Category Archives: Biographical Information

Biographical Information on Kay Francis

1960s-on

1960
[Roy Stark plans to remake One-Way Passage, but the project never materializes.]

1961
Summer. Kay breaks off her relationship with Dennis Allen. They spend the summer apart, and while Dennis is at Fire Island, Kay hears that he has met another woman, whom he married later that year. Dennis neither saw nor heard from Kay again.

1962
[Kay has dinner with Harold J. Kennedy, drinking so much it takes three men (Harold, the waiter, and the owner) to carry Kay out into their ride home. When a passer-by asked if that was Kay Francis, she half-opened her eyes and smiled, saying, “It used to be.”]

1963
[Around this year, Kay undergoes several surgeries, including two for a lung and kidney removal. She soon not only fractured her ankle, but also her back, which hampered her mobility.]

1964
[Kay battles breast cancer, though by the time the mastectomy is performed, the cancer has spread.]

February. James Robert Parish and Gene Ringgold co-write an article titled “Kay Francis’ Complete Career”, which is published in this month’s issue of Films in Review. Parish sends a copy of the piece to Kay, who thanks him for the article but notes that there were several errors in the piece. This was the first major article published as a retrospect on Kay’s career.

1965
[Ross Hunter contacts Kay about playing Lana Turner’s mother in Madame X. Because of health problems, Kay is forced to decline what was her final movie offer.]

1966
[Kay is confined to her bed because of poor health.]

1967

1968
August 26. Kay Francis dies.

August 27, 1968-On
1968
August 28. Kay’s will is made public. She leaves small divisions of her estate to friends, though at least $1,000,000 of her life fortune is left to The Seeing Eye of Morristown, New Jersey.

1976
[Author George Eells’ Ginger, Loretta, and Irene Who? is published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons. The book, which gives biographies and photographs of stars from Kay’s generation of Hollywood, is well-researched but gives a dreary look into Kay’s personal life and retirement. Eells writes Kay off as a sell-out and bitter recluse, still angry with her “great struggle” with Warner Bros.]

1991
[Trouble in Paradise (1932) is added to the National Film Registry.]

1994
April 14. Turner Classic Movies debuts with Gone With the Wind (1939, a film which Kay was considered as a possible lead) as first film on schedule. Through TCM Lynn Kear, Mick LaSalle, myself, and millions of others are introduced to Kay Francis.

2004
January 13. In honor of Kay’s birthday, TCM feautres an “all-day” marathon of Kay Francis movies.

2006
[Two biographies on Kay—Scott O’Brien’s Kay Francis: I Can’t Wait to be Forgotten and Lynn Kear and John Rossman’s Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career—are published.]

2008
January. Lynn Kear and John Rossman’s The Complete Kay Francis Career Record is published.
September. Kay is featured as Turner Classic Movies’ “Star of the Month.”

2010
January 1. This website is launched!!!

2013: By this year, the Warner Bros. Archive collection releases several of Kay’s movies on DVD (most for the first time as a home-video release). Man Wanted, Street of Women, Jewel Robbery, One Way Passage, Stranded, Mandalay, Wonder Bar, British Agent, The Goose and the Gander, Living on Velvet, Give Me Your Heart, Stolen Holiday, King of the Underworld, In Name Only, and Playgirl all have DVD availability.

A Kay Francis Chronology:
1900s/1910s | 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s-on

1940s

1940
January. Production on It’s a Date is in progress.
January 13. Kay celebrates her birthday with Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell.
February 28. Production on It’s a Date is complete.
March 3. Kay appears on The Silver Theatre.
March 18. Kay appears on Lux Radio Theatre.
March 22. It’s a Date released.
May 1. After throwing a party for Charles K. Feldman, Kay takes him back to her house for sex. “Slept with him and he may be the best of them all!” she told her diary. “Christ, I am a slut!”
May 17. Probably at a social event in Hollywood, Kay and Jack Warner make up for their differences. She bluntly notes in her diary, “Made up with Jack Warner!”
June 7. On the set of When the Daltons Rode , Kay gets news that Erik has been wounded.
Summer. Kay begins her affair with Rouben Mamoulian.
Borden’s very own Elsie is loaned to RKO to appear in Kay’s newest starring picture, Little Men .
July 13. Kay begins a sexual affair with Fritz Lang.
July 23. Mary Pickford writes to Kay, congratulating her on her work for the Women’s Committee of the Motion Picture Division of the Red Cross. Pickford was the Chairman of the board.
July 26. Hearing news that Erik has recently married, Kay makes a major note of her unhappiness in her diary.
July 29. Production on Little Men begins.
August 23. When the Daltons Rode released.
September 23. Production on Play Girl begins.
Late October. Production on Play Girl wraps up.
October 25. Kay makes note of her anniversary with Erik in her diary.
December 7. Little Men released.
December 15. Kay appears on The Silver Theatre.
December 20. Kay has another hemorrhoid operation.

1941

January 6. Kay starts work on her latest project, Brian Aherne’s leading lady in Universal’s The Man Who Lost Himself.
January 29. Play Girl released.
February 15. Production on The Man Who Lost Himself completes.
March 3. Kay appears on Lux Radio Theatre.
March 8. With a hectic work schedule and social life, Kay tells her diary that “I must get off merry-go-round.”
March 10. Noting her diary of another hectic day, Kay writes that she had a publicity photo shoot for Bundles for Bluejackets, a war charity, shopping at Saks, and lunch and dinner plans with celebrity friends.
March 21. The Man Who Lost Himself released.
May 12. Production on Charley’s Aunt begins. The film, a major production by Fox, becomes the eighth highest-grossing film of the year.
May 18. Kay appears on The Jack Benny program to promote Charley’s Aunt .
May 24. Kay is called in to begin her work on the Charley’s Aunt production.
June 24. Work on Charley’s Aunt completes.
June 19. Kay sells her house, hoping that a change of surroundings might change her mood.
July. Most of Kay’s time is spent with the Motion Picture Production Defense Committee, which entertained troops stationed in California.
July 1. Production on The Feminine Touch beings.
July 29. Production on The Feminine Touch completes.
August 1. Charley’s Aunt released.
September. Warner Bros. new contract star, Walter Huston, demands Kay as his leading lady—top billed—in his first movie for the studio, Always in My Heart . The studio is forced to satisfy him, and sign Kay for the role of ‘Marjorie Scott’ later that month—at her salary demand.
October. Kay moves into her new house at 1735 Angelo Drive in Beverly Hills.
Mid October. Production on Always in My Heart begins. There’s talk of Kay returning to Warner Bros. herself as a contract star, though her growing interest in War efforts distracts her attention. The studio even announces plans to star her in Miss Willis Goes to War , with Ann Sheridan and Olivia de Havilland. The project never materializes.
October 13. Kay appears on The Cavalcade of America.
November 8. Kay invites Grace Moore over for dinner in the new house.
Late November. Production on Always in My Heart completes.
November 26. Thanksgiving is spent with Cary Grant and Barbara Hutton.
December. Kay travels to New York for a vacation which extends throughout the Holidays.
December 7. The Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, drawing the US into World War II.
December 12. The Feminine Touch released.
December 24. Christmas Eve is spent with Ivan Goff.
December 25. Christmas Day is spent with her mother and two soldiers she invited to her home for dinner.
December 31. Kay brings in the New Year with the Arthur Hornblows.

1942
January 1. Despite success throughout the previous year, Kay remains unhappy. “Crying all night,” she tells her diary, “hell of a New Year—no plans—I guess I am a pretty stupid unattractive person. Wonder if I will live the year out? Hope not!”
January 16. Carole Lombard, one of Kay’s closest friends and costar in Ladies’ Man (1931) and In Name Only (1939), dies in a tragic plane crash. For reasons unknown, Kay makes no mention in her diary, but decides to leave the screen and aid the war effort in Lombard’s memory. She turns down all offers until her return to the screen two years later in Four Jills in a Jeep (1944).
February-March. Kay works with Myrna Loy at the Long Beach Naval Auxiliary Canteen. Their usual jobs include passing out refreshments, clothing, cigarettes, games, and magazines.
February 25. Kay and Myrna are told their station was on a yellow alert and were told to quickly leave. The two became witnesses to the famous false air raid of 1942.
March 13. Always in My Heart released.
April. Kay and Constance Bennett are co-hosts of the Bluejackets Ball in Culver City. Two soldiers get into a fight over Constance, and the two stars accompanied one of the men to the hospital, then home.
April 17. Production on Between Us Girls begins.
June 6. Kay’s depression is at an all-time low. “God, I am lonely!” she tells her diary.
June 20. Kay moves into her new home, has dinner with Cole and Linda Porter, goes to a party for Elsie Mendel, then goes out for drinks with Rosalind Russell.
July. Kay begins throwing pool parties at her new home, having sex with Larry Fox in the pool itself after all the guests of one party had left that evening.
July 17. Production on Between Us Girls is completed.
August 23. Kay attends the wedding of Norma Shearer and Marti Arrouge. The star-studded event was witnessed by Kay, Greer Garson, Jack Warner, and Lady Sylvia Ashley, among others.
September. Kay begins her affair with Otto Preminger, noting that he wasn’t that great of a lover in the beginning, but made improvements over the following weeks.
September 4. Between Us Girls released.
October. Kay travels to Europe, then North Africa, for a USO tour. She is accompanied by Carole Landis, Mitzi Mayfair, and Martha Raye. The girls were slightly intimidated by Kay’s star power and popularity with the troops. At nearly every stop on their tour, Kay was mobbed for autographs and photos. The tour stretched 37,500 miles, 125 performances, and 150 personal appearances. The girls were lucky to take a bath more than once a week, and sometimes wore the same clothes as long as six days at a time.
Mid-November. The girls arrive in London, staying at the Savory Hotel. To avoid bombing, the hotel is kept as dark as possible. During their London stay, Kay is hospitalized for laryngitis.
December 4. Kay and the others put on a show for the Royal Family, though King George did not attend.

1943
Early January. The troupe leaves Europe for North Africa.
January 13. The girls arrive in Africa on Kay’s birthday.
Late January. Kay suffers from influenza and then a torn ligament.
January 29. With the tour complete, Kay arrives in Alma, Georgia.
February 11. Kay appears on Stage Door Canteen.
February 20. Returning to Hollywood, Kay attends a party at Pickfair.
March. Kay is offered six weeks to be film a movie version of Four Jills in a Jeep, and be top-billed. Her salary offer reached as high as $30,000, but it took most of the year to settle on a suitable script. By the time the movie was released, it had become more of a marquee-musical than a recreation of the USO tour.
March 1. Kay appears on Lux Radio Theatre.
March 24. Kay appears on Stage Door Canteen.
July. Kay, for the first and only time, refuses to help out servicemen who request use of her private pool. She writes a non-confrontational, but firm letter refusing their request.
October 14. Readings for Four Jills in a Jeep begin.
October 19. Carole Landis spends the night at Kay’s after dinner.
October 25. Kay comments in her diary of Otto Preminger’s kindness to her.
November 8. Kay is hospitalized for kidney problem. Otto frequently visits her over the course of the next few days.
November 11. Kay is released from the hospital.
November 25. Kay appears on Soilders in Grease Paint.
November 28. Kay appears on The Silver Theatre.
December 11. Kay appears on Command Performance.
December 31. Bringing in the New Year with Tim Howard, her latest boyfriend, the two dinned at the Savoy and then attended a party at the Goldwyn’s.

1944

January. Kay’s affair with Otto Preminger comes to an end when he catches her in a lie. After trying to reach Kay on the telephone, she later told him that she was at the Mocambo. In reality, she was intimate with Tim Howard. Preminger told her that he had searched the Mocambo for her with no result.
January 11. Kay’s affair with Tim ends when he returns to Washington, D.C.
January 13. Otto, realizing that Tim’s out of the picture, helps Kay bring in her thirty-ninth birthday.
January 18. Kay attends an intimate party to celebrate Cary Grant’s birthday.
Late January. Kay takes a vacation to the Arrowhead Springs resort with Charles Feldman’s wife, Jean.
February 18. Kay leaves for a USO trip with Patty Thomas, Teddi Sherman, Reginald Gardiner, and Nancy Barnes. Their destinations are Canada and Alaska. Kay finds time to meet a new lover, Don King (the pilot), on the tour.
March. The USO tour comes to an end, and Kay travels to New York.
March 22. Kay meets Tim for dinner for the last time. “Finally went to bed with him and Christ, that is the end!” she told her diary. “The worst ever! Goodbye!”
Late March. On her return to California, Kay meets Don in Chicago, has sex with him (even though he’s married to a kind woman she met on tour) then asks her diary why she always has to fall in love with the wrong guys.
March 31. Kay leaves Chicago.
April 6. Four Jills in a Jeep released.
April 7. Kay attends Mitzi Mayfair’s wedding to Charlie Henderson.
April 12. Kay and Otto break-up (again), but are back together a few weeks later.
April 21. Kay leaves for Canada on more war effort.
Early May. Tensions on the set of Laura (1944) are at an all-time high. Rouben Mamoulian and Otto Preminger, both of whom are lovers of Kay’s, refuse to speak to each other. Mamoulian eventually leaves the picture to Preminger, who completes the film himself.
May 6. Kay returns home from Canada.
Late July. Kay meets with producers at Monogram Pictures to discuss an interesting film offer—the offer to produce and star in three films for the low-budget studio. A letter written by Kay on July 25 reads, “My first one starts about the 20th of September and the tentative title is Divorce. The writers are now working on a story treatment and will begin the script while I am ‘spreading cheer’ up north.”
July 26. A doctor orders Kay to stay home after realizing she has a fractured rib. She refuses, and travels to Seattle for more tours of hospitals.
October. Kay begins attending meetings at Monogram for her first production.
November. Kay travels back to Seattle to see Don.
December 25. Kay celebrates Christmas in New York with a small group of friends, and goes to bed—alone—before midnight.
December 26. Hedda Hopper praises Kay for doing so much in “her quiet way.” 

1945
January 13. Kay celebrates her 40th birthday with a party at El Morocco. Don gives Kay forty red roses, completed with one in white.
February 19. Production on Divorce begins.
Early March. Production on Divorce completes.
March. Kay and Don are ending their relationship. Though they still talk, communication between the two is getting less and less frequent. They eventually drift out of each other’s lives completely.
April—May. Kay travels to the Caribbean and then to South America for a USO tour.
May 30. Ruth Chatterton approaches Kay about starring in her new stage production, “Windy Hill.”
June 19. Production on Allotment Wives begins.
July 2. Production on Allotment Wives completes.
July 9. Kay takes a vacation to Las Vegas with Patsy Ruth Miller.
Early August. Kay travels to New York for “Windy Hill” rehearsals.
August 13. “Windy Hill” has a tryout show in Montclair, New Jersey.
August 18. Divorce released.
September 20—May 25, 1946. Kay tours in “Windy Hill.”
December 29. Allotment Wives released.

1946
January 3. Jetti Preminger, a “Windy Hill” costar of Kay’s, gives Kay a stylish pair of boots.
January 5. Kay discovers that the boots Jetti had given her were stolen by Jetti and given to Kay as a “gift.”
February 13. In her diary, Kay notes that the cast had grown bored with the play.
March 16. Kay tells her diary of some new habit of hers—a combination of pills and alcohol. Over the next few years, Kay’s problems with booze and pills takes a major toll on her health.
May. Kay meets with Phil Karlson in Chicago to discuss her next picture for Monogram, Wife Wanted.
May 25. “Windy Hill” closes.
May 27. Kay returns home to California.
June 19. Production on Wife Wanted begins.
June 26. Kay meets with Leland Hayword, producer of “State of the Union,” to see if Kay could replace Ruth Hussey, who had gotten pregnant. Kay accepts the offer.
July 3. Production on Wife Wanted completes.
July 4. Kay packs her bags and heads to New York.
July 7. Kay arrives in New York, moving into the Hotel New Weston at 34 East 50th Street. New Weston became Kay’s home for the next two years.
September 2. Kay begins her run in “State of the Union.” One of the first people to attend Kay’s new production is Greta Garbo.
November. Kay becomes ill with abdominal pains.
November 2. Wife Wanted released. This turns out to be Kay’s final movie.
November 30. Kay leaves “State of the Union” and returns home for medical treatment. During her absence  Edith Atwater takes over.
December 3. Kay undergoes a successful hysterectomy.
December 24. Kay celebrates the Holidays at Kendall Milestone’s party.
December 25. Christmas is spent sick in bed for Kay, though she did manage to make a quick visit to her mother’s.

1947
[Sometime during this year, Allied Artists producer Jeffrey Bernerd asks Kay to appear in The Maze, and other movies for the studio. She turns down the offer.]
January 1. Kay celebrates the New Year by listening to the Rose Bowl on the radio after turning down the offer to celebrate the New Year with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr..
January 4. Kay leaves for New York to return to “State of the Union.”
January 20. Kay makes her return to “State of the Union.”
January 26. Grace Moore, one of Kay’s closest friends, is killed in an air crash in Copenhagen.
March 23. With her new lover, Howard “Happy” Graham, aside her, Kay watches Maurice Chevalier perform at the Henry Miller Theatre.
April 13. Kay and Happy see Finian’s Rainbow.
May 18. The cast of “State of the Union” takes a vacation from the touring schedule.
June 15. The vacation for the “State of the Union” cast ends.
September 13. “State of the Union” ends its run on Broadway.
September 18. “State of the Union” begins its theatrical tour across the country the rest of her year is spent on the road.
October 12. Kay pays legal fees to bail Happy out of jail after he hit Rudolph Duro, a 22-year-old who had wanted to show Kay photographs from her African USO tour. Duro dropped all charges.

1948
January 22. Kay writes her activities down in her diary, “Shopping—early dinner—after show all hell broke loose and me too many pills.”
January 23. Kay writes more dramatic activities down, “Out and almost for good! White Cross Hospital at 7am—ambulance—Dr. Rosoff—Hap in jail for 5 hours—murder charge!”
This day and the days following, newspapers covered the famous story of how Kay Francis almost lost her life. Kay’s lover, Howard “Hap” Graham, had discovered her in her hotel room in a semi-conscious state. When the police arrived, it was discovered that Kay had taken a lethal combination of pills and Scotch, and was covered in third-degree burns from her knees to her hips. She had been suffering from a cold, and Hap had followed doctor’s orders by giving Kay fresh air, propping her up where she accidentally burned her legs against a hot air register. To make matters worst, Hap poured hot coffee on her neck.
Both were heavily intoxicated, and Hap’s charge was dropped. Kay underwent several surgeries within the next few weeks.
March. Kay is physically recovering, though still prone to crying fits because of her chronic depression.
March 21. Kay finally leaves White Cross Hospital.
April 14. Kay interviews Joel Ashley for a role in her new stage project—a revival of The Last of Mrs. Cheyney by Frederick Lonsdale.
June 7. Kay begins her run in The Last of Mrs Cheyney with a show in Princeton, New Jersey at the McCarter Theatre.
September 20. Kay’s run of The Last of Mrs. Cheyney ends in Montclair, New Jersey.
Fall. Kay is heavily involved with Joel. Typical of Kay Francis romances, she hates him one minute and loves him the next. But Joel fit the bill for the ideal Kay Francis lover: He was married with children, had a terrible drinking problem, but, unlike the others, was remarkably younger than her—by fourteen years.
December 25. Kay begins her tour in “Favorite Stranger.”

1949
January 9. Kay appears in “The Last of Mrs. Cheyney” at the Penthouse Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia.
January 14. The tour of “The Last of Mrs. Cheyney” ends its run in Atlanta.
April 1. After a performance in Pittsburgh, Kay and Joel went to the Dixon Cafe, where they foolishly brought three men back to their hotel room, where Joel got beaten up. Both Kay and Joel were heavily intoxicated.
April 2. Kay tells her diary, “Finally got a doctor for Joel—a mess!—2 shows—closed ‘Favorite Stranger’—left for New York on 12:42 AM train.”
May. Kay selects Rachel Crothers’ “Let Us Be Gay” as her next stage production. The choice for her leading man is simple, Joel.
June 3. Kay begins her tour of “Let Us Be Gay” at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania.
September 6. “Let Us Be Gay” ends its summer run at the Maryland Theatre in Baltimore, Maryland.
September 19. Scheduled to make her television debut on Chevorlet Tele-Theatre, a fearful Kay withdraws “on orders of her physician.” She is replaced with Vicki Cummings.
October 22. Kay revives “Let Us Be Gay” at the Penthouse Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia.
November 7. Kay revives “Let Us Be Gay” at the Greater Hartford Drama Festival in Hartford, Connecticut.

A Kay Francis Chronology

1950s

1950
February 1. Celebrating William Powell’s sixty-first birthday, Kay meets her old friend at the 21 Club.
March 8. Kay appears in “Let Us Be Gay” at the Sombero Playhouse in Phoenix, Arizona.
March 27. Kay appears in “Let Us Be Gay” at the Penthouse Theatre in Jacksonville, Florida.
May 14. Appearing on This is Show Business, Kay Francis makes her television debut.
May 23. Kay begins her tour in “Goodbye, My Fancy” at the Flatbush Theatre in Brooklyn.
August 14. Kay tours in “The Web and the Rock” at the Spa Theatre in Saratoga Springs, New York.
November 7. Kay appears on Prudential Family Playhouse, her second television appearance.

1951
January 8. Kay appears on Hollywood Screen Test .
February. Kay and Patsy Ruth Miller briefly consider reviving “Windy Hill” with Joel Ashley as Kay’s leading man.
March. Kay briefly vacations in Mexico for about two weeks.
April 2. “Nothing happened and lost Somerset Maugham show—damn!” That entry in Kay’s diary was about being rejected for the infamous Sadie Thompson role in a TV production (which was never made) of Rain.
April 24. Kay breaks two toes—without ever explaining how in her diary—and is in bed for most of the following weeks.
May 10. Kay receives an award for “The Most Co-operative Star” in summer theatre at the Astor Hotel. The male recipient of the award was Basil Rathbone, Kay’s costar of two films.
May 21. Kay appears on The Betty Crocker Show .
June 19. At Bill Green’s Arena Theatre in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Kay appears in “Let Us Be Gay.”
June 26. At The Play House in Sharon, Connecticut, Kay appears in “Let Us Be Gay.”
July 9. Kay’s tour in “Mirror, Mirror” begins at the Westhampton Playhouse in Long Island.
September 3. Kay’s tour in “Mirror, Mirror” ends at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania.
September 8. Noting of a bad summer season in her diary, Kay describes it as a “horror season!”
October 3. Kay undergoes a surgery that she never elaborated on in her diary.
October 20. Kay appears on Beat the Clock .
October 31. Kay appears on The Frances Langford-Don Ameche Show .
November. Kay discovers and moves into an apartment at 32 East 64th Street.
November 11. Kay appears on Celebrity Time .
December 2. Kay cancels her appearance on Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town.
Late December. Kay attends Katharine Cornell’s revival of Somerset Maugham’s “The Constant Wife”.

1952
January 10. TV Host Ed Sullivan expected Kay to appear on his variety show, Toast of the Town. Sullivan had planned a tribute to Kay, who backed out because of fear. The tribute was cancelled as a result (ouch!).
January 18. Dennis Allen and Kay Francis meet for the first time about his casting in a revival of Somerset Maugham’s “Theatre.”
March 5. At the Central Florida Drama Festival in Winter Park, Florida, Kay debuts in what becomes her most successful stage project, “Theatre.” Kay’s teenage son was played by Anthony Perkins (of Psycho fame) and Dennis Allen, Kay’s new love interest and final lover of her life.
April. Kay serves as a presenter for the Stock Managers Association awards at the Hotel Astor.
April 3. “Dennis and I to see ‘Don Juan in Hell’,” Kay tells her diary, “Sardi’s for one drink and then to Bon Soir—fun evening.”
May 17. Kay appears on The Ken Murray Show.
August 18. Bette Davis attends Kay’s performance in “Theatre” at the Ogonquit Playhouse in Ogonquit, Maine. After the show, Bette and Kay meet backstage and go to a local bar, where the night is spent going over their “glory years” at Warner Bros. During the evening, after Bette asks why Kay tolerated Jack Warner’s attitude so much, Kay spits out that famous quote of hers, “I didn’t give a shit. I wanted the money.”
May 19. Kay travels to Bermuda to appear in “Theatre” at the Bermudiana Theatre in Hamilton.
September 24. Because of her huge success in “Theatre,” Kay is offered the opportunity to play the “Julia Lambert” role she had immortalized in a made for television movie. She backs out and is replaced with Sylvia Sidney.

1953
[Kay hears about her casting in Warner Bros. The Helen Morgan Story. She is rumored to play the mother of Judy Garland, who is to play the title character. Garland is replaced with Ann Blyth and the character of the mother is eliminated from the final screenplay when the movie is released in 1957.]

January. In Wichita Falls, Kay meets Dennis’ family. After their stay, Kay and Dennis relocate to New Orleans, where Kay visits old friends Clay Shaw and Eva Gabor.
March 2. A local newspaper in Pheonix, Arizona reports that Katherine Clinton (Kay’s mom) attended one of Kay’s performances of “Theatre” at the Sombrero Playhouse. “What does an actress consider the best seat in the house? Kay Francis picked sixth row center for her mama for last night’s show at the Sombrero. ‘Twas the first time her mother had been within flying distance of her stage engagements.”
July 19. Getting bored with Dennis, Kay writes in her diary, “Dull day & dull stupid people.”
August 4. Kay’s tour in “Theatre” closes at the Lakewood Playhouse in Skowhegan, Maine.
August 26. Attending a showing of Trouble in Paradise at the Museum of Modern Art, Kay describes the night as a “great evening” in her diary.
September 27. After a fight with Dennis, Kay still recognizes that he is possibly the best boyfriend she has ever had. In her diary, she writes, “Very quiet—non-speaking day!—so sick and I am an ass!”
Thanksgiving. Kay and Dennis celebrate the day at Bucks County.
December 25. Kay’s Christmas is spent sick with the stomach flu, though she and Dennis manage to see The Solid Gold Cadillac.
December 31. Kay and Dennis bring in the New Year with a quiet evening in front of the television. Kay’s diary entry for that night, which detailed her evening with Dennis, turned out to be the last one she ever wrote. After 32 years, Kay Francis ceased writing in her diary for reasons unknown, though it is possible that it represented a transition period in her life.

1954
May 25. Kay begins the summer tour of “Theatre” with an opening show at the Biltmore Playhouse in Miami, Florida.
June 22. Kay returns to the Biltmore Playhouse in Miami to open her new show, “Black Chiffon.” Dennis was the director of the production.
July 12. Kay again revives “Theatre” at Pickwick Players in Birmingham, Alabama.
July 27. After appearing in “Theatre” at the Town and Country Playhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana, Kay tells a reporter for the Indianapolis Star that “I’ll never—well, perhaps I shouldn’t say never—but doubt seriously if I’ll ever go back to Hollywood.”
August 9. Kay Francis—unintentionally—ends her stage career with a performance of “Theatre” at the Grove Theatre in Lake Nuangola, Pennsylvania. Ironically, Kay’s final performance had her making an unusual exit. When the play ended, she got down from the stage, walked up the isle, greeting her fans along the way, and exited through the theater doors in the main lobby. (The true end of an icon!)
December. Kay falls when she trips over a dolly track filming Strike it Rich, a CBS morning show. She files a lawsuit against the studio.
December 29. Kay’s appearance on Strike it Rich is aired.

1955
January 13. Not only does Kay turn 50, but she celebrates a career which has spanned 30 years! Newspapers report that she has no scheduled plans for the summer season.
January 24. Despite being scheduled to appear in Travelers Joy at the Niagara Falls Theatre, Kay cancels because of her shoulder.
November 1. The New York Journal American reports that “Goldie Hawkins nearly gave Kay Francis a fast case of apoplexy the other night when she dined at his New York bistro. Kay was wearing a huge bib necklace with a five-inch bracelet to match. And Goldie complimented her with a Suth’n accented ‘Mah, what pretty beads!’ The ‘beads’ were genuine rubies and topazes—over 50 of each in the necklace alone—and, worth a maharanee’s ransom.”

1956
[Kay considers a return to summer theater—and possibly Broadway. Projects considered are Brock Hollow, But Quite Unbowed, Obelists at Sea, Larger Than Life, and The Human Voice.]

1957
January 29. Kay’s mother, Katherine Clinton, dies, aged 82. Before her death, she wrote a heartbreaking letter to Kay, “My Precious Babe, I want you to know what a wonderful daughter you have been but really darling I never thought I’d live on so long to be a burden to a very smiling child. I have loved you always more than anyone in this world—but you know that. I wish I could have left more as you have given so much but a very great many things have unexpectedly had to be done and I have tried to keep the place in good condition for you to dispose of as you see fit. I have no debts and the only bills will be the monthly ones. I wish I could have been of more help to my one ewe lamb but just remember me a loving and devoted mother.”
When Kay cleaned out her mother’s home, she discovered about twenty-nine scrap books, filled with clippings about Kay stretching back from about 1923 all the way to the date of her mother’s death.
June 14. Variety headlines Kay’s lawsuit against CBS for her injuries from a fall during the production of her 1954 appearance on Strike it Rich.
June 17. Billboard follows up with an article regarding the Francis v. CBS lawsuit.

1958

1959

A Kay Francis Chronology:
1900s/1910s | 1920s | 1930s | 1940s | 1950s 1960s-on

1930s

1930
January 2. Kay makes her test for Raffles.
January 6. Behind the Make-Up released.
January. Kay films Raffles for Samuel Goldwyn after he rejects the idea of having Bette Davis play the part. Kay has only a small, but second billed, role in what is really a Ronald Colman feature.
January 31. Street of Chance released.
March 22. Kay travels by train to New Orleans to see Katty. Unfortunately, their lesbian love affair ends and Kay goes back West.
April 10. Kay returns to Hollywood.
April 19. Paramount on Parade released.
April 25. A Notorious Affair released.
June 28. After attending a preview of A Notorious Affair, W.E. Oliver of the Los Angeles Evening Herald hails Kay’s performance as “Hollywood’s most disturbing portrayal since Hell’s Angels.”
July. Kay makes her first appearance on a movie magazine cover for the July issue of Modern Screen.
July 18. For the Defense released.
July 24. Raffles released.
July 26. Kay starts getting serious with Kenneth, who seems to be taking up much of her social life. She writes in her diary on this day, “Ken worked until 6 A.M. and then came and fucked me! God, I really do love him.”
August 20. Let’s Go Native released.
October 24. The Virtuous Sin released.
December 19. Passion Flower released.
December 24. Despite Kay’s success in Hollywood and fun with Ken, she still battles with depression and boredom. She writes in her diary, “I guess I should be very happy.”

1931
January 11. Kenneth proposes marriage to Kay.
January 17. Kay Francis marries Kenneth MacKenna in Avalon, California.
January 21. Kay signs her first contract with Warner Bros,, which pays her $2,000 a week (at Paramount, Kay received $750 weekly). Rumors begin circulating that Paramount starts giving Kay films of lesser quality for revenge. Although she indeed signed the contract for Warner Bros. in 1931, her employment at the studio was not to start for another year.
January 23. It is announced by Louella Parsons that Kay will costar with Gary Cooper in City Streets, a film to be directed by Rouben Mamoulian. Kay is replaced with Sylvia Sidney.
February 6. Scandal Sheet released.
April. Kay is announced as George Bancroft’s costar in Rich Man’s Folly . However, she is replaced by Frances Dee.
April 30. Ladies’ Man released.
June 5. The Vice Squad released.
June 12. Transgression released.
August 28. Guilty Hands released.
September. Kay breaks up a fight between her dog and another, dropping her purse. When she breaks the dogs apart, she realizes that several pieces of jewelry are missing from her purse, including her wedding ring. Kay also attends a party at Gloria Swanson’s. Her drinking causes problems and Kay apologizes the next morning.
October 2. 24 Hours released.
October. It is announced that Kay Francis will be Fredric March’s leading lady in The Master Key, later re-titled Strangers in Love.
October 30. Girls About Town released.

1932
January 1. Kay begins to doubt her marriage to Ken. “I wonder if Ken and I will be together a year from now?” she writes in her diary.
January 9. Kay’s last day at Paramount.
January 10. The False Madonna released.
January 11. Kay’s first day at Warner Bros..
January 23. Kay attends a party at Edmund Goulding’s, her former sex buddy back in New York. Kay comes close to having sex with Edith Head after Tallulah Bankhead calls her [Kay] a lesbian.
January 29. Warner Bros. purchases the rights to A Dangerous Brunette as Kay’s first Warner Bros. feature. The film is later re-titled Man Wanted.
March 5. Strangers in Love released.
Mid March. Ken is fired by Fox, and a few days later gets into an explosive fight with Kay, hitting her out of rage.
April 15. Man Wanted, Kay’s first movie for Warner Bros., released.
May 26. Street of Women released.
June 13. Kay is cast in Trouble in Paradise. “I do a Lubitsch picture!” she writes in her diary.
June 22. Kay’s plans to depart for Europe on this day are canceled due to her Trouble in Paradise offer.
July 21. Jewel Robbery released.
End of July. Trouble in Paradise starts filming. Kay gets annoyed that Miriam Hopkins receives top billing, though Kay has the highest salary of any actor in the film, $4,000 weekly.
July 30. Despite her success in Jewel Robbery and One Way Passage, and her recent casting in an Ernst Lubitsch picture, Kay still battles depression and boredom. “Did something and had a good time but can’t remember,” she writes in her diary.
August. It is announced that Kay will star in 42 Street. Unfortunately, because her contract was set to expire, Kay loses the part to Bebe Daniels.
October. Kay goes back to New York, reuniting with Juliana Cutting, Neysa McMein, Dwight Francis, and Kay Johnson, among others. She returns home by the end of the year.
October 13. One Way Passage released.
November 8. Trouble in Paradise released.
November 9. Kay signs a new contract with Warner Bros. She spends the rest of the day in bed getting drunk.
December 24. Cynara released.

1933
January 19. Kay travels back to New York on the Chief, stopping in Chicago to visit friends.
January 23. Kay arrives in New York on the 20th Century. She attends the opening of Design for Living.
January 26. Kay goes to another showing of Design for Living. She enjoys the play but hears that Paramount purchased the rights for Miriam Hopkins. Kay, dissatisfied with her recent Warner Bros. assignments, begins to regret her decision to switch studios.
February 4. Kay and Ken get into an explosive argument, she spends the night at Julia Hoyt’s.
February 28. Kay returns to Hollywood.
May 20. Kay attends a cast party for Mary Stevens M.D.. She drinks too much and is carried out by Ken.
March 30. The Keyhole released.
May-June. Kay begins a brief flirtation with Gary Cooper, having sex with him at least once, though nothing really ever developed between the two.
July 21. Storm at Daybreak released.
August 3. Mary Stevens M.D. released.
September 2. Kay and Ken host a barnyard party.
September 21. I Loved a Woman released.
September 30. After an explosive fight with Ken, Kay indicates in her diary that she wants a divorce, though they made up a few days later.
October. It is announced that Kay will star in the lavish biopic Madame DuBarry. Luckily, Kay is replaced with Dolores del Rio. The film becomes a major flop with critics and audiences, bringing an end to del Rio’s career in America.
November 29. Ken leaves for New York.
December 1. The House on 56th Street released.
December 13. Kay follows Ken back East.
December 19. Kay and Ken decide that it would be best for them to separate.

1934
End of January. Kay begins her affair with Maurice Chevalier.
February 15. Mandalay released.
February 21. Kay divorces Kenneth MacKenna.
February 28. Wonder Bar released.
March 10. Journal of a Crime, Ruth Chatterton’s last movie for Warner Bros. is released. She leaves Warner Bros. because of a slip in popularity after ridiculous film offers from the studio. Kay becomes the Queen of the Lot, though her title is not official until a new contract offer at the end of 1935.
March 11. Kay writes in her diary, “Had merciless afternoon with Maurice – four times in 2 hours.”
May 16. Still fighting depression and boredom, Kay attempts suicide by cutting the artery in her right wrist. Loosing two quarts of blood, she nearly dies, but is saved possibly by her maid.
May 31. In an effort to spice up their sex life, Maurice begins suggesting new ideas to Kay. She writes in her diary, “Swell evening – very exciting, discussing about lesbians and a threesome. Not practical, I’m afraid.”
June. Maurice returns to Europe, leaving Kay more depressed than ever. As a result, Kay travels to New York.
June 20. Dr. Monica released.
June 23. Kay, accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Richard Barthelmess, boards the Rex, an Italian cruise liner. She goes on a second European romp.
September 12. A Paris doctor confirms that Kay is again pregnant. She has an abortion again soon after.
September 20. British Agent released.
Early October. Kay returns to New York, being mobbed by press and fans. Kay also informs reporters that there is no truth to the rumors about her wedding plans with Maurice Chevalier.
October 19. Kay returns to Hollywood. Suffering from complications from an abortion, Kay spends the next few days in bed.
October 27. Kay is hospitalized due to ignoring the advice for bed rest from her physician (she attended a party at Pickfair despite doctor’s orders).
November 10. Kay’s first day back to work for her new movie, Living on Velvet, with Warren William and George Brent.
Mid November. Maurice Chevalier returns to California.
December 7. In an interview with Harrison Carroll for the Los Angeles Evening Herald , Kay names her favorite male movie stars – Jackie Cooper, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Richard Barthelmess, James Cagney, Ronald Colman, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, William Powell, and Maurice.
December 25. Kay celebrates Christmas with Mr. and Mrs. Richard Barthelmess, then heads over to Samuel Goldwyn’s for a party. She then parties into the morning with Ruth Chatterton and Jessica Barthelmess (Richard’s wife).
December 31. Kay celebrates the New Year with Maurice, attending parties at both Charles Boyer’s and Tim McCoy’s.

1935
January 4. After performing some scenes from Living on Velvet with George Brent, Kay has a one night stand with her leading man. She writes, “He told me afterwards that I had helped him tremendously and that he appreciated that. Big fucking! And he got the jitters.”
February 5. While suffering from the flu, Kay has a miscarriage.
Mid February. Though she has not recovered from her flu, Kay hosts a major party at the Vendome restaurant, inviting 300 guests (which included James Cagney, Fredric March, and Samuel Goldwyn) to celebrate her divorce from Ken, who had just had a major Broadway comeback with Merrily We Roll Along.
March 7. Living on Velvet released.
Mid March. Maurice returns to Europe after a series of fights with Kay. A few days later, she finds a new lover in Delmer Daves after meeting him at a party hosted by Frank Borzage.
April 15. Del leaves Kay to vacation in Annapolis. Kay starts to realize that she’s fallen in love with him and out of love with Maurice.
April 16. Kay helps open the House of Westmore, a salon established by Perc Westmore. Myrna Loy, Clara Bow, Marlene Dietrich, Carole Lombard, and Claudette Colbert also attended.
April 20. Kay leaves for New York.
April 26. Kay leaves for Europe on the S.S. Aquitania, accompanied by Anderson Lawler, Kay’s costar in Girls About Town. While on the trip, Anderson claims that Kay showed up at his door, drunk and completely naked, and screamed, “I am not a star. I am a woman, and I want to get fucked!” The story turned legendary, though it never happened. Not only was Kay in love with Del, but Anderson was also gay, who more than likely made up the rumor to protect himself.
May 24. While in London, Kay has a successful operation to remove her salivary gland.
June 5. Kay meets with Maurice to break the news to him about Del. He takes it good and they settle for a friendship.
June 20. Kay returns to New York. Stranded released.
June 22. Del brings Kay to Lake Louise in Canada. At the time still barren, the location is still breathtaking. Kay describes the vacation as being like an unofficial honeymoon.
Early July. Del and Kay take another vacation to Washington State.
July 19. Kay and Del return to Hollywood.
September 1. Kay starts work on I Found Stella Parish.
September 12. The Goose and the Gander released.
September 25. After finding out that she was indeed pregnant, Kay undergoes another abortion.
October. Kay’s physician, Bill Branch, informs her that there are rumors going around Hollywood that she had syphilis. Surprisingly, the rumors of Kay Francis having an STD were false.
November 4. I Found Stella Parish released.
November 6. Jack Warner offers Kay a new contract, one which gets her the Queen of Warner Bros. title.
Early December. Kay meets with Samuel Goldwyn to discuss her casting in Dodsworth. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. refuses to lend Kay’s services. The part goes to her friend and former Warner Bros. star, Ruth Chatterton.
December 28. Kay writes in her diary about her trip to Del’s cabin in Lake Arrowhead, describing how happy she was.

1936
January 1. Kay writes in her diary, “Beginning the New Year with my lover. May he be in the same bed with me next year this time.”
January 2. Kay is seriously disappointed when Warner Bros. sends her her new assignment, a biopic about Florence Nightingale titled The White Angel. “Read my new script,” she writes. “Dear God!”
January 13. Friends throw Kay a surprise birthday party.
January 14. Kay leaves for New York.
January 17. Kay signs the new contract with Warner Bros. presented to her in November. Her salary is raised to $5,250 a week. The contract is to end in 1942, by which she is to be earning $7,000 a week.
March 25. Kay’s home is surrounded by police when a young woman named Carol Lawrence delivers a note to Kay’s residence which reveals a death plot. James Crawford explained that he “had it in for K. Francis.” “K. Francis” turned out to be Kathleen Francis, a Hollywood extra.
April 3. Because of Kay’s reputation for fashion, she gives her opinion on the best-dressed women of the screen to Harrison Carroll for an article in the Los Angeles Evening Herald. She names Constance Bennett, Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich, Carole Lombard, and Myrna Loy.
June 12. Kay undergoes another abortion. “Jesus, it’s awful,” she writes. “Who do I always get caught and have so little fun.”
June 22. Kay has teeth extracted. She gets an infection as a result.
June 15. The White Angel released.
July 13. After a relapse with her infection, Kay goes in for surgery.
Early August. Kay’s relationship with Del becomes strained.
August 26. Kay meets David O Selznick at his home to discuss her casting in Gone With the Wind.
August 30. George Cukor tells Kay that he could see her as Scarlett O’Hara. The project drops when Selznick and Cukor change their minds for Norma Shearer.
September 11. Kay has an extreme panic attack.
September 17. Give Me Your Heart released.
October. Kay’s neighbor, David Niven, kisses her on her doorstep. Del catches them, leaving Kay for the night.
November 25. Kay boards the Normandie and sails for Europe.
December 25. While still in Europe, Kay spends the holiday sick in bed with a cold.
December 31. Kay celebrates the New Year by watching a skiing competition, then drinking the night away while fighting with Del.

1937
Mid January. Kay returns to New York from Europe.
January 24. Kay is diagnosed with bronchial pneumonia.
January 31. Kay returns to Hollywood.
February 1. Stolen Holiday released.
February 6. Because of her sickness, which doesn’t seem to be getting any better, Kay is rushed to the hospital.
February 9. Kay returns home.
February 23. Rehearsals for Confession start.
March 3. The New York Times reports that Kay was Warner Bros. highest-paid employee of 1936.
March 6. Ginger Rogers throws a roller-skating party at Rollerdome. Kay attends with Joan Crawford. Despite Ginger’s claim that her party was the best ever thrown, Kay complained in her diary that the party was dull.
March 7. Kay’s dachshund Winnie dies.
March 9. Kay takes an absence for the first time in her entire Hollywood career to attend a showing of The Plainsman.
Mid March. Kay gives an interview to Maude Cheatham of Motion Picture. Despite her success and fortunes, Kay, while knitting during the interview, claims that her life has been “singularly uneventful.”
April 14. Confession completes production. The crew presents Kay with a box filled with gardenias, and an Eighteenth Century snuff box.
May 31. Kay has another abortion.
June 18. Another Dawn released.
Late August. Kay and Del are on the verge of a break up.
August 19. Confession released.
August 29. Women Are Like That begins production.
September 4. Kay Francis files suit against Warner Brothers to release her from her contract.
September 20. Kay writes in her diary of Del, “I am sick of his superiority.”
October 24. Kay meets Erik Barnekow at a party thrown by Dorothy di Frasso, who replaces Del in Kay’s life.
Late November. Kay and Erik get intimate for the first time.
December. A final agreement is made between lawyers, Kay’s contract would expire September 28, 1938.
December 23. First Lady released.
December 25. Kay asks Erik to spend Christmas at her house. She writes, “We baptized the library floor. Good fucking.”

1938
Early January. Warner Bros. begins to negotiate the rights to Dark Victory with Kay in mind.
January 14. A studio memo regarding Dark Victory sent to Hal Wallis reads, “I think you would have a good Kay Francis picture in a reasonably short time and one that would not cost a fortune to make. Moreover, Kay herself is, I understand, very much in favor of it.”
February 17. Production on Lovely Lady starts. The film is completed in mid-March. For unknown reasons, the film is shelved and released later in the year as Secrets of an Actress .
March 31. The production of My Bill starts.
April 5. Kay loans Erik $1,000. “I wonder if I will ever get it back?” she writes in her diary.
April 11. Women are Like That released.
May. Warner Bros. finally purchases the rights to Dark Victory, but gives the lead to Bette Davis.
May 16. In an article titled “Dead Cats,” published in TIME, Kay is listed, along with Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, and Garbo (among others), as “Box Office Poison.” The article reads that “Kay Francis, still receiving many thousands a week, is now making B pictures.”
May 25. Production on King of the Underworld begins. Kay replaces Ann Dvorak in this remake of Doctor Socrates (1935).
June. Bette Davis turns down the lead in Curtain Call (re-titled Comet Over Broadway). Miriam Hopkins takes over, gets sick, and Kay is forced into one of the most ridiculous movies of her career.
June 28. “Worried stiff about money,” Kay writes in her diary, “about Erik being a bum, about his never wanting to go out!”
July 9. My Bill released.
July 14. Production on Comet Over Broadway begins.
July 16. Busby Berkeley, director of Comet Over Broadway, get hospitalized and is replaced with John Farrow.
July 19. Busby Berkeley returns to the production of Comet Over Broadway .
July 21. “Oh my God,” Kay writes in her diary. “What am I getting into, I have no idea! Pray that it will come out alright, that’s all!”
August 11. Production wraps on Comet Over Broadway .
September 2. Production on Women in the Wind begins. This is Kay’s last movie on her Warner Brothers contract. During the filming, Kay gives an interview to Photoplay that turns out to be her most remembered. The title of the article was a direct quote from Kay, “I Can’t Wait to be Forgotten.”
September 27. Production on Women of the Wind is completed.
September 28. Kay Francis’ employment with Warner Bros. is terminated by contract expiration.
October 8. Secrets of an Actress released.
Early December. Additional scenes for Women in the Wind are filmed. It’s unknown if Kay was called back for retakes by a studio so desperate to ditch her.
December 16. Comet Over Broadway released.

1939
January 7. In a review for King of the Underworld in the New York Times, a critic comes to Kay’s defense about her latest backlash from Warner Brothers. “…considering the plot and everything it is our settled conviction that meaner advantage was never taken of a lady.”
January 14. King of the Underworld released.
January 16. “Had my ears pierced,” Kay wrote in her diary, “started 4-day diet-142 lbs!”
February 22. Kay is signed by RKO for the role of “Maida Walker” in In Name Only (1939). The film starred Carole Lombard, Cary Grant, and Kay, who was equally billed to Lombard and Grant, proving her stature as late as 1939.
March. This issue of Photoplay publishes the infamous “I Can’t Wait to be Forgotten” article. The article frankly quotes Kay on her career struggles.
Also this month, Erik goes up in arms about Dorothy di Frasso’s claim that he was a Nazi spy. “Someone must be mad,” di Frasso said. “I do not know what his politics are, and I must say, I couldn’t care less.”
March 6. Kay appears on Lux Radio Theatre and does her last work with William Powell. They recreate their roles in One-Way Passage (1932). Kay took over when Norma Shearer became too ill to perform.
April 13. Women in the Wind released.
April 17. Kay starts work on In Name Only (which was already filming when Kay got on board).
Summer. Kay travels to Chicago and then to Ohio, where she stays with Louis Bromfield on his farm.
August 4. In Name Only released.
September. Louella Parsons reports, “One of the most gallant women in Hollywood is Kay Francis, who has been frightfully worried over her fiance Baron Erik Barnekow.” Parsons’ report highlighted the trouble between Kay and Erik, and their romance on the rocks.
November. Kay tests for a role in My Son, My Son. The part goes to Madeleine Carroll.
December. Kay successfully tests for the second lead in It’s a Date , Universal’s new Deanna Durbin picture.
December 11. Kay appears on Lux Radio Theatre with Carole Lombard and Cary Grant to recreate their roles in In Name Only and promote the film.
December 12. Douglas Fairbanks dies. Kay spends most of the month with his widow, Lady Sylvia Ashley (Kay even interviews maids for her).
December 17. Kay appears on The Silver Theatre.
Late December. Kay attends Basil and Oudia Rathbone’s Christmas party, “A Night at St. Moritz.” It was held at the Beverly Hills Hotel and was a benefit for the Hollywood Guild. Despite having Irene Dunne, Bette Davis, Gary Cooper, and other Hollywood favorites, Kay complained that the party was a loser.
Kay also attends the New York preview of Gone With the Wind.
December 24/25. Kay’s Christmas Eve/Christmas is spent crying as she decorates the Christmas tree with her mother, as the two have Christmas dinner, and as Kay gets drunk with Miriam Hopkins.
December 31. Kay’s New Year’s Eve is spent sick in bed.

A Kay Francis Chronology:
1900s/1910s | 1920s | 1930s | 1940s | 1950s | 1960s-on

1920s

1920
Fall. Kay starts attending the Cathedral School of St. Mary in Garden City, Long Island.
Winter. Kay makes her acting debut in a school production of “Let’s Not and Say We Did.” Kay, credited as Katie Gibbs, writes the songs and, because she’s the tallest in the class, plays the male lead.

1921
Spring. Kay gets praise for a fashion sketch she draws. She briefly considers becoming a fashion designer.
Summer. Kay falls in serious love for the first time with a boy named “Reg.” She never identifies his last name in her diary. The two become engaged and make plans to run away and elope, but Kay fails to “muster-up the courage to run away.”
Winter. Kay gets a job as an assistant to Juliana Cutting, a famous New York party-planner who lived on Park Ave. She teaches Kay how to host.

1922
January 3. While working for Juliana, Kay meets James Dwight Francis. They soon start dating.
Late April. Kay looses her virginity to Dwight.
May 16. Kay finds her first work as a model at Lundihn’s Clothing store.
June 5. Kay starts work as a secretary at the McMillan Emerson and Co. investment firm.
June 27. Kay has her first abortion.
Mid October. Kay and Dwight make plans to marry. They visit Dwight’s parents for consent. They give it, but feel that Dwight and Kay are too young.
November 17. Kay receives her engagement ring from Dwight.
December 4. Kay marries Dwight at the St. Thomas Episcopal Church. They honeymoon in Boston, and settle into Dwight’s apartment at 21 West 49th Street two weeks later.
December 31. Kay writes in her diary of 1922, calling it “My most wonderful year!”

1923
October 5. Kay undergoes a tonsillectomy.

1924
January. Kay has a hemorrhoid operation.
February-April. Kay spends her time in Pittsfield.
May 12. Kay writes in her diary that her marriage with Dwight is on the rocks.
May 25. Troubled with her personal life, Kay decides to bob her hair, like most flappers at the time.
Spring. Kay becomes Paul Abbott’s lover.
Summer. Kay spends the entire season in Pittsfield.
October. Kay and Dwight Francis separate.

1925
January 1. Kay writes in her diary, “Beginning a new year – have resolution to make – not to be a damn fool!”
January 2. Kay makes mention in her diary that she admires William Gaston’s smile.
February 25. Kay poses for portrait artist Sir Gerald Kelly. The painting was finished in March of 1926 and placed on display as London’s Royal Academy later that year.
Late February. Kay poses for an ad for Franklin Simon & Co. The ad is printed in Harper’s Bazaar.
February 28. Kay sails to Francis on the S.S. Minnetonka.
March 8. Kay arrives at the Paris Vendome Hotel. She immediately writes in her diary about wild nights.
March 26. Kay’s divorce from Dwight becomes legal.
June 10. Kay arrives in London.
June 17. Kay returns to Paris, getting pregnant along the way.
July 15. Kay has another abortion.
September 26. Kay returns to New York and decides to become an actress.
October. Things between Kay and William Gaston get serious.
November 19. Kay and Bill get married.

1926
January 1. Kay writes in her diary, “1925 has been a very big year in my life – and on the whole I have behaved like a damn fool! What will 1926 bring forth?”
January 15. Kay receives an excellent modeling offer, posing for Porter Woodruff. The portrait ends up, unidentified, in Vogue.
February 19. Kay makes her first screen test for a role in D.W. Griffith’s The Sorrows of Satan. Nothing comes of her test.
April 15. Kay signs with the Stuart Walker company, beginning many stage productions and touring all over the country.
August 8. Kay gets arrested! The police raid a party, where alcohol is being served despite Prohibition, which Kay attends with players from the Stuart Walker company. They all end up being fined $15 each.
September 14. Kay returns home to New York.
October 7. Kay has an appendectomy, remaining hospitalized for a week.

1927
January. Kay models for Neysa McMein. The portrait is used for the May 1927 cover of McCall’s.
Summer. Kay starts dating Allan A. Ryan, who was set to inherit $100 million from his rich grandfather.
September. Kay notes in her diary that she has become bored with Allan, but remains with him for the rest of the year.

1928
January. Kay gets pregnant with Allan’s baby. She aborts it the same month.
Spring. Kay begins a strictly sexual affair with a young Edmund Goulding.
April 23. Kay writes in her diary that she has performed some unnamed sexual act with Goudling for the first time.
Summer. Allan begins to make marriage propositions to Kay, who turns him down.
August 28. Kay tells Allan their relationship is over for good. “What a bitch I am!” she writes in her diary.
Fall. Kay is interviewed twice by Fox studios about appearing in short films. Nothing ever stems from either interview.
October. Kay tests for the female lead in Gentlemen of the Press. She gets the part.
November 16. Paramount releases its first talking movie, Interference. The studio makes a list of Broadway stars they feel will replace silent move stars. Kay’s name is on the list.
Early December. Kay poses with ski togs for an issue of Harper’s Bazaar.
December 28. Rehearsals for Gentlemen of the Press start.

1929
January. Kay and Millard Webb start dating.
January 31. Kay starts rehearsals for her next movie, The Cocoanuts, starring the Marx Brothers.
Early February. Gentlemen of the Press ends shooting.
February 19. Retakes for Gentlemen of the Press start.
February 22. Gentlemen of the Press previews in Yonkers. To everyone’s surprise, the movie is a success.
April. Realizing they have something on their hands, Paramount decides to send Kay out to Hollywood.
April 11. Kay boards the 20th Century Limited to Chicago. She spends the night with Katty Stewart, an old friend. Kay notes in her diary about her sex with Katty, “Slept with Katty only because she wanted me to – Damn!”
April 13. Kay boards the Chief.
April 15. Kay arrives in Hollywood and is greeted by a studio photographer and publicist who hails her as one of the best dressed newcomers. That same day, Kay meets producer B.P. Schulberg on the Paramount lot for a tour of the studio.
April 17. Kay starts taking driving lessons.
April 18. Dangerous Curves, a Clara Bow vehicle, starts production with Kay playing the second female lead, “Zara,” an art-deco vamp-like character.
April 21. Kay visits an old friend, Kay Johnson, at her home. Johnson reveals her life-long love for Kay. The two sleep together.
May 11. Gentlemen of the Press released.
May 24. The Cocoanuts released.
June 1. Kay writes about Katty Stuart, now her roommate, in her diary, “I really adore her – and I guess she really loves me.”
Mid June. Production on Illusion starts with Kay in a small role.
June 21. Kay watches a preview of Dangerous Curves. She realizes quickly that the movie was strictly a Clara Bow vehicle.
Late Spring/ Early Summer. Much male, with some female, excitement starts running around Hollywood because of rumors that Kay Francis is an open lesbian who’s prone to having random, meaningless sex with men. Kay begins fighting off sexual advances from Walter Huston, a close friend, and Paul Lukas, whom she can’t stand. Kay spends this time, as well as the rest of the year, working as a supporting player in good pictures.
Early July. Kay becomes involved with Kenneth MacKenna.
July 13. Dangerous Curves released.
September 27. Illusion released.
October. This month’s issue of Photoplay, the most popular movie magazine at the time, hails Kay’s performance in Gentlemen of the Press as “one of the most astonishing first performances in the history of motion pictures.”
December 13. The Marriage Playground released.

A Kay Francis Chronology:
1900s/1910s1920s | 1930s | 1940s | 1950s | 1960s-on

A Kay Francis Chonology…

 

 

When exact dates for an event which took place during a year are unknown to me, I have placed them in [brackets]. If there is no information for a specific year, I have the space below intentionally empty.

1905
January 13. Katharine Gibbs is born in Oklahoma City, OK.
November. Harsh weather in Oklahoma City causes the Gibbs family to relocate to Santa Barbara, California.
December. The Gibbs family moves from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles.

1906
[The family next relocates to Salt Lake City, Utah sometime within the first half of the year.
Around the same time, Katherine brings Katharine and herself back to New York, leaving Joe Gibbs, Kay’s father, behind. Katherine decides to go back to work as an actress to support Kay and herself.]

1907

1908
[Kay sees her father for the last time while he’s out visiting her and her mother in New York.]

1909
[Kay accompanies her mother, without performing, with the Lindsay Morison Stock Company. Katherine remains with the troupe for at least a year.]

1910

1911

1912

1913

1914
[Kay accompanies her mother on another tour, this time with legendary vaudevillian Harry Brooks in “The Old Minstrel Man.”]

1915

1916

1917

1918

1919
January 20. Kay’s father, Joe Gibbs, dies of pneumonia in St. Louis. Kay never hears the news, and lives the rest of her life not knowing whatever happened to her father. (He was survived by his new wife, Minnie, and their two daughters, four-year-old Virginia and five-year-old Helen, Kay’s half-sisters. The Homer Masonic Lodge pays for his $15 funeral and burial.)
Fall. Kay, at fourteen, begins receiving her first professional education at the Ossining School for Girls in Ossining, New York.
September 10. Kay goes to NY to attend a homecoming parade for General John J. Pershing returning home from the First World War. A policeman picks Kay up, placing her on his shoulders so she can catch a glimpse of Pershing.

A Kay Francis Chronology:
 
1900s/1910s | 1920s | 1930s | 1940s | 1950s | 1960s-on

Later Career, Death, & Legacy…

stateoftheunionplaybill109With Ruth Chatterton as director, and Patsy Ruth Miller on board for the production of Windy Hill, Kay Francis had made her triumphant return to the stage on September 20, 1945 (CR). Reviews and public response were largely positive, but Kay was forced back to Hollywood because of her Monogram contract. Now free from Hollywood, Kay Francis decided to set her sights on returning to the stage and leaving her film career behind for good. A year later, she made her first appearance in State of the Union on September 2, 1946 at the Hudson Theatre in New York. Reviews for the production were some of the best Kay ever received, and the play was so popular it ran for 765 performances (CR).

For her next two projects, Kay dusted off two old hats: Frederick Lonsdale’s The Last of Mrs. Cheyney and Rachel Crothers’ Let Us Be Gay. Fay Kanin’s Goodbye, My Fancy followed. The popular success of all three shows gave her the idea that her work in a new play, George Oppenheimer’s Mirror, Mirror, would garner her the opportunity to return to Broadway (BF). Unfortunately, a critical backlash and lack of public response killed the deal. Mirror, Mirror was the only Kay Francis play to flop with audiences. She revived herself with a healthy run in Somerset Maugham’s Theatre, which toured for over two years until Kay’s last appearance on August 9, 1954. Ironically, on that night Kay did something she had never done before, she ended the play by getting off the stage and greeting her audience in the isles, after which she walked out of the lobby (PL).

Kay Francis’ career came to an end unintentionally that night. By the time her next intriguing offer came about, it was too late. She was offered the opportunity to play Lana Turner’s mother in Madame X (1966), but turned the part down because she was terminally ill with the cancer that would ultimately end her life. After her years as an actress, Kay did some traveling but mainly entertained a small group of friends and kept to herself. The death of her mother on January 29, 1957 severed her last tie to a family connection. Anna Weissberger, the mother of Kay’s attorney, looked after her in her later years while Kay’s romance with Theatre costar Dennis Allan hit the rocks.

Decades of heavy smoking and drinking eventually took its toll on Kay’s health. She lived in an era where people literally drank and smoked themselves to death. By the mid 1960s, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Ruth Chatterton, Marion Davies had passed on while Joan Crawford and Bette Davis took work in low-budget horror flicks and Norma Shearer remained a distant memory of the past. It must have been frightening to have out-lived her own era. As biographers Lynn Kear and John Rossman pointed out in their Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career, Kay’s world was in art deco surroundings while gowned in a breath-taking Orry-Kelly creation. To think of her in the turbulent 1960’s is almost impossible.

Kay Francis died on April 26, 1968 in her New York apartment. Her seven page will left bequests to twelve people, while the majority of her nearly two-million dollar estate was left to The Seeing Eye of Morristown, New Jersey.

Legacy…

givemeyourheart1948After her death, Kay’s legacy became virtually forgotten. Historians wrote her Paramount work off as unimportant, considered her Warner Bros.  movies sheer run of the mill glam dramas, and dismissed her freelance material (particularly her stint at Monogram) as an embarrassing end to an uneventful career. But after decades of being ignored by critics and the general public, Kay Francis reemerged in the 1990s; her popularity growing rapidly ever since.

The launching of Turner Classic Movies in 1994 helped resurrect the work of many forgotten or misinterpreted stars. Almost overnight Kay Francis took on a new importance in classic cinema. She was back to being considered Warner Bros. most important asset from 1932 until 1938, while the overrated Bette Davis was put back in her place. Kay’s freelance work, especially In Name Only (1939) and Allotment Wives (1945), was rediscovered as more entertaining than the melodramas she made at the peak of her success as a box office champ.

In 2006 two biographies, Scott O’Brien’s Kay Francis: I Can’t Wait to be Forgotten and Lynn Kear and John Rossman’s Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career, were released. Two years later, Kear and Rossman put together the definitive Kay Francis reference book, The Complete Kay Francis Career Record. In September of 2008, Kay was Turner Classic Movies’ Star of the Month.

Maybe her legacy was never as forgotten as people assumed. Whatever the case, despite a lack of color, high definition, or crisp sound, the films of Kay Francis remain some of the most intriguing movies ever made because of her combination of unique beauty, throaty voice, aloof personality, and, above all, intelligence to overcome any obstacle handed to her.

Kay Francis lives.

—Michael O’Hanlon, August 26, 2008

Sources:
(BF): Kay Francis: I Can’t Wait to Be Forgotten, Scott O’Brien, 2006, BearManor Media.

(CR) The Complete Kay Francis Career Record, Lynn Kear & John Rossman, 2006, McFarland.
(PL): Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career, Kear & Rossman, 2008, McFarland.

A Kay Francis Biography…

I Found Kay Francis | One-Way Passage to Stardom | Queen of Warner Bros.

Her Fall and Rise | Later Years, Death & Legacy

Her Fall and Rise…

biographykay11According to her suit, Warner Bros. had placed Kay in roles “of inferior quality and had posted her name in a special inter-studio register which kept other studios from bidding for her services” (BF). Kay’s lawyers requested that her contract be terminated immediately. Whatever happened behind closed doors must have irritated Kay Francis so much to the point where she suddenly changed her mind. Her decision was now to stay at the studio and fight for her $5,200 weekly salary while finishing out her contract in B pictures. After much attention in the press, a settlement was officially announced in December.

“Out of the blue, it was announced [Kay] would complete her contract in B pictures!” Bette Davis remembered (BF). “…and no reason was ever given. A huge embarrassment for such a star–she had many, many fans.”

The Carole Lombard role in Twentieth Century (1934) had been written with Kay in mind (BF). The Mary Astor role in Dodsworth (1936) was originally offered to Kay (RC). George Cukor and David O. Selznick met with Kay August 30, 1936 about her casting in the Scarlett O’Hara role in Gone with the Wind (1939, PL). On all three occasions Warner Bros. had denied permission to loan Kay out and in return had given her less than stellar assignments. For years, Jack and Harry pleased Kay with financial rewards over artistic opportunities. By now that decision from both parties had taken its toll on Kay’s popularity with moviegoers. She was no longer the top name at the studio, and with Bette Davis gaining more popularity and critical acclaim, Kay accepted the situation with her usual grace. If she was going to have to finish out her contract in B programmers, at least she could do it while collecting one of Hollywood’s highest salaries.

But the battle she faced with the studio remained a dark memory that would follow Kay Francis for the rest of her life.

mybillwithkidsWomen Are Like That (1938) started production on August 29, 1937, and, while the filming took place during Kay’s suit with Warner Bros., it can easily be considered her first screen ‘punishment’ from the studio. Despite her good chemistry with Pat O’Brien, the film was one of the worst of Kay’s career. Variety considered the movie “another disappointment for Kay Francis” (CR). My Bill (1938) followed. Although the film was the first of the B movies she would finish her contract with, it turned into an unexpected hit with audiences. (In fact, the film was so popular Kay did an adaptation of the material for the Hollywood Hotel radio program later that year and again in 1941 on Cecil B. DeMille’s Lux Radio Theatre.) A critic for the San Francisco Chronicle reported:

If Warner Bros. forced Kay Francis to play a middle-aged mother of four adolescents in My Bill in an effort to discipline her, their plan has boomeranged laughably. The picture, previewed a few nights ago, is a triumph rather than a humiliation, for Kay.

While describing My Bill as a “triumph” might overdoing it just a bit much, Kay certainly had done worse. Of her B movies she completed for Warners in 1938 it was her most profitable (see the box office page for listings).

As 1938 began, the public saw a major transformation in the presentation of Kay Francis from Warner Bros. Originally, Kay, Miriam Hopkins, and Jane Bryan were announced for the leads in The Sisters (BF). All Rights Reserved was to be another teaming of Kay and Errol Flynn (BF). Most importantly, the rights to Dark Victory had been negotiated for Kay in January of 1938 (SAB). Both The Sisters and Dark Victory were handed to Bette Davis, while All Rights Reserved never materialized. Instead, Kay was announced as a supporting player in the latest Boris Karloff vehicle, Devil Island (BF). Fortunately for Kay, the project never materialized. She found herself legitimately cast in Secrets of an Actress (1938), which was only notable because it was her last onscreen paring with George Brent, but most critics agreed the film was empty.

kayanderikAmidst her professional headaches, Kay found time for a new lover. She first met Baron Raven Erik Barnekow on October 24, 1937 at one of Countess di Frasso’s parties. Erik was described by friends as a nobleman, aviator, inventor, stock broker, and businessman. According to legend, however, he was really a Nazi spy sent from Germany. In fact, Barnekow was really a deadbeat loser who milked Kay for her money and more than likely was a Nazi spy.

Her life at this point would have made one stellar melodrama, but her actual film material was getting worse and worse. Comet Over Broadway (1938) was a Bette Davis reject which is today considered to be so bad it’s actually good. Directed by musical legend Busby Berkley, New York Post film critic Irene Thirer thought, “When a Kay Francis production reaches the Palace for its New York premiere as the lesser portion on a double bill which features ‘Hard to Get,’ it’s a sorry state of affairs” (CR). Indeed it was. King of the Underworld (1939) was even worse. Costar Humphrey Bogart felt guilty for taking top billing over Kay (BF), while a New York Times critic wrote in his review of the film, “Miss Francis, once the glamour queen of the studio, gets a poor second billing.” Women in the Wind (1939), an unimportant drama about a female aviatrix, completed her contract with the studio.

At first, Kay Francis insisted on retiring from the screen when her Warner Bros. contract was finished. In fact, in an interview on the set of Women in the Wind, she made the facts quite clear:

Perhaps I’d have been better off if I had fought for better stories, but the end didn’t justify the means. I’d have been suspended and the time I was under suspension would have been added to the end of my contract. So instead of being free now, I would probably have had another year to go. And, even then, I’d have no guarantee the stories I picked would have been any better. Even if they had been, the only difference would have been that I would be retiring in a blaze of glory instead of more or less inconspicuously—and this is the way I want it. I’ll be forgotten quicker this way (PL).

Her attitude towards the struggle made—and still make—many think of Kay Francis as a sellout. It didn’t help that her studio rival, Bette Davis, would become so remembered for being such a tough fighter. While many think of Davis was the hard-shelled, determined actress who fought for better roles, people began to think of Kay Francis as a movie glamour queen who only cared about a hefty salary because she lacked the real talent to stretch her career out after she’d hit the skids.

innmaeThough she did have intentions on retiring, Kay knew deep inside one good role could bring her back to the forefront. When RKO signed Kay Francis for the role of Maida Walker in In Name Only (1939), she had been unemployed for nearly six months. The film remains essential for several reasons. First of all, it’s the only real paring of Carole Lombard and Cary Grant in leading roles. Second, Kay receives equal billing to Lombard and Grant in the film and on all movie posters and advertisements, proving her popular status as late as 1939. Third, Kay’s excellent performance as the villainous wife nearly stole the film from her costars. And fourth, the film showcases her own determination to make it back to the top. Here she was on thin ice with her career virtually over while she was making her big screen comeback playing the evil villainous wife to the much loved Cary Grant (who played her husband) and Carole Lombard (who played the women Grant really loves). Her performance outshines anything she ever did, even her work in Trouble in Paradise (1932), and the reviews she earned were some of the best of her career.

whenlkayrdeAfter her triumphant comeback at RKO, Universal hired Kay for the part of Georgia Drake in It’s a Date (1940). Her character was the mother of Deanna Durbin’s Pamela, and although Kay was second billed to Durbin in the film, the Durbin pictures at Universal were some of the most popular in the country. The good exposure for Kay earned her some great reviews, particularly in Time, who thought that Kay’s character provided her with “her best part in many a long picture.” Universal kept Kay on their payroll for the opportunity to play opposite Randolph Scott in When the Daltons Rode (1940). Second billed to Scott, the cast also featured Broderick Crawford and George Bancroft, and was considered to be “straight, fast Western fare” by a critic for the New York Times. Kay Francis, it seemed, was on her way back to the top. But with her success in films back on the rise, her personal life bean to spiral out of control.

Kay’s relationship with Erik was anything but stable when England declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939. Though she managed few calls here and here, Erik remained aloof when he returned to Germany on an American cargo ship. She spent the holidays with friends but was unable to enjoy the gatherings because of her depression. She cried while she decorated the Christmas tree with her mother. She cried through Christmas and the days following. And she remained sick in bed on New Years. As 1940 went on, Erik drifted out of Kay’s life for good. He had joined the German military soon after returning to Germany but was so emotionally traumatized by the circumstances that he shot himself in December of 1941. Though she never did find out exactly what happened to Erik, Kay accepted the circumstances and went on to have affairs with other men, though he heart still longed for the man she truly loved.

Upset in her personal life, Kay focused on her career and claimed to be thrilled as a freelance artist. “I believe that as a free-lance I can learn more about acting than if under a studio contract,” Kay told an interviewer. “I’m happier at it, for life takes on new interest. And the more we players free-lance, the better served the public will be” (PL). But the parts she was offered weren’t much better than Warner Bros. had. Though she was a top contender for The Rains Came (1939), the part went to Myrna Loy. In its place, Kay went to RKO and appeared in the second film version of the Louisa May Alcott favorite, Little Men (1940). Better received by the public than critics, a writer for the New York Times found the film “too obviously rigged for tears and laughs.” Play Girl (1941) was another film for RKO—this time on the low-budget scale, though the film gave Kay a chance to do some good light comedy. In fact, all of Kay’s releases of the year would be in a comedies. The Man Who Lost Himself (1941), made for Universal, was one of her better ones, which stands up today better than a lot of the fluff she was making back at Warner Bros.

charleys0813Twentieth Century-Fox next employed Kay for the fourth film version of Brandon Thomas’ Charley’s Aunt (1941). One of the most successful movies of the year, the film placed eighth on the top grossing films of the year list (BF), and costar Jack Benny received a special Oscar at the 1942 Academy Awards Ceremony, the statue dressed in a skirt and smoking a cigar. The Feminine Touch (1941), made for Metro Goldwyn Mayer, featured a sort-of all-star cast, with Kay third billed to Rosalind Russell and Don Ameche. Today, Kay’s name being billed equivalent to that of Russell’s is proof of her star power as late as 1941. In fact, Kay’s popularity was such that Warner Bros. came knocking on her door for an appearance in Always in My Heart (1942). Kay accepted, but on her own terms. She demanded, and received, top billing and her hefty salary. The film was fluff used to promote Gloria Warren, a Warner Bros. answer to Deanna Durbin. Unfortunately for Warren, she never caught on with audiences and retired after only a few films. Universal then used Kay’s name to promote Diana Barrymore in Between Us Girls (1942).
The film was critical and commercial flop.

Like Myrna Loy, Kay Francis put her film work aside to focus on the World War. She volunteered at canteens, and began making appearances at bases all over the world. The first appearance was in July of 1942 in England with Mitzi Mayfair, Martha Raye, and Carole Landis. Excerpts of Landis’ diary, which chronicled the events the “Four Jills” witnessed, was published and materialized by Twentieth-Century Fox. With the success of Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943) and Hollywood Canteen (1944) at Warner Bros., Fox decided to produce an all-star cameo extravaganza to capitalize on the interest of Hollywood and the World War. Landis, Mitzi Mayfair, Martha Raye, and Kay Francis (top billed) all starred in the fictionalized account of their journey. The film, titled Four Jills in a Jeep (1944), featured cameo appearances by Betty Grable and Alice Faye, among others. Previewing to mediocre reviews, the film was more popular with audiences.

When the War ended, Kay Francis was virtually unemployable in Hollywood. With her heyday long behind her, she next accepted an unusual offer from Monogram Pictures, one of the more notorious B studios for faded film stars. Monogram offered her the opportunity to star, top billed, and coproduce three projects. Her first feature for the studio was Divorce (1945). A preachy, cheaply produced drama about a home wrecker, the film costarred Bruce Cabot and was dismissed by The Daily News as “ridiculous.”

allotmentwives08121Kay’s second feature for Monogram, Allotment Wives (1945), is an unrecognized classic. The film is still a favorite among its admirers, and Kay’s performance is one of the best of her career. By the time she made the film, it was clear Kay had learned more about producing on a cheap budget. Costs were saved by improvising, and the storyline was easier to follow because of a more intriguing plot. At the time reviewers panned the movie, but critics today now recognize the film as a more interesting take on the Mildred Pierce (1945) success at Warner Bros. Actually, Allotment Wives makes it unfortunate that Kay didn’t go on to have success in film noir. She plays tougher and more realistic than Joan Crawford, with a physical appeal that’s much darker and deadly than Barbara Stanwyck’s. Her noir appeal was used again in Wife Wanted (1946), which turned out to be Kay’s last movie of her career. Again, the film today is considered so bad that its good, but it was a sad end to a career which could have gone in a completely different direction.

During the first few days on the Wife Wanted shoot, Kay received a telephone call from producer Leland Hayward. Ruth Hussey needed a replacement for her theatrical run in State of the Union, an offer which Kay graciously accepted. For the first time since In Name Only (1939), she found an offer she could really sink her teeth into. And an offer to return to the stage in a stellar Broadway comedy was far more appealing than the offer from Allied Artists to appear in a film version of Maurice Sandos’ The Maze.

Sources:
(BF) Kay Francis: I Can’t Wait to Be Forgotten, Scott O’Brien, 2006, BearManor Media.
(CR) The Complete Kay Francis Career Record, Lynn Kear & John Rossman, 2008, McFarland.
(PL) Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career, Kear & Rossman, 2006, McFarland.
(SAB) Stanwyck: A Biography, Axel Madsen, 1994, HarperPaperbacks.

A Kay Francis Biography…

I Found Kay Francis | One-Way Passage to Stardom | Queen of Warner Bros.

Her Fall and Rise | Later Years, Death & Legacy

One-Way Passage to Stardom…

1929kaypubmGreeted at the train station by photographers and fanfare, a 24-year-old Kay Francis was hyped up by Paramount’s publicity department as a possible fashion rival to Constance Bennett and Lilyan Tashman. (PL) The competition didn’t seem easy at first. Kay later recalled:

When I first came out here, I was scared to death. I had heard how mean picture people could be to people on the stage. I hadn’t much self-confidence anyway. I didn’t know what to do about the camera. (PL)

Kay’s first assignment in Hollywood was Dangerous Curves (1929), a Clara Bow star vehicle that gave Kay a different opinion on Hollywood stars:

It’s wonderful how helpful Hollywood folks are. When I worked with Clara Bow, she was simply too grand. She said to me, “Now, Kay, I’m the star, so naturally they train the camera on me. But if you’ll cheat over just a little, you’ll get in it just right, too. You’ve got to keep that face in the camera you know, darling.” (PL)

In a review for the Washington Post, one critic thought that Kay’s performance in Dangerous Curves made her “the possessor of one of the most charming voices yet to come through the microphone and she shows signs of becoming the vampire supreme of the screen.” (CR) It was type-casting from there. Illusion (1929, with Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Nancy Carroll), The Marriage Playground (released that same year, with Fredric March and Lilyan Tashman), and Behind the Make-Up (1930, with William Powell and Fay Wray) all featured Kay as two-timing, manipulative, ice-cold vamps. Illusion exists only in soundtrack form (CR). It’s the only movie Kay Francis ever made which is now lost. (BF). Marriage Playground was Kay’s first teaming with Fredric March, and Behind the Make-Up was her first work with William Powell. With little over a year in Hollywood, Kay Francis was making big impressions with costars, directors, producers, and most importantly, critics and the general public.

Her new-found importance in Hollywood was rewarded when Paramount gave Kay her first real lead in Street of Chance (1930). Her second pairing with William Powell, Kay’s part as Powell’s sophisticated and sympathetic wife was a real departure for her. “Kay Francis,” wrote a critic for the London Times, “is terribly fetching and her acting gives a sympathetic touch to an unsympathetic character.” (CR)

motionpicturejuly1930Paramount solidified Kay as one of their most important stars with an expensive Technicolor appearance in their most prestigious movie of 1930, Paramount on Parade. Typical of the popular movie revues of that period, Paramount on Parade was a good exposure for Kay, and her appearance in “The Toreador” was the first and only time moviegoers would get the chance to see Kay in Technicolor. A Notorious Affair (1930) followed. Arguably Kay’s best performance until that point, her dark and scheming performance as the Russian Vamp stole the film from experienced costars Billie Dove and Basil Rathbone. One critic for the Los Angeles Evening Herald thought that Kay gave the “most disturbing portrayal since Hell’s Angels.” (BF)

For the Defense (1930) was Kay’s third pairing with William Powell. One of her better early films, she plays the wife of a corrupt lawyer (Powell) who avoids serving time in prison regarding her liability for a car accident which Powell pleads guilty for. Raffles (1930) was Kay’s second loan-out, this time to United Artists for the Samuel Goldwyn production. Really a Ronald Colman movie, Raffles offers Kay little to do but wear clever costumes, though she was second billed in a movie that was one of the top grossing films of that year. (BF) Let’s Go Native (1930) was proof that Paramount had little idea of what to do with Kay Francis. This time she’s fifth billed and walking through an odd pairing of Jack Oakie and Jeanette MacDonald in one of the most absurd musical comedies of that era.

She followed a minor appearance in a bad movie with a lead appearance in a good one. The Virtuous Sin (1930) was Kay’s second film pairing with Walter Huston and her first real starring role (although she is second billed). Clearly she had learned a great deal within her first year in movies, because she’s more comfortable in front of the camera than ever, with her acting more mature and refined. (During the shoot, Kay also began dating costar Kenneth MacKenna, who became her third husband a year later.) Passion Flower(1930) was Kay’s first top-billed appearance and her final film of that year. A forgettable one (with the exception of the stunning publicity stills of Kay taken by George Hurrell), it went unnoticed by critics and audiences of that time.

Kay solidified her position in Hollywood with a social life that included parties with Jessica and Richard Barthlemess, Irving Thalberg and Norma Shearer, Rhea and Clark Gable, William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies, Samuel Goldwyn, Jeanette MacDonald, and Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., who later wrote of Kay:

I never had the privilege of working with Miss Francis in a film. I knew Kay and Kenneth socially in the early ‘30s. Kay was lovely and very popular. She brightened many social occasions with her sparkling charm and wit. I don’t think she ever warmed up to Hollywood. I think of her as a true bon vivant. (PL)

But Kay’s social life was not without scandal. Throughout her first year in Hollywood she reportedly had affairs with Tallulah Bankhead, Marlene Dietrich, and Gary Cooper, among others. (PL)

The New Year began with a marriage to Kenneth MacKenna on January 17. Around this time, Kay confided in her diary that she resented the intrusions of reporters. This need for her personal privacy became a major problem for her in the coming years.

Scandal Sheet (1931) was her first release of the New Year. Third billed, she appeared in few scenes in a role that really only allows her to wear nice costumes. Ladies’ Man (1931) was her fourth teaming with William Powell and first work alongside Carole Lombard. The Vice Squad (1931) was more unimportant junk from Paramount. The studio’s decision to put her in such a role most likely stemmed from her decision to reject a new contract offer. Kay Francis, along with Ruth Chatterton and William Powell, signed a deal with Warner Bros. the following year for a hefty increase in salary and the promise of new-found stardom.

24hours0818While still at Paramount, RKO next bid on Kay’s services for Transgression (1931). A campy soap opera, the film revealed what would later become the ideal Kay Francis formula: tears, sin, fashion, and forgiveness by a wholesome man who ultimately loves her. MGM then received Kay for second billing in Lionel Barrymore’s Guilty Hands (1931). A murder mystery costarring Lionel Barrymore (who also directed it), this was probably one of her best films of that year.

Paramount ended Kay’s employment with four of the better movies she would ever make for the studio. 24 Hours (1931) might have given Kay limited camera time, but the finished product was an excellent dramatic film. Girls About Town (1931) was a clever Pre-Code romp about gold diggers directed by George Cukor. It’s arguably one of the best movies she ever made for Paramount, probably because of her great chemistry with costars Lilyan Tashman and Joel McCrea. The False Madonna (1932) might not have been Kay’s best, but it was a starring role from a studio that had only recently discovered her importance to them. Strangers in Love (1932) was Kay’s last work with Fredric March and one of her most charming pictures.

Soon after completion of Strangers in Love, Kay Francis packed her bags along with William Powell and Ruth Chatterton and headed on over to Burbank, California for employment at a new studio. This opportunity would allow her to emerge as one of Hollywood’s top box office attractions.

Text Citation Sources:
(BF): Kay Francis: I Can’t Wait to Be Forgotten, written by Scott O’Brien.
(CR): The Complete Kay Francis Career Record, by Lynn Lear and John Rossman.
(PL): Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career, also by Kear & Rossman.

A Kay Francis Biography…

I Found Kay Francis | One-Way Passage to Stardom | Queen of Warner Bros.

Her Fall and Rise | Later Years, Death & Legacy

Queen of Warner Brothers…

mawantedpub0818Warner Bros. employed a weak list of contract players in the early 1930s. In 1930 James Cagney and Joan Blondell had made their film debuts in Sinners’ Holiday (1930). Barbara Stanwyck completed her first film, Illicit (1931), for the Warners. Bette Davis was still grinding out B movies at Universal. But at the time those names, now legendary, were still unknown. Kay’s decision to switch studios might have been provoked by something more important than a higher salary. Back at Paramount she was forced to share the spotlight with dozens of other stars on her level. Now at Warner Bros., she placed second only to Ruth Chatterton in terms of studio competition, but was the star of her own movies. There would be no more fifth billings or thankless second leads, as her first movie for the studio would prove.

Man Wanted (1932) was taken from the Robert Lord story, A Dangerous Brunette. A breezy, light comedy about the modern woman’s option for marriage and a career, one of the most noticeable differences is a larger number of close ups and modeled lighting. Everything in Man Wanted is fitted to Kay’s screen persona, and her teaming with David Manners provided moviegoers the opportunity to watch one of the most attractive onscreen couples of the time. Though not entirely clever or unique, critical reviews for Man Wanted were surprisingly favorable. Street of Women (1932) followed. The film can largely be considered the movie that solidified Kay’s importance in the fashion world of that time. Paramount had given Kay some clever creations, and Man Wanted gave her the opportunity to be stylish and professional, but in Street of Women she plays the owner of a dress salon and wears some of the most breath-taking costumes one will ever see in a 1930s movie.

onewaypassagesmall0914Her career hit a critical peak with her four following movies. Jewel Robbery and One Way Passage (both 1932) marked Kay’s final parings with William Powell. The first opportunity was given to Kay when Barbara Stanwyck proved unavailable (CR). A clever comedy about a crook and stylish sophisticate, the film was one of the most daring movies of its time, and Kay’s kittenish performance was well received by critics (CR). One Way Passage was a well-made weepy about a dying heiress and a condemned criminal. Biographers Lynn Kear and John Rossamn thought the film was “one of the best arguments for Kay being considered one of Hollywood’s greats.” The film garnered Kay a Photoplay award for “Best Performance of the Month” (BF).

Paramount next requested Kay’s services for the first time since her departure from the studio. Her assignment was the lead in Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble In Paradise (1932). Considered to be one of the greatest pictures ever made, Trouble In Paradise is a film that never fails to entertain. “Miriam Hopkins may have received first billing on the credit card,” wrote a critic for the Los Angeles Evening Herald Express, “but Kay Francis, borrowed from Warner Bros., steals the honors. And what a lovely little thief she is!” (CR) The film marked the peak in Kay’s career, and while she certainly rose to a higher status over the course of the next four years, it can easily be said that Trouble In Paradise was the most important picture Kay Francis ever made. Cynara (1932), Kay’s final release of the year, was another teaming with Ronald Colman for a Samuel Goldwyn production at United Artists. A major success of its time, Cynara, along with One Way Passage and Trouble In Paradise, was considered by critics to be one of the must-see movies of that year (BF).

William Powell was Warner Bros. original choice to play Kay’s leading man in The Keyhole (1933), but a contract dispute caused Powell to pack his bags and move over to MGM. Replaced with George Brent, the Francis/Brent chemistry caused a response from audiences almost immediately (as the William Powell/Myrna Loy pairings at MGM caused a more celebrated chemistry). With her new leading man beside her, it was Kay Francis who was the box office name that drew the money in. In the past, Kay had often found herself in the role of Powell’s girlfriend or love interest, but now she was starring in Kay Francis vehicles, tailor made for herself to be front and center. Storm at Daybreak (1933) was her last loan out to another studio (this time to Metro Goldwyn Mayer for what was a Greta Garbo reject). The World War I drama might not have been spectacular, but it’s a good movie with Kay, Walter Huston, and Nils Asther all rising to top form.

The last three Kay Francis movies of 1933 included Mary Stevens, M.D., I Loved a Woman, and The House on 56th Street. Mary Stevens allowed Kay to portray an independent female doctor on the screen in one of her better films. I Loved a Woman was a shoddy Edward G. Robinson tale about an adulterer in the meatpacking industry. The House on 56th Street is hands down the best of the whole bunch. Many point to this film, a Ruth Chatterton reject, as being the movie that made Kay Francis a household name (BF).

mandalay0604Mandalay (1934) is a Pre-Code classic about a woman (Kay) sold into prostitution by her lover (Ricardo Cortez), then murders him and gets away with it (CW). Reviews were tepid, and Ruth Chatterton had turned down the material, but Kay made it into one of her most enjoyed movies. Wonder Bar (1934) was structured like Grand Hotel (1932) in a different form. Instead of a truly “all-star cast,” the movie was highlighted with big names like Kay Francis, Dick Powell, Dolores Del Rio, and Ricardo Cortez who ended up just playing second fiddle to a faded Al Jolson, then on a serious decline as a box office star. Kay’s appearance in the film was limited, and Wonder Bar was the first time Kay publicly complained about her casting (PL). Doctor Monica (1934), well received financially when first released, was a critical bomb.

Her importance at Warner Bros. was highlighted by the success of her movies. Mandalay earned $619,000 with a profit of $83,462. Dr. Monica earned $434,000 with a profit of $70,962. Wonder Bar, which had Kay top billed over the all-star cast, earned $2,035,000 with a profit of $756,962. Ruth Chatterton’s Female earned $451,000 with a net loss of $6,615. Bette Davis’ Ex-Lady earned only $283,000 with a profit of $60,385. So anyone who wanted to underestimate Kay Francis as a top Warner Bros. star at the time need only look at the box office receipts from her movies. Bette Davis was still a B movie star, Ruth Chatterton was on the wane, and Kay was taking over for the top female position at the studio. And by the end of 1934, Chatterton’s contract ended with no option for renewal. As for Davis, Of Human Bondage (1934), her most famous film of the year, grossed only $592,000 with a loss of $45,000 (SISF). Kay’s position in Hollywood at the time was greater than both stars.

Professionally she was about to really hit her stride, but her personal life was a complete mess. Kay’s marriage to Kenneth MacKenna was ending when 1934 rolled around. After months of tension and explosive arguments, Kay and Kenneth divorced on February 21. She began an affair With Maurice Chevalier soon after her split from MaKenna, but not even a new lover could make things better for Kay. On May 16 she attempted suicide by slitting her wrists with broken glass (PL). Almost dying after losing nearly two quarts of blood, she was rescued by her maid who called an emergency ambulance. Ironically, Kay’s suicide attempt occurred during the filming of her most prestigious movie for Warner Bros. thus far, British Agent (1934), proving that fame and fortune were not the real keys to happiness.

Feeling hopeless in her personal life, her attitude and depression found their way into her career as well. As a result, Kay began settling for assignments turned down by lesser stars. The House on 56th Street, Mandalay, and Doctor Monica were Ruth Chatterton rejects. British Agent and her role in Wonder Bar had been turned down by Barbara Stanwyck. On the contrary, Living on Velvet (1935), her next movie, was handpicked for her by Jack Warner (PL). The only notable aspects of the film were Kay’s second teamings with George Brent and Warren William, and the fact that Kay’s wardrobe was the real draw of the picture. The trailer literally showed a montage of the Orry-Kelly gowns worn by Kay throughout the film. Stranded (1935) was Kay’s third pairing with George Brent and the only movie of Kay’s screenwriter Delmer Daves [her lover at the time] worked on. The Goose and the Gander (1935) was a real departure for her, and one of Kay’s most delightful comedies. The film can easily be referred to as the best of the Kay Francis-George Brent pairings.

With a turning point in Hollywood underway, Kay Francis reached the peak of her popular success over the next three years. Movie attendances were back up to pre-Great Depression numbers, and Kay’s importance at Warner Bros. was solidified with the success of her next movie, I Found Stella Parish (1935). A major hit with audiences of the time, Variety thought the film was a “Powerful story of an actress and mother love. For Kay Francis I Found Stella Parish is an ideal vehicle. She is one of the screen’s most charming women, and as Stella Parish of the London stage she is always a cameo of film loveliness” (BF).

whiteangel1211111With a new-found confidence in the talent of their top female star, Warner Bros. made their only opportunity to garner her recognition from the Academy Awards with a movie biography about Florence Nightingale titled, The White Angel (1936). Censorship problems ruined what could have been an excellent script (BF). After the success of The Story of Louis Pasteur (1935), Jack and Harry Warner wanted an immediate prestigious follow-up to the outstanding Paul Muni masterpiece. The San Francisco Chronicle commented, “Kay Francis is beautiful enough and glamorous enough to transcend the monotony of a nurse’s uniform. And, by the way, that is something few Hollywood actresses can do…One other woman on the screen completely dominates the situation by merit of her light and spirit, and that woman is Garbo” (BF).

The New York Times highly praised The White Angel, finding Kay’s performance “sincere and eloquent” (CR). Earnings for the film were $1,416,000, impressive, but fault with the film was in the script. Unlike Greta Garbo’s Queen Christina (1934) or Norma Shearer’s Marie Antoinette (1938) the film had an empty story with no elaborate costumes or settings (though the lack of Hollywood glamour provided a more realistic touch to the film, which took place on the battlefront of possibly the bloodiest war in history). “I shudder when I think of that one,” Kay said two years later (PL).

Give Me Your Heart (1936) was a complete turnaround. The major success of the movie proved that it was not Kay who was responsible for the failure of The White Angel, but a lack of care from the screenwriters on the Warner Bros. lot. After the release of Stolen Holiday (1937; Kay’s only movie with Claude Rains) and Another Dawn (1937; Kay’s only movie with Errol Flynn), Variety listed the top ten most popular female motion picture stars: Myrna Loy, Loretta Young, Claudette Colbert, Ginger Rogers, Alice Faye, Kay Francis, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Jeanette MacDonald, and Janet Gaynor. Her position as the sixth most popular leading lady in Hollywood was made more official with a major salary increase (BF). Now receiving $5,200 weekly, Kay topped the Warner Bros. payroll for both 1936 and ’37, earning more than her boss, producer Hal B. Wallis (PL).

confession0812Confession (1937) can arguably be written off as the last great movie Kay Francis ever appeared in. At the time the public reception was slightly distant. The film’s European touch proved an ineffective accomplishment in the eyes of critics at the time. A scene-for-scene remake of Mazurka (1935), the production of Confession was a complete mess. Director Joe May screened the film regularly on the set and even kept a stopwatch to match the scenes up perfectly (CR). More than once did Kay walk off the set, and Joe May never made another movie for Warner Bros., even after the so-so success of the film.

In an effort to lift her sprits, Jack Warner allowed Kay the opportunity for comic relief. The chosen property was First Lady (1937), a film adaptation of the great Broadway success. “I am so tired of suffering for my art,” Kay told an interviewer. “For picture after picture I’ve had to shed buckets of tears over my little child or my poor, thwarted lover or something. I’m sick to death of crying” (PL). Unfortunately, the failure of the movie was like a knife in the back for her, and after being replaced in Tovarich (1937) by Claudette Colbert, Kay Francis filed suit against Warner Bros. on September 4, 1937.

The Town’s Epitome of Glamour was ready for war against the toughest studio in town.

Sources:
(BF): Kay Francis: I Can’t Wait to Be Forgotten, Scott O’Brien, 2006, BearManor Media.
(CR): The Complete Kay Francis Career Record, Lynn Hear & John Rossman, 2008, McFarland.
(CW): Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood, Mick LaSalle, 2000, Thomas Dunne.
(PL) Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career, Kear & Rossman, 2006, McFarland.
(SISF) Sin in Soft Focus, Mark A. Vieira, 1999, Abrams.

A Kay Francis Biography…

I Found Kay Francis | One-Way Passage to Stardom | Queen of Warner Bros.

Her Fall and Rise | Later Years, Death & Legacy