Happy birthday, Kay Fwancis

For decades, actress Kay Francis, a big star in the 1930s, was all but forgotten by contemporary critics and audiences, but not so today. The good folks at Turner Classic Movies, bless their hearts, have worked hard to place her pictures back into the spotlight.

Francis, born Katherine Edwina Gibbs on January 13, 1905, in Oklahoma City, starred primarily in what are sometimes dismissively dubbed “women’s pictures,” but her work usually rises above even the most trite and sentimental of plots and premises.

On Wednesday, TCM again honors Francis with what has become an annual birthday tribute, airing nine of her pictures between the hours of 7am and 8pm. Though TCM has omitted some of Francis’s best work from the tribute this time around — she’s wonderful in the Ernst Lubitsch classic Trouble in Paradise, and she excelled when paired with William Powell in several pictures in the early Thirties, especially the romantic comedy Jewel Robbery and the tear-jerker romance One Way Passage, both released in 1932 — you should, if you’ve never been exposed to the glamor and grit that is Kay Francis, be readying your Tivo, even as you read this, to capture all thirteen hours of the tribute. (Those who are already Francis fans won’t need the above nudge.)

Here’s the full line-up (all times eastern):

7:00 a.m. — THE GOOSE AND THE GANDER (1935)
A divorcee can’t stop meddling in her ex-husband’s affairs. Cast: Kay Francis, George Brent, Genevieve Tobin. Dir: Alfred E. Green.

8:15 a.m. — ANOTHER DAWN (1937)
An officer’s wife at a British outpost in Africa falls for another man. Cast: Errol Flynn, Kay Francis, Ian Hunter. Dir: William Dieterle.

9:30 a.m. — COMET OVER BROADWAY (1938)
A stage star’s rampant ambition leads to murder. Cast: Kay Francis, Ian Hunter, Donald Crisp. Dir: Busby Berkeley.

10:45 a.m. — MY BILL (1938)
An impoverished widow fights scandal for the sake of her four children. Cast: Kay Francis, Bonita Granville, Anita Louise. Dir: John Farrow.

12:00 p.m. — SECRETS OF AN ACTRESS (1938)
A leading lady falls for a married architect who’s invested in her play. Cast: Kay Francis, George Brent, Ian Hunter. Dir: William Keighley.

1:15 p.m. — WOMEN ARE LIKE THAT (1938)
Years after their break-up, a couple finds each other all over again. Cast: Kay Francis, Pat O’Brien, Ralph Forbes. Dir: Stanley Logan.

2:45 p.m. — IT’S A DATE (1940)
Mother-and-daughter singers vie for the same man and the same stage part. Cast: Deanna Durbin, Walter Pidgeon, Kay Francis. Dir: William A. Seiter.

4:30 p.m. — THE FEMININE TOUCH (1941)
An author writing a book on jealousy discovers his wife is an expert on the subject. Cast: Rosalind Russell, Don Ameche, Kay Francis. Dir: W.S. Van Dyke II.

6:15 p.m. — ALWAYS IN MY HEART (1942)
A convict returns home to find his family has forgotten him. Cast: Walter Huston, Kay Francis, Gloria Warren. Dir: Jo Graham.

For more on Kay Francis, check out Scott O’Brien’s well-received biography of the star, Kay Francis: I Can’t Wait to be Forgotten–Her Life on Film and Stage, published by BearManor Media and out now in a revised and updated second edition.

P.S. The title of this post refers to the widely known fact that Francis had a rather noticeable speech impediment. Listen carefully when she pronounces her Rs, and you’ll hear it.

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