suppressed desire for a long time had been Kay Francis. Now for goodness sake, doesn’t get me wrong! Pat is happily married to Eloise Taylor, a society girl who went actress in the Frank McHugh stock company some years ago, and who since her marriage to Pat has completely given up the stage saying that one actor in the family is enough. Pay and Eloise have a lovely home in Brentwood and have adopted two of the cutest kids you’ve ever seen—one of them a born football player. No, there’s no scandal in Pat’s suppressed desire for Kay Francis. He merely wanted to costar with her because he thinks she is one of the most talented and charming stars on the screen. And boy, after you’ve costarred with a submarine, an airship, and an oil tank, a Francis with all her glamour and her Orry-Kelly clothes is a gift from heaven. A closed set or no, and a Francis slightly aloof, Pat was please.

“I never worked with Kay in a picture before,” Pat told me, “though she is and I were on the stage together in a none too successful play about eleven years ago. For four years my dressing room has been next to hers on the Warner Brothers lot but we never seemed to be working at the same time so we never did get acquainted. After that the ‘Swing Your Lady’ interlude I thought, well, Pat, my boy, they’ll probably want you to support a pipe line now.” (Interruption from me: That’s already been done, Pat, Irene Dunne supported a pipe line in “High, Wide and Handsome,” and I thought they’d never finish those pipes)—“and so you can just imagine how surprised and happy I was when they told me I would go into ‘Women Are Like That’ as the romantic lead opposite Kay Francis. In the first place, ever since I’ve been in Hollywood, I’ve been eager to costar opposite Kay because I think she is a beautiful and glamorous woman, and a mighty swell actress. Then, too, I was pleased because it gave me a chance to get out of a uniform for one picture at least—I’ve been in every uniform they’ve got in the wardrobe department, and it gets monotonous being a cop or a sailor all the time. In this little number I’ll have you know I wear white tie and tails! Even my own mother won’t know me on the screen.” (Kids like to wear uniforms and actors like to wear tails—that’s one of my little observations of life and things that don’t matter.)

Well, that’s all very true, Mr. O’Brien, I said to myself, but I betcha you’ll be glad to climb back into your uniform after a session with a suing star. But I have been wrong. And I was again. This time. One bright afternoon when I was “doing sets” at Warner Brothers, I usually do sets when there is a swing band in action, I very graciously remarked that we could skip the “Women Are Like That” set because I didn’t wear my mittens and sudden cold gives me chilblains. But no, said my escort, that’s the gayest set on the lot. You can’t miss Kay and Pat romping around like a couple of high school kids. Curiosity got the best of me so I walked right past the “Absolutely no admittance” sign on the door but very cautiously took a stance near the exit so I could run easily if necessary. Oh, that’s all right, said my escort whom I considered either an extreme optimist or a fool; just don’t mention her lawsuit and everything’s okay.

Well, they were doing a scene, a most amusing scene, where Kay and Pat as husband and wife and rival advertising agents meet in the lawyer’s office to arrange for a divorce. Kay thinks she wanted to marry Ralph Forbes who, suffering from a severe cold (a picture cold), is stretched out on a couch fast asleep. The lawyer is delayed getting there. Kay looks at Pat and Pat looks at Kay. The office radio starts playing. “Shall we dance?” says Pat, and the next thing you know she is in his arms, and there is no need for a lawyer. Fade-out! And right here and now I wish to go on and record a saying that if Kay’s friends think that Pat isn’t the romantic type they’re due for a change of mind. Fernand Gravet! Charles Boyer! Piffle. That romantic new screen love team of Francis and O’Brien is really something to write home about on pink scented stationery. Woo! Woo!

At the end of the take the First Lady did not hastily retire to her dressing room; instead she sat down in a property box and yelled, “Pat” at the top of her voice. Followed by a series of giggles and laughs, and if everything else is quiet about Kay Francis her hearty laugh certainly isn’t. “Pat,” she shrieked, “come here. I want to show you my burglar alarm. You haven’t got anything like that.” “You’ll need one in Gopher Gulch,” said Pat pulling up another prop box—and there they were as cozy and chummy as two bugs in a rug. “It’s been like this since the second day, she was worried or something, and Mr. O’Brien seemed to have the attitude that if Miss Francis could be cold so could he. But on the second day of the picture somebody brought Mr. O’Brien plans for the new house he is building overlooking the sea at Del Mar and in his enthusiasm he showed them to Miss Francis. She immediately sent for the plans of the house she is building in Hidden Valley, and ever since then they have been talking their heads off about ventilation, landscaping, etc.”

screenland1938jan4“Don’t let all those fine feathers Kay wears in most of her pictures fool you,” Pat told me. “She really doesn’t give a damn about being called Hollywood’s Best Dressed Woman. She’d much rather be called the Gal of Gopher Gulch. Wouldn’t you know she’d choose to build her first home in California not in a ritzy place like Beverly Crest or Riviera but in a canyon called Gopher Gulch! She asked me to autograph one of my pictures for her playroom and I wrote in it, ‘My happiest engagement in pictures.’ And I meant every word of it. Working with Kay has been more of a romp than any I have ever made. Kay is so considerate of her crew—she has had the same crew for every picture—and I guess they would just about lay down their lives for her. If anyone gets sick she is the first to visit them at the hospital. She spends her time on the set talking over bits of business for the picture, or else when she gets tired of us she retires to her dressing room and reads a detective story. I’ve never seen a woman so crazy about mystery thrillers, and the bloodier the better. No wonder she’s having burglar alarms installed all over Gopher Gulch!”

“But why,” I persisted, after all I’m not going to sit idly by and let the First Lady be turned into a saint, “but why does she dodge photographers and interviewers? Unless you’re an old friend from way back she will not give an interview during a picture—and not very often between pictures.” That’ll hold him, I said to myself.

“Well,” said Pat, “something I heard Kay tell a newspaper reporter the other day rather explains that, I think. It seems this newspaper guy was from out of town and had been stalled by the publicity department for several days. Finally, Kay said she would see him on the set. The first thing he asked her was, ‘Miss Francis, why are you so hard to see?’ ‘When I was an actress on the New York stage,’ Kay told him, ‘I went into one of the big newspaper offices one day and asked to speak to the managing editor. I waited for quite some time. Finally, I took my nerve in my hand and walked right into his office. He told me very patiently he would like nothing better than to have a long chat with me, but unfortunately he had a paper going to the press and he was much too busy to see me. I,’ said Kay, ‘unfortunately, have a film in production.’ Does that explain it?”

“That’ll do,” I muttered, “until something better comes along.”

The fact that there was a little lawsuit dangling didn’t dampen anybody’s spirits at the end of the picture, for Kay cracked through with a party in her dressing room for the cast and crew that reached a new high in Hollywood parties. If she wins her suit she may not make another picture there. I recall that when Kay left Paramount for Warner Brothers some five years ago she presented nearly everybody who had contacted her at the studio with a handsome farewell present. Most stars, in case you don’t know, do not bother to give presents after the people can no longer be of any use to them. Pat wasn’t going to let Kay outdo him when it came to a party so in the midst of the festivities he invited everybody out to his Brentwood home the following Wednesday for a barbeque. The entire cast and crew of “Women Are Like That” arrived practically famished, and who was it that pitched right in and barbequed a mean steak for a prop boy, a hairdresser, a wardrobe woman, and a bit player—that’s right, Miss Kay Francis.

“How I hate to see the end of this picture,” said Pat with one hand wrapped around a steak and the other around Kay, “it’s been fun.” Yes, I think we can safely scribble on all the garage doors: Pat and Kay Are That Way.

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Are These Stars Really Doomed



By Elizabeth Wilson

September 1938 issue of Screenland.

[Article was paraphrased by me to focus specifically on Kay, with mentions only to other stars which related to her growing problem in the movie industry.]

NOT since the ill-fated week in March 1933 when the banks were closed as tight as a clam, have the movie theaters of this country been quite so devoid of paying customers. In some of the big fancy emporiums it is said the sports of the town are shooting wild deer. Other theaters, rather than face a cold house day after day, have followed the example of the famous Rivoli in New York City and completely given up the ghost. If they can’t shut people in, at least then can shut them out. No one seems to want china, trailers, or a place to neck anymore. This doesn’t sound like the American public. What’s wrong with them? Or better still, what’s wrong with the movies?

Mr. Sam Goldwyn, he who likes Quality better than Quantity, has his theory. “It used to be,” said Mr. Goldwyn, “that one picture of a double feature would be bad. Now you got to expect both of them will be terrible. The American picture industry better do something, and do it soon.”

…And then came the bolt from the blue. The Independent Theatre Owners, it seems, had something to say. They had theatres to fill, they had kept close tab on box office records, and they knew exactly what was keeping people out of theaters. It wasn’t double features, and it wasn’t lack of money. It was the stars. And just so everybody in Hollywood would be sure to see what they had to say they said it on the back page of a popular local trade paper, all boxed in red—which means “Danger” in any language.

…The ad boldly started, “Wake Up! Hollywood! Producers!” and went on to say, “Practically all of the major studios are burdened with stars—whose public appeal is negligible—receiving tremendous salaries necessitated by contractual obligations. Having these stars under contract, and paying them sizeable sums weekly, the studios find themselves in the unhappy position of having to put these box office deterrents in expensive pictures in the hope that some return on investment might be had.” Imagine being called a “deterrent”—why I’d rather be called a rodent!

Then the ad goes on to say, and very boldly too, “Among these players, whose dramatic ability is unquestioned but whose box office draw is nil, can be numbered Mae West, Edward Arnold, Garbo, Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, and many, many others.”

…”Yet so afraid are the studios of losing a star, they tie them up for many years with the result that stars continue to receive top salaries far after their box office rating slides. Kay Francis, for instance, is still receiving many thousands a week from Warners on an old contract. Yet so poor is her draw, she is now making B pictures. Paramount showed cleverness and consideration for exhibitors by buying off Dietrich’s contact which called for one more picture. Dietrich, too, is poison at the box office.”

…Joan Crawford, who got her start as a dancing daughter in the “flaming youth” era, now became beautiful, glamorous, and exotic—and more popular than ever. This trend also brought Kay Francis to the top, and Katharine Hepburn and Norma Shearer and Connie Bennett. Claudette Colbert and Carole Lombard muscled in slightly, but they weren’t exotic enough, so no one paid them much mind.

And then, quite gradually, the public changed. They were sick to death of glamour, gardenias were nauseating, and sunken cheeks were unhealthy. Carole Lombard took a prat fall in “My Man Godfrey”, carried on like a crazy nit-wit—and the “screwball” trend was upon us. Most of the stars who had been so busy being glamorous didn’t realize until too late that another era had descended, so naturally as the “screwball” comedies rolled on and on their public forgot them. Kay Francis, Marlene Dietrich, and Greta Garbo were practically left out of the entire trend, so little wonder that they lost out at the box office.

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What Hollywood Has Given Me


Kay Francis is happy, but she has no illusions about herself or the film colony. Here’s what she has gained—and has lost—as told to

Dorothy Woolridge.


1934pictureplayhollywood1HOLLYWOOD has given me financial independence, a degree of fame, a husband, two Ford cars, and a dog.

“I have been married twice before. To whom? Never mind. That’s my private business.

“With health, love, and financial independence, I’m as happy and contended as anyone could be.

“Hollywood has given me greater respect for the stage. When I finish in pictures, whether it be in five years or ten years, I’m going back to it—if it will have me. What I’m fearful of is that when Hollywood is through with me, I’ll be unfitted for anything else.

“It has given me a deeper insight into people and life. Hollywood is like Pandora’s Box—with the evils and miseries of life, but with hope at the bottom. Here we live on hope.

“It has given me a tiny bungalow with Kenneth MacKenna. And love. But I knew Kenneth for seven years before coming to Hollywood, so it can’t be said that Hollywood gave him to me. We lived in a beautiful, spacious residence for a while after we were married, but found it too great a responsibility. Now we have the smallest place in down. We still look upon New York as home.

“I’ve grown hard, especially in business, but I’m not bitter. My contacts here have made me that way. Fundamentally, though, I do not believe Hollywood has changed me.

“Hollywood has no sophistication. But it may have gained some since the advent of talkies.

“As a child, I was excitable, spoiled, and had a terrible temper until I reached the age of eight. Then my mother took it out of me. Her discipline gave me balance. Hollywood has helped advance that balance.

“I lost my Santa Claus at the age of six. I never regained him. Hollywood has proven to me that there is no Santa Claus. It has shown me realities.

“I have no superstitions. I was born January 13th, on a Friday, the thirteenth month of my mother’s marriage. I have been lucky. Of course, if I forget something and have to go back in the house after it, I sit down and count ten before leaving. But that’s a woman’s privilege, not a superstition. I open an umbrella in the house without hesitation.

“My first marriage was when I was seventeen. I had been divorced twice at the age of twenty-two. I went on the stage right after my first divorce in 1925, following a trip to Europe. I lied to get my first job on the stage—said I was experienced when I was not. Hollywood has not upbraided me yet for telling that little white lie.

“I went on the stage because I wanted to eat regularly. I had to earn my own living. My mother, Katherine Clinton, was of the stage and made a name for herself. The stage and screen agreed to buy some of the talents I inherited from her.

“Hollywood has taught me the value of privacy. Here you have to change your telephone number every two months despite the fact that it’s a blind-number. How Hollywood saps your vitality. It demands your strength in a constant struggle. It is like an octopus, always reaching out, always absorbing. It knows no pity. It takes far more than it gives.

“Everything good coms to Hollywood, but nothing originates here. It’s a melting pot for talent developed in other parts of the world.

“You have no intimates here, no really close friends. When Kenneth and I were married, in January 1931, we sailed out of Los Angeles harbor in his yacht, destination unknown. We put in at Catalina Island where a justice of the peace performed the ceremony in the presence of two witnesses we didn’t even know—two strangers.

“I wouldn’t own real estate in Hollywood because I have never felt that it was my home.

“When I came here to work, newspaper headlines announced—‘America’s Best-Dressed Woman Arrives.’ I make no claim to any such distinction. When Ken and I go out on our boat, I usually wear a bathing suit or overalls. I do the cooking and he does the skippering. We sometimes spend a week at a time at sea.

“As a girl, I hated the idea of acting. Mother sent me to a New York secretarial school and I planned a business career. I didn’t make good my intention. The stage got me.

“I hate interviews. I recognize them as part of the game, but there’s a time and place for everything. A publicity man on my arrival wanted to photograph me beside a defeated prize fighter who had a black eye. ‘Put on dark glasses,’ I said to him. ‘I don’t want to draw attention to your misfortunes.’ He thanked me.

“I have a dog, a dachshund, one of those creatures which looks like it was born under a bureau. I have one maid, Ida, whom I brought with me from New York.

“I cherish no ideals and have no illusions. ‘Make the best of what you have and get,’ is my creed.

1934pictureplayhollywood“I know a group of nice people whose companionship I enjoy. I have learned that if you can’t be exclusive in Hollywood you can be seclusive [Webmaster’s note: I think Kay was referring to “secluded.”]. That, it seems, is the ideal way to live.

“I like to watch prize fights, wrestling matches, and bicycle races. I like sailing.

“I do nothing in particular to keep physically fit. I eat anything I want without fear of getting fat. I drive my own car.

“I do not have photographs of myself scattered throughout the house. So far as I can remember, my husband and I never have had our picture taken together.

“I am in love with my husband. He is diplomatic. He never becomes angry. He prefers beer to champagne. His favorite dish is wild duck and oranges. He doesn’t snore. He doesn’t take himself seriously. Doesn’t like to have his home life publicized. He is neither temperamental nor moody. His favorite indoor sport is bridge. His screen favorites are Lionel Barrymore and Greta Garbo. When through the movies, he, too, expects to return to the stage.”

(Since this was written Miss Francis and Mr. Mackenna have agreed to an amicable separation.)

In the circle of writers who hover about the Hollywood studios, I know half a dozen who have tried to interview Kay Francis. I have seen some of them emerge muttering, “’Yes and no! It depends upon the individual. Yes and no! It depends upon the individual.’”

They had heard it repeated so frequently during their chat it had seared its way into their brains. Because Kay parries questions which call for conclusions or which touch upon her private life. To her an interview takes on the nature of a fence match.

This much can be said, however, quite truthfully: people get it, I don’t know. When I come in from an airplane trip, crowds follow me right into the station washroom to stand and stare.

“My husband and I own a fifty acre farm near Cape Cod with a house two hundred years old on it. When we went there for a visit with his parents, mobs of country folk came. They completely ruined our stay. In a few days we left. At Greenwich, Connecticut, I went to the country fair and literally was mobbed. I hate crowds.

“Some persons will tell you they can’t live in Hollywood and be a lady. That is absurd. You are here just what you are elsewhere. Effects of the ‘Hollywood influence’ depend on the receptive attitude of the individual. To accept certain things is to make them true.

“I believe in luck, particularly in Hollywood. Luck has boosted many stars to the positions which they hold today.

“I expect to devote five or ten years to pictures. I see previews of those films in which I work. I never go to premieres. When my picture days are ended, I’ll return to Broadway voicing no regrets. The gain will have been worth the game.

“My poorest picture was ‘The Keyhole.’ My best, ‘Trouble in Paradise’ and ‘One Way Passage.’ But I have no choice in my stories.

“I love to play sophisticated roles. In Clara Bow’s picture, ‘Dangerous Curves,’ they dressed me in tights! Imagine it! Oh, well, that’s Hollywood.”

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What the Fans Think

December 1937, Picture Play

“No Ordinary Actress”

By Dorothy Brooks Holcombe.
4042 North Richland Court,
Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

1937pictureplaywhatthefansthinkVERY few actresses radiate the warmth and sincerity that characterize Kay Francis’s screen performances. Hollywood sophisticates, glamorous though they are, fail to approach the spirit of friendliness and deep feeling of Miss Francis’s portrayals, because they cannot bring their interpretations of emotions above the surface artificiality that typifies the extreme modernism of our day.

With possibly one or two exceptions, the 1937 screen siren blatantly makes a play for the approval of her audience and, in so doing, fails to penetrate the gap that stands between herself and those who watch her on the screen.

On the other hand, the glamour girls who do not openly court public favor by posing in unnatural positions or forcing themselves to grin continuously in the Cheshire-cat manner—and there are a few who don’t—are often lacking in even the primary requisites of good acting.

They simply fail to register any feelings whatsoever.

Not only must a star’s characterization have the force that marks a truly great performance, but sincerity, a deep-rooted bond which will bring the actress and her audience in sympathy, and interpretation that will give the audience and understanding of the character’s innermost feelings. Not one star in a thousand can do it, but Kay Francis is not to be classed among ordinary actresses for just such an achievement is hers.

With a word she can bring to the mind tranquility of blue twilight; with a smile, the exhilaration of living; and her laughter denotes gayety such as that of Brahm’s madly beautiful Hungarian rhapsodies. One senses even from the screen that she lives for each breathless moment, yet has a knowledge of human emotions which only sympathy for others can bring.


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Its Never Been Told

Its Never Been Told

By Sidney Riley
Picture Play magazine, March 1937

1937pictureplayTEN years ago, listed by New York artists as “too round-faced” to portray sophistication. Today the film’s Number One Brunet Interpreter of Urbane Ladies. Sometimes, Kay Francis must give a howl of glee, all to herself, at the way things were shaped by her destiny.

The story of Kay’s slim wardrobe—two street dresses, two evening dresses—had been told every time she has been persuaded to talk about herself. Which is not often. Occasionally, however, Kay’s advice on how to get along with a limited number of costumes creeps into print. She, herself, did it once she tells. But lively days surrounding those few, smart Patou frocks she seldom mentions.

The fact that Kay Francis cares little about retelling the story of her early New York triumphs probably means two things. One, that she is not vain. Two, that she doesn’t think it worth the breath it takes to recreate them. In this she becomes a feminine paragon. Few women could resist boasting that they were once “the bell of New York.” It would creep out in conversation. Not in Kay’s.

In the winter of 1925-26 a new beauty appeared on the horizon of New York’s artistic world. You are right. It was Kay Francis. Smartly dressed, with tremendous poise, she immediately took the art world by storm. Inasmuch as the art world in Manhattan is closely allied to the world of letters, music, theater, Kay soon became the toast of the entire colony. You can accept this as truth, because it was told by her long-time friend and apartment sharer, Lois Long, the redoubtable “Lipstick” of “The New Yorker.” More about her later.

1937pictureplay3Kay was nineteen or twenty then. She looked older because she was tall, dark, poised. Actually, she was as naïve as the young Western girl she was. Kay was born in Oklahoma City; schooled in New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. She was the owner of a Paris divorce, true enough, from Dwight Francis, and she had enjoyed a gorgeous time in Paris getting it. She had barged all around the ancient city, doing what the elite were supposed to do. But for all that, Kay was still only an overgrown girl who happened to look like a worldly-wise woman.

When Kay docked at a Manhattan pier ten years ago she knew that she would have to make some strenuous gestures about assembling a career for herself. She had no definite ideas about the theater. If it presented itself, alright. She was an adequate secretary; that she knew. She could always find work in that field. The biggest thing to her was that life held a lot of laughs, and was going to see that she got her quota. If Kay has more than her portion of beauty, she also is generously endowed with humor.

In no time at all, Kay was sharing and apartment with a girl named Virginia. Virginia Chambers, it is now. It wasn’t much of an apartment. A walk-up. The bedroom the girls shared was so tiny that they had to hurtle the bedstead ends to climb into the twin beds that stood side by side with a foot or so separating them.

To see her descend the walk-up steps on her way to a smart restaurant for lunch—popular girls like Virginia and Kay seldom had to worry about cooking their own meals—anyone would think that she had stepped from her boudoir, attended by two maids and a butler. A little beige number by Patou did the trick. It was trimmed with lynx, and a smart hat, the right gloves, shoes, handbag, went with it. Or if it wasn’t the beige ensemble, there was also a black, lynx-trimmed Patou frock.

For two years without another purchase, Kay wore the beige and the black costumes from one smart party to another, and she got away with it. Of course you have noticed Kay’s flair for wearing clothes. That was the answer. Also Kay’s non-chalance. If she had worn the same garments, time and again, with an apologetic manner, undoubtedly her admirers would have grown tired of Monsieur Patou’s ingenjous cuttings and stitches.

1937pictureplay1Instead, Kay wore them with supreme indifference. She didn’t care that they were all she had for street wear. She knew that they were the finest any one could buy; they were becoming; she liked them. It was the same way with her black lace evening dress, and her other one of black crepe. With only four complete costume changes, Kay became the toast of the town. A lot of debs don’t do her as well on the entire season’s output of their favorite couturier.

With that “tawny skin, those sea-green eyes, jet black hair”—these are Lois Long’s descriptive adjectives—Kay was in constant demand as an artist’s model. But nothing ever came of Kay’s posing. For all the rich coloring and warmth of her beauty, when the oil workers commenced to get Kay’s likeness down on canvas, they were startled to discover that painting Kay was like reproducing a forest fire on their canvases. She was too colorful, too flamboyant. Kay’s modeling days were short-lived.

“All right,” reasoned Lois, who by this time was one of Kay’s and Virginia’s cronies, “if you’re not good in oil, you’ll be marvelous for the camera.” At that time Louis was editorially employed on “Vogue,” the fashion magazine. She did all the string-pulling she could get to get Kay to the attention of the advertising photographers. They were as enthusiastic as was Louis about Kay’s distinctive style and beauty. Entranced, they looked again—shook their heads.

Kay, they declared, with her firm cheeks, her forthright look, her direct gaze, was not the sophisticated type. No, the sophisticated type, in predepression days had high cheek bones that showed above caved-in cheeks. Funny, the set ideals of the ideal-setters. Anyway, Kay didn’t get the job. Louis and Virginia thought it was a good laugh. Everything was a good laugh to the trio.

Kay’s first theatrical job came shortly after this. Basil Sidney was about to introduce an innovation to blasé Broadway. He was to present “Hamlet” in modern dress, discarding the ancient trappings. Kay got the part of the “Player Queen.” She received thirty-five dollars a week. She spent thirty-seven fifty. Just as thrift and simplicity mark Kay’s life today, ten years ago she was forever splurging her newly earned money.

Lois, earning fifty a week, and thinking she was practically plutocratic, met Kay the night of the annual Beaux-Arts Ball. Wrack her memory, she can’t think of what the costume motif was for that year, but she knew that one or two of the twelve young business and professional men that made up the gang that eddied about the girls, called for her and took her to meet Kay and Virginia.

She had on some sort of rose-colored velvet gown, made by one of the town’s leading costumers. It might have been Louis Quatorze, trimmed with gold lace. Whatever it was, it illuminated Kay’s beauty until it was almost breathtaking. The costumer realized this possibility. That is why he had created it expressly for Kay and secured her consent to wear it in the grand march. He knew that her appearance in his dress would bring him fame.

But Kay, always full of healthy fun, was restless in the velvet elegance. The gang milled about the small living room, putting off its departure until the last moment. Finally Kay could stand the formality of the dress no more. She retreated to the tiny bedroom and came out for a few moments later clad in the homemade page costume that her mother, the former actress Katherine Clinton, had made for her. At last she was comfortably attired. Of course she returned to the velvet masterpiece before the party went on to the Beaux-Arts rout. But the gesture was like today’s Kay. She would rather wear slacks or pajamas than the elaborate dresses that are created for her by Warners’ Orry-Kelly. She is not interested in fussy clothes.

About a year and a half after Kay met Lois, she and Virginia gave up their apartment, and Kay and Lois took one together. Kay was making thirty-five a week, Lois fifty; the apartment rented for seventy-five a month. It was in the predepression days and living costs were sky-high. Their one extravagance was that each girl had her own phone. They were taking no chances on losing an invitation because the other one was keeping Mr. Bell’s device busy with her date-making. That the girls barely got by on their joint earnings, didn’t bother them at all. They were having a big time for themselves. Kay’s beauty was attracting even more attention—men, screen tests, proposals of this, that, and the other thing.

Kay never bothered about patronizing the beauty salons to enhance her looks. Her short, smart haircut, which set the nation’s style as soon as it was seen on the screen, was contrived in a men’s barber shop. Gown designers begged her to wear their creations, knowing that Kay was present at all the places where the smartest people gathered. Unconcernedly, Kay danced all night, was up early the next morning to take a screen test. She never even thought about conserving her energies. She was distinguishingly healthy.

Kay still has fun, but it’s not the riotous fun of ten years ago. Her amusements are tempered to spectator sports, instead of active athletics; to dinners, a few parties.

When Kay went to Hollywood and a screen career, it spelled the end of the household of Francis and Long. Four years passed, during which much happened, before the girls met again.

1937pictureplay2Much happened, yes. Lois was divorced from cartoonist Peter Arno; Kay was married to actor Kenneth MacKenna. One morning, at a little ramshackle farmhouse that she had taken for the season, so her small daughter could have some country air, Lois had a wire from Kay saying that she and her new husband were coming to see her. Knowing Kay so well, Lois was nevertheless a little frightened at the prospect of entertaining a Hollywood star. Supposing Kay had changed? To add to her panic, the water main had burst, which deprived the house of water.

Lois, not without ingenuity, hurried to the small town’s general store and bought all available old-fashioned china receptacles and hastily thrust them in the conventional spots in the bedroom. She was relying on the healthy humor of the Kay she had known to help her over a discomforting situation. If Kay had grown star-conscious, she was lost. If Kay had not, she knew the scene would bring one of her hearty laughs. Kay and her husband arrived. Kay took one look, and laughed that throaty, lush laugh that Lois remembered from their Thirty-nine Street apartment days. The weekend was a glorious reunion for the friends. P.S. the water main was repaired that afternoon.

Their last meeting was this past summer. Lois Long made her first trip to Hollywood to write dialogue.

“Kay, for the first time, is thinking of tomorrow instead of spending all she makes today,” said Lois Long. But with her sense of humor Kay is still vastly lavish. A good joke is still worth a deep, throaty Francis-can laugh.


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Love Letters

November 23, 1933. Motion Picture Herald.

We have been wondering why the possibilities of letter contests in cooperation with the various fountain pen, stationery, and typewriter people have not been more thoroughly exploited, as there is no reason why a stunt of this kind cannot be put over to good returns.

The management of the Paramount Theatre, San Francisco, Cal., evidently concurs with this thought by putting over the most effectively a love letter contest with one of the leading stationery stores in which a prize of a Parker pen desk set was given to the writer turning in the most fiery epistle.

The competition ran during the entire showing of the picture, and the store went for it very enthusiastically in newspaper advertising and also with a splendid window display (see below) that featured a striking enlargement of Kay Francis with lead copy as follows—“I wrote this letter. Can you write a better one?”, trying in with the actual letter incorporated in the story, and the results are reported to have been very gratifying.

This idea can be further restricted by requiring entrants in these contests to use the stationery, pen or typewriter featured by the participating merchant, but either way, the stunt is very promising and we should like to see it used further in members’ campaigns.


Oklahoma Defies Broadway


Margaret Reid
Picture Play Magazine, November 1930

1931pictureplayarticle1A TREAT for numerologists, Kay Francis was born on Friday, January 13th, in the thirteenth month of her mother’s marriage. Just what this indicates I have no idea, but it is probably something very complicated. All that the layman can deduce is that the thirteen-ridden infant turned out rather well. Someone has obviously made a grave error in advancing the misfortune theory which tarnishes this number. If a combination of thirteens can produce—together, of course, with the usual requisite circumstance—a Kay Francis, then fie on your superstitions. (Cries of “Right-o!” and “Fie on your superstitions!” from myriad male throats.)

I pondered on the fallacy of numbers as we sat in her dressing room. There was Kay feeling slightly uncomfortable. She hasn’t yet acquired the movie capacity for “giving to her public” through the medium of the press.

“In theater,” she observes, “no one particularly cares where, when, how, or why you were born, what your favorite salad is, or your opinion on the Indian salt strike. And they don’t give a whoop about your sex life. You have one or you haven’t—it’s all the same to them. They have sex lives of their own and would be terribly bored by a recital of anyone else’s.”

When she arrived in Hollywood, via the Paramount studio, she was considerably disconcerted by the almost cynical curiosity manifested in picture players. In the midst of gathering her forces for a big scene, some eager-penned son or daughter of the press would rush up and demand her theories on career versus marriage.

“In the first place, I don’t theorize about marriage. It works or it doesn’t, depending only on the participants. In the second place, I never have theories of any kind when I’m about to go into a big moment for the camera and posterity. One idea at a time is all I can manage.”

She laughed. Most things are, for the matter, very funny to Kay. For which reason, it is almost impossible to annoy her. Even the confusion of studio mechanics doesn’t stile her humor. The possessor of steady nerves and a sense of keen amusement, she indulges in no displays of temperament. Thus making obvious one of the reasons why Hollywood’s resentment of stage recruits has dwindled.

But this is getting us nowhere. Miss Francis was born in Oklahoma City on and notwithstanding the date previously mentioned, thus proving that looking like a sketch in Vogue has little to do with Park Avenue. Her mother was Katherine Clinton, an actress of note who gave up her career after marrying Kay’s father. When Kay was a year old, her family moved to Santa Barbara, later to Los Angeles, then to Denver.

When the pride of Paramount’s dress designers was four years of age, her mother took to New York. There Miss Clinton returned to the stage and Kay began a school career which included convents in Fort Lee, New York, Garden City, and Massachusetts, and concluded at Miss Fuller’s School for Young Ladies at Ossining. After this educational orgy, Kay drew a deep breath and faced the world.

Having too much energy for leisure, she looked about for something to do.

1931pictureplayarticle3“I hadn’t been especially interested in the stage, but since that was my mother’s profession it natural occurred to me as first choice. Mother, however, discouraged it. Parents who are of the theater are always aghast at the possibility of their offspring contracting the virus. They themselves will never definitely leave the stage, but they try to guard their children from becoming drugged with the same love of it, to the extent of cheerfully enduring all the hard work and disappointments that go with it. But if the theater is in your blood, the precautions seldom work.

“Mother was too sensible a person to forbid my going on the stage. But she advised against it and I respected her judgement. So after looking around for something else to do, I decided on a business career, of all things.”

Enrolling in a secretarial school, she studied shorthand and type-writing and emerged, at the end of the course, a completely different secretary for some lucky financer. And immediately, with blithe inconsistency, she abandoned all thoughts of typewriters and such and went to Europe! There Kay wandered aimlessly around Francis, Holland, and England.

“It was an awfully rough crossing and the third day out I was the only woman on deck. Sitting in the rain and wind on the top deck, I had a sudden feeling of tremendous self-confidence. I felt very indomitable. All I could think of to decide about was a career. So I determined to make good. And at nothing so simple as stenography. Mother had impressed me with the difficulties and travail of the theater. That would be the real triumph, I thought. It was the stage or nothing, from then on.”

As soon as Kay landed, she announced the momentous decision. Her mother resignedly agreed that if she must, she must—but it would be without the unfair advantage of parental aid and influence. And it was quite on her own that Kay—then Katherine—a few weeks later obtained the part of the Player Queen in a modern dress version of “Hamlet.”

The tall, dark, inviting-looking young player queen was considerably talked about on Broadway. But Kay, who has a head on her shoulders which no amount of pleasantry can inflate, wanted to make sure. When “Hamlet” closed, she joined Stuart Walker’s stock company and served a rigid apprenticeship in Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Dayton, after which she returned to New York. Opposite Chester Morris in “Crime,” and Walter Huston in “Elmer the Great,” Kay Francis was a name of importance around Times Square. And national fame, as an adjustment to movies, was imminent.

John Meehan, who had directed Kay on the stage, was codirecting with Millard Webb, Paramount’s “Gentlemen of the Press.” Meehan and Walter Huston, who was the star of the piece, determined that Kay should crash pictures by means of the sirenic heavy of this picture. Kay was equally determined that she shouldn’t.

“The very thought of movies scared me off. D.W. Griffith had made a test of me three years before and it was a notable fiasco. I was convinced that the screen was not for me, and I tried to forget it.”

Meehan and Huston, however, made life miserable until she satisfied them by going over to the Paramount studio for a test. This one turned out differently and gave her the added advantage of being audible. Less nervous of the camera now that she could use her voice and with the promised association of a director and star with whom she loved to work, Kay signed the little scrap piece of paper.

1931pictureplayarticle2Following “Gentlemen of the Press” and the Marx Brothers’ “Cocoanuts,” Miss Francis was signed to a Paramount contract and shipped to Hollywood. She had, at the time of writing, just finished “Raffles” with Ronald Colman, having been borrowed by United Artists for this picture.

In the recent “For the Defense,” with William Powell, and in the Colman opus, she was given her best cinematic opportunities so far. Playing a heavy in her first film threatened, in the way of movies, to doom her to a succession of villainous roles.

“What I’d like to do,” she said, “is women of the sort of type Katharine Cornell plays. They are living, breathing people women whose very vitality makes them dramatically interesting. When you get such characters to analyze and project, then you really know why you insisted on turning actress.”

Asked if she had made this quite reasonable suggestion for herself to the studio, Kay made vigorous denial.

“I’m no fixture yet. Give them time to find out whether or not I am a potential flop. Doing a few plays doesn’t necessarily qualify me for pictures. I’m still learning the trade.”

If you asked me—and please do—I think she already knows it rather well. A good trouper, whether lighted by footlights or by Kleigs. Kay’s performance in “Street of Chance” was authoritative and sensitive, and in “Raffles” she comes fully into her own.

“No one could give really a bad performance in a Colman picture,” she said. “He is so delightful to work with that the whole company is keyed up to him. Although I did attempt to demolish him one day, poor dear. I had on a very elegant gown, with train, and was ready to make an entrance. I swept in, feeling quite effective—and tripped over a rug and fell headlong, bringing Ronnie and a couple of chairs down with me. Francis, the human butterfly!”

Even the publicity departments, that most hard-boiled studio element, adore Kay Francis. And this, in spite of the major difficulty she gives them in the matter of information. Nonpulsed by the ten-page form she was requested to full out with her likes, dis likes, waist measurement, etcetera, she blithely coped the answers put down by the star sitting next to her on the set. When asked her opinion on screen kisses, she tells the p.d. to make up an opinion for her and anything they say will be all right.

“Hobbies seem to be terribly important. And I haven’t any. I have a dog and a cat and a canary and a goldfish, but they aren’t hobbies. But I suppose, sooner or later, I’ll be caught in a weak moment and they’ll run up a picture of Miss Francis, that irrepressible child of nature, romping among her goldfish.”

She wears clothes like no one else along our Boulevard, drives a Ford coupe, calls her Scottish terrier Snifter, because he is a snifter of Scotch, has been married but isn’t now, likes California, because it is a good place to work and is near Honolulu, is punctual for appointments, and she is altogether a most ingratiating person.

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Kay Francis Hears the East Calling



By Patricia Keats

Originally published in the January 1934 issue of Silver Screen

“On the road to Mandalay
where the flying fishes plu-ay—“

“Pipe down, you dope!” a voice roared right under my nose as I tip-toed onto a stage at the Warner Brother film factor.

Before I had time to go into a first class gasp of surprise with a dash of bitters, there was a discordant crashing piano chord and the contralto voice that been gaily caroling Kipling’s famous song, choked right in the middle of a good “plu-ay.”

I saw then that the irate assistant director (who do assistant directors always have to be so irate?) had his eyes directed towards a dim corner, where the legs of a grand piano poked around the edge of a piece of scenery–a bit of old waterfall left over from “Footlight Parade” I think.

“Lay off that piano! We’re shooting!” It was the assistant director again.

A smartly coiffed raven black head appeared out of the dimness and a very meek voice said, “So sorry.”

The assistant director’s eyes nearly popped out of his head and an expression of horror swept over his face. I thought surely he must be seeing Frankenstein—but no, it was only Kay Francis.

“Oh, Miss Francis, I-I-I didn’t know it was you,” he stuttered. “I’m—I’m awfully—“

“Forget it,” said Kay with a grin. “I’m used to being shushed when I break out in song. Why I’ve been shushed out of the best places in Hollywood.”

Contrite at having bawled out the star, the assistant director backed away—and into a nice fat Buddha—still apologizing, until the sound recorder dived out of his booth to tell Director Curtiz that he couldn’t be expected to catch dialogue if someone on the set was talking when the camera was on. And was the assistant director’s face red? And did I laugh? But it was all in the day’s work with Director Michael Curtiz, who continued philosophically on his way about making a box office best seller out of “Mandalay.” Curtiz has the reputation of being a director who takes his time—never hurries himself or his actors. The best crack about him was pulled by John Barrymore, who dropped in to see the Marathon dancers one night about the end of the endurance test, took a glance at the fairly stagnant couples and cracked, “Why they’re being directed by Curtiz.”

I never saw Kay so exotically charming as she was that day. She wore a glove-fitting silver gown that didn’t spare the details—and such interesting details.

“I’m supposed to be White Spot from a hot spot in Rangoon,” Kay explained. “I’m the principal reason why men leave home—and stay away. And this is supposed to be the most notorious night club in Rangoon,” she went on, pointing out the colorful Oriental motifs of a huge café set. “And regardez (webmaster’s note: this is how it appears in original text; I think it’s supposed to be “regarding”) the bar. Wouldn’t the Vendome like to have that little number for its next costume party?”

“Is it authentic?” I asked. With all the questions in the world to ask, why do I always pick out such stupid ones? I think it’s because when I was in school the idea was to ask the teacher so many questions that she wouldn’t get around to asking any of us.

“I don’t know about its authenticity,” Kay obliged. “I’ve never been in Rangoon. But shall I tell you about the time I was in Hoboken? No? Alright, then—look at that crooked stairway. They tell me that there’s one just like it in a famous Shanghai night club.”

I gazed in dismay at a flight of steps that rose steeply to a balcony on which several tables were placed. The steps were set at uneven intervals, which is an old Oriental custom I learned. And they looked pretty tough going if a person had to navigate them in a hurry. You’d have to do an old-fashioned schottische—one, two, three, hop—to obtain the best results.

Kay had to leave then to do a short scene in which she had to dance across the floor in the arms of Ricardo Cortez—which is a break for any girl, if you ask me. Ric is still one of the most sought after young men in Hollywood, though his attentions lately seem to have centered on a young society woman named Christine Lee. But only last year this time Ric and Joan Crawford were tangoing night after night at the Cocoanut Grove and the Gold Room—and what a fascinating couple they made on the dance floor. But let’s not belittle Kay. Slithering out there in the Cortez arms she made the Red Headed Woman look like a high school girl, and the Worst Woman in Paris like nothing so much as a rank amateur.

At the various tables around the dance floor were enough nationalities represented to start a new League of Nations. Cute little Chinese serving girls in yellow silk pajamas; Burmese ladies with their quaint hair dresses looking like shiny black onions perched atop their heads; Hindus, immaculate in occidental clothes, with their white turbans adding an incongruous touch; trim English subalterns in stiffly starched mess jackets, looking like a lot of Doug Jrs., and Bruce Cabots at the Grove; flashily dressed white girls of uncertain nationality representing the Rangoon demimonde. And on a small stage was a group of Burmese dancers posturing in time to the weird strains from a native orchestra. And when he Burmese posture they posture.

Warner Oland, clad in loose fitting white linens, crossed my range of vision.

“Aha, I see it all now,” I said. “Ricardo Cortez is the hero. Warner Oland is the crafty old villain who is setting the head vamp in this naughty dive on Roc’s trail. Ric probably has some important papers which they mean to get, or a rare old emerald worth millions that the Maharajah of Hotspot gave him for serving a dozen or so of his wives from drowning in the sacred pools. Plot number 6.” (I was mistaken. I discovered later that it was Plot number 7.)

“No, ma’am,” said Ric. “I’m no hero in this picture. I hero so rarely these days that I’m neglecting my profile. I’m the heavy again, worse luck. Just a soldier of fortune who sells the girl who loves him—Kay, of course—to Warner Oland for a shipload of guns he hopes to sell for fancy prices to the natives. Oland wants Kay for the head gal in his joint here. (Imagine swapping Kay for a lot of old guns—why Mr. Cortez must be mad.)

“You see,” Ric continued, “I’m an utterly bad villain. Later, I decide I want my girl back, and I follow her when she tries to go straight, an when she turns me down I commit suicide and make it look like murder, and she’s arrested and—“

“Wait a minute,” I shouted. “You’re breaking my heart. I want to get out before all that starts happening.”

“You don’t have to worry,” Kay assured me, freshening up her makeup for the next scene. “We go on location tomorrow and all the dirty work is done on a river boat up near Stockton, which, unfortunately, is over a night’s ride from Hollywood. We took some early scenes in the picture on Catalina Island—which also is a bit far for commuting. I wonder what the location chooser for this picture has against me.”

I found out Lyle Talbot had been chosen for the leading man in the picture. He plays a young doctor with an unsavory past who meets Kay on the river boat when she is trying to run away from Oland’s dive. The part had been originally intended for George Brent, but for some reason or other Talbot had been chosen to succeed him. Lyle had just gotten home from the hospital, after his terrible car accident, the day the studio called him, and although he was still pretty weak and shaken up he promised to take the plane for Stockton the next day. The old trouper instinct. The show must go on. But inasmuch as Lyle still has a gash on his head and his arm is in a sling the script writers had to get busy and do a little explaining for a battered up leading man in their story. Lyle and Kay did a swell job together in “Mary Stevens, M.D.”, so, personally, I’m darned glad Lyle has the part. He gets more and more popular in Hollywood everyday—and the nurses at the hospital reported that while he was there he received more wires, telephone calls and flowers from women than any young actor who had ever sniffled their chloroform. The Countess di Frasso’s flowers were very much in evidence.

A call for “Lights” and “Quiet” and Kay was back on the set again to do her “tripping” scene down the jerry-built stairway, and I’m here to tell you it was a real “trip.” Hollywood’s best dressed actress started down the steps, looking languidly toward the dance floor. One heel got caught in the train of her gown, and down she came, bumpity bump BUMP. And pride goeth before a fall.

“*-*-*-“ said Miss Francis.

Director, cameramen, assistants, extras, dancers, everyone, even I, rushed forward to help her.

“Hurt?” Director Curtiz asked solicitously.

“What do you think?” Kay groaned rubbing a tender spot. That same spot which has been so well featured in “The Bowery” and “The Fire Chief.”

But Kay refused to let a little thing like that make her call off work for the day. She really was considerably bruised, but as she remarked to me, “The bruises aren’t where they show.”

As if that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, right on top of Kay’s tumble, in walked Secretary of the Navy Claude Swanson and a gang of Admirals, piloted by a Warner Brother. Now, whether the U.S. navy is going to continue to be dry or not, I don’t pretend to know. It’s been a long time since Secretary Daniels limited the navy’s grog to straight grape juice. At any rate I am sure Secretary eyes sparkled a bit when he spied the elaborate bar at the end of the café set. Kay must have noted the sparkle, too, for she led the distinguished visitors over to the bar and cordially invited them to have one on the house. There was a click of soles on brass.

But ah—their illusions regarding the movies must have been rudely shattered that day, for after one sip at their mint juleps, served in honor the Secretary, who is a Virginian, yas suh. I noticed they all sat down as if each and every one contained ginger ale—and shiver me timbers, they did.

The Sec and the Admirals were good scouts, though, and posed for pictures, and all of them tried to get as close to Kay as possible (but I don’t think she slipped her telephone number to any of them), and the photographers had a field day.

When the last gold braid had disappeared I again sought out Kay and demanded to know the finish of “Mandalay.” After all, there was just a chance that it might not be Plot number 7. There was a slight suggestion of Plot number 9.

“After you fall in love with Lyle Talbot, the renegade doctor, and have fought off the villainous Cortez, and he has committed suicide and made it look like murder, and you get arrested—then what? I asked.

“If you want to know how I get out of that mess and at least get around to a happy ending, you’ll have to wait until you see the picture on the screen. It’s much too good a story to spoil for you.”

Which I call a mean trick on a trusting gal—and now I’ve got to wait a month to see whether its Plot number 7 or 9. But from what I saw of the glamourous Kay, no matter what the plot is, I wouldn’t miss seeing that picture. I’ve never seen Kay more fascinating and enticing, and if the men don’t go for her in a big way in her role of “White Spot” I’m going to quit guessing.


Webmaster’s notes: Cortez doesn’t commit suicide in the movie, Kay poisons him. Her character’s nickname is “Spot White”—not “White Spot.”

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Lucky Thirteen


LUCKY THIRTEEN Kay Francis believes in this number—and you can’t blame her, for it has played a big part in her meteoric career.

By Herbert Cruikshank.
Originally appeared in Modern Screen, November 1930.

modernscreennovember19301Look at her again. The girl on the cover. The perfect oval of her face. The fathomless sea-grey eyes. Those provocative lips, with their prompt suggestion of the Mona Lisa. The keen, clean-cut contours of her figure. The poise. That truly regal bearing. Now close your eyes. Can’t you see her as—

A dainty, languorous, drawling daughter of the old South—the final perfect bloom evolved from a family tree deep-rooted in aristocracy through countless generations. Chivalry dueling for her favors…the scent of magnolia…a background of trysting-trees veiling romantic meetings with festooned Spanish moss.

Or imagine her the unattainable darling of a dozen D-Artagans. Gallants bending in adoration over slender finger-tips…slender blades flashing to whatever cause she lists.

Perhaps a princess persecuted…a queen deposed by an envious rabble…the last of a mighty dynasty…the scion of some ancient house tossed to the arms of Hollywood on the turbulent foam of the post-war maelstrom…a ruler of destinies…a mistress of men…maker—and breaker—of empires.

In whatever vivid pigment your imagination paints her, Kay Francis looks the part. Obviously the ages have harbored long to produce her perfection. Obviously, too, it was created to grace high places. Yet, as sometimes happens, fate, in a final moment of carelessness thwarted its own ends. For instead of being born in the palace of some royal line, Kay Francis made her debut in Oklahoma City. Yet, it was Friday, the thirteenth (webmaster’s note: Kay later said this wasn’t true).

YET she has a certain heritage. There was something of feudal holdness in the wanderings of old Grandfather Franks through the western wilderness. He wasn’t always old, and in his youth the boom-towns of the frontier were his familiar habitat. He married twice, and of the second wedding in his house was born a daughter, Katherine, who became Kay Francis’ mother.

With real romance dying, the girl turned to the world of make-believe for her adventuring, and as Katherine Clinton, gained some measure of fame as a player of parts in repertoire companies. Thirteen months after her marriage, a daughter, Katherine, came. The infant travelled through the West—California, Colorado—as the parents followed their nomadic life.

Still a very little girl, the young actress-mother put the child in school in the East, and from that time the future Kay Francis spent a dozen years in the convents of the Holy Angels at Fort Lee, New Jersey—and the Holy Child Jesus, in New York City. After these preliminaries she was “finished” at Miss Fuller’s School, at Ossining, and in the Cathedral School at Garden City.

katherineclinton1ONE of the earliest recollections of the theatre dates back to a memorable evening, when, at the age of three, she sat in a box with a family friend, while her mother, then leading lady for the Daly Repertoire Company, enacted a tragic role upon the stage.

“Mother had to be shot just before the third act curtain,” reminisces the latest cinema sensation, “and when the big scene came, the audience was properly keyed up for it. The shot was fired. Mother cried out tragically. She staggered and fell while the slayer watched horrified at his deed, and the audience gripped its chair-arms.

“The atmosphere was stifling with silence and tenseness. Then I turned to the friend who was ‘minding’ me, and piped up, ‘don’t be frightened—mother’s not really dead—she’s only acting!’

“My childish voice carried everywhere in the theatre. The audience became hysterical with laughter. They had to ring down the curtain. The part I remember best is the spanking I received in the dressing room. After that episode I saw mother’s portrayals from the wings—not from out front.”

“Kay,” for so they called her, made her own bow in the theater not as a player, but as a playwright. Stewart—by name—she composed the class play at the Cathedral School. It was presented in 1921—and Kay was sixteen at the time.

BUT, almost literally born in the theater, it was not surprising that the youngster wished to follow in her mother’s footsteps. A life of one-night stands had destroyed much of the elder woman’s illusions regarding the stage as a career, and her objections to starting her daughter along that thorny path resulted in the abandonment of the theatrical ambition in favor of a New York business school course in stenography and tying. But the curly-ques of shorthand, and the unromantic repetition of “now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party” on one of Mr. Underwood’s machines didn’t quite fit in with Kay’s ideas of life.

In a final effort to keep her from the stage, the girl was sent abroad for an eight month’s tour of the isles and the continent. When, upon her return, she persisted in her determination, parental opposition was withdrawn—but no special assistance was forthcoming.

Her very best role was Shakespearian. Kay was the queen of the players in a modern “Hamlet.” Then she returned to the stamping grounds to familiar to her mother, and trouped through Cincinnati, Dayton, Indianapolis and “points West” with the Stuart Walker Company.

modernscreennovember19303WHEN next she saw Broadway it was as a full-fledged thespian, and she managed to remain on the Big Street as a member of the cast in “Venus”—later in “Crime”—and finally with Walter Huston in “Elmer the Great.” Oddly enough, her next talkie, “The Virtuous Sin,” features Kay opposite this actor, and it was with him, too, that she made her movie debut in “Gentlemen of the Press.”

That picture was photographed in the Paramount New York studios, and at the time, director Millard Webb sought a blonde for the part. But the megaphone-man knew a discovery when he saw one, and he was too clever to pass up a bet like Kay Francis because she happened to be a brunette.

They do say that there was quite a romance building between Millard and Kay during those days on the Long Island lot. But the Webb preference for blondes finally asserted itself in his marriage to Mary Eaton. And even before this Paramount had signed Katherine Clinton’s little girl to a Hollywood contract. Westward she went, and three days after her arrival in the Santa Fe Railroad’s excuse for a station, she was playing in Clara Bow’s picture, “Dangerous Curves.”

Not even a Brooklyn Bonfire could overshadow the work of this glamorous newcomer. A half-dozen other roles followed in quick succession. And each of them was increasingly important. In a word, Kay Francis joined the ranks of those who come, and see, and conquer Hollywood. Not only did she acquire an immediate following with the fans, but she established herself in the good graces of the studio, and attained instant popularity in the first rank of cinema society. In fact, it wasn’t long before she and Ronald Colman became close friends. And when divorce made Ronnie Hollywood’s most eligible bachelor, it became necessary—or at least customary—for Kay to deny engagement rumors as “silly.” Nevertheless, Malibu says what a fine couple they’d make.

ON the screen Kay Francis has been a “dangerous woman.” Yet in life she is far from the popular conception of a siren. She has an easy, unruffled attitude, and is seldom shaken from her poise. She possesses a powerful personality, and the ability to control her emotions to an amazing degree.

She has oodles of temperament—but no temperamentality. There is a distinction. The girl is acutely sensitive and keenly alive to impressions. Decidedly high-strung, she keeps herself in utter control. Her energy is never wracking temperamental outbursts familiar to the studios. She is quick to perceive, and grasps t once a director’s idea of characterization. She doesn’t complain at any amount of labor necessary to get just the proper shading.

She is tolerant and friendly. Although she possesses a pungent and unfailing sense of humor, and has a hearty laugh, her fun is never unrestrained or boisterously hilarious. According to Bill Powell, she is most popular with discriminating men of a sensitive type, because, he says, she understands them. Perhaps that description fits Ronald Colman better than any other chap in the cinema city. Powell, by the way, is godfather to the Francis dog.

modernscreennovember19304Kay has been termed “the best dressed woman in Hollywood,” a title that pleases her not at all, for she would willingly depart from all pretense of beauty or sartorial elegance to play a role with dramatic possibilities. In her new film she has abandoned the sleek, boyish pompadour style of hair-dress which is distinguished as a “Kay Francis bob,” for an ear-covering coiffure which terminates in a coil of hair at the back of her neck.

Her present maid has been with her for several years—evidence of an even disposition. She likes substantial foods, and is one of those fortunes who dares east as she pleases without fear of adding unwanted weight to her 115 pounds. Her perfume is a blend of several which she mixes herself, and from which she never departs. She shines as a hostess—yet doesn’t work at it perpetually—and doesn’t inflict herself upon her guests. She has a contralto voice which is especially pleasing. The studio helpers—prop men, electricians, and the rest—are all “for” her. To them, severest critics of the stars, she’s proven regular.

ONE of her few superstitions is that there’s luck in odd numbers, as Rory O’More is quoted in the poem. Thirteen has played its part in her life. From the date of her birth on the thirteenth day of the thirteenth month following her mother’s marriage, through the production of “Hamlet” where her name was thirteenth on the program, to her arrival in Hollywood and her first assignment to work on stage thirteen, the number has pursued her. Strangely, the number of her house is 8401, and her automobile license is 1-W—750. Both combinations total thirteen.

Following the thirteen thought—1930, the digits which add up to thirteen, has been a fortunate year for her. And in ’31—which is 13 reversed—you’re quite sure to see the girl on our cover a star in her own right. For Kay Francis is one of the brightest prospects to illumine the film firmament since the days when pictures were speechless.




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