The following is list with books about or that make mention to Kay. Some of the books have excerpts and notes about the book itself. There are only three books entirely about Kay Francis. Two are biographies and the other is a career retrospective.
Other stars might get new bios with rehashed information released every year, but Kay got the opportunity to have three excellent books released within three years of each other. All are excellent.
Books with mentions to her follow these biographies regarding her life and career. They are listed by title, which is linked to take you directly to where you can find further information/excerpts if available.
If you know of any other books which make mention to Kay Francis and would like to submit them to be viewed on this site, please email me.
[Click here to read the notorious “I Can’t Wait to Be Forgotten” article from the March 1939 issue of Photoplay.]
Kay Francis Biographies:
by Lynn Kear and John Rossman
Information: This is probably one of the best books ever assembled about the career of a Hollywood star. A good portion of the information on this site is sourced to this excellent book, and it should be an essential addition to any movie-buff’s library.
Excerpt: (from the Give Me Your Heart notes) Others considered for Kay’s role included Ann Harding, Claudette Colbert, and Bette Davis. Although Kay worked with Archie Mayo on several pictures, they didn’t like each other. He even went so far as to tell her she couldn’t act. After one argument on this picture, Kay walked off the set.
by Lynn Kear and John Rossman
Information: An excellently detailed account of Kay’s life, including interesting notes to the text with a detailed filmography and chronology for Kay. The book is dedicated to James Robert Parish, a long-time Kay fan and also the writer of the foreword for Kear’s and Rossman’s other Kay book, The Complete Kay Francis Career Guide. Among the many features here is a stunning photo of Kay for the front-piece.
Excerpt: The Warner Brothers films of the late 1930’s simply were not as good as the ones produced in the early 1930’s. An example is Kay’s first 1937 feature, Stolen Holiday, with Ian Hunter and Claude Rains. Certainly it was an expensive picture, and reviewers pointed to Kay’s numerous costume changes, but the fault lay in the script. It wasn’t interesting or compelling.
by Scott O’Brien
Information: Long-time Kay fan Scott O’Brien pulled together this biography which really details her film career. Kear and Rossman take more time on Kay’s private life, and her films are given a second lead. O’Brien has taken the time to give great detail about Kay’s movies, critical and public reception of them, and a few box office numbers and poll rankings here and there. It’s a great read, and loaded with some really great photographs. Another bonus is TCM’s Robert Osborne wrote the introduction!
Excerpt: Kay’s first “old hat” for 1937 had the working title Mistress of Fashion. The film proved an almost happy marriage of fashion and a high-level swindling scandal that had rocked the French government a few years before. The event was known as the Bayonne Pawnshop Scandals/Stavisky Affair. Multimillion-franc swindler Stavisky was protected by police officials and legislators whom he apparantly paid off. Claude Rains is brilliant as a Stavisky-like character named Stefan Orloff.
All My Yesterdays
An Autobiography of Hal Wallis
Anthony Perkins: Split Image
At the Center of the Frame
Being and Becoming
Bette Davis: Mother Goddamn
Bogie: A Celebration of the Life & Films
Buzz: The Life of Busby Berkeley
Cary Grant: A Biography
The Casablanca Man: The Cinema of Michael Curtiz
Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild
Clark Gable: Tormented Star
Claude Rains: An Actor’s Voice
Duty, Honor, Applause, America’s Entertainers in WWII
Ernst Lubitsch: Laughter in Paradise
Errol Flynn: The Life & Career
Eve Arden: Three Phases of Eve
The Films of Errol Flynn
The Films of Cary Grant
The Films of Carole Lombard
The Films of Fredric March
The Films of the Thirties
Forever Mame: The Life of Rosalind Russell
From Under My Hat
Ginger, Loretta & Irene Who?
Goldwyn: A Biography
The Great Movie Series
Hollywood’s Great Love Teams
Hollywood Miracles of Entertainment
Hurrell’s Hollywood Portraits
Imitations of Life: A Reader on Film & Television
Katharine the Great
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
My Wicked, Wicked Ways
NY Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made
On the Other Hand
The RKO Story
Ronald Colman: A Bio-Bibliography
The Secret Life of Humphrey Bogart
Sin in Soft Focus
The Star Machine
Studio Affairs: My Life as a Film Director
The United Artists Story
Warner Bros.: Hollywood’s Ultimate Backlot
William Powell: The Life and Films
A Woman’s View
The Women of Warner Bros.
The World According to Hollywood, 1918-1939
[Note: Edward G. Robinson, Kay’s costar in I Loved a Woman, tells his life story in this interesting autobiography.]
[Note: The former Warner Brothers producer tell his life story, with references to Kay’s struggle at the studio.]
Kenneth MacKenna, who was in town from Los Angeles for the holidays, offered Tony (Anthony Perkins) the chance to come to California for the following summer, promising to secure him a job as a messenger boy at MGM.
….Howard Bailey, sensing Tony’s dejection, got him a winter job in the Central Florida Drama Festival, kicking off the role of the teenage son in the W. Somerset Maugham/Guy Bolton comedy Theatre, which was to go on tour from there. The story of an aging actress’s desperate meant-to-be hilarious attempts to prove herself still sexually attractive to her husband (played by Bailey) and employers alike, Theatre was a vehicle almost too brutally close to home for its star, Kay Francis. One of Hollywood’s most glamorous and highly paid actresses during the 1930s (when she was briefly married to actor Kenneth MacKenna), she had worked for Paramount in pictures such as Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise, then moved to Warner Bros., where she’d gradually been eclipsed by Bette Davis. Francis was demoted to B pictures, and when Warners dropped her, she coproduced three low-budget vanity films at Monogram (Divorce, Allotment Wives, and Wife Wanted) before banishing herself to summer stock, where her name still had some drawing power.
Author Jess Gregg, who reviewed Theatre on opening night, remembered “Something terrible happened in the last act. I knew the play, I’d seen Cornelia Otis Skinner do it on Broadway and I’d read the book, and all of a sudden Kay had stopped playing the scene and was improvising. She was a very funny, savvy woman, and she was being marvelous, but it was obvious improvisation, and I realized she was covering for someone. It went on and on and I thought, ‘They’ve got to bring down the curtain,’ and then suddenly Tony made his entrance—but looking very different. He had no makeup on.” Tony had mistakenly thought that his role was done, and the stage manager had hustled him onto the stage at the last minute for the climax of the play.
Kay Francis later told Gregg it had been the worst five minutes of her life. And she kidded Tony about it mercilessly, but kindly, from then on. She had to be kind in the face of talent. “He’s very raw in many ways,” she confided in Gregg, “but you watch him. He’s going to be big.”
[Note: A celebration of the leading ladies of the twenties and thirties.]
[Note: Myrna Loy’s honest, and informative autobiography makes good mention to Kay on a handful of circumstances. Since Kay was at Paramount while Myrna was at Warner Bros, and then Kay was at Warner Bros when Myrna moved over to MGM, their paths didn’t cross too much professionally.]
Excerpt: Losing Carole [Lombard], in a sense Hollywood’s first casualty of the war, devastated all of us and strengthened our will power to participate. I got into uniform for the Hollywood Chapter of Bundles for Bluejackets, helping to run the Naval Auxiliary Canteen at Long Beach, sharing the night shift with Kay Francis. Kay was a part of a group of friends from Arthur’s [Arthur Hornblow, Myrna’s husband who she doesn’t seem to realize Kay had slept with during their marriage!!] first marriage that sort of stuck with him after I came in. Edmund Lowe and George Fitzmaurice were others. They were a sophisticated bunch, Kay most of all. She was a little ahead of her time, using four-letter-words that shocked me terribly; but I liked her. We shared a reality beyond titles and organizations at Long Beach, handing out coffee and doughnuts and whatever reassurance we could to draftees bound for Hawaii. We saw untrained kids inducted, all so young and bewildered, an endless stream totally unprepared for war. It broke our hearts.
“We’re on yellow alert,” our military adviser warned one night. “Get ready to close up shop and be out of here by eleven.” Which we did pronto. Since a Japanese submarine had recently shelled an oil field near Santa Barbara, everyone overreacted at the slighted provocation. Kay and I, bordering on hysteria, were trying to drive home when we passed what is now Los Angeles International Airport. Then it served as a private landing-field for Howard Hughes and other fliers. This night–I will never forget it–there were dozens of planes lined up ominously in the dark with their propellers just turning, waiting for something to happen.
I barely reached home before all hell broke loose. It sounded like the end of the world. When I peeked from behind the tightly drawn curtains, the boys from Brooklyn were firing. Artillery fire, flares, and spotlights crisscrossed the sky. Arthur, who’d been asleep, came running downstairs in a panic. When I got through to my family, Mother was in hysterics. “Take it easy,” I said. “We’re all right.” Which turned out to be true. We had experienced the famous false air raid of 1942 that no one has ever really explained.
[Note: Davis coauthors the story of her own life, mentioning Kay’s struggle at Warner Brothers for good parts.]
Homosexuals, however, did not only go to the cinema for sex. Brazilian, American, and European movies played important roles in their lives in other ways. Kay Francis, who was born João Ferreira da Paz in the small town of Ague Preta in the backlands of the state of Pernambuco in 1912, grew up in abject rural poverty. In 1932, he had moved to Recife, the capital of the state, to work as a house servant. He went to the cinema quite frequently and became fixated on Kay Francis, one of Hollywood’s most highly paid stars of the 1930s. Sixty years later he still built his persona around this 1930s actress. Remembering the magic of her image projected onto the silver screen, he explained: “I wanted to be just like her. She was so glamorous. So I began to imitate her.” For the next half century, whenever he had the opportunity, João Ferreira da Paz became Kay Francis. During Carnival, at friends’ parties, and later at drag contests in Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s, he transformed himself into a dazzling copy of the Hollywood screen star. The Brazilian Kay Francis explained that his U.S. counterpart captured his imagination because she suffered so much in her movie roles yet always remained elegant and glamorous.
[Note: This is one of only a handful of books where readers will read about Kay being an icon in the Gay community. ]
[Notes: Information here is regarding King of the Underworld.]
A loose remake of the 1935 Paul Muni film Dr. Socrates casts Kay Francis in the role of a doctor compromised by a gangster with a Napoleonic complex, almost destroying her career, but who later outwits him together with his gang by temporarily blinding them with eye drops, and handing them over to justice. It fails through implausibly of plot, aimless direction, and overacting with Bogart as guilty as others for stretching the material. It was, however, the first film in which he was given star billing, with Francis, a former box-office heavyweight, relegated below the title and on her way out, but receiving a substantially higher salary than him.
“Kay Francis had a reputation for being difficult, but Buzz saw none of it: ‘I had been told by other directors that she had sometimes been tactless with co-workers and studio executives, but I saw no evidence of it on this picture. I do know she was unwilling to participate in the publicity game. That didn’t interest her at all. And it seemed to me she lacked that driving ambition an actress needs in order to get the best parts in films.’ When some visitors from Kansas came on the set, Buzz and Kay staged a ‘show’ for them. Unbeknownst to the Kansans, Buzz pretended to bawl Kay out, and she stormed off to her dressing room where she proceeded to tear up all her dresses. One visitor turned to another and said, ‘You see, that’s what I told you about these movie people!'”
[Notes: This film briefly mentions In Name Only (1939)–only that it happened; with nothing else. So I included this passage.]
[Bringing Up Baby, 1938]’s failure also caused Harry Brandt, who was then president of the Independent Theatre Owners of America—an organization of exhibitors that monitored stars’ popularity in terms of how much their films earned—to quite famously point his finger at [Katharine] Hepburn, and accuse her of being “box office poison.” (Far less remembered, amid all the myths surrounding Brandt’s “damnation,” was the fact that Hepburn has been clustered by him with several other female movie stars, none of whom had had a particularly good year at the box office. The “bottom ten” list, with Hepburn holding the number one spot, also included such “A” stars as Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Kay Francis, and five other lesser names, all to a greater or lesser degree victims of the public’s changing taste.)
[Note: A well-constructed book about the life and work of one Kay’s most frequent directors. Robertson make informative references to Kay’s work with Curtiz. Regarding the plot of Stolen Holiday: Rains does not commit suicide. He is gunned down by the police, who set it up to make Kay believe he committed suicide.]
From The Charge of the Light Brigade Curtiz moved on to Stolen Holiday, filmed from July to September 1936 as a medium-budget Kay Francis vehicle. It was loosely based upon the life of Parisian fashion model designer Gabrielle Chanel, her affair with a British nobleman, and the 1934 Alexander Stavisky scandal in France. But since Madame Stavisky was a former mannequin, Warners sought to avoid possible legal and political complications by name changes for the principal characters and script amendments playing down the social drama and instead concentrating upon an artificial love interest. Curtiz was unenthusiastic about the project, with good reason, as evidenced by the completed film. Ambitious dress-maker Francis teams up with unscrupulous fortune-hunter Claude Rains. When trouble overtakes them, she stands by him until he commits suicide so that she can marry her newly found true love, staid British diplomat Ian Hunter. The first half, based upon Casey Robinson’s imaginative script, is excellent economical narrative until the romantic theme submerges it and effectively converts the film into mundane, passable fare. As one British reviewer noted, it might have been a top-notch movie if the scandal story had been left to run its natural course…
Although it was not the film Curtiz had sought to make, Stolen Holiday none the less retains interest for his handling of the scandal drama element—it was significant that he fell well behind schedule while he was filming these early sequences—and for his contact with Rains. The latter produces a noteworthy performance in only his third film for Warners, which presaged a fruitful collaboration between the two men for the next eleven years. Francis also turned in her best performance since British Agent, which enabled her to prop up a declining career for several more years, although Stolen Holiday made only a token profit for its time and was one of Curtiz’s least successful later 1930s movies.
[Note: This Bow bio mentions Kay’s and Clara’s work in Dangerous Curves.]
Carole was bombarded with questions concerning the divorce. Would they marry now that Clark was free? She refused to comment herself either way. The divorce had come smack in the middle of negotiations for a new contract that saw her signing a three-picture deal with RKO for a staggering $450,000—far more than Clark ever dreamed of earning. Her first film was to be In Name Only, monopolizing on the Gable situation. In this drama, starring another of her lavender friends [webmaster’s note: lavender was a “code word” for homosexual], Cary Grant, she played the mistress of a married man whose wife, Kay Francis, refuses to grant him a divorce. Carole joked with reporters in what would be her only reference to recent events, “If I’d been the casting director, I’d have given Ria Kay’s part because the old bag’s got a monopoly on hearts of stone!”
Rain’s next film, Stolen Holiday (1937), saw Rains once again playing a mustached scoundrel, this time Stefan Orloff, an unscrupulous Russian financer in the world of Parisian high fashion, loosely based on the career of Serge Alexander Stavisky (a role later essayed by Jean Paul Belmondo in Alain Resnais’s Stavisky). Stolen Holiday did not make many waves, although it marked Rains’ first collaboration with director Michael Curtiz, with whom he was destined to do much more celebrated work. Although leading lady Kay Francis and Rains made an attractive screen couple, he found her to be a “hoity-toity” actress, and, at one point, oblivious to his professional needs [webmaster’s note: by other accounts, Rains was rude to Francis as she towered over him in physical height]. During the shooting of cutaways (inserted, individual close-ups that aid the editing of a previous take involving more than one person), it is considered good form for the off-screen performer to feed lines to the on-camera actor in order to maintain continuity. When Francis repeatedly failed to make eye contact, Rains finally asked, “Miss Francis, could you please look at me?” She did, but only after making her umbrage and annoyance perfectly clear. It was the kind of petty disregard that rankled Rains professionally, and always would. About Stolen Holiday, the New York Times said only, “If the picture is at all distinguished, it is because Claude Rains does a superb job with the character.” [Webmaster’s note: a complete review from the New York Times can be read here.]
[Note: This is one of my favorite books about Hollywood. LaSalle reviews the work of many dismissed leading ladies from a more honest, positive perspective without ever getting fluffy. He also only writes about the movies he actually views, unlike other authors.]
Excerpt: These days Kay Francis is remembered, if at all, for three things. She is remembered as a cinematic clotheshorse of the first order. She is remembered for having twouble pwonouncing her R’s. And she is remembered for a real-life incident, in which she showed up at a publicist’s door, drunk and naked, saying “I’m not a star. I’m a woman and I want to get fucked.” Such were the perks of a 1930’s press agent.
…She was also a real live actress. From the beginning, despite a tendency to scowl whenever she had to indicate anger, she was competent and emotionally honest. By 1933, Francis had put it all together as an actress and star. Too warm to and matter-of-fact to be of blue blood, she played women of modest backgrounds who, at the same time, were comfortable in the upper reaches of society. She was a vision of elegance, good nature, and intelligence–and she brought a natural authority to her roles as a professional woman.
Dangerous Men: Pre-Code Hollywood and the Birth of the Modern Man by Mick LaSalle
[Note: This is Mick LaSalle’s follow-up to his highly-successful Complicated Women. While there isn’t much information on Kay Francis here, he does discuss I Loved a Woman (1933).]
Excerpt: Right now, the least-available pre-Code films are the ones owned by Universal. If Universal only owned Universal, well, that would hurt. But Universal also owns the pre-Code Paramounts, and Paramount is just indispensable. That’s where William Powell, Maurice Chevalier, Gary Cooper, Fredric March, and Charles Laughton did much of their work, as did high-power actresses such as Nancy Carroll, Ruth Chatterton, Claudette Colbert, Jeanette MacDonald, Carole Lombard, Kay Francis, and Miriam Hopkins.
For years, Universal was known, to those of us who care, as an Evil Empire among film libraries. Fortunately, in recent years, something of thaw has set in. More titles have hit the video market and prints of some classics have made their way to theaters. Still, if Universal is no longer the Evil Empire, it remains, as of this writing , at the early Gorbachev stage, with no Yeltsin on the horizon.
Excerpt: On a lighter note, Carole Landis and several other starlets had toured North Africa in late 1942, entertaining the troops. Landis kept a daily journal of their experiences, and after returning to Hollywood to put everything together for a book. In 1944, Fox made the book into Four Jills in a Jeep, with Mitzi Mayfair, Kay Francis, and Martha Raye in a lightened recreation of their trek from England to the Dark Continent. Other guest stars included Jimmy Dorsey and his band, George Jessel, Betty Grable, Carmen Miranda, Dick Haymes, Alice Faye, and Phil Silvers.
[Note: Biography of Lubitsch, with mentions to Kay during the Trouble in Paradise shoot.]
Another Dawn was another romantic melodrama, this time set on a desert military post in Iraq. Kay Francis was chosen as Flynn’s love interest. Francis was a popular star in the so-called “weepies” during the thirties. Although she was not classically beautiful in the sense Greta Garbo personified beauty, she was attractive and carried herself well. She was never a great actress and her participation was primarily for name recognition. Executives at Warners wanted Flynn teamed with popular actresses to capitalize on his romantic screen presence.
Another Dawn emphasized his dashing good looks and his reliable heroics. The solitary action scene—a desert battle against Arabs—left reviewers wishing for an epic. The romance with Kay Francis is nothing less than silly. Their characters are restrained and talkative. Flynn, however, is charismatic on screen. It was apparent his was a personality that craved the bold, romantic approach that made him so popular in Captain Blood and The Charge of the Light Brigade. All the same, his name sold tickets and both Green Light and Another Dawn achieved their purpose of keeping Flynn’s image in the public eye.
[Note: Arden, Kay’s costar in Women in the Wind, talks about her experiences with Kay during the shoot.]
[Note: Behlmer and McCarty make reference to Kay’s work with Flynn in Another Dawn.]
[Note: Deschner makes reference to Kay’s work with Grant in In Name Only.]
[Note: Ott makes reference to Kay’s work with Lombard in Ladies’ Man and In Name Only.]
[Note: Quirk makes reference to Kay’s work with March in The Marriage Playground and Strangers In Love.]
Excerpt (RE Strangers in Love): Lothar Mendes, the director, kept all this deceptive stuff rotating nicely, and of course all comes out right in the end, with Buddy managing to expose his brother’s forgery of their father’s will and achieving a romantic understanding with Miss Francis. Though it was pretentious and essentially light-weight fare, the picture did give March the chance to get in some clever characterizational nuances.
[Note: At least two of Kay’s movies are listed in this book, Mandalay and Trouble in Paradise.]
In 1940, Rosalind knew she was a star. But she also knew that star billing—in the sense of one’s name appearing not just above the title, but in first place as well—reflected the actor’s importance to the studio or his or her popularity, but not necessarily the film’s quality. In The Feminine Touch (1941), Rosalind’s name was above the title, followed by those of her co-stars, Don Ameche and Kay Francis. It was also one of her least impressive performances.
…In The Feminine Touch, however, [Van] Heflin bellowed his lines in accordance with Van Dyke’s idea of repartee. Heflin was not the only offender; he was part of a trio of shouters, comprised of Rosalind, Ameche, and, to some extent, Francis, who alone endowed the film with an aura of sophistication—something Rosalind might have provided if the film had been recast with William Powell as the professor, Myrna Loy as his wife, and Rosalind as the assistant. She would not have had star billing, but she would have had a better part.
…someone must have thought that a hair-pulling fight between Rosalind and Kay Francis would evoke memories of The Women. Donald Meek intervenes, positioning himself between Rosalind and Francis, presumable to double the laughs. Mercifully, the scene is brief, as the three fall down, and the shots fade out—and not a moment too soon.
[Note: Gossip-queen Hedda Hopper tells the story of her experiences in Hollywood.]
[Note: This book tells the “story” of several forgotten leading ladies. Unfortunately, Eells makes Kay out to be a bitter recluse.]
On Raffles, it was that of Harry D’Arrast, the director, a hot-tempered Basque. After but a few days of filming, Goldwyn did not like what he saw. “I think it was all playing too fast for Goldwyn, and he had trouble making out some of the words,” recalled Humberstone. “Harry D’Arrast said that comedy had to be played at a certain speed, but Goldwyn didn’t think it fit in with Colman’s style.” Invectives flew. “You and I don’t speak the same language, Mr. Goldwyn,” the director allegedly said. “I’m sorry, Mr. D’Arrast,” replied Goldwyn, “but it’s my money that’s buying the language!” D’Arrast was fired, and George Fitzmaurice (who continued to direct for Goldwyn after their partnership dissolved) was on the job next morning. His leading lady was Kay Francis, who had just appeared in the Marx Brothers’ first film, The Cocoanuts.
With practically all the nation’s theaters now wired for sound, Raffles was the last picture Goldwyn produced in both a silent and a talking version. It grossed more than $1 million, $200,000 in profit. “Considering the condition of the country,” Goldwyn wrote Abe Lehr in a memorandum dated October 2, 1930, “I think this is marvelous. Goldwyn continued his search for properties and a leading lady worthy of his star.
[Note: This enormous book by Parish details the pairings of many Hollywood teams from the 20’s right up through the 60’s. Kay Francis and George Brent are one of the selected teams Parish writes about. In this book all of the films are analyzed with plot information and reviews by Parish. Included are many great photographs and history about what the players accomplished after their final screen parings.]
Excerpt: Because Kay Francis so frequently glided oncamera through the lofty realms of chic life, displaying little deep emotion, too many viewers assumed that the loss of her Warner Bros. studio contract did not affect her. However it did affect her tremendously. She was terribly bitter about this career reversal right up to her death. Her pal Carole Lombard maneuvered Francis into a meaty role in RKO’s In Name Only (1939), but thereafter it was professionally downhill and fast for Francis. Walter Huston, with whom she had starred on stage in the 1920s and later in her first film, Gentlemen of the Press (1929), requested her for his co-lead in Always in My Heart (1942) and Warner Bros. acquiesced. On “Lux Radio Theatre” in 1943 she and George Brent reunited to perform The Lady is Willing. In 1944-46 she co-produced and starred in a trilogy of low-budgeted Monogram features which effectively ended her once glamorous screen stardom. She then replaced Ruth Hussey on Broadway in 1946 in State of the Union, and, after recuperating from an overdose of pills during a road tour in Ohio, she continued to appear in summer stock productions (Theatre in 1952 was her last), and occasionally on television. When she died of cancer in August of 1968, she left her large estate—worth nearly two million dollars—mostly for the raising and training of guide dogs for the blind.
[Note: The only relation to Kay is detailed information about Women in the Wind.]
[Note: There’s only one photograph of Kay in here, so don’t expect much at all about Kay, but this is an excellent book with detailed information.]
Excerpt: …Kay Francis leaves second-rate night clubs to find fame and dignity as a dramatic artist on the English Stage (Comet over Broadway). These later films, because of the personalities of their directors or their screenwriters, show –with a certain bitterness- that money alone can put a woman on an equal footing with the society that rejects her. Instead of showing us mothers burrowing into anonymity, undergoing their punishment and sacrificing themselves for the sake of their child, these films set up and opposite model of women who reconquer their dignity by coming out of anonymity.
One can isolate the case of Kay Francis, in whom one finds the insistent motif of the stage (I Found Stella Parish, Confession, Comet over Broadway), nostalgia for the bourgeois ideal of house and home (The House on 56th Street which parallels the moral decline of the woman with the physical decay of the house where she lives) and sacrifice for her daughter (Sybil Jason plays the daughter in both Stella Parish and Comet). This last theme, the most clearly drawn, is exploited in a particularly troubling manner in The House on 56th Street and Confession where Kay Francis kills, or takes on the responsibility for a crime, in order to protect her daughter from falling into her own “sin” (gambling in House, love of the same man in Confession). This treatment of the theme of motherhood corroborates the idea of a Christian vision of Eve’s Fall as operating in the maternal melo, the daughter seeming ready to follow exactly the same degrading itinerary as her mother.
If Kay Francis was able to inaccurate such a reactionary ideology as late as 1939, it was because the outdated aspect of the plot was fortunately balanced by the cleansing speed and irony of the Warners professionals. But we must recognize that with a few exceptions here and there, the European vein of the maternal melo is eminently reactionary in the ideological perspective of the New Deal.
About an hour later, Kay Francis herself, attired in mink, a black silk gown, and high heels, paraded into the Roosevelt Hotel to meet Kenneth’s [MacKenna, Kay’s future third husband] “New York friends.”
Surely, no two actresses were as different as Katharine Hepburn and Oklahoma-born Kay Francis, a brunette leading lady with sad eyes and the most lavish wardrobe in Hollywood. Kate was immediately amused that Francis could not pronounce her R’s. Kenneth had met Kay Francis when appearing in the film, The Virtuous Sin. The movie was directed by George Cukor, and Kenneth steadfastly maintained that the homosexual director virtually chased him –“with tongue panting” –across the set during the entire shoot, “but he just isn’t my type.”
Both Kate and Laura [Harding] were stunned to learn that Kenneth was marrying Francis, because they’d heard stories that she was a lesbian.
By coincidence, Francis in 1946 would appear on stage in the play State of the Union. Two years later, Kate would appear in the 1948 MGM film of the same play with Spencer Tracy. But at the time of their first meeting, the two women had little in common. Kate was a shabby dresser, and Francis was the over-dresser, claiming that “even if the script is bad, women will come to see me for my wardrobe.”
When Kenneth went off to order spiked drinks, and Laura went into the ladies room, Francis took her hand and slowly began to fondle Kate’s legs encased in pants. Before Laura and Kenneth returned, Francis suggested that Kate visit her some night at her place. She also invited Kate to her wedding to Kenneth.
Although Kate promised to accept both invitations, she never did.
The seventeenth chapter tells about Maya’s and Bailey’s viewing of movies starring Kay Francis, who resembles their mother, and describes how Maya turns the stereotypical deception of black people in Hollywood movies onto the unknowing white members of the audience. As the whites snicker at the Stepin Fetchit-like black chauffeur in one Kay Francis comedy, Maya turns the joke on them:
“I laughed too, but not at the hateful jokes… I laughed because, except that she was white, the big movie star looked just like my mother. Except that she lived in a big mansion with a thousand servants, she lived just like my mother. And it was funny to think of the whitefolks’ not knowing that the woman they were adoring could be my mother’s twin, except that she was white and my mother was prettier. Much prettier.”
[Notes: Flynn’s autobiography. This brief mention of Kay seems to be his only mention of her.]
It was around the time I was in the comedy Four’s a Crowd that I became a swashbuckler. At the time this griped me, but today, what’s it matter?
Joan Blondell was my leading lady in The Perfect Specimen. I had earlier made my second film, Don’t Bet on Blondes, with Claire Dodd. There was Green Light, with Anita Louise, and Another Dawn with Kay Francis; then The Prince and the Pauper.
You went from one picture to another swiftly, a month or two or three for the making of each. There’d be a half-dozen pictures “in the can” and you’d be making your sixth or seventh, with others not yet released. Then they released them, one after another, every month or two, and you found yourself a household word, famous all over the movie-going sphere.
by The Staff of the New York Times
[Note: These books usually just list the same movies over again. More appropriate titles should be similar to “The 100 Greatest Movie You Must See Again!!” They’re so predictable, but at least, with 1000 greatest movies, this one includes more originality. Of course, the only movie of Kay’s referenced to in here is Trouble in Paradise.]
[Note: Wray’s autobiography, which includes information about her work with Kay in Behind the Make-Up.]
[Note: Jewel, who also later published an article regarding the film grosses for RKO, co-wrote this enormous book detailing every film RKO produced/released year by year. Information, similar to the excerpts below, is also included for Francis’ other RKO features, Transgression (1931) and Little Men (1940).]
The information on In Name Only (1939):
The class “A” melodrama of the year was In Name Only, a screen adaptation, by Richard Sherman, of Bessie Breuer’s novel Memory of Love. John Cromwell returned to RKO to handle the direction for producer George Haight. Given a sterling cast topped by Cary Grant (right), Carole Lombard (left), and Kay Francis, Cromwell was able to transform a clichéd story about a loveless marriage into a poignant drama of emotional torment. The plot was well-worn: Francis had married Grant only for his wealth and position, an intolerable arrangement which drives him into the arms of widow Lombard. Francis agrees to divorce her husband, but changes her mind, then threatens to sue Lombard for alienating Grant’s affections. Not surprisingly, all the problems were resolved in the end. The picture succeeded largely because of Cromwell’s discreet handling of the material. Even Kay Francis, cast as a domestic monster, underplayed admirably, and the overall result was a mature study of love, and passions of both happy and unhappy. Charles Coburn, Helen Vinson, Katharine Alexander, Johnathan Hale, Nella Walker, Alan Baxter, Maurice Moscovich, Peggy Ann Garner (center) and Spencer Charters were also cast.
The information on Play Girl (1940):
An old-fashioned gold-digger story starring Kay Francis, Play Girl was another in a long line of lightweight, irksome RKO comedies. In this one, a fortune-hunter (Francis, left) who is now
losing her charms, decides to pass on the tricks of the trade to a young novice (Mildred Coles) who soon finds herself the victim of an age-old conflict between love and her “career.” Fortunately, the objects of her affections (James Eillison, center) turns out to have $11 million in addition to his other attractions, and thus Mildred’s dilemma is solved. Jerry Cady’s overwritten story and screenplay Frank Woodruff’s direction were good for one or two laughs. Cliff Reid produced with Nigel Bruce, Margaret Hamilton, Katharine Alexander (right), George P. Huntely, Charles Quigley, Georgia Carroll, Kane Richmond, Stanley Andrews and Selmer Jackson completing the cast.
[Note: Frank makes mention to Kay’s work with Colman in Raffles and Cynara.]
[Note: Another gossipy Porter sex book about a legendary Hollywood icon.]
[Note: Another one of my favorites, with great, glossy photographs and detailed information about pre-Code Hollywood.]
[Note: Great book about various stars, critiques on their careers during the height of Hollywood’s Golden Age in the 1930’s and 40’s. Kay isn’t mentioned directly here, but Basinger does discuss her during her analysis of William Powell’s and Errol Flynn’s careers.]
Excerpt: With the success of Charge [The Charge of the Green Light Brigade], Flynn made four movies in 1937: Green Light, The Prince and the Pauper, Another Dawn, and The Perfect Specimen. None is a major film, although Green Light is well directed by Frank Borzage…His other films were tests of both his strength at the box-office and his ability to support leading ladies. Another Dawn is purely a woman’s film, starring Warners’ resident female box-office draw, Kay Francis. She is the star. Flynn is her support. He plays an army officer at an African British outpost, and Francis is torn between her love for him and her husband, played by Ian Hunter. (Some choice! [Basinger’s joke, not mine. But I do agree!]) Flynn looks fantastic in uniform, and Francis is stunning in white flannel coats and long slinky gowns. (They embrace while the sands blow, the natives rise up, but everything turns out okay.) The movie is a reasonably intelligent presentation of a love affair that has nowhere to go, and Flynn was anyone’s idea of a desirable lover, looking tanned and trim and super elegant.
Excerpt: Brynie and I became good friends, and during the next few months he kept me busy writing a rewriting various scripts. One day he called to tell me that Warner, in an effort to get rid of Kay Francis, who had once been a big money maker for the studio but whose last few pictures had failed, had notified her that she would be assigned to making pictures for him (Brynie). Warner hoped that she would refuse and walk out on her contract. She was getting, I was told, five thousand dollars per week, making her one of the highest-paid leading ladies in Hollywood. However, she did not walk out. She said that as long as they paid her her salary, she would sweep the stage if they gave her a broom. I admired her.
[Note: Sherman does go on to give a good detailed account of his work with Kay in My Bill and King of the Underworld.]
[Note: An excellent resource for the films released by United Artists, including pages upon pages of photographs, and general film information for each movie released by the studio. Really no financial information and not too many insightful bits of information from the studio files about the films. Interesting overall history of the studio as a whole, however.]
From the entry on Raffles (1930):
“You can’t help but liking him,” says inspector McKenzie of Scotland Yard after being defeated once again by gentlemen thief Raffles. The remark could also be applied to Ronald Colman’s captivating performance as the character created by E.W. Hornung in his turn-of-the-century novel The Amateur Cracksman. Scenarist Sidney Howard updated it slightly, but it still took place in a foggy London, much of the fog created by the elusive rascal around himself. Nobody in London connects the daring exploits of the cracksman with Mr. Raffles, man-about-town and cricketer. When caught red-handed by his girlfriend (Kay Francis), he only seems even more romantic in her soulful eyes (see illustration). But he makes his escape ingeniously and continues to baffle the police. The befuddled Inspector was played by David Torrence, and Branwell Fletcher, Frances Dade, Alison Skipworth and Frederick Kerr were members of the upper crust duped by our likeable hero. Harry d’Abbadie d-Arrast and George Fitzmaurice directed this Samuel Goldwyn hit. John Barrymore in 1917, House Peters in 1925, and David Niven in 1939 also played the screen stealing role. (GOLDWYN)
From the entry on Cynara (1932):
The title of Cynara comes from the poem by Ernest Dowson which contained the line, “I have been faithful to thee, Cynara; in my fashion.” The film, therefore, like the play by H.M. Hardwood and Robert Gore Brown (adapted by Frances Marion and Lynn Starling) was about adultery. The triangle consisted of an English barrister, his wife who leaves him alone in London to holiday in Venice, and the shop girl who fills the vacuum. It ends tragically with the suicide of the girl when he decides to return to his wife. Henry Stephenson played the cynical bachelor who encourages the affair. Florine McKinney, Clarissa Selwynne, Donald Stewart and Paul Percasi were also in the cast. Ronald Colman (illustrated) played the lawyer rather than gloomily, Kay Francis suffered nobly as the wife, and Phyllis Barry (illustrated) was too genteel as the girl. King Vidor directed this dated production with a veneer of
On December 4, 1934 a fire started inside a machine shop near an outdoor mine set for the Michael Curtiz picture Black Fury—currently, the corner of Warner Boulevard and Avon Street. Curtiz rallied his crew of approximately seventy to battle the flames and was quickly aided by other employees and the staffs of the nearby Burbank, Los Angeles, and Hollywood Fire Departments, as well as the on-lot Fire Department commanded by its sixty-five-year-old chief, Albert Rounder. According to the Los Angeles Times, nearby Toluca Lake resident Bing Crosby and Warner Bros. stars Dick Powell Warren William, Helen Morgan and Kay Francis helped man the fire line. Ultimately, the blaze took out most of the standing backlot east of New York Street, as well as the studio’s craft departments, a property warehouse, and eight tractors just purchased as props for an upcoming Joe E. Brown comedy, Earthworm Tractor.
[Note: Gives information about the Francis/Powell teamings.]
Excerpt (RE-One Way Passage): What could have been a maudlin tale is handled by director Tay Garnett and the exemplary cast with finesse, wit, and just the right amount of pathos. Kay Francis gave what is arguably her best performance–she is thoroughly believable as a wealthy and somewhat flighty woman who nonetheless yearns to experience life more fully. Powell is excellent as a basically decent man who made a terrible mistake and, in the end, faces the consequences.
[Note: Mauriece, Kay’s former lover, tells the story of his life, including his relationship with Kay.]
Excerpt: WHEN ONE THINKS about Hollywood and fashion and glamour, there is one star of the woman’s films who stands out beyond any other as representative of those concepts. It is Kay Francis, who became a star only because of fashion and glamour, and only because of the woman’s film genre. Her career is absolute proof of the importance of clothes, makeup, and jewelry both on and off the screen.
Kay Francis was before my time. I knew her name, and I had seen her in one of her later vehicles, When the Daltons Rode (1940), but she had ceased to be a movie star of the top rank when I began going to the movies in the 1940s. her importance was brought home to me, however, when my sixth-grade teacher, Doris Danielson Dolan, the essence of local glamour, named her firstborn child Kay Francis. The name, she said, was for her favorite movie star, the most glamorous and fashionable woman ever to appear in films. I was suitably impressed because Doris Danielson Dolan was a fashion oracle of the same significance. Every Christmas concert: fake cherries in her hair, á la Betty Grable, and gold lame ballet slippers, á la no one we had ever heard of in Brookings, South Dakota… I trusted her judgment and, as soon as I was able, began to track down the films of Kay Francis, who turned out, indeed, to be the most glamorous and fashionable woman ever to be in films.
Sadly, many people today don’t know who Kay Francis was, although she herself once said, “I can’t wait to be forgotten.” People think that the most glamorous and fashionable woman of the 1930s was Carole Lombard, or perhaps her more exotic counterpart Marlene Dietrich. Lombard, however, was a talented comedienne and often a good serious actress. Dietrich was an original, a representation of an androgynous ideal for whom glamour and fashion were tools to be used, but for whom they could never provide the complete definition. Both of these women wore clothes well, but their careers have substance beyond the label of “clotheshorse.” Kay Francis was only fashion and glamour, a true star of the woman’s film. She forged a top-drawer career out of nothing but tears and tiaras, a clotheshorse who gave significance to them.
Excerpt: No one suffered on-screen like Kay Francis. Throughout a series of Warner weepers in the ‘30s, Kay played a string of unwed mothers, streetwalkers, and terminally ill heroines. Despite their dilemmas, their suffering was made easier by being draped in assorted furs, silk and diamonds.
Kay’s screen incarnations had nothing to do with the lady herself, who endured no end of indignities during her last few years at Warners. Jack Warner considered is a real coup when he lured Kay from Paramount in 1932. Once Kay’s star had fallen a few years later, she crashed and burned in the worst films the studio could dig up in the hopes that she’d leave. But Kay wouldn’t quit, especially if it meant giving up her well-padded paycheck.
Kay rebounded somewhat with the successful Four Jills in a Jeep tour during World War II, and a Broadway stint in State of the Union, but she lived out her last few years bitter over her mistreatment in Hollywood. Few remembered she was once the epitome of Hollywood chic.
Excerpt: The consequences of [Joseph Breen’s] approach are demonstrated by the history of Dr. Monica (Warner Bros., 1934), which starred Kay Francis. The original script contained adultery, a pregnant unmarried woman, attempted abortion, and several clinical discussions about infertility. Breen complained to Jack Warner that he could not recall any picture which “combined so many difficult elements in one story.” Nevertheless, Warners persisted with the adaptation. The studio proposed that Monica should be a successful gynecologist, herself unable to conceive children. She discovers that her unmarried friend Mary is pregnant and promises to look after her until the baby is born. On the night of the birth, she is shocked to discover that the father of Mary’s baby is her own husband. The situation is resolved when Mary commits suicide, and Monica and her husband, now reconciled, decide to adopt the baby.
The studio and the PCA faced the difficulty of getting across the facts of Mary’s pregnancy without being too blatant about it. Warners tried giving Mary a fainting spell, but this was such a well-established convention that is was considered to be insufficiently subtle. As Breen told Warner, “This action of Mary fainting at the piano will very likely be interpreted by censor boards as an indication of her pregnancy, as has proven to be the case in numerous previous pictures. If this interpretation is gives, it will probably be cut.”
[Note: Vasey goes more in depth about the Dr. Monica troubles, but that’s it as far as Kay is concerned.]