WANTED: A REMEDY FOR HEARTBREAK
By Katharine Hartley
Originally appeared in the January 1935 issue of Modern Screen.
To Europe sailed Kay seeking a panacea for heartbreak and loneliness—
IT was while Kay Francis was married to Kenneth MacKenna that I asked her what was her most sincere ambition. And it wasn’t one of those thought-out, “well, let me see” answers that she gave me. Her eyes lightened up, and the answer sprang from her heart.
“I want to be a good wife. That’s all. That’s the thing that’s most important. What do personal ambitions, material successes mean compared to the happiness of living and being loved? Nothing. At least they mean nothing to my kind of woman.”
And then, in less than a month, Kay was divorcing Kenneth MacKenna. It was the most surprising divorce of 1934, just as it had been the most surprising marriage three years ago, Mr. MacKenna abducted Kay from her hospital bed. Everyone had agreed that it was a marvelous marriage. How sensible and sane those two were about it. Hollywood just didn’t touch them. Kay had been married twice before, but the third one worked like a charm, and it was charming. And then it ended quickly and quietly and without much fuss in a divorce court!
Kay refused to talk about it. No writer ever really got the true story. There weren’t many lines printed about it because there was nothing to print. The world just shrugged its shoulders and said, “Oh, just another one of those Hollywood divorces. It doesn’t mean anything. That was her third, wasn’t it? Kay Francis will be married again before the year is over.”
And, indeed, it looked as though she would be. Kay was going places with Maurice Chevalier. And she was also smiling and acting gay as usual. A few of us who didn’t look very closely thought that she looked even happier than ever! Then Chevalier when to Europe, and a few weeks later Kay sailed for the same destination. The marriage will be any day now, the gossipers said. What an attractive couple! What a thrill for the American press! Kay denied it all, but she laughed and looked happy even when she said, “That’s absurd!” The reporters were even more certain they were right on track.
I was one of the fortunate few who talked to Kay the day before she left Hollywood for New York and points east. She had been giving interviews most of the day, and I was last on the list. But, during the first five minutes of our chat, she gave no indication that she was anything but her normal, vital, energetic self. We were discussing her part in “British Agent,” talking about how she had cut her wrist a few weeks before, talking about, oh, incidental things.
And then, in the midst of her apparent gayety, Kay passed her hands over her eyes and said, “Oh, I’m so tired.” Recovering herself quickly, she added, “Really, I’ve been talking about myself all day—and it’s a terrible strain.”
But she was pretending, and I knew it. She was pretending that it was just the pace of that one day had fatigued her, that it was the talking about herself that wearied her. In the flash of that second when she ceased to smile and look interested, in that pitiful transparency of her little excuse, I could see that it was far more than that that had made her weary. It wasn’t physical weariness that had got her. It wasn’t talking about herself that had bored her. It was far more likely not talking about herself—her real inner self—that had been the nerve-wracking strain.
I hunched the unhappiness in her heart at that moment, and the more I have thought about it since, the more sure I have been that just before Kay sailed for Europe, she was nearer to collapse than she had ever been in her life. Not a physical collapse. Not a moral collapse. Far worse than either of these, it was the staunch walls of her heart that were about to cave in, a heart that has had hoped for so much, worked for so much, and which has so little left!
“You must be looking forward to this marvelous trip of yours,” I ventured. “Imagine! A vacation of so many months, after so many years of hard work. Aren’t you thrilled, just thinking about it?”
“Oh, yes—yes,” she said. “Oh, yes it will be wonderful.” In a dull mechanical tone, in words that were like a speech rehearsed, she began to tell me about her plans. Her enthusiasm didn’t ring true.
I left shortly after that. And I felt sorry for Kay Francis. Why? I kept hearing her happy, ambitious, self-confident words of half a year ago. “I want to be a good wife. It’s important to my kind of woman.” My kind of woman. Let’s take a look at that for a moment and see what it means.
Kay has always been “different,” but not the kind of “different” so many actresses try to make themselves to be. Kay never strives for effect in her clothes, in her makeup, in her personal life, or even on the screen. She is a woman first, and an actress second. That sounds trite, because it’s been said so often about the wrong people. But it’s true of Kay Francis. Kay is one of the few women on the stage and screen who looks like a lay and is one without impressing you with the fact. She doesn’t put on airs for the elite, she doesn’t come down to the level of others. She is always the same to everybody.
Kay is—above everything else—a feminine person, a man’s woman, the romantic Dark Lady of the Sonnets. She has clung to her femininity and her softness while other actresses grow hardened by their careers, find ruling the roost much more intriguing than being a woman.
When Kay first married she was content to be a housewife as well as a sweetheart. She and Dwight Francis lived in a small town in the Berkshires, and she was happy with her heart quiet, small-town life for a while. But progressing a superior intellect she soon outgrew it. Kay went to work, so she might afford a cook. This does not mean that she sacrificed any of her femininity. As a matter of fact, her attractiveness increased by the day. She became social secretary, in turn, to Mrs. Dwight Morrow, Mrs. Minturn Pinchot and Mrs. W.K. Vanderbilt. Is it any wonder that her social graces multiplied, that she became more and more sure of herself!
Suppose you had married at seventeen, during that first flush of romance. And when, at nineteen, you realized that it had been only the first flush, that your ideas and ideals had changed, that you weren’t happy in your marriage of two years before. Kay had the good sense to see that such a marriage needed ending right then and there, before any more harm had been done. So she obtained her first divorce.
Then Kay fell in love again and married again—oh, with such high hopes this time. But this marriage, too, had flaws. It was one of those secret affairs and she was separated a great deal from her husband. What a disappointment to a girl just turned twenty. The companionship that she had dreamed of, the intimacy of ideas and hopes and thoughts that she wanted so much were denied her for months at a time. It was hopeless. Kay took this second beating bravely.
At last, Kay in what she thought was her maturity, found the real love of her life. And she married him. This was no hasty young marriage that really would be happy and lasting. Kay set herself at the task of keeping this marriage perfect. She counted on her past mistakes to help her. “I want to be a good wife,” she said. And deep down in her heart she was confident she was.
Then suddenly there was an end. She really didn’t know why herself.
“How is it my fault? Am I incapable of knowing my own heart? Am I fickle? Am I false” Or am I incapable of holding a man’s love?” These are the questions Kay must have asked of herself. “What is ahead of me?”
A mind goes in circles when it thinks like that. How can it help thinking like that, I don’t know. If Kay had been a child perhaps her heartbreak would be less. If she had a religion that, too, would be something to console her. Or if her career were her most intense interest, that would help.
But Kay hasn’t the mania for money or the bright lights for success. These things are really of little comfort to her. If only she could be blasé! She could then shrug her shoulders and say, “Well, better luck next time!” But she can’t be like that.
Yet she refuses to let anyone in on her sadness. You only catch it, as I caught it, in one of those rare moments when Kay lets her brave barriers down. I have heard her say that the most repulsive person is not a man with a big belly, but a man who bellyaches in a big way. Kay has had a gallant attitude towards hardships. She’s had them, but few people know about them, because she bluffed her way through. I am convinced that she was bluffing to the last and that she just got away in time. A few more weeks of trying to hide her heartbreak in Hollywood and she would have been a nervous wreck. You can’t even cry in your own room out here, for there’s always a servant who’d be glad to give you away. But on a boat, with the cabin door locked for hours at a time, who’s to tell whether she’s cried or not!
The odd think is that Kay went to Europe after the breakup of her first marriage. Her travels enriched and rested her for that first time. No doubt she is counting on them to give her a new vision and a happier perspective again. What she needs most of all is renewed confidence in herself, in love, in life. I hope she finds it. Maybe she’ll marry Mr. Chevalier. Maybe she won’t. Maybe she’ll never marry again. I, for one, certainly don’t pretend to know, or have any way of knowing. I don’t believe Kay even knows herself. This much is certain: she won’t come back to face Hollywood’s firing squad until she’s got her heart patched up so the cracks don’t show!
Maybe Kay wonders if her birthdate hasn’t something to do with all her “unluckiness at love.” In Oklahoma City an actress by the name of Katherine Clinton gave birth to her first child. It was raining when Katherine, after the ordeal of birth, first opened her eyes. She looked out of the window, and then she looked at the calendar. She began crying softly, and, like the rain outside, the tears ran down her cheeks as she clutched her baby to her. “Never mind, little Kay,” she said.
The day was Friday, the thirteenth.