Scott O'Brien Q & A on Kay Francis

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Post by OScott »

Hi Moira,
I'm enjoying this cyber-cruise and looking forward to our stopover in Honolulu.
8)
A tinge of mystery does surround Kay’s battle with Warners. Did the brothers Warner really use her “liberal sexual adventures” against her in the case? I was not able to find hard evidence for this. In Boze Hadleigh’s interviews with Bette Davis, she pointed out that “it all boiled down to another woman” in Kay’s boudoir. I point out how ridiculous it would have been for Jack Warner to use any such info against Kay– he was hardly a paragon of virtue. (Jack lived with his married mistress for years). If true, it was the old “double standard” rearing its head.

Apparently, Cagney and Bette Davis came up to bat for Kay, but I think Jack and Harry were outraged that their highest paid star had taken them to court. They just wanted to get rid of her. Kay’s diaries were blank during the first two weeks of the trial. On December 23rd 1937, she finally jotted down,” Decided to call off Warner suit.” By that time she had begun a very passionate and romantic affair with Barnekow. On Christmas Eve Kay happily wrote, “We baptized the library floor. Good f**ing!” Kay was pretty much focused on Baron Barnekow while she made her last six “B” films for Warners. And …out of the ashes of Kay Francis’ career rose Bette Davis.

Davis never really showed any gratitude for what she reaped from Kay’s Warner battle and departure from the studio. Roles specifically acquired for Kay: The Sisters, Dark Victory, and the Empress Carlotta in Juarez (the only role that Kay ever requested the studio get for her) – helped redefine Davis’ career. Davis took over Kay’s dressing room and had it remodeled while Kay was still on the lot. Kay simply stated to one reporter, “I have no dressing room anymore.” Instead, she reported directly to the make-up department each morning.

About Kay’s diaries. Let me say I was amazed that someone didn’t write the Kay Francis biography long before I did. Her diaries have been easily accessible for years. George Eells delved into them back in the 70’s for his “Ginger, Loretta, and Irene Who?” (they were at the Museum of the City of New York at that time). And, when Chair of Film Studies at Wesleyan University, Jeanine Basinger (a big Kay fan) came out with her book “A Woman’s View” in 1993, which had Kay on the cover, I thought that she would surely do a Kay bio. After all, the Kay archives and diaries are now held at Wesleyan. But no, nothing. Dozens of books on Bette, Crawford, Dietrich etc., etc., but no Kay Francis. Finally, I said phooey! – I’ll do it myself. However, I must give credit to Mick LaSalle (former guest author here at SSO). I loaned him some Kay films back in the mid-90’s and told him he should do a Kay bio. Mick said, “No, Scott. You should do it.” In the summer of 2004, my partner and I made reservations to fly from California to the east coast to specifically read the diaries of a woman who “couldn’t wait to be forgotten.”

I do all the news archive-magazine interviews/articles-book research-genealogy first. I like to know my subject and their career thoroughly before asking questions of co-stars and making contact with family and friends. The Internet makes all this easier. During the research, one has to be able to decipher studio promoted publicity from more genuine sources. Many columnists and interviewers knew their stuff and could be trusted not to dish out a lot of hype. Gladys Hall, for instance, penned many an article for the fan magazines. She gave honest straightforward appraisals and interviews. As a founding member of the Hollywood Women’s Press Club in 1928, Hall was well aware that she could be booted out of the organization for penning anything that reeked of studio publicity.

Thanks for posing such great questions!
Scott
Last edited by OScott on June 20th, 2008, 11:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by charliechaplinfan »

:D Thanks for answering in great detail Scott. I'm only just becoming acquainted with Kay Francis, only last night I watched One Way Passage (I loved it) the other films I've seen her in are Cynara and Trouble In Paradise, I loved those too.

Did Kay have any favorite out of the films she made?

I know she starred with Errol Flynn, were you able to find out anything about their working relationship?
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Post by knitwit45 »

Hi Scott. I don't have questions right now, but wanted to say thanks for being here. Your posts are really enjoyable reading, and I "can hardly wait"...to read the book!

Nancy
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Post by moira finnie »

Okay, I have two very silly questions, but I gotta ask, so please forgive me :oops: :

1.) May I please ask about Kay Francis' "crush" on James Cagney? You mention in your book that Kay thought him very appealing on screen. You include a cute picture in your book of Kay and Jimmy at a nautically-themed party she gave in the '30s. Did the very married Mr. Cagney find her attractive? Though I really can't blame her for thinking he was pretty darn cute, especially in the '30s--I can't imagine Warner Brothers ever considering pairing the two in a movie, given their height difference. Was there ever a potential movie seriously considered for the two?

2.) It's about Kay's eyebrows...I realize that Perc Westmore, who, you point out in your book, owed much of his success to the actress, was a good friend of Kay's and as I'm sure we've all noticed, eyebrows on actresses of the '30s were plucked to barely a wisp in that cinematic period. I must say that regarding Kay Francis' eyebrows, they seemed to vary in length remarkably in many of her movies, though thankfully, they became more natural looking in the '40s as fashion changed. Since your book seems to indicate that the actress had little superficial vanity, but did what was necessary for the part, did she have much say or interest in her makeup, especially her eyes, which were exceptionally lovely?

Thanks, I think.

One more question for today & then I hope others will jump in:
Do you consider Kay Francis a feminist in her own way?
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Post by OScott »

Charlie,
Well! You have seen the crème-de-la-crème of Kay’s films. All three films you mention were on most film critics’ “Top Ten” lists of 1932. One Way Passage was definitely Kay’s personal favorite. She had her own copy of … Passage, and showed it to various of her male lovers over the years. The team of Powell-Francis-McHugh-MacMahon-Hymer create a splendid cinematic concoction. The warm, sentimental tinge of Bill and Kay’s romance underscored with the wonderful Dubin-Harling tune “Where Was I?” – well, it gets me every time.

I’m glad you mention Kay’s work with Errol Flynn. Another Dawn (1937), based on a short story by Somerset Maugham, is my personal favorite of Kay’s. I know the film is flawed and choppy at times (I think the censors snipped away at it – I know for a fact that several scenes are missing, which messed up that wonderful musical score by Korngold). Kay is at her peak of being gracious and lovely. She’s marvelous to look at. I find the philosophical and mystical edge of this film appealing. They filmed two endings … and, unfortunately, they chose the wrong one! Another Dawn would have had much more cinematic bite if Flynn had flown off to his doom at the end and left Kay, ascending the staircase, swathed in gorgeous Orry-Kelly gowns, moving in for a close-up, tears welling up in her eyes, and a voice-over of the now-dead Flynn echoing the Arabic phrase which translates, “The hopes for tomorrow, die today.”

Kay found Flynn to be pretty much of an overgrown boy. I think she got a kick out of him, but didn’t take him seriously. She told an interviewer, “To look at he’s grand. That boy hasn’t one camera angle that isn’t perfect. It’s quite appalling!”

Scott
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Post by OScott »

Hello Moira
I came across no mention whatever of a proposed Kay-Cagney vehicle at Warners. They did pair Kay with E.G. Robinson in I Loved a Woman (1933). It was one of those instances where he had to stand on a box to make love to Kay. From what I understand, those scenes were rough going for them, although Robinson respected Kay as an actress.

I’ll admit that Kay’s eyebrows seemed to stretch into infinity in many of her films. In an odd way – it worked for her. I just compared a 1938 photo with a 1942 and they looked about the same. So, I would guess that sometime in 1936-37, Perc Westmore lopped about a mile off each eyebrow. I think Kay let Perc and Orry-Kelly do whatever they wanted when it came to her screen appearance.

Upon arriving in Hollywood in 1929, Kay commented, “After being here awhile … people think of nothing but themselves. I’ve already deteriorated to the point of going around with my make-up on. If I stay out here very long, I haven’t the slightest doubt that I’ll be wearing feathers in my hair.” In her retirement, her godsons mentioned that the only make-up Kay wore was bright red lipstick, and that she always “looked perfect.”

Kay ---a feminist? Yes and no. She liked her independence. As mentioned, she refused alimony from her three/four husbands, and made sound investments with her earnings. Kay was usually on Hollywood's “most intelligent” lists, and enjoyed talking about “ideas.” She preferred the company of men, but resented any man who was condescending to her input during conversation.

At the same time, Kay often pointed out that she enjoyed the little courtesies that were associated with men being chivalrous (opening of doors, giving flowers, etc.) Her romantic yearnings also seem to place her outside the feminist league. What she had always said about not giving up her career for romance, made an abrupt turnabout upon the announcement of her engagement to Baron Barnekow in 1938. Of course, when he suddenly disappeared from the scene in 1939 --- Kay came to her senses. The whole episode, along with her dismissal from Warners, helped Kay redefine her life.

FYI: There are no silly questions. 8)

Scott
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Post by mongoII »

Hello Mr. O'Brien and a hearty welcome to the SSO site.

First I must say that I admire Kay Fancis and I believe she was one of the best, if not thee best, pre-code actresses ever. I also loved her speech inpediment.

Is it true that Carole Lombard landed her the part in "In Name Only", a film that Miss Francis just about stole?
Five (5) husbands? And in such short intervals. What gives? Was she just too strong and independent a woman for her men?

Thank you,

Joe aka Mongo
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Post by charliechaplinfan »

Today I watched Mary Stevens MD, Kay Francis is growing on me :D
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Post by OScott »

Aloha Mongo

Kay’s impediment is endearing. At the same time, I think its importance is a bit overblown. One film historian stated that in Mandalay, Kay uttered, “Gwegowy, we awwive in Mandalay tomowwow.” When you witness that scene on film, all her “r’s” are in tact. The only times I really noticed Kay having trouble was, once, in the comedy Jewel Robbery (1932) during her bath (“Huwwy, Huwwy, Huwwy!” she says excitedly), and her more serious confrontation with Henry Stephenson in Give Me Your Heart (1936) (“You sound like the cwown pwosecutor!” Kay wails). Her speech at the end of The White Angel (1936) was a sincere effort, but I sensed her struggle to get all the “r’s” correct. Sometimes she would use a trill to get the pesky “r” out of the bag.

I believe it is the general consensus that Lombard requested Kay for the part of the poisonous Maida in In Name Only (1939). Kay and Carole became friends during their Paramount days. They were also quite tight from 1935-37 when Kay and her lover Delmar Daves spent evenings being entertained by Carole and Gable. Scenarist Daves said, “Kay was a free spirit like Carole, and Clark loved women who could make him laugh.” Kay was quite a raconteur and loved telling stories from her travels abroad.

Kay claimed to have three husbands, but her legal papers at the time of her death indicate she had a fourth marriage to screen writer John Meehan. New York City has no record of the marriage, so it remains a mystery. Too young? Yes. She was only 17 when she first married (Dwight Francis, who did some impressive philandering while married to Kay)– 20 when she met her next husband (William Gaston -they didn’t even live together). Kay did some philandering during this second marriage. She married actor Kenneth MacKenna in 1931 (she was 26). After their 1934 divorce, Kay told her main squeeze Delmar Daves that she was a “happy lover- lousy wife.” An honest appraisal.

Kay’s romantic side flared up again when she met Baron Erik Raven Barnekow in the fall of 1937. He disappeared from the scene (they were engaged) as the war broke out in Europe. After that, Kay really gave up on the idea of marriage. It appears Kay was dealing with the same emotions we all go through – trying to make sense out of the complexities of love and romance. I have to admire her hearty sexual appetite.

On that note, now that SSO has arrived in Honolulu, I think Kay and I will take a drive up around the Pali for a romantic interlude. We’ll leave Bill Powell behind in the “brig.” 8)

Scott
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Post by veidtman »

As a new member, I hope that it's okay that your mention of William Powell has prompted me to ask if, other than One Way Passage (1932) and Jewel Robbery (1932), you know if there are any of the other Kay Francis & WilliamPowell movies shown anymore, especially Street of Chance (1930) and For the Defense (1931)?

Both movies are among those I've longed to see, especially since they helped to make Powell an early talkies star before The Thin Man. Did Powell and Francis have as close an affinity off the set as they seemed to have had on the big screen?

Thanks a lot.
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Post by OScott »

Welcome Veidtman!
Interesting question. You may know that the Powell-Francis team had quite a fan-base and was very popular. As late as August 1934, fan magazines such as Screenland offered articles like, “Kay Francis and Bill Powell Talk About Each Other.” That all changed soon after Powell’s move to MGM and cinema-sparks flew between him and Myrna Loy.

Powell first teamed with Kay in the sordid curiosity called Behind the Make-Up (1929). Kay played a menace who drives Powell to suicide, which was alright, as Powell played a backstabbing cheat and a liar. Paramount took note of their chemistry (even in this!) and paired them in Street of Chance (1930). It was Kay’s first opportunity to play a sympathetic character. (This was Kay’s favorite role until she made One Way Passage). Powell told writer Adela Rogers St. Johns, “Kay is as responsive as a violin. I love to talk out scenes and business with her. She’s a wonder.” For the Defense (1930), cemented their fate as a screen team. These are great films and it is a pity that TCM doesn’t grab on to them for an occasional airing. You simply have to search ebay or ioffer to get copies.

Ladies Man (1931) is a noir-ish, dark, portrait of New York high society. Herman J. Mankiewicz (Citizen Kane) penned this web of disillusion about love and money, but the public wasn’t buying it. Gigolo Powell commits suicide again in this one. Playing his true love interest, Kay, as one critic put it, “was the least showy [and] the most human in the story.” Again, this is a Paramount film, which one must do some digging to find a copy.

I believe Kay genuinely liked and admired Powell, but only as a friend, not romantically. She said she learned a great deal from Powell as an actor. Powell and Kay did date occasionally. One of her diary entries has her going out with Powell,and then going over to her lover Kenneth MacKenna’s to spend the night. According to his biographer, Powell wanted more, but had to be content with only on-screen kisses with Kay. Powell did give Kay her first dog (a Scotty named "Snifter") whom she did fall madly in love with. :D

Hope you enjoy your stay at SSO
Scott
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Post by Shonna »

Hello Mr. O'Brien:

Welcome!!!
I LOVED your book, and could not put it down! The first movie that I had ever seen with Kay Francis was, "In Name Only" and I thought that her character in the movie was very mean, and of course, I was hooked.

I am so looking forward to your Ann Harding book.
Do you think you will ever do a future project on any of the leading Men in Hollywood? I would like to read about Victor Fleming, Robert Ryan, or I would LOVE to read a biography about the handsome Greg Bautzer, Esq. just to read any juicy tidbits about all of the relationships that he had with the most beautiful Women in Hollywood.
Thank you for being here! :D
Regards,
Shonna
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Post by OScott »

Hello Shonna
Thank you for that fine compliment about the Kay bio. :wink: You lucked out seeing Kay for the first time in In Name Only. One doesn’t easily forget the ample supply of venom that fueled her character Maida. Many have said that after that -- Kay was a shoo-in for noir-films. It was Hollywood’s loss that they didn’t take advantage of her diversity as an actress during the 1940’s. Kay may have made money going over to Monogram, but what a waste. I do admire the fact that she was able to completely let go of the Hollywood scene, move on with her life, and do some impressive stage work for 10 years.

Ann Harding was a complex woman. Completely disowned by her Brigadier General Father, because she desired a career in theatre, Ann had more fortitude than any actress I have ever read about. At the same time, those hundreds of mornings as a child -- getting up at dawn and diligently riding her tricycle to salute the flag at revelry – well, it somehow never left her. She adored the man who took legal action to disinherit her. Ann wanted to select roles during her heyday that she thought would make a difference in peoples lives. She balked at some of the projects RKO put her in – even offered to buy up all the copies of the colonialist propaganda called Prestige (1932) before it was released. Thank god she managed to make several films that pay tribute to her talent.

I suppose if I tackled a biography of a male actor, I would choose Dick Powell. Robert Ryan would also be a great choice. There is already a fine biography out on Ryan by Franklin Jarlett (McFarland, 1990). Ryan was a bright, wise, and perceptive man. I wrote to him in the 1970’s, and received a warm letter from him and autographed photo. I had complimented him on his role as William Shrike in 1959’s Lonelyhearts. I was absolutely riveted by his sarcastic and bitter portrayal in this film. Ryan was always wonderful, and his politics mirrored mine and that made him all the more acceptable – ditto for his co-star Myrna Loy. Great people.

Thanks again Shonna for your queries.
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Post by silentscreen »

Good story about Ann, Mr. O'Brien! It certainly gives an insight into her character and dedication. I can't imagine a father not being proud of her! She was always the perfect, classy lady even in her precode films. I've heard that she got along well with Mary Astor (Holiday, 1930), and that their daughters played together. I've also read that Laurence Olivier thought quite highly of her. (Westward Passage, 1932) Precode films had more of a message to them, and I sensed a falliing off of enthusiasm on her part after the second code went into effect in 1934. Her career dropped off dramatically after the mid thirties too, although she continued to act in television in the 50's and 60's. Do you know what happened? Was it ageism or something in her personal life? Her good parts just seemed to dry up. (Eyes in the Night (1942) was a good one though and the only one of her later roles that I've seen.)
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Post by Sue Sue Applegate »

Hello, Mr. O'Brien:

We are grateful for your visit to the SSO. Thank you so much!

Kay Francis is indeed an intriguing topic, and I am looking forward to reading your latest effort.

I truly enjoy discovering the writer's process when related to compiling biographical information, and I was hoping you might share with us a gem or two from your searches and your discoveries that you are most surprised by or proudest of. What were your most exciting moments unearthing treasures or tidbits that helped you illuminate some aspect of
a subject's character?

Sincerely,
Christy
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