Kay and Pat Are Like That!
“What, the aloof Miss Francis and the genial O’Brien as a love team? Yes—and our exclusive story tells why they liked to work together—much to Hollywood’s surprise.”
Screenland, January 1938
WHAT with feuds and floods and flotsams I have seen in a deal of Unrest in my life, but never an Unrest that could compare with the colossal Hollywood Unrest of 1937. Everybody was sulking about something. Nobody was pleased about anything. Somebody was happy, I guess, but it wasn’t anybody I knew. In the “front offices” there was more stomping of feet than you’ve ever heard West of the Cotton Club. But it wasn’t exactly a Susy Q or a Big Appl. Even if they had consulted a couple of fortune tellers and tried terribly hard Pat and Kay couldn’t have been a worse time to launch a new screen love team in “Women Are Like That.” Everybody said that the fur would fly.
It seems that Kay Francis wanted to play the Grand Duchess in “Tovarich” (so did Garbo who pouted something awful); in fact, Kay claimed the role had been promised to her when she signed her new contract, and so when Claudette Colbert was borrowed for the coveted part Kay, quite annoyed by it all, started suit against her employers, Warner Brothers. And it seems that Pat O’Brien was scheduled to go into “Swing Your Lady” but he didn’t like the script (neither did Joan Blondell who walked right off the set and took a course in hula dancing), and Pat didn’t want to pile up another suspension, so he said holy mackerel and jumping catfish, haven’t you got something else around here I can do? And so with a fugitive from “Swing Your Lady” and a would-be Grand Duchess for its stars you can well imagine that “Women Are Like That” got off to a sour start. Despite the usual heat which came in in scorching gusts from the Valley the atmosphere of Stage Nine was as cold as a producer’s heart, and so heavy and ponderous that no one dared speak above a whisper. Heavy, heavy hangs over their head. Fine or superfine? A very fine lawsuit, my dear.
A suing actress isn’t the most sociable person in the world—instead of the customary one chip she has the whole block on her shoulder—she is utterly convinced that the studio is trying to ruin her, so why should she be pleasant to anyone. The boys and girls from the publicity department hang an imaginary “small-pox” sign over the door of the stage and keep as far away as possible. Little people like you and me run like mad in the opposite direction. A suing star, it seems, has all the delightful charm of a coiled cobra. But the leading man, unfortunately, can’t run or duck, or doge—he’s got to stay right there and face it, venom and all. Poor Pat, his friends said, he’d better take his heavy underwear, it’ll be awful cold there in the tombs.
Kay Francis is a prestige star. She is undeniably the “First Lady” of the Warner Brothers lot and gets the best in everything else, if not always in pictures. On the set she is slightly aloof, even when not suing, and doesn’t like to have crowds of tourists gaping at her when she is doing her scenes, or interviewers hanging around waiting to ask if she is going to marry Delmer Daves. On the other hand Pat O’Brien, a cordial good-natured Irishman, and as natural as the day is long, likes nothing better than having mobs of people watching him act—in face he and Humphrey Bogart even act better, if that is possible, when they have an admiring audience—and he doesn’t care what an interviewer asks him because his life is an open book. When Pat first started working at Warners a guy from production asked him, “Mr. O’Brien, do you want your sets closed or not?” To which our Mr. O’Brien replied, “If you want to tear down the sides of the stage and put in grandstand seats it’s all right with me.” So what-to-do-about-the-set was the all-important question when the social Mr. O’Brien met the aloof Miss Francis. But it was a question with only one answer. Poor Pat, his friends said, he’ll die of loneliness, we’ll send him wires addressed Commander Byrd. Poor Kay, her friends said—oh, I forgot to mention that Kay has some friends, too—they’ve given her a fast-talking Irish mug who hasn’t been out of a uniform in years for a romantic lead, why couldn’t she have Fernand Gravet! Or Charles Boyer!
But the funny thing about it all, of course, was that while everybody was poor-Patting Pat, and feeling awfully sorry for him, Pat himself was quite pleased with the turn of events. It seems his suppressed desire for a long time had been Kay Francis. Now for goodness sake, doesn’t get me wrong! Pat is happily married to Eloise Taylor, a society girl who went actress in the Frank McHugh stock company some years ago, and who since her marriage to Pat has completely given up the stage saying that one actor in the family is enough. Pay and Eloise have a lovely home in Brentwood and have adopted two of the cutest kids you’ve ever seen—one of them a born football player. No, there’s no scandal in Pat’s suppressed desire for Kay Francis. He merely wanted to costar with her because he thinks she is one of the most talented and charming stars on the screen. And boy, after you’ve costarred with a submarine, an airship, and an oil tank, a Francis with all her glamour and her Orry-Kelly clothes is a gift from heaven. A closed set or no, and a Francis slightly aloof, Pat was please.
“I never worked with Kay in a picture before,” Pat told me, “though she is and I were on the stage together in a none too successful play about eleven years ago. For four years my dressing room has been next to hers on the Warner Brothers lot but we never seemed to be working at the same time so we never did get acquainted. After that the ‘Swing Your Lady’ interlude I thought, well, Pat, my boy, they’ll probably want you to support a pipe line now.” (Interruption from me: That’s already been done, Pat, Irene Dunne supported a pipe line in “High, Wide and Handsome,” and I thought they’d never finish those pipes)—“and so you can just imagine how surprised and happy I was when they told me I would go into ‘Women Are Like That’ as the romantic lead opposite Kay Francis. In the first place, ever since I’ve been in Hollywood, I’ve been eager to costar opposite Kay because I think she is a beautiful and glamorous woman, and a mighty swell actress. Then, too, I was pleased because it gave me a chance to get out of a uniform for one picture at least—I’ve been in every uniform they’ve got in the wardrobe department, and it gets monotonous being a cop or a sailor all the time. In this little number I’ll have you know I wear white tie and tails! Even my own mother won’t know me on the screen.” (Kids like to wear uniforms and actors like to wear tails—that’s one of my little observations of life and things that don’t matter.)
Well, that’s all very true, Mr. O’Brien, I said to myself, but I betcha you’ll be glad to climb back into your uniform after a session with a suing star. But I have been wrong. And I was again. This time. One bright afternoon when I was “doing sets” at Warner Brothers, I usually do sets when there is a swing band in action, I very graciously remarked that we could skip the “Women Are Like That” set because I didn’t wear my mittens and sudden cold gives me chilblains. But no, said my escort, that’s the gayest set on the lot. You can’t miss Kay and Pat romping around like a couple of high school kids. Curiosity got the best of me so I walked right past the “Absolutely no admittance” sign on the door but very cautiously took a stance near the exit so I could run easily if necessary. Oh, that’s all right, said my escort whom I considered either an extreme optimist or a fool; just don’t mention her lawsuit and everything’s okay.
Well, they were doing a scene, a most amusing scene, where Kay and Pat as husband and wife and rival advertising agents meet in the lawyer’s office to arrange for a divorce. Kay thinks she wanted to marry Ralph Forbes who, suffering from a severe cold (a picture cold), is stretched out on a couch fast asleep. The lawyer is delayed getting there. Kay looks at Pat and Pat looks at Kay. The office radio starts playing. “Shall we dance?” says Pat, and the next thing you know she is in his arms, and there is no need for a lawyer. Fade-out! And right here and now I wish to go on and record a saying that if Kay’s friends think that Pat isn’t the romantic type they’re due for a change of mind. Fernand Gravet! Charles Boyer! Piffle. That romantic new screen love team of Francis and O’Brien is really something to write home about on pink scented stationery. Woo! Woo!
At the end of the take the First Lady did not hastily retire to her dressing room; instead she sat down in a property box and yelled, “Pat” at the top of her voice. Followed by a series of giggles and laughs, and if everything else is quiet about Kay Francis her hearty laugh certainly isn’t. “Pat,” she shrieked, “come here. I want to show you my burglar alarm. You haven’t got anything like that.” “You’ll need one in Gopher Gulch,” said Pat pulling up another prop box—and there they were as cozy and chummy as two bugs in a rug. “It’s been like this since the second day, she was worried or something, and Mr. O’Brien seemed to have the attitude that if Miss Francis could be cold so could he. But on the second day of the picture somebody brought Mr. O’Brien plans for the new house he is building overlooking the sea at Del Mar and in his enthusiasm he showed them to Miss Francis. She immediately sent for the plans of the house she is building in Hidden Valley, and ever since then they have been talking their heads off about ventilation, landscaping, etc.”
“Don’t let all those fine feathers Kay wears in most of her pictures fool you,” Pat told me. “She really doesn’t give a damn about being called Hollywood’s Best Dressed Woman. She’d much rather be called the Gal of Gopher Gulch. Wouldn’t you know she’d choose to build her first home in California not in a ritzy place like Beverly Crest or Riviera but in a canyon called Gopher Gulch! She asked me to autograph one of my pictures for her playroom and I wrote in it, ‘My happiest engagement in pictures.’ And I meant every word of it. Working with Kay has been more of a romp than any I have ever made. Kay is so considerate of her crew—she has had the same crew for every picture—and I guess they would just about lay down their lives for her. If anyone gets sick she is the first to visit them at the hospital. She spends her time on the set talking over bits of business for the picture, or else when she gets tired of us she retires to her dressing room and reads a detective story. I’ve never seen a woman so crazy about mystery thrillers, and the bloodier the better. No wonder she’s having burglar alarms installed all over Gopher Gulch!”
“But why,” I persisted, after all I’m not going to sit idly by and let the First Lady be turned into a saint, “but why does she dodge photographers and interviewers? Unless you’re an old friend from way back she will not give an interview during a picture—and not very often between pictures.” That’ll hold him, I said to myself.
“Well,” said Pat, “something I heard Kay tell a newspaper reporter the other day rather explains that, I think. It seems this newspaper guy was from out of town and had been stalled by the publicity department for several days. Finally, Kay said she would see him on the set. The first thing he asked her was, ‘Miss Francis, why are you so hard to see?’ ‘When I was an actress on the New York stage,’ Kay told him, ‘I went into one of the big newspaper offices one day and asked to speak to the managing editor. I waited for quite some time. Finally, I took my nerve in my hand and walked right into his office. He told me very patiently he would like nothing better than to have a long chat with me, but unfortunately he had a paper going to the press and he was much too busy to see me. I,’ said Kay, ‘unfortunately, have a film in production.’ Does that explain it?”
“That’ll do,” I muttered, “until something better comes along.”
The fact that there was a little lawsuit dangling didn’t dampen anybody’s spirits at the end of the picture, for Kay cracked through with a party in her dressing room for the cast and crew that reached a new high in Hollywood parties. If she wins her suit she may not make another picture there. I recall that when Kay left Paramount for Warner Brothers some five years ago she presented nearly everybody who had contacted her at the studio with a handsome farewell present. Most stars, in case you don’t know, do not bother to give presents after the people can no longer be of any use to them. Pat wasn’t going to let Kay outdo him when it came to a party so in the midst of the festivities he invited everybody out to his Brentwood home the following Wednesday for a barbeque. The entire cast and crew of “Women Are Like That” arrived practically famished, and who was it that pitched right in and barbequed a mean steak for a prop boy, a hairdresser, a wardrobe woman, and a bit player—that’s right, Miss Kay Francis.
“How I hate to see the end of this picture,” said Pat with one hand wrapped around a steak and the other around Kay, “it’s been fun.” Yes, I think we can safely scribble on all the garage doors: Pat and Kay Are That Way.