Stuart Walker ♦ Hal B. Wallis ♦ Warner Bros. ♦ Gloria Warren ♦ Millard Webb ♦ Vera West ♦ Perc Westmore ♦ When Ladies Meet ♦ When the Daltons Rode ♦ The White Angel ♦ White Cross Hospital ♦ Wife Wanted ♦ Warren William ♦ Windy Hill ♦ Women Are Like That ♦ Women in the Wind ♦ Wonder Bar ♦ Fay Wray
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.
West, Vera. One of the most famous costume designers of Kay’s era. West designed clothes for Kay in all of her freelance films made for Universal: It’s a Date, When the Daltons Rhode, The Man Who Lost Himself, and Between Us Girls.
Westmore, Perc. Makeup man at Warner Bros. Kay provided him the finances to open up his House of Westmore salon, which included an opening ceremony that also included Myrna Loy, Marlene Dietrich, Claudette Colbert, Clara Bow, and Anita Louise as well as Kay on April 16, 1935.
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!”
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”…
Windy Hill. This 1945 play produced by Ruth Chatteron from a story by Patsy Ruth Miller brought Kay Francis back to the stage after an 18 year absence. See the Stage Career page for further information.
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.”
Wray, Fay. Most known for her role in King Kong (1933). Appeared in Behind the Make-Up (1930).