I CAN’T WAIT TO BE FORGOTTEN—Kay Francis Looks Ahead
By S.R. Mook
PHOTOPLAY, March 1939
“I can’t wait to be forgotten!” Kay Francis said to me.
She was sitting in front of her dressing table, readying herself for the last shot of “Women in the Wind”—her last picture on her contract. It may be the last picture she will ever make. Yet all the resources of a big studio were being marshaled into action to keep her to the end the glamorous figure she has always been.
Today—one of the top stars of the cinema. Tomorrow—just another woman. And here was Kay, welcoming oblivion!
“I can’t wait to be forgotten,” she repeated.
She had said much the same thing to me several months before. Other stars have announced their retirement and have made almost as many returns. Bing Crosby and Clark Gable both told me when their contracts were finished they would never sign another. But both of them resigned before their pacts had even expired.
I had listened politely and unbelievably to Kay’s first outburst and had rejoined carelessly, “You still have three pictures to make. If one of them should turn out to be a smash hit Warners or some other studio would offer you a new contract and you’d sign it.”
“You don’t know baby,” Kay had laughed. “I don’t say I’ll never make another picture because if I should happen to be in Hollywood and some producer offered me a good part I’d jump at it. But as far as another contract or making a career of pictures any more is concerned, I’m through!”
And here she was, the last scene in her last picture about to be shot and still sticking to her guns. One of the three pictures had been a hit, and she had been offered a new contract—and she had turned it down. [Webmaster’s note: The movie was My Bill. The film was so popular Kay did a radio version three years later in 1941 with Warren William, who did not appear in the film.]
“At least,” now I offered, “it’s nice that you’re leaving at the height of your career.”
“Don’t kid me, darling,” she said. “A year ago, yes. But not now. The parade is passing me by—and I don’t care.”
She spoke without bitterness. There was nothing of the “sour grapes” quality in her voice.
I recalled another conversation and I had had with Kay long, long ago. She had had the reputation of being temperamental but, if she is, her outbursts have never taken the form of making things difficult for the studio. She had played in almost an endless succession of pictures other stars have turned down. When I commented on her tractability, she said, “I don’t think a star knows when a story is right for her—or him. We read a script with an eye to our own parts rather than the story as a whole. The studios have done pretty well for me. They’ve made me an important star and they pay me good money. If they put me in poor stories they lessen my box office value and the returns on their investment won’t be so good. Why shouldn’t I rely on their judgment?”
Today, when I recalled this conversation, she said, “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 another year to go. And, even then, I’d have had 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.”
“I have never brandished a sword for the Little Theater Movement. I have never kidded myself about Art for Art’s sake. I went into this business because I thought I could make more money in it than any other.
“A man may manufacture automobiles or tires. He may make better cars or tires than his competitors. The knowledge that he does may be a satisfaction to him, but he doesn’t do it primarily for that reason. He does it because that’s how he can make the most money. After he’s made his pile, if he has any sense, he retires and enjoys it. That’s the way I feel. I hold firmly with the theory advanced in ‘You Can’t Take it With You.’
“I’ve done everything I set out to do and now I’m going to enjoy myself. I’ve given ten years of my life to accumulating enough money to do the things I wanted to do. Ten years of never being able to travel when I wanted to, or go out when I wanted to—because picture schedules always had to be consulted before I could make plans. Now, I’m free!
“My mother’s future is provided for. I built a house for her and furnished it without her knowing anything about it. When it was all done I planned to move her into it on her maid’s day off. The maid, instead of taking the day off, went over to the new house. I had picked up mother’s dogs the day before and told her I was going to take them to the veterinarian to be washed. Instead, I took them to the new house. Then I took mother driving and when we passed the house I said, ‘That’s a cute place. Let’s go in and look at it.’ Her own maid answered the bell. Her dogs jumped up and down in welcome. I had arranged to have her best friend drop in for tea.
“Afterward, the friend stayed with her when I left and I went home to telephone her so the call from me was the first she received in her new place. I established a trust fund for her when I was first began making important money, so she is taken care of.
“As far as I, myself, am concerned, I have just recently built the sort of house I’ve always wanted. It’s what you might call ‘a big little house’ or ‘a little big house.’ It’s all paid for and I have managed to save enough money that I can always keep it up on my income. It isn’t an expensive place to run and the investment isn’t so large I can’t afford to close it up when I want to go away—although I’m thrifty enough to sublet it, probably.”
“What about your forthcoming marriage?” I asked bluntly.
Kay laughed. “I honestly don’t know when it will be. If I did know, I wouldn’t tell you—but I honestly don’t know. When I am married it will be as a private citizen of no consequence. I won’t be in the limelight anymore and there is no reason my wedding should be given more than passing comment. It won’t be immediately, though. I have rented my house because I intended going to Europe. On account of conditions there I am going to take the South Seas cruise instead and when I return I will have to live in an apartment until the lease on my house expires.
“When I built the house I had no intention of being married and now, when the lease expires, it will have to be remodeled slightly in order to provide accommodations for Erik. But whether we’ll be married here in Hollywood, in New York, or eventually, in Europe, I still don’t know.
“We’ll take side trips during the time we’re abroad and of the six months we’re in this country some of the time will be spent in New York (which I adore) and some of the time here in Hollywood.
“I have many friends in New York in no way connected with pictures. When I first came to Hollywood I had outside friends here, too, but it is almost impossible to keep up those friendships when you’re working. When I’ve been in New York it has been on vacations, so I’ve been able to do as I please, but in Hollywood it has been different. I used to have friends in Santa Barbara and San Francisco but I could never see them as often as I wished. Now I can renew all those friendships.
“I’ve been fortunate in acquiring more real friends than most people have. I think they are fond enough of me that they’ll still enjoy seeing me whether I’m prominent or not.”
That last scene had been finished during this conversation and Kay prepared to leave the set. “May I come with you to your dressing room and finish this conversation?” I asked.
Kay looked at me for a moment and her eyes misted.
“I have no dressing room anymore,” she said simply. “I purposely gave it up about a week ago. For the past week I’ve been going to the make-up department every morning and using the dressing room here on the set. I didn’t want to become maudlin or sentimental.
“This is the first picture I’ve finished out here that I haven’t had a party for the cast and crew afterward. But this time is different. I knew I’d start crying and so would some of the others. I didn’t want to say goodbye that way. I want to remember all these people as friends with whom I used to kid—with whom I had swell times. I don’t want to remember them—or have them remember me—with long faces and red eyes. I want to saunter off the lot and out of their lives as casually as though the picture weren’t finished and we’d be meeting again in the morning.”
She faced me suddenly.
“Dick, there is one favor you can do for me. There are three things I would like cleared up before I’m a ‘Forgotten Woman.’ As a private citizen none of them is really important, but the public has been kind and loyal to me and I don’t want to leave it under any misapprehensions. The first thing is my retirement. Please emphasize that I have never-despite anything they made have read to the contrary—said I will never make another picture. I have only said I will never sign another long-term contract. I have no plans for future pictures. I plan to be gone indefinitely and it may be that when I return no one will want me. But, as I told you before, if a producer should offer me a good part when I’m in Hollywood, I’ll jump at it.
The second thing concerns my age. When I first came out here I was under contract to Paramount. I have never been sensitive about my age and was perfectly willing to have it published. But Paramount said, ‘No!’ They merely publicized that I was born on Friday, the 13th of January. Reporters consulted almanacs and found the 13th of January fell in the years 1899 and 1911.
“One made me younger and the other older. They arbitrarily selected 1899 as the year of my birth. Actually it was 1905 and I am 34.
“The last thing concerns my marriages. Reporters insist I have already been married four times and this will be my fifth. When you’ve been married that many times, one more or less doesn’t matter, but I have actually been married three times and this will be my fourth. I’m not trying to make excused for myself but two of those marriages and divorces took place before I was 22. The first was to Dwight Francis, the second to William A. Gaston. My supposed third marriage was to John Meehan, a writer. When this news broke he sent me a kidding wire: “When did all this happen? I must have been asleep or on a trip around the world.” He was dialogue director on my first picture and while we’re good friends we were never married.
“The third marriage was to Kenneth MacKenna, and now this one to Erik Barnekow.”
She held out her hand.
“Good-by, darling,” she whispered huskily. “You’ve been awfully sweet to me. Come and see me when I get back. You—“Suddenly she dropped my hand, turned and ran off the stage—out, into her car.
I watched the car move down the street and out through the studio gates.
My own eyes misted.
A star was dimmed.