Read the Love Secrets of Kay Francis!
Kay talks frankly, for the first time, of her romance with Kenneth MacKenna.
By Grace Simpson
Originally published in Screenland in July, 1932.
A DREAMY moon and gorgeous roses. (Both beautifully artificial.) A shady nook, over-run with clinging vines. (Hastily put up.) Birds swaying overhead. (Stuffed and suspended by wires.) A flower-scented cottage. (Only two walls of it, for that’s all that shows.) And still, love flourishes. (Because the script demands it.)
But when the set is dismantled and carefully stores away in the prop room—what then? Does the love stirred up for cold celluloid continue on its merry way in real life? Well, it has been known to do so.
Take, for instance, the Kay Francis-Kenneth MacKenna romance. A torrid Hollywood studio set sponsored that, you know, and almost before a soul realized it, the happy pair and a minister plus a church had gotten together with the result that two were quickly made into one! The silken web of love ensnared this up-and-coming young couple completely, and now, after these many months of married life, they insist they are still very much “that way” about each other.
It was in New York, a number of years ago, that kay first met her present affinity. He was producing some plays and she was fast becoming popular with stage fans. It was but natural that they should eventually meet. From the very first they were strongly attracted to one another and a firm friendship developed. Love didn’t come just then—however, it was always hovering in the background.
Years sped by and Kay had arrived. Invited to play the siren role in “Gentlemen of the Press,” she played her own little way with astonishing effect. Hollywood producers were amazed at her new-type performance. “The girl’s great!” they chirped. “We need her in Hollywood!” So Glitter-town beckoned and Kay came and was immediately signed up at a nice fat salary with Paramount.
In due time, came “The Virtuous Sin” and Walter Huston and Kay were elected to head the cast. A colorful hero—to be Kay’s lover—had to be found and Paramount officials cast their eyes upon Kenneth MacKenna, now a Fox film actor (and doing quite nicely, thank you!). A deal was put through whereby he was loaned for that one production. During its making, Kay and Kenneth discovered all over again what really charming people they both were and each became decidedly smitten with the other. The ensuing affair was one of the whirlwind variety and soon—very soon—all the newspapers burst forth with the announcement that “Kay Francis Becomes Bride of Kenneth MacKenna, and the happy couple will depart on a yachting trip as soon as they can obtain a leave of absence from the studios.”
Immediately, blasé Hollywood sat up and took notice. These two young folks had put something over on her—for hardly a person in the colony had the least idea that they were going to get married—in fact, very few even knew they were in love.
“How did you win your man? What was your technique?” we asked Kay, one day recently.
“Oh, I don’t know—I acted at first mostly indifferent, I guess. Of course, I knew that Kenneth liked me. Every day he would leave messages or call me up on the phone and all kinds of flowers would find their way to my house. Yes, it was obvious that he liked me!
“And I liked him, too—right from the beginning. But I didn’t want to parade my real feelings, so I pretended I was indifferent to him. You know, mystery and indifference was the basis of Cleopatra’s allure,” she went on, laughing in that deep, throaty manner that is so captivating. “She never let men fully understand her. She always made herself appear rather unattainable, at the same time giving men the basis for a faint hope that she might be won. Even when she welcomed a man’s advances, she never let him absolutely sure of her, but instead, kept him worrying a bit. Her method was to give him just a little suffering and then a little joy!”
“And so,” we ejaculated [Webmaster’s note: that is not a typo!], “you thought you’d be Cleo the second!”
“Exactly,” Kay smiled, good-naturedly, “but my little ruse wasn’t altogether successful—I couldn’t keep it up, and Kenneth, I think, realized before very long that I was very, very fond of him!”
Just before their marriage, Kay and Kenneth went house-hunting and discovered a quaint, gabled English house, very spacious and surrounded by shady trees and shrubs. Here, today, they live happily amid early Colonial furnishings and many rare costly antiques. “Ken is particularly fond of them, commented Kay, “due largely, perhaps, to the fact that many of his ancestors were New Englanders.”
Each has his own separate apartment.
“I believe in that idea most thoroughly,” admitted Kay. “And especially when the husband and wife are practically of the same profession. A wife, in my humble opinion, should always strive to remain just a trifle aloof and retain her own individuality. Too many marriages that I could name have floundered hopelessly—largely because of too much intimacy. No man or woman likes to be bored or tired out and if they are always together and never out of the other’s sight—well, you never can tell what might happen! I earnestly hope no man will ever say I tire or bore him!
“On the other hand, I believe absolutely in the ‘give and take’ angle of marriage. Every wife, I think, should give her husband her whole-hearted love and companionship. She should try to be a real pal to him—do things he wants to do and go places he wants to go. She should see that he has all the wants to eat and what he wants to eat. After all, that old saying that ‘the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’ has many good points to it! She should see that the home is always in order and comfortable or him. All these little things really count in the long run of making of a truly successful marriage.
One reason that our own marriage has been happy and successful so far is that my husband and I are firm friends and our respect for each other is mutual. Our love is founded on a firm basis and not on mere infatuation. I won’t say that we will never be divorced or will keep on being happy forever for I find that folks who insist on those points are the very ones who in the end surprise all their friends by actually having wrecked marriages! But I will say this—I don’t honestly see at the present time how anything big enough could ever come between Kenneth and me to separate us!”
Furthermore, Kay believes fewer divorces would result if long engagements or, at least, long friendships were the practice. She substantiates this belief with fact—her own and Kenneth MacKenna’s lives being the examples. Previous to their marriage, these two were friends for many years and were engaged secretly for several months before taking the final leap.
“Naturally, all marriages do not succeed regardless of the preparation and thought given them,” admitted Kay. “It isn’t easy being married in Hollywood in any case. But, at least, one that is the result of a long friendship or engagement has the better chance. Ken and I got our lives straightened out during the months we went together before our marriage. It wasn’t easy at times. We both found that we had to make sacrifices and adjustments. During the early days of our marriage other adjustments were necessary. Some of them weren’t easy, but they were very much worthwhile for they brought a complete understanding between us. You know yourself that when two people are working constantly, unless they watch most carefully they are bound to become too independent and probably peevish and fretful as well, and those are stepping stones toward unhappiness in matrimony.”
Kay’s pet aversion is rumors (a polite word for gossip), and she has made up her mind never to take any chances with the Hollywood variety. Accordingly, whenever her husband takes a vacation from his work, she takes one, too, if possible. If he goes to New Yok, along trots his Kay. If he journeys to Agua Caliente, along she goes. If he sets forth on a cruise up and down the Pacific, along does the missus, too.
“I don’t want any of those ugly or divorce rumors started about us,” she says. “I’d much rather lose out on a picture than to be separated from Kenneth for any great length of time.”
They recently had their first real vacation together—Kay’s first in a year and a half—and they spent time cruising around the coast in Kenneth’s boat. The other day she finished her role in “Street of Women” and the next morning reported to work on the set of “Jewel Robbery,” with William Powell. She left Paramount and went to Warner’s the first of January and already has completed two pictures. “The Jewel Robbery” is her third and “S.S. Atlantic,” her fourth, will be completed before June 1st, which is something of a record for speed. However, Kay is not fretting about the rapid succession of her pictures. Her contract calls for five pictures to be made in two years. With four completed by June, she and Kenneth hope to be able to take a year off for a visit in Europe before the studios want them again. Not a bad idea at that!
Both these young people take a keen interest in each other’s work.
“I was never quite so happy as when Ken was made a full-fledged director and signed a contract calling for a beautiful salary,” beamed Kay. “I was, in fact, so tickled that I left my work and right down to his studio and onto the set and spent the rest of the day there with him!
“Both of us are hopeless movie fans, too,” she went on, “and when our work permits, we go to see three or four pictures a week. Our favorites are Garbo, Negri, Ronald Colman, and Lionel Barrymore. Personally, I have always adored movie stars. Before there was even a possibility of my becoming a screen actress, I’d build up all sorts of glamorous illusions concerning them, and the fact that I am now one of the crowd myself hasn’t seemed to change those illusions a bit.
“For instance, Pola Negri used to hold me enthralled and I’d often say to myself: ‘Oh, she must be the most gorgeous and magnificent person in the world!’ When I came out here and met her I was so awed for a moment that I couldn’t think of a thing to say! You see, I couldn’t overcome my early illusions of her. Garbo affects me that way, too. So often you hear people say that it must be terribly disillusioning to work on the sets. Strangely enough, although I work continually in that atmosphere, my reactions to the final production are in no way affected by my knowledge of how it’s made.
“Why, when I saw James Dunn enacting that scene in the doctor’s office in ‘Bad Girl,’ I actually found myself beginning to shed tears! And at the same time, I knew that Frank Borzage probably spent all morning or possibly all weekend coaxing up that particular scene! But that knowledge couldn’t reduce my emotion at all. It was such a fine performance that I believed it was actually taking place!”