Xenia. A character in 1937’s Confessionwhich is played by Veda Ann Borg. In the film, during the flashback sequences, the character is envious of Kay’s character’s flirtation with the one played by Basil Rathbone. Though she has no spoken dialogue in the film, director Joe May cuts to the character to show her angrily staring down Kay’s several times. When Kay leaves to meet Basil Rathbone to tell him to leave her alone after he raped her, the last time Xenia is shown is sitting outside Rathbone’s apartment sipping coffee.
Trivia: Borg later had a part in Wife Wanted (1946), which turned out to be Kay’s last film. In the film she has quite a bit of talking as the villainous woman who runs the “friendship club.”
Yellowstone Lake Hotel. In 1907, Joe Gibbs, Kay’s father, briefly managed the hotel when he was between jobs. It’s not sure whether or not Kay and her mother were still living with him at the time, though it’s known she did last see him around the 1907/1908 time frame. The hotel was built in 1890 in the National Park.
Young, Loretta. When Variety listed the 10 most popular actresses in Hollywood in 1937, Young’s name was second on the list. Kay’s was sixth. Young was at Warner Bros. in the early 1930s when Kay was beginning her contract with them, though the two were never considered for the same roles.
Young, Roland. (November 11, 1887 – June 5, 1953) English character actor who worked with Kay in 1932’s Street of Women and 1936’s Give Me Your Heart. Perhaps he’s best known for his work in the Topper films.
Youth Has It’s Fling (1929). A Victor Schertzinger Production. Based on a story by William Robson, II, the film was one of Kay’s scheduled projects for the 1929-1930 Paramount movie season.
An advertisement for the production, shown at left (click for a larger view), appeared in the Motion Picture Herald in 1929.
The cast included Jean Hersholt, Fay Wray, and Phillips Holmes.
[Webmaster’s note: I’m not sure how far exactly production went underway before the project was abandoned.]
Zanuck, Darryl F. Began employment with Warner Bros. around 1924, eventually rising in position to head of production in 1931. It was then when Zanuck helped lure Kay, William Powell, and Ruth Chatterton away from Paramount Studios to Warners. When Chatterton and Powell’s films didn’t become the big hits Warner Bros. expected, the two were basically shown the door while Kay was groomed for major stardom (Powell’s move to MGM of course achieved this for him, too).
Considering he was Kay’s boss for her first couple of years at Warner Bros. (until he left to manage Twentieth Century-Fox around 1934), Zanuck had an enormous role in producing her first films for the studio, which are still evident in his notes to her directors.
On April 11, 1932, Zanuck wrote the following note to William Dieterle, who was directing Jewel Robbery at the time: “We want to watch out and be very careful in our scenes between Powell and Kay Francis that they are not too overly-polite and not played too ultra-sophisticated. We want to keep them sincere and human and very real at every moment and not have the feel that they are just putting on a performance for each other’s benefit.”
After Zanuck became manager at Twentieth Century-Fox, he was in charge of the production of Charley’s Aunt (1941), which was one of the most financially successful films Kay ever appeared in. Zanuck also had other roles he wanted Kay to appear in (BF).
Warner Bros. Kay’s employment at the studio began when she signed her contract with them on January 21, 1931. This was part of a “raid on Paramount” in which Kay, William Powell, and Ruth Chatterton were lured to switch with lucrative contracts. It was not until January 11, 1932 she actually began working at the studio. When she first arrived there, the roster of stars included several names that (despite being legendary today) were mostly unknown. These names included James Cagney, Paul Muni, and Bette Davis.
Initially, Ruth Chatterton was viewed as the big female name. When Chatterton, Powell, and Kay signed with Warner Bros., their salaries were $8,000, $6,000, and $4,000 a week, respectively. Almost immediately, studio executives realized it was Kay, not Chatterton or Powell, who was providing the studio with the biggest box office receipts. As a result, only a mere two years later Chatterton and Powell were released from the studio. Kay stayed on, emerging as the first true female star groomed by Warner Bros.
After Kay left following her contract dispute with the studio, she worked for Warner Bros. only once more in Always in My Heart (1942). There were rumors in the early 1940s she would return as a contract star, and at least one project was publicly announced for her to appear in, but plans for this fell through.
Warren, Gloria. Young starlet who was signed by Warner Bros. to rival the success of the Deanna Durbin pictures at Universal (one of which, 1940’s It’s a Date, Kay appeared in). When Walter Huston and Kay were cast in Always in My Heart (1942), Warren was also unfortunately cast and her ridiculous operatic singing ruined the entire film. Her career hit the skids shortly after that.
Webb, Millard. Director of 1929’s Gentlemen of the Press. Kay actually had two strikes against her for her casting: first, he wanted a blonde and second, he feared her grey eyes wouldn’t film well. The two became an item during the production of the film, but it ended when Kay went out to Hollywood a few months later.
Kay’s generous donation to Westmore has a funny story to it. When Perc and his brothers ran out of money for the store, he was informing Kay while preparing her for a day’s shooting of Stranded. “Right then and there, with one eyelash on an the other still in Perc’s hand, Kay reached into her purse, brought out her checkbook, tore out a blank check, signed her name at the bottom of it, and told Perc to fill out whatever amount he needed. He filled in $25,000, rushed to his decorators with the money, and the job was completed on schedule” (PL).
When Ladies Meet (1933).Kay was one of the original considered actresses for the part in the film which eventually went to Myrna Loy.
When the Daltons Rode. Universal, 1940. Directed by George Marshall. Based on the book by Emmett Dalton. Starring Randolph Scott, George Bancroft, Broderick Crawford, and Kay. She plays the Western woman who comes in-between Scott and Crawford. Despite being definitely a B-Western, the film is surprisingly one of her better freelance roles, though it was a part any actress could have played.
White Angel, The.Warner Bros., 1936. Directed by William Dieterle. The film features Kay as the real-life Florence Nightingale. There seems to be some discrepancy over the success of the film. Producer Hal B. Wallis later wrote of the movie, “We weren’t too happy with the picture. The White Angel was well-directed, but miscast, and Kay Francis lost the box office she once had. It was one of our box office failures.”
This sounds like a possibility, but when the webmaster for this website was acquiring the Kay Francis box office receipts from her Warner Bros. films, The White Angel made more money than any other she ever appeared in for the studio with only two exceptions: Wonder Bar (1934, which was really an Al Jolson film) and Always in My Heart (1942, which made the bulk of its total gross in foreign markets). It also was on the list of the top-ten highest grossing films for Warner Bros. that year.
Kay later admitted she had her own regrets about the film in 1938 when she stated “I shudder when I think of that one” (PL).
Edward G. Robinson, who worked with Kay in I Loved a Woman (1933), thought highly of her work in White Angel. He later wrote in his book, “…I saw her play Florence Nightingale. You cannot imagine a more ludicrous piece of casting—Miss Francis with her Upper West Side New York Accent playing an English nurse in the Crimean War and defying British field marshals. And, by God, she made it stick. Hurrah for her!”
White Cross Hospital.This is where Kay received her treatments following her overdose of sleeping pills and burns from leaning against a radiator in January 1948.
Wife Wanted. Monogram, 1946. Directed by Phil Karlson. Produced by Jeffery Bernerd and Kay Francis. Based on the novel Wife Wanted: An Unusual Human Story by Robert E. Callahan. This turned out to be Kay’s final movie. She was offered a few more parts after this, but none ever materialized. She plays a faded movie star who gets involved with a shoddy real estate firm that’s tied up with a scandalous “friendship club”…
Women Are Like That. Warner Bros., 1938. Directed by Stanley Logan. Produced by Robert Lord (who also wrote A Dangerous Brunette, which was made as Man Wanted). Based off of the story Return from Limbo. This was the only movie Kay made with Pat O’Brien, who later spoke highly of Kay. George Brent turned down the Pat O’Brien role, perhaps because Ralph Forbes was also in the cast. (Brent and Forbes were both married to Ruth Chatterton. Both had already worked with Kay in 1935’s Goose and the Gander, which they were distant through much of filming.)
The film was made during Kay’s lawsuit with the studio. Despite having a story which is almost non-existent, the film does have solid production values. This would be the last Kay Francis movie made for Warner Bros. with any prestige.
Women in the Wind. Warner Bros., 1939. Directed by John Farrow. Based on a novel by Francis Walton. Kay’s last film as a Warner Bros. contract star. She plays a female aviator trying to get money for her brother’s operation.
On the set Kay gave her now notorious interview to Dick Mook, “I Can’t Wait to be Forgotten,” which appeared in the March 1939 issue of Photoplay.
Wonder Bar. Warner Bros., 1934. Directed by Lloyd Bacon. Musical numbers by Busby Berkeley. Starring Al Jolson, Kay, Dolores Del Rio, Dick Powell, and Ricardo Cortez. The film marked the first time Kay complained publicly about a film assignment from Warner Bros. Aggravated her role was cut down to expand Del Rio’s, she said, “Frankly, I did not want to take part in that picture. I made no secret of my dissatisfaction with my role. It was a small, inconsequential part, and I believe (and I still believe) that I should not have been forced, by my contract, to play it.”
Vamp. A sexy, seductive (and usually scheming and manipulative) type of character which Kay was typecast in during her early film years. “I don’t want to be a bad woman in too many pictures in succession. Too much glamour, too much sin, repeated often, becomes monotonously dull. I’m speaking now about the screen, of course!” (PL)
Veiller, Bayard. In October 1927 Kay appeared in the Veiller comedy “Amateur Anne.” Later, he worked on the screenplay for 1931’s Guilty Hands, one of her best early films. Other notable works include two of his writings, The Trial of Mary Dugan (made into a 1929 film with Norma Shearer) and Within the Law (made into a 1930 film titled Paid, with Joan Crawford).
Vinson, Helen. (September 17, 1907 – October 7, 1999) Supporting actress who worked with Kay in 1932’s Jewel Robberyand in 1939’s In Name Only as Kay’s two-faced friend sleeping with her onscreen husband, Cary Grant (before his affair with Lombard begins in the film).
Virtuous Sin, The. Paramount, 1931. Directed by George Cukor and Louis Gasnier. Kay’s second film with Walter Huston. Her only film with husband Kenneth Mackenna. They met on the set and married the following year.
Cukor of course became famous for directing nearly all of the major actresses of the time, while Gasnier later directed cult films like Reefer Madness. (Odd pairing, right?)
UCLA Film & Television Archive. Very important to stars like Kay who did their work in films which are not owned by Turner Entertainment, who showcases many films on Turner Classic Movies. The only known partial copy ofIllusionexists in this archive, and they were also responsible for restoring many of the lost color sequences to Paramount on Parade (1930).
In regards to the latter, the color film which shows Kay was one of the segments restored for the film. Unfortunately, the soundtrack for her appearance no longer exists. This color appearance is the only time Kay appeared in color on film.
United Artists. Founded in 1919 by D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford in order to produce and release films without the restrictions or work demands of the major studios. Far ahead of its time, the organization really was the first introduction of the freelance work method which would become more popular by artists like Kay who refused to sign (or couldn’t secure) studio contracts for full-time employment in Hollywood.
Two movies Kay Francis appeared in were released through UA, 1930’s Raffles& 1932’s Cynara. Both were produced by Samuel Goldwyn and both teamed Kay with Ronald Colman. Goldwyn, who liked Kay, wanted to cast her in Dodsworth (1936), which was released through UA. Unfortunately, Warner Bros.refused to loan Kay out for the part.
The latter episode is part of what made United Artists a sort-of “safe-haven” for actors like Kay who didn’t care too much for the studio’s idea of what stardom was and just wanted to work (and make money).
Universal Pictures.After her Warner Bros. contract, Kay seemed to be flipping back and forth between assignments at Universal and RKO. See the Films Page for the exact order of the projects she completed for both.
Though most remembered for her long-suffering drama roles, with the exception of 1940’s When the Daltons Rhode (a Western), all of the other films Kay completed for the studio were comedies.
Tarnished Lady. This 1931 film starring Kay’s pal Tallulah Bankhead had scenes which were filmed in St. Thomas Episcopal Church. This is the same location where Kay married James Dwight Francis on December 4, 1922, and where her name “Kay Francis” came from (her birth name was Katharine Edwina Gibbs).
Tashman, Lilyan.(October 23, 1896 – March 21, 1934) Kay’s costar in 1929’s Marriage Playground and 1931’s Girls About Town. Outrageous, outspoken Hollywood lesbian (though she was married to a male actor who was also a homosexual), she and Kay were good friends in the early 1930s, and hyped up by Paramount as fashion rivals (PL).
Her career was cut short from cancer, which led to her early death in 1934.
Teasdale, Verree. (March 15, 1903 – February 17, 1987) Wonderful blonde character actress who worked with Kay in 1934’s Dr. Monicaand 1937’s First Lady. In the latter, she and Kay played two women in competition to get their husbands to be President of the United States so they could obtain the title of “First Lady.”
Kay was considered for the role in The Firebird which Teasdale eventually obtained.
Thalberg, Irving.MGM’s Chief of Production and social pal of Kay’s until his early death in September 1936. Kay frequently socialized with him and his wife (actress Norma Shearer). After his death, Kay remained close friends with her.
Tobin, Genevieve.Worked with Kay in 1933’s I Loved a Womanand 1935’s Goose and the Gander. Tobin felt Kay was stuck-up. She later said, “I always felt like she snubbed me, and at first I thought it was mean of her. But later I decided that behind those velvety, tragic eyes there must have been some very tragic thing that made it so she couldn’t really be friends with anyone. I went to a party at her home when she was married to Ken MacKenna—whom we all loved and admired—but even then there was friction in the air. I couldn’t understand her.”
It seems as though people were equally divided about Kay’s social abilities (see the Douglas Fairbanks Jr. entry for a quote about how Kay brightened parties with her social wit). It’s possible since there was so much friction between Kay and MacKenna, and Tobin “loved and admired” him, that Kay became spiteful over Tobin’s high opinions of Kay’s soon to be ex-husband.
Tony’s.A club where Kay often used to socialize in her pre-filmmaking days. This is where she was rumored to have been “discovered” by Ward Morehouse, writer for 1929’s Gentlemen of the Press, Kay’s film debut. Morehouse later said, “And in the haze of that famous backroom we found Kay Francis. She was resting comfortably behind a Tom Collins. She was tall, dark, and interesting-looking but had made far more appearances at Tony’s than she had on the Broadway stage…Her career began that very day.”
Tovarich.This 1937 Warner Bros. film was the leading cause for her lawsuit with the studio. Kay was promised the part, but it was given to Claudette Colbert (see the Colbertentry for more info). Considering the film wasn’t a thrilling success by any means, author Scott O’Brien rightfully pointed out: “If Kay had been expecting Tovarich to be another Trouble in Paradise, she was mistaken. What could have been much ado about nothing was practically a death knoll for Kay’s career. What transpired next [the lawsuit with WB in the fall of 1937], left a bitter memory that would follow Kay for the rest of her life.” (BF)
Transgression.RKO, 1931. Directed by Herbert Brenon. Based on the play The Next Corner by Kate Jordan. Soap-opera film with Kay which paired her for the first time with Ricardo Cortez. Cortez also appeared in the 1924 film version of the same story. Transgression also had actress Nance O’Neil, who was rumored to be in a one-time lesbian affair with accused ax-murderess Lizzie Borden.
Trouble in Paradise.Paramount, 1932. Produced and directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Based on the play “The Honest Finder” by Aladar Laszlo. Regarded by many critics to be the finest film Kay Francis ever appeared in (though not in the opinion of this site’s webmaster, however). Miriam Hopkins and Herbert Marshall star in this film with Kay. Although Kay was the highest-paid star in the film, she did not received top-billing. This may be in part to her leaving Paramountto work for Warner Bros.
Two stories exist about Kay’s casting in the film. The first tells that, in order to avoid a lawsuit from Paramount, Warner Bros. agreed to loan Kay to the studio to make the film after luring her, Ruth Chatterton, and William Powell to their lot. The second, which was defended by Kay herself, says that she wanted to do a Lubitsch picture so bad, she even delayed her honeymoon with Kenneth MacKenna in order to make it. This was considered by many to be an example of Kay’s addiction to making money.
Of this story, Kay said, “The money didn’t matter; the money had absolutely nothing to do with it. I proved that because shortly before Lubitsch asked for me, I had an offer of another picture on the Paramount lot. The same sum of money was involved. I turned it down. But when it came to working for Lubitsch, when I weighed my honeymoon against the honor this meant, against the things I would learn under his direction—well, Lubitsch won.” (PL)
This quote sort-of defends both stories. Though it has never been revealed what the other movie was Paramount wanted Kay to appear in, it seems likely Warner Bros. was loaning her to them anyway to avoid legal repercussions from their actions. And it just so happens the Lubitsch offer came around at the same time.
This is the only movie Kay made which is, as of 2014, listed under the National Film Registry’s list of protected films.
Turner Classic Movies.Launched April 14, 1994. This cable-television channel has had more influence over the popularity of classic films more than any other outlet for fans. A tribute to Kay was done one her birthday on January 13, 2004, and has been done again at least two more times since. In September 2008, Kay Francis was their Star of the Month, which was a month-long tribute to Kay and her films.
It was through TCM that many fans (Lynn Kear, this site’s webmaster) discovered Kay Francis.
(My personal note: Without TCM, this website wouldn’t exist, as I never would have heard of her.)
24 Hours.Paramount, 1931. Directed by Marion Gering. Based on the novel by Louis Bromfield and the play by William C. Lengle. Kay stars in the film with Clive Brook & Miriam Hopkins which takes place in a timeframe of one entire day in the lives of very unhappy people. The film, with its very early noir feel, is perhaps the best dramatic film Kay ever made under contract to Paramount.
Saunders, John Monk. Author of The Judas Tree, the play which was filmed with Kay as I Found Stella Parish.
Scandal Sheet. Paramount, 1931. Directed by John Cromwell. George Bancroft,Clive Brook, and Kay star in this film based on the life of Charles Chapin, a former editor for the New York Evening World. Chapin murdered his wife and was sent to Sing Sing where he died on December 12, 1930, around the time production on Scandal Sheet was wrapping up.
Secrets of an Actress. Warner Bros., 1938. Directed by William Kieghley. This film was actually produced before her previous released film, My Bill, but was shelved and released about 8 months later. This was Kay’s last movie with George Brent. One of the weakest films Kay ever made, Motion Picture noted that, “If Vitagraph wants to kill off Kay Francis, they are doing a swell job of it. More walkouts than we have seen in some time…”
Selznick, David O. Producer who is widely recognized as making Kay Francis a star at Paramount with Street of Chance and For the Defense, as well as other films. Later, when Selznick was casting the part of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, he considered Kay as a possibility.
Shearer, Norma. One of the most important stars in the 1930s when she was the Queen of MGM, and their First Lady of the Screen. Kay socialized frequently with Shearer and her husband, Irving Thalberg. After his premature death, the two remained close. When Warner Bros. purchased the rights to First Lady, Shearer was considering the potential star. When she turned the property down, it went to Kay instead.
Sherman, Vincent.A producer for Warner Bros. who worked on several of Kay’s final films for the studio. He wrote in his autobiography of her mistreatment at the studio, that he liked Kay, and they he admired her for standing up to Jack Warner over the disagreement about her employment with the studio.
Skelly, Hal.Vaudevillian who was the star of 1930’s Behind the Make-Up, which Kay had a small role in opposite William Powell (in their first film together).
Skipworth, Alison.Appeared in Rafflesas a society woman but had a bigger, more appealing role as Kay’s best friend in Stolen Holiday.
Stanwyck, Barbara. One of the first freelance actresses in Hollywood, but had a contract with Warner Bros. when Kay was first signed. The two were pinned against each other for some roles which Kay eventually got. These included Dr. Monica and Wonder Bar. No word on their personal opinions of one another.
Stolen Holiday. Warner Bros., 1937. Directed by Michael Curtiz. Kay stars as a Parisian model of American decent who gets wrapped up in a world of trouble influenced by Claude Rains. Ian Hunterand Alison Skipworth also star.
Storm at Daybreak. MGM, 1933. Directed by Richard Boleslavsky. Stars Kay, Walter Huston, and Nils Asther in a World War I drama which was rejected by Greta Garbowho made Queen Christina instead.
Storm at Daybreak page.
Stranded. Warner Bros., 1935. Directed by Frank Borzage. Kay’s reunited with George Brent as a traveler’s aid agent who loves Brent involved in a union scandal regarding the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Before Kay went on a vacation, she told interviewers she was most excited about the film and considered it one of the better she had made in some time (BF). Her boyfriend Delmer Daves worked on the script (which may have been why she was in favor of it).
Street of Chance. Paramount, 1930. Produced by David O. Selznick. Directed by John Cromwell. Based on the life of Arnold Rothstein, William Powell and Kay star in their second movie together. Many point to Street of Chance as the film which made Kay Francis a star.
Street of Women.Warner Bros., 1932. Directed by William Dieterle. Kay’s second movie for Warner Bros. and the film which made her an important name in the fashion world, as she plays the owner of her own dress shop. Roland Young and Gloria Stuart also star.
Raffles. Samuel Goldwyn, 1930. Released through United Artists. Directed by Harry D’Arrast & George Fitzmaurice. Based on the novel The Amateur Craftsman by Ernest William Hornung. Ronald Colman plays the chic London jewel thief with Kay playing his charming girlfriend. Goldwyn wanted the picture to be more of a love story than one of crime and criminals. Bette Davis tested for the role and was rejected. The movie was one of the most successful films of the year. F. Scott Fitzgerald helped work on the screenplay but was not credited in the film.
The property had been filmed in 1905, 1910, 1914, 1917, 1920, 1932, 1939, and 1960, but this 1930 version is widely recognized as the best film adaptation. Other actors who played Raffles include John Barrymore and David Niven in 1920 and 1939, respectively.
Kay and Ronald Colman had an affair during filming, and rumors spread they would marry.
Rains, Claude.Extremely popular British character actor who hit his peak at Warner Bros. in the 1930s and 40s. His role opposite Kay in 1937’s Stolen Holiday marked the first of 10 films he would make with director Michael Curtiz. Being shorter than Kay, he was forced to stand on a box during their scenes together. One of his best films made before his Warner years includes 1933’s Invisible Man. His movies with Bette Davis were especially well made.
Rains Came, The. 1939 Twentieth Century-Fox film adaptation of the Louis Bromfield novel. Kay was a top contender for the leading part that eventually went to Myrna Loy. (Unfortunate because it would have been a perfect role for Kay.)
Rathbone, Basil. British actor perhaps best remembered for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. Rathbone played the Italian musician who sexy-vamp Kay seduces in 1930’s A Notorious Affair. In 1937’s Confession he again played a musician, but this time as a sleazy composer who rapes Kay, who kills him afterwards. Kay frequently socialized with Rathbone and his wife. It was at one of their parties where she met Greta Garbo, one of her personal favorites.
RKO. Studio where the first true “Kay Francis film” was made: 1931’s Transgression. Kay would appear in several more films for the studio after her employment with Warner Bros.
Robinson, Edward G. Kay’s leading man in 1933’s I Loved a Woman. Being shorter than Kay, Robinson had to stand on a box in their love scenes. He later spoke very highly of her talent in his autobiography, All My Yesterdays.
Rogers, Ginger.Popular movie star best known for her dancing opposite Fred Astaire. When she held a roller skating party she bragged to reporters it was one of the best Hollywood parties ever thrown. Kay contrasted Rogers’ claims by noting in her diary of how boring it was.
Rosenbloom, Maxie.One of the most popular boxers of his generation. He was also one of the first men who were active in sports to transition to Hollywood films when his boxing career began to dwindle. He had a good part opposite Kay in 1939’s Women in the Wind, her last film under contract to Warner Bros.
Rothstein, Arnold.Real life crime boss who the character William Powell played in Street of Chance was based.
Russell, Rosalind. One of the most popular female movie actresses of the time when Kay appeared opposite her in The Feminine Touch. Russell liked Kay, and remembered her insightfulness about Russell’s position in Hollywood (and in life):
One night at Jack Warner’s…a bunch of us where in the powder room—which was a whole suite—and I heard Kay Francis say, “No, Roz is in Hollywood, but she’s not part of it.” I said, “What the hell does that mean?” “It means you work here,” she said, “but you’re not part of Hollywood, and you never will be.” …I came to realize [Kay] was right. I never wanted the kind of life in which you dedicated your whole being to acting, and preparing for acting and meeting only the people who could advance your acting career. I wanted a home, a husband, children, a variety of experience. I wasn’t willing to pay the price of superstardom, and my unwillingness made me very cautious.
Quirk, Lawrence J. Long-time Hollywood writer/critic who said of 1933’s House on 56th Street, “[the film] contains Kay Francis’ finest performance, in the type of role that made her a household name in the 1930s.”
Paramount Pictures. The first studio which employed Kay from 1929 through January 1932. When Kay first signed with the studio, she was working at the Paramount Astoria Studios in Queens, New York. After completing her first two movies there, they brought her out to Hollywood. At first, surprisingly, Kay didn’t want to go. When she did arrive the publicity department declared, “Her striking brunette beauty, her ability to wear clothes as well as her mellow voice won her a contract with a ticket to Hollywood” (PL).
A big blow occurred in January 1931 when Kay, William Powell, and Ruth Chatterton jumped ship by signing with Warner Bros.“They were stolen from under my nose,” producer Jesse L. Lasky recalled (RC). Columnist Hubbard Keavy wrote, “The loss of Powell and Miss Francis didn’t bother Paramount officials much, but the expected loss of Chatterton, the money maker, caused them some dismay.”
Paramount filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros., but a mutual decision was reached upon when Kay would be loaned out to Paramount for one more movie, Trouble in Paradise (1932).
In retrospect, it’s clear to see Paramount had no real plans to develop Kay into a sensational star. She later echoed this when she switched to Warner Bros., “I feel I owe [Warner Bros.] a great deal. After all, they made a star out of me. When I was with Paramount I was only playing featured roles. That feeling of gratitude is one reason I haven’t complained more over some of the roles given to me.”
Parish, James Robert. Long-time Hollywood author. Co-wrote the first retrospect article on Kay Francis in a February 1964 Films in Review issue. He later wrote further about Kay in Hollywood Beauties and The Great Hollywood Love Teams. In the latter, he detailed the Kay Francis-George Brent film made for Warner Bros.
In a foreword for Lynn Kear and John Rossman’s The Complete Kay Francis Career Record in 2008, Parish wrote, “In recent years, 1930s Hollywood movie queen Kay Francis has enjoyed a terrific renaissance—thanks to repeated showcasings of her feature films on cable’s Turner Classic Movies, to the release of DVDs of several of her pictures, and to new books such as this excellent volume covering in great detail the life and career of this glamorous, enigmatic cinema star.”
Some additional information RE Parish and his work on KF from him directly (lifted from a personal email from Parish to me, dated February 3, 2015):
“In The Great Movie Series (A. S. Barnes, 1971)- my first solo book as an author–I dedicated the book to Kay and there is a large photo of her on the dedication page
“In my book Hollywood Divas (Contemporary Books, 2003–the company was taken over by McGraw-Hill) one of the 70 female stars given a mini-chapter in the volume is Kay Francis.”
Parsons, Louella. Hollywood columnist who had a very good relationship with Kay Francis. Kay, who was always leery of the press because of her desire for privacy, spoke openly to Parsons and Dick Mook. Hedda Hopper, not so much.
Passion Flower. MGM, 1930. Directed by William C. de Mille. Based on the novel by Kathleen Norris. Kay, in her first top-billed film, plays the sexy cousin of Kay Johnson, and is out to steal Johnson’s onscreen husband played by Charles Bickford.
On February 1, 1950 Kay helped Powell celebrate his 60th birthday at the 21 Club. But according to Bette Davis, Powell was a bit gossipy over Kay’s sexuality. According to Bette, Powell “went around telling anyone who would listen that she must be a good actress, because she played convincing love scenes with men. What I heard, elsewhere, was that Miss Francis had girlfriends, but only in between husbands” (PL). [My personal note: I don’t really believe it was Powell who was the gossip, I attribute that to Davis. No other source mentions Powell’s opinions of Kay in that way.]
In 1933 Powell was originally slated to play opposite Kay in The Keyhole, while she was slated to play opposite him in The Key. Unfortunately, the two never worked together after One Way Passage, which many point to as their finest film together, and one of the best either actor ever made.
Preminger, Otto.Austrian filmmaker who Kay had a passionate affair with in the mid-1940s. The two met in September, 1942 at a pool party Kay was throwing. When the affair first began, Kay noted of his poor love-making skills. Within two weeks, she was raving about him in her personal diary. (Perhaps he was intimidated by KF.) The affair when on through the end of 1944, when Kay began sleeping with Don King, a handsome pilot she met on a USO Tour.
Production Code, The.Enforced in July 1934 as a way of controlling the content being placed into films. It has been written by many this led to the demise of the careers of many film stars, some of which have included Kay’s name on the list of actors and actresses effected by it. In truth, Kay’s popularity was indeed continuing to rise, and it’s likely the poor stories and relationship with Warner Bros. led to her career decline.
Prudential Family Playhouse.Broadcast on CBS, Kay had a live appearance on this show in November 7, 1950 in “Call It a Day,” which was based on a Warner Bros. film released in 1937. See the Television Page for further information.
Oakie, Jack. (November 12, 1903 – January 23, 1978) Popular larger-than-life comedian back in the 1930s and ‘40s. He and Jeannette MacDonald were the oddly paired leads in 1930’sLet’s Go Native(which featured Kay in a small role) and he had a leading part opposite Kay and George Bancroftin the lackluster 1940’s Little Men. In Native, Kay has one of her rare on-screen songs (which she actually sang) “I’ve Got a Yen for You”, which she sings to Oakie.
Oberon, Merle. Popular leading lady during Kay’s Hollywood years, and one of her social pals. The two were probably introduced via Norma Shearer, who was especially close to Oberon. From her first year in Hollywood, Kay had become close with Irving Thalberg and Shearer. When he died, Kay continued her friendship with Shearer, who, at that time, became especially close to Oberon.
Oberon also appeared in a less-than-successful version of One Way Passage retitled‘Till We Meet Again.
O’Brien, Pat. (November 11, 1899 – October 15, 1983) One of Warner Bros.’ most popular male stars of the 1930s and ‘40s. He worked with Kay in 1938’s Women Are Like That. O’Brien later said of Kay, “One of the most glamorous leading ladies I played opposite was Kay Francis. Not only was she a big dark beautiful creature, but she was endowed with a wonderful sense of humor. I saw Kay a few years ago when I was playing in Falmouth, Massachusetts. She and Eloise [his wife] and I dined together and I reminded her of how completely uninhibited she was” (CR).
Oland, Warner. Swedish-American character actor who played the owner of the Rangoon brothel where Kay is sold to in 1934’s Mandalay.
One Hour of Romance. The original title of Confessionand the title of the sing Kay sings in the sleazy cabaret with the memorable spoken line, “You held me near you, close to your heart. I still can hear you say ‘we never will part.'”
One Way Passage. Warner Bros., 1932. Directed by Tay Garnett. The last, and best, film William Powell and Kay Francis appeared in as a screen team. Passage was one of the most successful films Kay would ever made, and the only one she personally owned a print of that she screened for friends and lovers. The film contained what Kay herself considered some of her most beautiful photography, “And even that was more of a matter of lighting than of my face. It was beautiful because Bob Kurle, the cameraman, took so much time and trouble shifting his camera fifty different ways, experimenting with the lighting and shadow. When I saw that, I felt the one pang of pleasure I’ve ever experienced when I’ve looked at myself on the screen.”
The film was reissued in 1937 and Kay and William Powell also appeared on a radio performance of the story on March 6, 1939. The film was remade a year later with Merle Oberon and George Brent as ‘Till We Meet Again, but was less memorable for critics and audiences. That version was directed by Edmund Goulding, who Kay had a brief affair with in the 1920s.
Orry-Kelly. (December 31, 1897 – February 27, 1964) Suggested as a costume designer for Warner Bros. by Cary Grant. Orry-Kelly was told he’d be hired if—and only if—Ruth Chatterton and Kay approved of his designs. With the exception of 1932 (he arrived at the studio mid-way through the year), he designed all of Kay’s clothes for Warner Bros. and even some for her personal collection. He later remembered Kay as “the essence of good taste” (PL).
Years later, costume designer Dorothy Jeakins remembered the influence of the Kay Francis-Orry-Kelly team, “Kay Francis had an innate sense of style. Tall, dark, and willowy, she showcased some of the top designers in movie history. Her association with Orry-Kelly gave Hollywood and the world true glamour.”
Orry-Kelly believed Kay’s best features were her back and shoulders. Many of her gowns were designed to showcase them.