Happy 112th Birthday, Kay Francis!

Fashion plate and Queen of the Women’s Pictures Kay Francis was born Katherine Edwina Gibbs 112 years ago today in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Here are 10 KF Did-You-Knows:

  • Though Francis was born in Oklahoma City, she didn’t live there long. Much of her childhood was spent on the road with her mother, Katherine Clinton, who was an actress. At age 17, Francis, who was then attending Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School in New York City, married the first of her five husbands—one James Dwight Francis, member of a prominent (and well-to-do) Pittsfield, Massachusetts, family. That marriage, like the four other matrimonial knots Francis would eventually tie, unraveled in relatively short order.
  • Shortly after her 1925 divorce, Francis decided to follow her mother’s example and pursue a life on the stage. In November of that year, she made her Broadway debut as the Player Queen in a modern-dress version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
  • After a handful more Broadway roles, Walter Huston, her costar in the 1928 production of Elmer the Great, encouraged her to take a screen test for Paramount Pictures. She did, and was given roles in Gentlemen of the Press (1929) and the Marx Brothers‘ first picture, The Cocoanuts (1929), both of which were filmed at Paramount’s Astoria Studios in Queens, NY.
  • Soon thereafter, Francis moved to Hollywood where her striking looks and model’s figure (she stood 5’9″, very tall for an actress at the time) helped her career to ascend. From 1929 to 1931, she appeared in more than twenty films.
  • Warner Brothers wooed Francis away from Paramount in 1932, and it was there that she experienced her greatest success. By the mid-’30s, Francis was the queen of the Warner Brothers lot and one of the highest-paid people in the United States. From 1930-37, Francis appeared on the cover of more than 38 movie magazines, second only to Shirley Temple (who racked an astonishing 138 covers over that span).
  • At Warner Brothers, Kay became known as a clotheshorse. Her ability to wear stylish clothes well was highly valued by the studio and admired by fans; in fact, she eventually came to feel that Warner Brothers put more more of a focus on her on-screen wardrobe than her film’s scripts, as she came to be unalterably associated with the sort of weepy melodramas that were then known as “women’s pictures.” We fully understand the frustration she felt at the time, but we’ll admit that we love those pictures and adore Francis’ performances in them.
  • Francis’ great success came in spite of a noticable speech impediment: She pronounced R’s as W’s (ala Elmer Fudd). As such, our favorite line of Kay Francis dialogue appears in Mandalay (1934), which was directed by Michael Curtiz and in which Kay starred with Ricardo Cortez, Lyle Talbot, and Warner Oland. It’s great fun to hear her intone, “Gwegowy, we awwive at Mandalay tomowwow.”
  • Francis’ personal life was something of a mess. An exceedingly liberated person, sexually, she slept with both men and with women—and plenty of them, and none of her five marriages lasted very long.
  • Francis’s career fell as quickly as it had risen. She was through with the movies (or perhaps vice versa) by 1946, when she appeared in her final picture, Wife Wanted, a budget quickie made for the infamous Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures. Aside from some stage work in the late ’40s and a couple of TV appearences in the early ’50s, she avoided the spotlight thereafter and was largely forgotten by the public (until Turner Classic Movies began to feature her pictures prominently in its programming and her star again rose among old-movie buffs).
  • When she died in 1968 of breast cancer, Kay Francis left more than one million dollars to The Seeing Eye, Inc., an organization that trains guide dogs for the blind.

Happy birthday, Kay Francis, wherever you may be!

Kay Francis

The B. C. Clark Jingle: A Christmas Tradition Continues

It’s that time of year again, folks, when we share the B. C. Clark holiday jingle with you.

Longtime Cladrite Radio readers and listeners will recall that the sharing of the B. C. Clark jingle is something of a Christmas tradition here. 2016 marks the eighth year we’ve spread the holiday spirit in this fashion.

B. C. Clark Jingle: A holiday advertisement Anyone who grew (or is currently growing) up in the Oklahoma City area knows that it’s just not the Christmas season until you’ve heard the B. C. Clark jingle on television or the radio at least once.

Below are two versions of the jingle—the original, which is admittedly of lower audio quality, and a later version—the one currently heard on radio and TV in the Oklahoma City area—which arguably sounds a bit better, but drops one line late in the song (“The Christmas wish of B. C. Clark is to keep on pleasing you…”), because 30-second commercials had become the norm on local television.

B. C. Clark, for the non-Okies among you, is a jewelry retailer that’s been in operation in the Sooner State since 1892, and since 1956 (a bit outside Cladrite Radio’s typical time frame, but we’re stretching a point for the holidays), they’ve been running the aforementioned jingle advertising their annual sale, which takes place not after Christmas, like most stores (or so the jingle’s lyrics insist), but just before.

So for 61 years, denizens of central Oklahoma have been humming along to this catchy ditty, and it’s our pleasure to share this holiday highlight with folks from other parts of the country (and around the world).

But be forewarned—listen more than two or three times, and you’ll be hooked, no matter how far away you live from the nearest B.C. Clark location. And soon, as with the millions of Okies who have come to associate this venerable jingle with the Christmas season, you’ll come to feel that it just isn’t the holidays until you’ve heard the jingle once or twice (or a dozen times).

Past Paper: The Mystery of the Vintage Magazine

Vintage magazine cover-The Oklahoma WhirlwindOn a recent visit to a paper ephemera store in our hometown of Oklahoma City, we came across a vintage magazine called The Oklahoma Whirlwind. Dated 1928, it was tightly sealed in plastic and the crusty proprietor of the shop wasn’t willing to let us to peek at the publication’s contents, but we found the cover illustration intriguing.

Was it even remotely possible that in 1920s Oklahoma, there was a magazine that was marketed to—or, heck, even friendly toward—the gay community? Surely not, but here was this cover, plain as day, right before our eyes.

As you’ve already guessed, we broke down and bought the vintage magazine, ripping open the plastic as soon as we stepped out of the shop. We quickly ascertained that The Oklahoma Whirlwind was a college humor magazine, published by students at the University of Oklahoma. The material is pretty typical of the era and of limited interest (though a few of the advertisements have appeal). No mention is made of the illustration of the cover.

But a closer inspection of the illustration revealed a couple of details that suggest the cover wasn’t so gay-friendly, after all. The tiny depiction of a rat chasing a mouse and a bird giving the go-by to a willing-to-be-eaten worm (see below) suggests that the point the artist is making is that a gay couple canoodling on a park (or campus, perhaps?) bench is against nature, or something along those lines. As depictions of homophobic sentiments go, this one’s pretty mild, thankfully, and perhaps even crosses over to good-natured.

A mouse chases a catA bird refuses a worm

The Amphicar: One Sweet Ride Float

This post steps outside our usual preferred timeframe, but we try to be flexible…

We don’t recall if we’ve shared with you before that our father owned, for more than thirty years, a Volvo dealership (for some of that time, he co-owned it with his father). Though they sold Volvos throughout that span, over the years they occasionally took on a second line of cars to sell (though they ended up carrying each of these secondary lines only briefly): Toyota, Triumph, Sunbeam.

Our favorite of these additional makes of cars was the Amphicar. This was a West German car, manufactured for just a few years in the 1960s, that you could drive right into a lake and then skim about on the surface of the water like a boat (but more slowly, one assumes). The Amphicar was somehow sealed so as not to sink (we read something somewhere about a bilge pump?), and it featured propellers that allowed it to putter about on the surface of an open body of water.

We can recall once, when we were very young, getting to ride in an Amphicar. Our father at the wheel, we set out for a lake near our hometown of Oklahoma City (we don’t recall which one) and were all set to drive into the water when it was decided that there was too much wind that day (as there so often is in Oklahoma) and the water was too choppy for us to safely take the plunge (if you will).

You can imagine our disappointment.

LBJ with friends, taking a spin in a lake in his Amphicar

What we didn’t know until recently was that none other than Lyndon Baines Johnson used to own an Amphicar. The story goes that he liked nothing more than to load guests visiting his Texas ranch into the Amphicar (without telling them in advance about its unusual capabilities), point it down a steeply inclined stretch of lakeshore and exclaim with feigned panic as they neared the water, “The brakes don’t work! The brakes won’t hold! We’re going in! We’re going under!”

Of course, the car was designed to go deftly from land to water, and our prankster President and his guests were able to navigate the surface of the lake successfully.

We’re pleased to have found this picture of LBJ behind the wheel of his Amphicar, primarily because it assures everyone we’ve told about this unlikely vehicle over the years that we’re not delusional, that they reall did exist.

The B. C. Clark Jingle: A Christmas Tradition

It’s that time of year again, folks, when we share the B. C. Clark jingle with you.

Longtime Cladrite Radio readers will recall that the sharing of the B. C. Clark jingle is something of a Christmas tradition here. 2015 marks the seventh year we’ve spread the holiday spirit in this fashion.

B. C. Clark Jingle: A holiday advertisement Anyone who grew (or is currently growing) up in the Oklahoma City area knows that it’s just not the Christmas season until you’ve heard the B. C. Clark jingle on television or the radio at least once.

Below are two versions of the jingle—the original, which is admittedly of lower audio quality, and a later version—the one currently heard on radio and TV in the Oklahoma City area—which arguably sounds a bit better, but drops one line late in the song (“The Christmas wish of B. C. Clark is to keep on pleasing you…”), because 30-second commercials had become the norm on local television.

B. C. Clark, for the non-Okies among you, is a jewelry retailer that’s been in operation in the Sooner State since 1892, and since 1956 (a bit outside Cladrite Radio’s typical purview, but we’re stretching a point for the holidays), they’ve been running the aforementioned jingle advertising their annual sale, which takes place not after Christmas, like most stores (or so the jingle’s lyrics insist), but just before.

So for 60 years, denizens of central Oklahoma have been humming along to this catchy ditty, and it’s our pleasure to share this holiday highlight with folks from other parts of the country (and around the world).

But be forewarned—listen more than two or three times, and you’ll be hooked, no matter how far away you live from the nearest B.C. Clark location. And soon, as with the millions of Okies who have come to associate this venerable jingle with the Christmas season, you’ll come to feel that it just isn’t the holidays until you’ve heard the jingle once or twice (or a dozen times).