Happy Birthday, Fay Wray!

The lovely Fay Wray was born 114 years ago today in Cardston, Alberta.

Here’s the story of our one personal encounter with Ms. Wray. She was a patron and paying member of Film Forum, a terrific repertory movie theatre here in NYC, and every now and then she would attend a screening there.

We were waiting in the lobby one evening when one of her movies was on the bill—it might have been King Kong, we can’t be sure—and as the credits rolled on the previous screening, we heard a round of applause from within the auditorium. That’s not unusual at Film Forum; old-movie fans often show their appreciation at the end of a picture they’ve enjoyed.

But perhaps thirty seconds later, there was another, more boisterous round of applause. Why would they be clapping again?, we wondered. But then it occurred to us that there was likely an actor in the house who was being introduced to the audience, and we guessed—correctly, as it turned out—that it must be Ms. Wray.

The funny thing was, no one else waiting in line in the lobby seemed to be paying attention to these rounds of applause. They were in pairs and threes and were chatting among themselves, so we were, seemingly, the only ones aware that Ms. Wray might be on the premises. And when she left the auditorium, we were the only ones who took any notice whatsoever of the elderly lady making her way through the lobby.

“Hello, Ms. Wray,” we said as she drew near, and she, still on an emotional high from the ovation she’d just received in the theatre, said, “God bless you!”

“God bless you, too, Ms. Wray,” we replied, and off she went.

Fay Wray

Happy 109th Birthday, Fay Wray!

Fay Wray was born Vina Fay Wray 109 years today in Cardston, Alberta. We have a special fondness for Ms. Wray, given that, some years ago, we enjoyed a brief but memorable encounter with her. Here are 10 FW Did-You-Knows:

  • Though born in Canada, Wray grew up in Utah and Southern California and began working as an extra in pictures as a teen. Her first credited roles were in westerns made at Universal.
  • In 1926, The Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers chose her as one of thirteen young actresses most likely to be stars in Hollywood (Janet Gaynor and Mary Astor were among the other twelve chosen that year).
  • After early success in westerns, Wray became known as a scream queen, due to a run of horror pictures she made in the early 1930s, among them King Kong, Doctor X, Mystery of the Wax Museum, The Vampire Bat and The Most Dangerous Game.
  • Wray was paid $10,000 for her work in King Kong, a picture that was so successful it is said to have saved RKO Pictures from bankruptcy.
  • Wray valued her writing abilities over her acting career. She published an autobiography—On the Other Hand: A Life Story—and saw one of her plays, The Meadowlark, produced. (She collaborated with Sinclair Lewis on another play, Angela Is Twenty-Two.)
  • She was offered the role of Rose in Titanic (1997), but turned it down, leaving the role open for Gloria Stuart.
  • Though she lived there only a few years, there is a fountain in Cardston that is named after Wray.
  • In the 1950s, Wray worked frequently on television, appearing twice on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and in three episodes of Perry Mason, among many others.
  • Peter Jackson had hoped to have Wray speak the final line in his 2005 remake of King Kong, but she passed away, aged 96, before the picture finished filming.
  • Two days later, the lights on the Empire State Building were dimmed for 15 minutes as a tribute to her.

Happy birthday, Fay Wray, wherever you may be!

Fay Wray